The Inevitable

When you have lots of animals, you’d think you would get used to death.  It is, obviously, a part of life, but it doesn’t really get any easier.  I suppose those farmers who raise meat animals get used to it, but those of us who don’t, still find it sad to lose a member of the herd.  Alpacas aren’t the same as pet dogs and cats.  They don’t bond with us the way that pets do, or even the way horses can bond.  Nevertheless, when you’ve taken care of them for years, used their beautiful fiber, watched them raise their young and interacted with them on a daily basis, it is hard to see them go down.  When we first got into alpacas, we used to tell people that they lived into their mid-twenties.  I guess that was based on llamas, because the lifespan of most alpacas that I’ve heard about has been late teens.

Caraz, who was euthanized yesterday, was an import from Australia with a birth year documented as 1995, making her 19 this year.  She’d been thin for a couple of years but still made very nice fiber.  In fact, her last year’s fleece is at the mill now, being spun into yarn with MoonDance’s fleece.  Caraz made it through this past cold winter, wearing her coat, but ten days ago we found her down in the stall on her side.  We got her into cush position and she was able to get up.  But after a few days, she could no longer get up at all.  We’d help her up and she was able to walk stiffly to the poop pile, the water and the hay, but did not stay up for long.  Whenever she tried to get up, she fell over onto her side, and couldn’t right herself from there.  It was time.  Now when you know it is time for a pet to go, you pack them into the car and take them to the vet.  But when a large animal can’t walk, you can’t do that.  Our vet was coming out for the annual rabies herd shots, so we had to wait for that.  We tried to make her as comfortable as possible during the wait.  When the herd all went outside, we’d go out to try to get her up so she wouldn’t be stressed by being left alone.  More than once we found her grand-daughter Susannah and her great-granddaughter Judy Blue, standing inside nearby.  Did they know she was a relative?  We’d get her up and they all would go outside.

Susannah and Judy as a youngster.

Susannah and Judy as a youngster, Caraz’s legacy

Caraz was a typical import.  She was spitty and grouchy and never liked us.  Susannah inherited that temperment, but thank goodness Judy Blue is a sweetie.  But Caraz did pass on her wonderful fleece characteristics, so for that we are thankful.  Despite her crabby disposition, it was still sad to see her deteriorate and sad to put her down.

Dick teased me by asking, “Do you think Caraz will be waiting for you at the Rainbow Bridge?  She’d come over, spitting at you all the way?”.  I laughed and said that I didn’t think alpacas would want to wait for their owners.  They rather spend eternity with other alpacas in perpetually green meadows.

Rest In Peace, Caraz, you old witch.  We’ll enjoy your yarn, and Judy’s too.

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The Purebred and the Rescue

As people who know me could guess, I am a fan of the purebred. But I have had a lot of random-bred pets over my lifetime, so certainly appreciate them as well.  I think I was interested in purebred dogs from an early age.  I was a voracious reader and read books about Irish Setters, Cocker Spaniels, and the most telling for my future, books about Collies.

My first dog, Frosty, was a gift from my parents for my eighth birthday.  Mom told me that his mother was a cocker spaniel, but his father was unknown.  I spent lots of time poring over dog books looking for the breed that was his father.  Could he have been an English Setter?  Maybe a Golden Retriever, but no, Frosty is white.  I don’t think I ever really determined what he was and I’m sure now that he was a mix too!

Frosty and me

Frosty and me

My first cat, Melody, was a mix-bred brown classic tabby with a coat like a mink and what I now know as the mitted pattern of white.  She was so friendly and went everywhere with me and had no objection to the car.  When she was at home she was in my lap.  I got other mix-bred cats along the way, but none  of them had the personality of Melody.  When she passed at 19, I had two other cats, Chloe and Thumbalina, and Chloe did not like other pets being added to the household.  But I was researching purebreds to see what breed had the temperament like my sweet Melody.  So when Chloe passed a few years later, at age 17, she was barely cold in her grave when I was on the phone with a Ragdoll breeder in Rhode Island.  Finally, I could have another cat like Melody.

Melody the Wonderful

Melody the Wonderful

One of the benefits of the purebred dog or cat, is that you can tell what type of temperament they will have, and what they will look like.  This predictability is wonderful.  But I also love the pedigree itself.  It is, I suppose, like people who love genealogy. When I got my first Ragdoll, Blue Moon, I ordered a five generation pedigree and pored over the cats in it.  It actually helped me years later when I started breeding.  But I’m not sure very many people care about a pedigree on an altered pet cat!

When we started breeding alpacas (also purebred and registered), we wanted a livestock guardian dog.  We got two purebred LGDs, an Akbash Dog and a Great Pyrenees.  I also got the dog of my childhood dreams, a rough Collie.  All three breeds were bred for centuries to have temperaments that are safe around livestock.  But when the Great Pyrenees passed, I started looking for another dog, but wanted a rescue dog.  I found Big Fluffy Dog Rescue who focuses on, well, big fluffy dogs, which are often Great Pyrenees.  They had a picture of a dog with a huge bear head that looked like a Pyr, but was a golden color.  They thought he was a Great Pyrenees crossed with a Golden Retriever.  Livestock Guards are generally very independent, which means they do what they think they should do and not what you want them to do.  I thought, wow, the Golden is so trainable, now I can have a Pyr who will do what I want!  But when we got him, named by us Teddy Bear as we didn’t like his previous name of Fred, and before that Rhett, he was all Pyr in his head.  The only sign of the Golden was in his coat color and smaller size.  But the good thing was that the Pyr brain made him very safe around the alpacas.  Teddy Bear had been a stray in Tennessee and was very thin.  He still has an issue with food and is not a good eater.  Because with a rescue, you don’t know their backgrounds, they can have issues.  Teddy couldn’t be closed in the house at first.  He broke through numerous screens.  He didn’t, and still doesn’t, like being confined in the backyard fenced area and repeatedly got out.  He isn’t good on a leash at all and isn’t motivated by any training aid I can find.  Would a purebred Great Pyrenees have been easier?  Probably on the leash, yes, but they also are hard to keep confined!  There is a very good feeling you have when you rescue a dog or cat, even if they aren’t always what you expected they would be.

We are happy with our two dogs, for now, but the next dog we get will be another Collie.  I admire other breeds of cats, but expect I’ll always have Ragdolls.  But geez, I do love the mix-bred tuxedo cats with white …

Pet Food Trial Verdict

Back in November, I posted about the dry pet foods I’d been trying for my Ragdolls.  I continued to try different ones, per suggestions from friends and kitten buyers.  Over the years and up to the present I probably tried about all of them – Science Diet, Nutro, Pet Lovers Soul, Fromm Family, Earthborn, Evo, California Natural, Wellness, Royal Canin, Blue Buffalo.

With most of them, a couple of my cats would like the new food at first, but then nobody wanted them anymore and the dogs got them.  Since I would always transition them onto the new food from the old, the old would still be there.  At first that was Purina One and then recently it was Royal Canin.  Blue Buffalo was the only one that could compete with Royal Canin, and it was quickly obvious that only the Wilderness was really accepted. (Of course it was, it is the more expensive of the Blue selections.)  But the Blue Wilderness is high in protein, at 40%, and I didn’t really like all of my cats having that, especially the older ones.  A few years ago, when I tried Evo, the group had liked that, but it also was high in protein.  At that time I had a cat with compromised kidneys, so I took them off if it.

The other issue with the Wilderness was Rusty’s reaction to it.  He has traditionally had trouble with throwing up whenever I made the slightest change to his food.  He also has had digestive trouble on the other end.  Diarrhea in his stud pants are not fun, and on the Wilderness, he had that issue day after day when he was out for his exercise.  His litter box was a horror show as well.  My only conclusion was that it was too rich for him.  The lower protein Blue variety didn’t fix it either.  Could it possibly mean that he needed the ‘cheaper’ ingredients?  I went back to Royal Canin’s site to see the ingredients of the Indoor Adult 27, which hadn’t seemed to bother him.  Chicken meal was the first ingredient and further down there was corn gluten and wheat gluten as other sources of protein.  I’ve gone back to it and his problems have gone away.  I’ve also given it to the other cats, along with the Blue Wilderness, and they choose the Royal Canin first, but still like the Blue when the Royal Canin is gone.

I have a litter of kittens now, and at four weeks old, when they start to eat solid food, I put out some of the Royal Canin Babycat that I had left from last spring.  They immediately started eating it.  It ran out quickly, as their mother loved it too, and I put out the Wilderness kitten kibble.  Though Susie Q still ate it, the kittens barely touched it.  So I bought the new Royal Canin Mother and Babycat and they love that too.  I do still put out the Wilderness Kitten, but only the mother eats that.  The kittens still like their Blue Wilderness canned kitten food, but also steal the older cats’ Fancy Feast when they get a chance.

Kittens eating their Blue Wilderness canned food.

Kittens eating their Blue Wilderness canned food.

As a result of all this, I have had to rethink my issues with Royal Canin.  I went back to the internet to see if I could determine why the top foods were rated the way they were.  And what I discovered is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of scientific reasons for why various sites rate certain ones high, but instead they are rated on ‘good ingredients’.  They are also, invariably, the most expensive brands.  What are the best ingredients?  It seems they are the ingredients that people like.  Chicken, turkey, fish, carrots, peas, rice.  Because more people now think they are sensitive to gluten, and we know people with Celiac Disease really are, maybe dogs and cats are too, so gluten became a bad ingredient.

I thought about what felines and canines in the wild eat.  You see big cats bringing down an antelope on TV and what do they eat first?  They dive into the viscera of the animal.  They don’t go for the rump roast, they go for the intestines, heart, liver, i.e. ‘by-products’.  When my cats that I had as a young women caught a bird or a mouse, they ate the whole thing.  That meant fur, feet, eyeballs, some feathers, bones and other yukky things – more ‘by-products’.  Included in the antelope was a stomach (or maybe a rumen) full of grains and partially digested grasses.  The birds and mice had plant material in their stomachs too.  Mmmm, could that be the reason why my cats like the food with by-products and grains?

Royal Canin makes a very large number of different varieties of foods: by breed, by size, by taste, smell, or textural preference.  The ones, like the Ragdoll variety, that don’t sell in huge quantities, have higher prices.  Are their ingredients really cheap?  Maybe, or maybe not.  The important thing is that all my cats like the Indoor Adult 27 and really like a new one I tried, Selective 40 – Protein Preference.  Because I know that my cats like variety, I will still offer them the Blue Wilderness.  They also get a variety of canned food like the trusty favorites from Fancy Feast, as well as Earthborn Chicken Cacciatore, Wilderness chicken and turkey varieties, and Wellness chicken and turkey varieties.

But I’m no longer averse to corn or wheat, providing meat is the first ingredient.  I never really did have a problem with by-products, since they are the kidneys, lungs, liver, heart and other yukky stuff that dogs and cats just love.

I keep remembering the cats of my youth, who lived healthy lives to advanced age on Meow Mix and 9 Lives…

Some Days are Better Than Others

What is life like living with a bunch of animals?  Well, some days are better than others.

Prior to waking up this morning, I was awakened by a cat retching, most likely MoonShadow.  Not that it is an unusual occurrance when you live with nine Ragdolls.  Of course, by the time I got up, I’d forgotten about it.  I remembered, ‘oh there must be some puke somewhere here’, just as I stepped in it.  Those socks went into the wash.  We have no wall to wall carpet in our house.  When you breed cats and have kittens and nine adult cats around, you find that laminate and vinyl floors are far easier to keep clean.  And they do make very nice vinyl floors now, that look like wood.  But we do have area rugs scattered around.  Did the upchucking, early morning cat deposit on the floor??  Noooo.  Right on the rug.  So prior to doing anything else, I was cleaning up the rug.  Thank goodness for Resolve carpet spray and paper towels.

MoonShadow looking innocent.

MoonShadow looking innocent.

A short while later, as I walked downstairs and through the living room in the early morning dusk, I thought one of the flowers on the rug looked a little darker than the rest.  Once I put the lights on, I found another puke and this one was full of hay.  Teddy Bear had just come in after going out for morning business, and saw me looking at the dark thing on the rug.  I swear he looked guilty.  Since Luna, the collie, is crated, and cats don’t eat hay while they troll for duck food in the barn, the culprit was certainly Ted.  So more Resolve was used and more paper towels.  (I have to do this kind of thing frequently enough that I always keep a bottle of Resolve on both floors.)

That duck food was yummy

That duck food was yummy

All this happened before I had my tea.

After doing the alpaca chores – and yes, we do have to clean up poop while doing that – I came back in and let Rusty, my stud cat, out for exercise.  Rusty, being intact, lives in a large enclosure in our family room, as he will spray around if left to his own devices.  He is so hot to trot that he will also mount any other cat, no matter whether boy or girl, young or old, spayed or not.  As a result, he is only allowed out into the family room, wearing his stud pants to keep him from spraying on the furniture.  Well didn’t he decide to have diarrhea in his pants.  Poor guy hates when that happens and immediately wants back into the enclosure and his pants removed.  I then had to clean up the pants, dunking them in the toilet a few times like my mother used to do with soiled cloth baby diapers.  Then into the sink they go, with Tide, to be cleaned.  I may never have had children, but I’m still very familiar with diapers, er, I mean ‘stud pants’.  Rusty has never let me clean him up, but prefers to do it himself, and thank goodness, he does a good job of it.  (I’m so glad I’m not a cat…)

Rusty in his stud pants.

Rusty in his stud pants.

Oh well, such is life with animals…

Winter Came Early – Poor Caraz

The past two days have been as cold as January, and it is only late November.  When you have animals, you always worry about the cold, especially when it comes early.   We don’t usually worry too much about the alpacas, as they seem to handle cold better than heat.  But the wind was howling yesterday, and even with all their fleece, they try to stay out of the wind.  (It was blowing 117 mph on top of Mount Washington!)

We do worry, however, about our oldest girl, Caraz.  She was an import from Australia, so had no papers.  She came with a registered name of ‘Caraz Tag 65 IMP98’.  The yellow tag with the number 65 did eventually break away, but she has lots of holes in her ears, indicating that she perhaps had been imported into Australia from Peru.  They just estimated her birth year at 1995, either before or in 1998 when she came to the U.S.  So we aren’t sure if ’95 was accurate.  She may be 18, or she may be older.  She is very thin, as many alpacas are when they are old.  She always has been on the thin side, so didn’t have much to lose in the first place.  As a result, she does get cold and last year we put a coat on her and left it on until at least March.

Caraz in 2007 when she was 12 or maybe 13 or 14..

Caraz in 2007 when she was 12 or maybe 13 or 14..

We put the coat back on her Saturday evening when we knew the temperatures were going to drop.  Caraz is not a nice girl.  Like many alpacas imported from other countries, she was probably not handled until she got here, and it shows.  I hold her and Dick puts the coat on, fastening the two girths and the overlapping chest flaps.  She spits, and Dick hisses, ‘you bitch!’.  Of all our alpacas, Caraz is the most voracious spitter, though she never spits directly at us.  Back when she was breeding, we’d bring her to the male to check that she was pregnant.  Most females will run away when they aren’t receptive, and only spit when he pursues.  But Caraz would immediately hurl gobs of green cud right at the male.  I would be holding the lead rope of the guy, and both of us would be ducking like mad.  The male got the idea very quickly and wanted nothing more to do with her!

Caraz did not make very many babies for us, and only one was a girl.  I think she made most of her daughters back in Australia and at her first home in Massachusetts.  We did sell that beige daughter, Valeri, but kept Val’s daughter, Oh Susannah.

Susannah, fawn like her grandmother Caraz.

Susannah, fawn like her grandmother Caraz.

Both Valeri and Susannah had touchy temperments like Caraz.  Even at her new home, Valeri remained a grouchy girl.  Susannah is very nervous and will spit whenever we handle her, as well.  All of this made us reluctant to breed her, so she has only had one cria.  We bred her to our gray herdsire, Galaxy, who is very calm and shy, and who barely ever gets upset at anyone.  The result was a dark silver gray daughter, Suite Judy Blue Eyes, who is MUCH nicer than her great-grandmother, grandmother, or mother.  Yay.  She, like the rest of the family, does have nice fiber, and surprisingly, it isn’t fawn!

Judy, in full fleece.

Judy, in full fleece.

Even though Caraz stopped producing babies for us years ago, she has always contributed nice fiber.  Even at her age, I still blend it with MoonDance’s fleece, to make yarn, and it is very nice.  Her two sons, one of which still lives here, both continue to make very nice yarn.  The sons are both white, both quite shy, but not grouchy like their mother.  The Boss, who we kept, makes some of the nicest yarn on the farm, and continues to remain fine as he gets older.  I have been known to grab his yarn as soon as it comes in from the mill so I can keep it for myself.

The Boss, with ears hidden.

The Boss, with ears hidden.

Caraz is still a dominant female, so we know she gets all she wants to eat.  Hopefully her purple coat will help her make it through the winter.  Not that Dick will mourn her when she goes…

 

 

 

Pet Food Trials

I have always had one basic rule for the pet food I buy for my cats and dogs.  I want meat to be the first ingredient.  For a long time, I fed Purina One, as it always had meat as the first ingredient.  The cats got Fancy Feast as their canned food and the dogs got Purina One.  It was never recalled while I used it and most of the pets liked it.  But…

Last year, I got concerned over MoonShadow, my older retired queen, upchucking regularly and wondered if a new dry food would help her, as well as help Rusty and Max, who had very soft stools.  My kittens also usually had soft stools too.  So I switched the Ragdolls to a premium brand, Royal Canin, which was recommended by another breeder and the guy at our farm store.  At the time I went to it, the first ingredient in the various varieties was ‘chicken meal’ or ‘poultry meal’, which is the meat with the moisture removed.  Almost everyone liked it.  Moonie seemed to upcheck less, Rusty got more healthy stools, though Max stayed the same.  The kittens however, had solid stools, so I was happy with it.  But this Fall I noticed that more of my cats disliked it.  Royal Canin started making a Ragdoll Formula, so I added that and another variety to the Indoor mix, in hopes that they would like it better.  Moonie started to upchuck more, and Rusty got bad stools again.  A number of the cats seemed to have lost quality in their coats, as well.

MoonShadow in a basket

MoonShadow in a basket

Where do you go when you need more information on the contents of pet food?  The internet, of course.  It told me that Royal Canin had changed its formulas, which I hadn’t realized.  The first ingredient was now ‘chicken by-product meal’, and in the kitten kibble, the first ingredient was rice!  Now I don’t have any real problem with ‘by-products’.  Some of them are good for pets.  But they are cheap sources of protein, as are ‘corn gluten’ and ‘wheat gluten’.  Royal Canin is NOT cheap, and the Ragdoll variety is more expensive than their other varieties.  Most pet food sold in grocery stores have these inexpensive contents, and folks who can’t afford high-priced pet food can feed them to their pets and know they are a complete diet.  When I was young, my three cats ate Meow Mix and Nine Lives and they lived to great old ages of 17 and 18 on these foods.  But I don’t like paying top dollar for cheap ingredients.

I found out on the internet that by-products include the viscera of animals, including fetuses and feces.  Yukky as they sound, when a cat eats a mouse, or a wolf eats a deer, they get all those yukky insides and gobble them up.  And yes, Teddy Bear eats duck poop and alpaca poop on a regular basis.  But we yell at him when he does, and I certainly don’t really want to pay for them.  I know that in pet food, the amount of feces is very small, and probably bacteria-free from cooking, but still…

Since I’m willing to pay more for good pet food, I searched out other premium brands and found a number that did not contain ‘by-products’.  None of my pets appear to have allergies to wheat or corn, but since their gluten is cheap, I opted to pay for better carbohydrates.  I am now in the process of switching both cats and dogs to Blue Buffalo dry food.  I loved the convenience of buying food at the grocery store, or having Chewy.com send me the Royal Canin, but my local pet store, Four Your Paws Only, had the varieties of Blue that I wanted and at the same price as Chewy.  Everyone seems to like it, which wasn’t true of the Fromm that I first went to.

Rusty even likes the Blue

Rusty even likes the Blue

I still feed some Fancy Feast canned food to my cats, as that is their favorite.  I see no point in paying top price for canned food they won’t eat.  They do get Wellness and Blue Wilderness cans, but some refuse to eat them.  I can only deduce that they like the by-products in those Fancy Feast cans!  Time will tell if their coats get better and the poops get firmer from eating the Blue Buffalo dry food.  Though a lot of the cats like the Royal Canin kitten kibble, I will be transitioning them to the Blue kitten kibble, though there are three varieties to choose from, so that will be interesting.  Even the Purina One kitten kibble had meat as the first ingredient!!  We’ll see if they do well on the Blue.  I’d hate to have to go through transitioning them to yet another brand. Sigh,  it is all such a trial…

Maxie, the big boy, lounging on the cat tree.

Maxie, the big boy, lounging on the cat tree.

Winter is knockin’ at the door

Our beautiful warm Fall weather had to end sometime.  Earlier this week we got a hard freeze and the gardens had to finally give it up.  Luckily, I’d cut the floribundi roses, who just love to bud up in the Fall, and brought the buds inside where they could bloom.  The kitchen smelled so good!

Roses blooming in the house

Roses blooming in the house

It is the time of year when we have to decide each morning, what to wear to the barn to do chores.  Which coat, which gloves; do we need a hat?  I refuse to put on the ski mittens yet, but my hands have frozen all week with regular gloves.  There is something about handling implements – shovel, rake – that makes things worse.  Then I found out from my nurse practitioner that my thyroid is under performing even with the meds I’m taking.  That may explain the intolerance to cold this early in the season.  Yay!  (Who is happy when they hear something is malfunctioning?  Me.  Because it can be treated.)  I have always had trouble with my hands freezing in mid-winter, but late October is too early.  I have found a great way to keep them warm then too.  I use the hand warmers that I used to use when skiing.  After chores, I put them in a ziplock sandwich bag and close tightly.  This seems to shut them off and they last about four more mornings.  Every year, Dick gets me the most high tech ski mittens he can find, but they are never enough.  Thank goodness we live near ski resorts, because it is easy to find warm clothes to wear to the barn.  And ski clothes are slick enough that hay doesn’t stick to them, either.  Ah, the joys of winter to come.  We are keeping an eye on our old girl Caraz, who is thin, and will probably need a coat too.  At 18+, her fleece doesn’t quite do enough and the coat adds to it.

Caraz with her coat on last winter

Caraz with her coat on last winter

We’ve had November weather lately even though it was still October.  Clouds and raw wind for days.  But on Tuesday, Mount Washington was out.  No, we can’t see it from our farm, but driving down Rte 153 and West Side Rd, we got a great view of it’s shining white, snow-covered top.  Yes, we were driving to the vet’s again with Starman for his weekly check up.  Today, Mount Washington was again hidden, and I was on that road again, this time with Teddy Bear.  Ted was having his annual appointment, but also needed some porcupine quills removed from his chin.  Quite the time, they had, with getting him to hold still.  Finally, with the help of some drugs, about eight quills came out.  He’s still sleeping off the drugs, cuddled up on his bed in the family room…

Teddy Bear on a better day

Teddy Bear on a better day

Teddy has decided to take over for Biff, our livestock guard, who passed in September.  Teddy Bear is a Great Pyrenees mix, who came to us via Big Fluffy Dog Rescue.  He used to like it in the house and slept with us in our bedroom, but for the past few weeks he has chosen to sleep on his bed on the front porch and to bark whenever he hears anything.  We hear the bark and the clatter of him bolting off the porch in pursuit of whatever.  Apparently, he runs out into the woods to investigate, hence the quills in his chin…

We’re happy, though, that he does this, as we were worrying about predators without the intrepid Biff.

Biff the Akbash Dog

Biff the Akbash Dog

We really miss you, Biffie dog.