Pumpkin for Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving 2015 started out like any other Thanksgiving from years past. We had plans to meet one of our closest friends for lunch in Hollywood. It had become a tradition for a small group of us that did not have family in California years ago to meet for Thanksgiving lunch and had become something of a mission to try and find the best restaurant each year that served a real Thanksgiving lunch. Those plans would not work out this year.
We had been on cria watch with Blossom for probably 6 weeks. She was a maiden and something just did not seem right, but we could not put our finger on it. She just did not look big enough, but she was a smaller girl so we justified it in our minds. But as the weeks passed, 1 week overdue, 2 weeks overdue; now 4 weeks overdue we were getting more concerned. I had been joking with my alpaca friends that she is probably going to wait and have it on Thanksgiving morning. “Naaa, don’t worry, she’ll have it before then.”
[Had to pause writing for a few minutes to rub Pumpkin behind her ears. Just to reiterate, yes I have an alpaca siting on my chest while I’m sitting here at my computer writing, She had her head resting on my chest and clearly wanted an head rub. Just makes you melt when she lays her head on your chest and looks up at you with those big bright eyes.]
Rewind back to Thanksgiving morning 2015. We got up as usual and went out to take care of all the critters. I checked on Blossom and still no sign labor. I went back to the house and we planned out what time we needed to leave for lunch. A little later Michael checked on the barn cams one more time and Blossom was rolling around on the ground somewhat unusually, so I went back up to the pen to check on her again and sure enough a small bubble was protruding out her back end. I called Michael “She is having it now, grab the cria kit and come up here.” By the time Michael got up to the pen a nose was clearly visible. We watched as Blossom struggled to get the head out. Our concern was this cria is 4 weeks late, Blossom is small and a maiden; so this could be a tough birth. What if the cria is too big? What if things aren’t aligned correctly? The head kept coming out and finally we saw two toe caps. That was a relief, the bubble popped and the cria took a gasp for air. “Yes! She is breathing!”
Blossom was clearly distressed and really did not know what to do, she kept trying to sit down and roll. The cria’s head was out and breathing. Blossom face planted the cria’s head in the sand once and we grabbed Blossom and forced her to stay up for the rest of the birth. It did not take long. The cria was almost ejected out. Her little body clearly VERY tiny. She lay on the ground gasping for air and it was at that point we realized that we had very different problem. She was terribly small. It was clear she was not going to get up on her own, so we grabbed the tiny cria and took her and Blossom to the barn. The cria continued to gasp for air and was making some horrible sounds. We had been on the phone with our vet and some other friends just in case there were any issues. I will never forget hearing these words over the phone… “Is that the cria making that sound? Oh guys, I’m so sorry. Is there another vet you know that is close that can help you take care of her.” We knew those words meant the worst. But we kept trying to save this precious little life. She was wrapped in a blanket and we were trying to warm in with hair dryer. A couple of times we swung her back legs to clear her lungs. That seemed to be helping her breathing some. So at the direction of our vet we did that a couple more times. We tried to give her some colostrum that we had from a dried formula and also put a little Karo Syrup in her mouth to boost her energy and get to want to nurse.
After about 1.5 hours her breathing started to normalize. But it was very clear, she was not going to be ok outside on her own with Blossom. Blossom kept walking away. It broke our hearts to think that some instinct had kicked in telling her that this cria was not going to make it. So we made the decision to bring the tiny cria in the house to take care of her. Even after warming her with the blow dryer for over an hour she was still cold. We took her temperature and her body temp was at 92 F. I rushed to the store and bought two electric blankets and we put her in one and cranked it up to get her warm. Neither one of us had eaten anything and we had nothing in the house, so I grabbed some chicken tenders and potato wedges while I was out. That would end up being our Thanksgiving lunch which we barely ate because we were so focused on saving this tiny cria.
Hours went by and we finally got her temperature up to 101F. She was drinking a little bit of the commercial colostrum. We knew she needed to get that first colostrum from mom, but Blossom still had not milked up. The little cria was alert and attentive at this point. She was clearly a fighter and we were going to do everything in out power to give her a chance. So the decision was made that afternoon that we were going to be bottle feeding as long as we needed to.
Once she was dry and had stabilized, we started trying to weigh her. Most scales didn’t even register her weight. So I wrapped her up and placed her on my small postage scale. It read 5 pounds 8 ounces. She was fully formed, except her little ears curved up over her head making her look like some kind of elf creature. She really was the cutest little thing. We still did not know if she would make it through the night, so we were resisting giving her a name. But Pumpkin kept coming to mind. Hours passed and we spent the rest of the day with a fire roaring the fireplace sitting on the couch with this tiny cria wrapped up beside us in an electric blanket.
We set up a dog kennel with an electric blanket and carefully tucked this tiny little girl into it for bed. She was sleeping a lot at that point, so fed her one more time and went to bed. Michael checked on her a few times through the night fed her a little. I got up early that morning and had that sinking feeling walking over to the kennel to check on her. Would she still be alive? I peaked into the kennel to find two bright eyes and a bobbing head staring back at me.
Our vet wanted to get her on anti-biotics just to be safe. So we started her on Naxel shots three times a day. We also gave her a tiny Vit A/D shot. Our vet had told us, let her bottle feed as much as she will eat, but make sure she get’s 10% of body weight every day at a minimum. I think everyone was afraid we were going to have a hard time getting her to eat. Not Pumpkin, she was sucking down milk like she a hungry little piggy. We switched her over to goat’s milk on day 3 at our Vet’s recommendation. We were still trying to get milk from Blossom. We were giving lactation herbs and trying to milk her several times a day and were only getting a milliliters of milk. So we just kept bottle feeding goats milk.
There was still the question of why was a 4 week late cria so small. Our vet inspected the placenta and apparently it was failing. Something had gone wrong during the pregnancy and only about 40% of the placenta had attached to the uterine wall. So the cria was not getting enough blood and nutrition to develop normally. It is nothing short of a miracle that while small, all her organs and body were developed and functioning normally.
We knew she was not out of the woods yet, but our tiny little girl was eating well, and responding to us normally. She still could not walk though. We were trying to help her stand a couple of times a day, but she just could not hold herself up. She also chilled easily and was not regulating her body temp. So most of her day was spent wrapped up in the heating blanket for the first week of her life. One day 4 she started trying to walk a little. On day 5 she tried to nurse from Blossom, but Blossom still was not producing milk. We were getting very attached to this precious little soul and all indications were there that she was going to pull through. It seemed too good to be true that nothing was wrong with little miss Pumpkin.
It was on day 3 that little Pumpkin threw her head back and went limp in Michael’s hands for a few seconds. It was then that we realized she was having seizures. It’s that moment when you think, “Oh this is it. It’s the thing that was wrong.” Our hearts sunk into our stomach. We talked with our vet about it a couple of times. She said that sometime small livestock can have seizures when they are small and grow out of it, so if it does not get more frequent and longer don’t worry too much about it yet. Of course we were worried sick. On one phone call with our vet, I asked “So is there a limit to how much we should be feeding her”. Our Vet asked, “Well how much has she had today.” “650 mils” I said. I heard “She has had WHAT?!?!” over the phone. We were letting her bottle feed as much as should we eat throughout the day. Our vet was shocked. She thought we would have trouble getting enough down her, not that she would eat everything in the kitchen. LOL. That’s when our vet said that could be the cause of the seizures. Her liver may not be able to process that much fat and fat could be building up in her bloodstream.
So at 5 or 6 days old, Pumpkin went on a strict diet.. No more than 10% of her body weight a day. Oh boy, she was not happy with us. Do you know how hard it is to only give that cute little creature a small amount of milk and get that “but Dad, I’m still hungry look!”?
By this point our world was pretty well turned upside down. We were bottle feeding 10 to 12 times a day. We were bringing Blossom to the house to spend time with Pumpkin and let her try to nurse. We had converted our laundry room into a nursery and they were staying there. It has a half door, so it’s the funniest sight to come around the corner in the house to see a full grown alpaca with her head sticking out the top. It has almost become like having a human baby in the house.
After a couple of days on her diet, Pumpkin’s seizures ceased. To our total relief she has not had any more and we have been able to slowly work her up to 15% of her body weight in milk every day.
Pumpkin is now following us through the house, running around with our Australian Shepherds, sitting in our laps or lounging on the couch. She spends 4 to 5 hours with Blossom a day. She no longer needs her heating blanket. But she is still too small to stay outside as she is small enough that a large hawk could easily carry her away. So our little Princess Pumpkin is currently a house alpaca and frankly her joyful and courageous little spirit is bring much joy and to us and many others that are following her this holiday season. She is truly our Thanksgiving miracle and we would not trade anything to have skipped out on the turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce to only have Pumpkin for Thanksgiving.
We want to thank our Vet Dr. Jana Smith, our local alpaca friends Tracy Pellegrino and Cindy Harris for all their help, guidance and support through our journey with Pumpkin.
Pumpkin lives at Rolling Rock Ranch Alpacas with her dad’s Michael James and Rob Shepherd in Canyon Country, Ca. You can follow her on Facebook and her webpage at: