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  Article Authored by: Anita Eckstrom, Three Hawk Alpaca Ranch
Article Submitted: November 2002
   
   

 

 
 

When Breeding Alpacas Becomes a Labor of Love

 
  Editorial Review
AlpacaNation LLC

Alpaca breeders rarely hesitate to walk the second mile for their alpaca herd. This unusually close relationship breeders share with their alpacas becomes most transparent during times of adversity on the farm. 

Anita Eckstrom provides a wonderful illustration of how that warm bond between an owner and alpaca can tighten defiantly against hardship. In the case of two month old Bootsy, the strong bond between breeder and alpaca provokes a medical miracle and earns a permanent residency on the farm.
 
       
  The Saga of 3 Hawk Boots Randolph    
  3 Hawk Boots Randolph was born 7/26/01. He was a typical cria, full of energy and curiosity, who played with the other crias and became affectionately known as "Bootsy". 

On September 22, 2001, I went to the barn to get the alpacas out for the day. The alpacas exited the barn, however, Bootsy remained lying on the ground and did not get up to greet me. I tried picking him up, but he went back down as if he had no strength or energy. I went and got a bottle to see if he would drink. There was nothing wrong with his appetite and he did not have a temperature. 

After checking every one of the normal signs, I called Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital. I explained what I had observed and Dr. Roman told me to bring him down.


An hour later, we arrived at the hospital. By this time, Bootsy could not stand at all. 

Dr. Roman and Dr. Callan began to check his physical signs and ran some blood tests. All of Bootsy’s vital signs were normal and his blood tests didn't show anything significant. The doctors checked him for ticks, gave him a bath with Tick shampoo and carefully examined his entire body. They found nothing. They were as bewildered as I had been. ( During all of this, Bootsy was holding his head up like normal and laying it down.) 

After not finding any reason for his behavior, the doctors performed a spinal tap to check his spinal fluids. There were no answers, so they decided to take a radiograph of him. Once they took the radiograph, they called me within an hour and told me that Bootsy had fractured his neck.

The doctors explained to me that when he fractured his neck, the bottom of #3 vertebrae was pushed down into the top of #4 vertebrae. To correct this situation and release the pressure being caused by the swelling of the spinal cord, Bootsy would need to have surgery. They explained to me that they could not guarantee  his ability to walk, since that would not know the extent of the damage until the surgery began. Bootsy had been a very healthy, energetic, and content cria so I told them to go ahead and do the surgery.


Following Bootsy's surgery, Dr. Roman notified me that Bootsy's spinal cord had not been severed; however, it was severely pinched and swollen. The surgeons had placed a plate between # 3 and # 4 vertebrae to stabilize the fracture and the spinal column, and Bootsy's neck had been placed in a cast.

On the evening of October 3, 2001, Bootsy recovered overnight at CSU. Bootsy was provided with pain medication and meds to prevent infection. He would have to wear diapers since he could not stand.  Later that night, Dr Roman called and asked me to come in. Bootsy did not seem to be improving and his recovery was stagnating. 

I asked Dr. Roman if she and Dr. Callan believed that part of Bootsy's lack of recovery might be due to the emotional trauma of being away from his mother and familiar surroundings. I suggested the possibility of taking him home to care for him. Dr. Roman expressed that Bootsy's return home may be of help to a successful recovery.


On October 4, 2001, I picked up Bootsy. I had this little cria with a cast on his neck from the top of his head to the beginning of his back. I had to carry him ( which was a lesson in itself) because I had to balance his neck so it was straight, and still carry the rest of him level. It became easy after a little practice.  Bootsy and I returned home and began an adventure I had never dreamed of before.

Arriving home, I laid my prone little bundle down while I made him a bed in the family room. I put two blankets on the floor with puppy pads on top of them, and then laid Bootsy down over the puppy pads. I put a dry diaper on him, used baby wipes to be sure he was kept very clean, and oh yes, desitin. He was completely helpless. He could not move on his own due to the heavy cast. I had to feed him his bottles and turn him regularly so he did not get sore from lying in the same position for too long.

Starting with the first night, I slept on the couch with him so I would know when he stirred and was hungry or wet. The cats and dogs thought it was really neat having this little guy who couldn't move and they could lie close to and wash. For the next month I gave him his anti-inflammatory, pain medicine, and vitamins everyday. The vitamins were regular liquid infants’ type. I tried to keep him dry and clean at all times. I used baby wipes, desitin, and lots of baby diapers along with puppy pads. I put the diapers on him just like you would a baby, except his tail was lifted over the top of the diaper.


In a month, I took him back to CSU Hospital to have his neck checked and get an update. His neck was healing slowly so he had to keep the full cast. They told me that in addition to massaging his legs, I needed to get him a sling so his legs would be under him and close enough to the floor. Using a sling would help him to stand later if he chose. The next appointment would not be for another month.

We got home and I made a sling out of a grill cart for Coleman grills, he was still so young and small. Unfortunately, Bootsy did not have any interest in trying to stand for quite awhile. This was due to the damage that had been done during the time his neck was fractured and swollen. Also, his back legs had gotten weak. It took awhile after he was in his sling before he started trying to put pressure on them. 

The sling was utilized twice a day, in conjunction with anti-inflammatory and pain medicine and leg massages that were done about 3 times a day. If Bootsy was extra restless then I would massage his legs more often.

When he was in his sling, he would have a diaper in the seat with him and a puppy pad underneath the sling. This kept my house clean with only small messes. Bootsy and I continued this regime through Thanksgiving, which he and I spent together. I could see he was improving because he was getting more and more bored with not being able to move on his own. He was also growing and getting too big for the sling I had made for him. 

To continue his therapy, I started to lay him across my lap and hold his neck and head in a normal position while he exercised his legs by kicking them and trying to stand. By this time we were becoming very close and he would coo to me . He was becoming quite the couch potato; he liked watching television and he even had favorite shows. The television had to be left on 24 hours a day. If I turned it off, he became upset and whined. It was nicer just leaving it on. Some of his favorite shows were Matlock, Heat of the Night, Law and Order, Murder she wrote, and the Discovery Channel.


On December 12, 2001 we had our next appointment at CSU. The doctors checked him again and decided his neck was healed enough for the cast to come off. Once the cast came off he tried lifting his head. He still could not stand and still needed physical therapy. Dr. Callan told me they were not sure if he would ever stand or walk again. We headed home, but this time, without a heavy cast.

I continued the physical therapy in the following days with Bootsy. He still wore diapers, only now I had to buy the largest size I could find! A few days following the CSU visit he was beginning to sit up in a normal position and rolling on his sides without my help. He started trying to stand on his own after a few days, and he accomplished this. At this point my work became more intense.  It would be awhile before he could really walk, but in the interim I had to move everything out of the family room that was not against the wall and I had to put a soft barrier in front of the fire place so he would not get hurt when he fell trying to walk.

At first, Bootsy was like a baby starting to walk with lots of falls. He also tired very quickly. This was the first real exercise he had since the accident. Now that his cast was off, I started feeding him hay and grain since he was no longer getting milk from his mother. 

As he progressed in walking,  my Dalmatian “Buddy” began to like him more and more. They started playing a little in the family room as Bootsy got stronger. It was now near Christmas and I was going with my husband to visit family back East. I hired an Animal Behaviorist, Abbi Blue, to take care of him while I was gone. I was very fortunate to find Abbi. She took very good care of him and massaged his legs while I was gone. Abbi spent a lot of time at my house, so Bootsy would not be alone. By the time I got home 4 days later, I was amazed at how much progress Bootsy had made! I was glad to see his balance had improved and he was very glad that I was home.


Bootsy had to stay in the house after he started walking because winter had set in the mountains of Colorado. He was used to being a climate controlled environment. Since he was walking all a round, I now had to find a better way to give him his hay. I was tired of cleaning up hay all day. With his walking and not being real steady he got in his hay a lot - throwing it all over the room. I came up with the idea of putting the hay in a soft pillow case and pinning it so he could get to his hay in small amounts. This worked very well and kept him from pulling all of it out and getting it all over the floor.

Bootsy was getting more and more energy everyday and was becoming better on his legs. He would meet me at the door in the morning after I had put the other alpacas out.  He had become very accustomed to receiving fresh hay and grain from me. With both Bootsy and the dogs contentedly munching on their treats in the morning, I took this time to clean up Bootsy's bedding. It was becoming increasingly harder to keep diapers on him. He was doing very well though because he always went to the puppy pads to defecate.

Bootsy surprised the doctors with her progress at our next CSU appointment. They took some more radiographs and said he had healed nicely so there was no need for any additional appointments unless something happened. Dr. Callan told me that when I had first brought Bootsy home, they didn't think he would ever be walking again. Bootsy and I went home very happy.


I knew that we had about 2 1/2 months before he could go back with the other alpacas. By this time, Bootsy was defecating on his puppy pads and didn't need diapers anymore, which was a good thing because he had out grown all the sizes. He never made a mess in the house, even when he was busy playing. 

He got stronger and stronger every day. He began playing with Buddy more aggressively. As he played with Buddy, he was getting good exercise. They began chasing each other through the family room to the kitchen and then through the living room making a complete circle. Bootsy would some times get too excited and I would have to put a stop to the play because he still had quite a way to go to become steadier on his legs. 

After playing with Buddy for awhile he started going with the dogs everywhere and if someone came to the door he followed the dogs to greet them. Visitors thought this was cute, after they ask me what he was. I was beginning to worry that he thought he was a dog and would not adjust to the other alpacas. There was nothing I could do about that for the time being.


Once it started warming up in the days, I took Bootsy out during the warmest part of the day. I was not even sure his mother, Victoria, would take to him. Victoria took to Bootsy as soon as she saw him and started protecting him as if he were a new born. Of course when Buddy was outside with me and around Bootsy, they both wanted to play together. This did not go over well with Victoria and she would go after Buddy as soon as Bootsy and he started chasing each other. After seeing how protective she was, I knew that when Bootsy came out permanently that I would not have to worry about his safety. 

I continued taking him out during the day and bringing him back in the house in the evening for a few weeks. He was getting some good exercise outside and his mother was teaching him things that he needed to learn. He was becoming more and more like an alpaca. Once he was outside permanently his personality did not change that much. He still has to be in with his mother at night and in the field. He will still come up to me and start to coo.

April 2002
7 Months after Bootsy's neck injury.

Bootsy - Present Day

Through everything I have found that I will never be able to give Bootsy away. He is a permanent family member. His walk is still getting better. He runs up and down the mountain with the other crias and is still full of mischief. If he gets over tired, he wobbles a little on his back legs but that is getting less and less every day.

Eleven months after the accident he is just about indistinguishable from the other alpacas. Bootsy is doing very well and is growing into a very normal male alpaca. He is doing everything that he should be at his age.

The adventure of 3 Hawk Boots Randolph lasted for 6 months in the house and is still continuing. This was quite an experience for me but one that I enjoyed extremely. I guess my next adventure will soon begin; it will be the twins that Alpacablacka is expecting at any time!


About the Author: Anita lives with her husband Neil on 35 acres in the North East Colorado mountains. They purchased their first alpacas in 1991, and manage a huacaya herd of over 45 today.

To learn more about Three Hawk Ranch Alpacas visit their web site on AlpacaNation at:

www.alpacanation.com/threehawkalpacas.asp


 

 

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