I don't usually blog about farm challenges, but this one is kind of interesting, and makes an interesting point, so I'm going to post his story. This is the saga of Kylo Ren.
The origin of his story -- at least, of what makes his story noteworthy -- begins long before his birth, with the acquisition and maturity of his mother, Princess Leia. Leia was acquired because she was so incredibly ideal in my eyes in terms of her breed type and beautiful fleece, and as she grew, she only became better ... And better ... And better. Princess Leia became, in my mind, pretty much my "reference alpaca" in nearly every way except her color, and that was okay, because she "looked," to me, like she ought to be able to produce the colors we are breeding for. In short, I had really high hopes for Princess Leia.
As it turned out, she played chicken pretty well, but eventually gave in. On June 3rd, I looked out at the girls' paddock and saw Leia hanging around one of the small side barns and looking at something. She doesn't normally hang around there, so I went out to check more closely, suspecting a cria. Indeed, there was one, a black one with his neck stuck underneath the door to the barn. I removed said cria, who immediately sat up and appeared alert. Leia was very interested in the cria, and all seemed well despite his unfortunate recent situation. I immediately named him Kylo Ren, for reasons that should be obvious to any Star Wars fan.
I waited until the cria had stood up and was following his mother around in a wobbly fashion, as new cria tend to do. Everything seemed to be going well. He hadn't nursed yet, but they seemed to be on the right-enough track that I left them for a little bit to see if a little alone time might do the trick.
When I returned, the cria was wandering around, exploring the paddock, and his mother seemed to be ignoring him. Some intervention seemed appropriate, so I attempted to introduce them, but this didn't work all that well; she simply moved away from him. At this point, we decided to isolate them to facilitate bonding -- sometimes the first-time mothers get too distracted out in the paddock, and can benefit from some alone time with the baby. Unfortunately, this did not go so well.
As time went on, it became clear that Princess Leia was really not all that interested in the baby. She thought he was kind of neat some moments, but most of the time, she was content to ignore him. She did not once hum for him and seek him out, nor did she seem to care if we handled him -- all things that attentive alpaca mothers will do. Far worse than that, however, was the fact that she just would not let him nurse. If he tried, she moved away, or, occasionally, kicked. If we tried to hold her still for him, she would lie down. She had plenty of milk, just no desire to let him have any. It was a whole lot of Not Good, and, as Day 1 turned into Day 2 turned into Day 3, it became harder and harder to hope that the Maternal Instinct light might suddenly switch on.
Of course, we bottle fed the cria, first with artificial colostrum, then with milk replacer. My initial hope was that Leia would eventually take over, but he is now on Day 6 of life, and that hope is entirely gone. She no longer has the slightest bit of interest in him.
I'm not sure why I am continuing to bottle feed him myself rather than euthanizing him or, as I had planned at one point, giving him to a good friend who is a master of bottle-raising baby livestock animals. He looks like he will be an exceptional true black male alpaca, but at this point, I am deeply concerned about whether he should be used as a herdsire. Not because I am worried about him becoming inappropriate to humans, as can happen with intact male livestock that are bottle-raised, but because I now worry that his dam's genetics should not be passed on.
That brings us to the moral of this story, and that is the hard truth that you never do know. Excellence comes in many forms in livestock, and top seedstock breeders often get carried away with the superficial qualities of their animals -- appearance, conformation, production -- but forget about those crucial intangibles. In Leia's case, I had every reason to think that she would be an excellent mother -- all of her relatives have been -- and indeed, I do still hold out some hope that there were other factors involved in her poor mother-hood this time around. If she isn't a good mom on the second try, though, then I have to accept that I can't make excuses for her just because she is otherwise really great. Not only is bottle-raising an alpaca cria a gigantic pain, but it also isn't right to risk that she might pass on her poor mothering skills.
In short, Princess Leia has gone from being, in my mind, one of our key foundation females to one whose status as a breeder is seriously questionable. She will get one more year to prove herself, and after that, we will have decisions to make.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren is doing "okay." He's pretty good with the bottle, but as of this afternoon, he has a fever, which is a bad sign (most likely, he did not acquire passive immunity from the artificial colostrum). He might make it and he might not. Even if he makes it, his eventual fate is questionable.
So, there you have it. The best laid plans of mice and men, and all that.
On a positive note, Boopy, our super premature little pipsqueak, is most definitely still alive, and just keeps getting cuter.