***Trigger Warning - there is a lot going on in this post, animal death, animal miscarriage, graphic depiction***
I have no idea what's going on.
We get animals, I build stuff. If it works – great. If it doesn't – I react. Chase it down, figure it out. Ask around. Google it. Build something new.
It's really not that hard. You've just got to be willing to fuck up and be able to work a bit to set it right.
Our baby llama died today. Liver flukes. Nasty stuff. I watched the country vet do an autopsy. Every section of organ he carved looked like raisin bread, all spotted and bored out by worms.
That little llama looked much smaller dead. Somehow it was not even the size of a large dog. He was curled up on the kid's toboggan, on the slope beside our house. Right where Anna left him after pulling him out from the pasture. She said the way the mama llama looked at her when she removed him made her cry.
That mama llama. There was all that business of chasing her down, building a higher fence. We thought she had settled in. And she did, but there was always something else...
Llamas are hard to read. They've got a very different physical vocabulary. Other animals are more obvious.
Chickens are cautious but trusting, high-strung but curious. And they move in a way that presents all that.
Pigs are just tubby human dogs. They have no agenda, no poker face. They feel and they want and they express and that's about it.
But llamas, I don't know. It's confusing. They've got their own cues, all of which are alien. Ears back and a stare down means, “Get out of my space.” A neck arch and three sharp clicks means, “Stay right there. I'm going to fuck you up.”
Those are the only two phrases I've learned.
There's more going on than that.
About a week ago Anna found a stillborn llama fetus in the sheep shelter.
We had no idea she was pregnant. She produced it at half term and left it in the middle of the hut. When Anna found it, the mama must have long since given up on it. There was no chance of it surviving.
Back in the human world, I got this news while driving home. Everything was situation normal. Then I heard a bunch of pings on my phone. So I pulled over, swiped the screen, and immediately I caught: “...definitely a dead fetus...” and “...I'm freaking out...”
I got home, parked the car, and got in the door. Then, over top of the kids as they rushed to hug me, I asked my wife,
Long story short: Llamas have no cycle, they only ovulate during copulation. (Now you know: Llamas possess the world's worst form of casual encounter birth control).
I guess on her last farm our llama was in a pen with a male llama in the week or so after she gave birth. That's all it took. Boom.
Five months later (llamas carry for eleven and a half months), we're in our driveway looking down at this could-have-been entity curled up in our wheelbarrow, still inside its bag of waters.
Was it the stress of moving? Was it the exertion of escape? Was it the extra burden of nursing while pregnant?
Probably all of the above and something else as well. I don't know.
We talked about it for a bit. Then during a low moment of us just looking down at the wheelbarrow, I said to Anna,
“He kind of looks like Scooby Doo.”
She hit me, but laughed.
“Ah, Luke. Come on...”
“He does. Look at him. All brown. That long neck. Floppy ears...”
We giggled, and had a moment of feeling sad for him, but really there was nothing to be done. So we moved on. At least now, we figured, the mama llama had a chance of settling in.
Then out of nowhere her other baby died.
So, vet visit. Autopsy. Liver flukes. Big problem. There's a good chance the whole herd is infected.
But the sheep are looking good. They'll need some shots and an oral wash of something, but the vet is really positive about them.
Mama llama, not so much.
The way he was weighing it out in his head, taking his time choosing his words, told me something serious was up.
“Well, there could be a lot going on with her...” he started. Then he just laid it all out.
“Could be cancer, kidney failure. Organs are taxed. Might be battling infection. She's lost a baby and she's been nursing. Her cria's dead because it didn't have the fat stores she's got. It had worms...so she's definitely got them too. Really, at the weight she's at I don't see her making it through the winter. No.”
We all nodded. Then looked over to where she was out with the sheep.
Mama Llama. Loping, leering. Grazing with and protecting our little herd. Snow white and mysterious. Probably can't save her.
We walked the vet back to his truck. By now the sun had gone down and the kids needed dinner. Also there was this llama carcass to deal with before any coyotes showed up.
So I started to make a big fire, then thought...weird. I used to have this thing about bonfires. I hated it when people chucked garbage, you know – chip bags, beer cans, paper plates into the fire. Sure, that stuff just crumples and folds and ultimately disappears...but I've always thought there was something fundamentally wrong about that. Disrespectful.
To humanity in general, what's more sacred than a fire? Nothing, right? So treat it like that. It's not a Garburator.
Yet after our chicken slaughter I dumped buckets of organ slop in there. Then I tipped out pails of heads and feet. Then Anna and I pulled up chairs and we sat close together, drinking beer and feeling exhausted after a long and weird day.
So what changed? Why am I so OK with dumping all these organs and animal waste bits in there?
Well I guess because it's not waste. It was life. It was for something. It's not a paper plate or a beer can or a chip bag. It was - for some thing, at some time, on some level - the centre of everything.
So I made a big fire and placed what was left of the baby llama in there. Then I poked it around and had a few thoughts about it. Then I went inside and helped the kids get fed.
After dinner we listened to Christmas carols and trimmed the tree. The kids were being hilarious. Our home was beautiful. I looked out the back windows and saw the the burning carcass of a baby llama on the bonfire and thought that was totally normal.
We flipped the calendar on the wall. December, 2016.
Such is life.