I have decided to break the story of Martin's Big Snip into two or three parts. While I recognize that most of my readers probably don't need or even want all the details, I know that a fair number of hits on my blog are the result of people googling for information. As it is my hope that this blog is not only entertaining but also serves an educational purpose, I want to document the process of gelding an untamed alpaca from the perspective of this "never-thought-I'd-be-doing-this" animal lover.
And so, here is part one.
Martin's Big Snip: The Haltering
It is difficult to see someone you care about be confused and frightened by an action you have chosen to take. I was mentally willing Martin to understand that withholding food and water from him, that backing him into a corner and putting a halter on him, that having strangers stick a needle in his butt and do unspeakable things to him, were all for his own good.
The day started, thankfully, without rain or snow. Martin was upset before I even said good morning, as I had removed the hay from his pen the night before. When I entered the pen without his morning grains or apple and then took away his water, he became agitated. Pacing his pen, twisting his neck around, looking at me with what can only be described as a look of astonishment (“Mom!!!! Where’s my BREAKFAST????!!) tugged at my heartstrings. Poor boy.
I fed the pigs. After feeding them their grains and produce, I always put some hay down the bottom of their yard to persuade them to go for a morning constitutional instead of pooping in the barn and going back to bed. Their hay spot is, unfortunately, right within Martin’s line of sight. His confusion was palpable – he paced, he watched them, he stuck out his neck, he peered over the fence that separates his pen from theirs. I do believe I heard him say something like “Pssst, hey, you, little grey thing, bring me some of that, wouldya?”
And he talked.
Alpacas have almost as great a range of vocalizations as piggies. He hummed, he clicked, he mewed, he grunted. I talked back to him – I hummed, I clicked, I soothed, keeping my voice level and conversational in an attempt to keep the worry from it.
And then I began the work of preparing for his big snip.
I removed a gate from a part of the piggy yard where it is no longer needed (the little pen used to protect the piglets when they were wee enough for an eagle to carry off) and fastened it to Martin’s shelter so the three-sided structure could be converted to a closed stall to contain him once haltered. No point freaking him out and chasing him around the pen with boards to back him into a corner more than once in the day.
I gathered the tools of the trade for haltering a not-very-tame alpaca:
1. two quarter-sheets of plywood to which I attached shelving brackets to be used as handles – easy to hold onto the boards and to move them in any direction;
2. one soft, stretchy, fluffy pink sock to be slipped over his mouth in case he felt the urge to spit – much rather the spit end up in the sock than in my eye;
3. pretty purple halter with leash attached; and
4. a good friend (thanks, Ellen!) and a good neighbour(thanks, Sherri!).
One of my many character flaws is that I procrastinate when I am facing a task that I do not feel comfortable with – where I lack the requisite knowledge or experience, or simply the confidence that I can accomplish it at all. So I have put off and put off gelding Martin because the process of cornering him and getting a halter on his face was just too daunting. I saw the job the two experienced shearers and an experienced neighbour had when he was sheared summer before last – even these experienced handlers got a stream of ugly stinking yellow spit right in the face. But……when a task doesn’t disappear, it eventually has to be done, and at that point I can usually step up to the plate and handle it with a certain amount of aplomb. I’m not generally one to panic or stress out – I am pretty good at detaching my emotions and getting on with a task when push comes to shove.
And so, shoving my dread to one side, we entered the pen. The newly attached gate to his little shelter was wide open, but conveniently fastened in such a way as to prevent him making a dash for freedom into the larger part of the pen once we got him heading in the right direction. My two assistants were holding the boards protectively in front of them, as much to protect their knees from a wicked kick as to herd and corner Martin for me.
And so we got to work. And as is so often the case, the dreaded deed turned out to be very straight forward and simple. He moved quickly into the shelter, we closed the new gate, Ellen and I slipped through to join him in the shelter, using one of the boards to back him against the wall so he would “cush” - sink down to his knees as alpacas do when trapped. At the first opportunity, I used the trick which Martin’s soon-to-be new mama taught me (thanks, Judy!) – slipping a sock over his mouth and nose to collect any spit. It was easy, he didn’t panic, and I wish I had a picture of his long pink trunk. I had created a new designer breed: an elepaca! Or is that an alphant??
Sock in place, I slipped on the halter, got it firmly buckled, and quickly removed myself from the pen, holding the leash in one hand and pulling off the sock as I left. Martin stood up and calmly looked out the new gate on his stall as if nothing had ever happened.
Handsome haltered Martin
We switched the shorter leash for a longline, which we then looped up over a post, making sure Martin had enough length to move about the stall and to lie down, but not enough to get tangled up. When the vets arrived, we would simply need to gather the leash and guide him out to the pasture for the dastardly deed.
Phase one of “Martin’s Big Snip” was complete. Stay tuned for part two.