10 Forsythia Grove
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT
December 28 2000
My Dear Ralph and Harriet
I suppose I should be inclined to ask if you both have had a happy Christmas. And I think I might have done so, had the young alpaca (featured above) had one herself.
I had to work on the farm on Christmas morning, and showed up bright and early to carry out the usual set of tasks: mucking out; filling water containers; filling hay mangers; putting out beef nuts; mixing baby alpaca (“cria”) feeds, and so on and so forth.
Unluckily, I arrived to find the youngest member of the herd (numbering around 20 adults and five or so crias) collapsed on the floor of the shed. I said, ‘Oh Mathilde,’ and propped her on her knees against a wall. I then – in quite some state of distress – zipped in to the big house, to warm up some goat’s milk for her (kept in a carton in the fridge).
I unfortunately encountered the property owner’s new male carer in the kitchen. He had only been the new “live-in” for just under a week and I had never met him. After hastily shaking his hand, I asked,
‘Have you been feeding Mathilde?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Have you been reheating the milk?’ I asked. ‘It’s only that bacteria breed in re-warmed milk.’
‘Oh,’ said the male carer – rather defensively – ‘Hubert (the property owner) reheats the milk.’
‘Please don’t reheat the milk!’ I snapped.
The male carer huffily put on his coat and went outside. When he came back, he said, ‘She’s just the same as yesterday. You don’t know what you’re talking about ‘mon,’ he said.
‘I’m a qualified nurse,’ I said. ‘Are you?’
I then sped up to Hubert’s bedroom and said the same. ‘Please don’t reheat the milk Hubert. Good man.’ Hubert stared at me in rather lizard-like fashion.
Out in the sheds, it became obvious that Mathilde had streaming diarrhoea; her back end was soaked with it, her eyes half-closed.
I phoned Hubert from out there. ‘She’s really bad’ I said, relaying further information.
‘Do we need the vet?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I said.
And the vet thankfully materialized about 30 minutes later. He said that the prognosis for the young alpaca was poor. He affirmed that she was underweight, hypothermic, and dehydrated. He said the diagnosis was enteritis.
I said that a couple of people were reheating the milk and, if he agreed that fresh, clean, milk should be used for every feed, please could he inform the duo inside the house. I escorted him to the foot of the stairs and called up to Hubert that the vet was here. He went up and I went back to the sheds.
When the vet came back, he said he was going to give Mathilde the first of four daily injections of antibiotic.
‘Did you get a chance to tell them about the milk?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I did.’
Later on, I had to go into the house for some more milk (mixed with a small quantity of rehydration gel). The male carer slunk past in the background .
Hubert did come out to see Mathilde. We sat her on her his lap while he fed her, and I sponged off the diarrhoea with warm water. We put an extra coat on her (not something I am particularly good at; there are so many ties). And Hubert asked me to demonstrate how I got the lamb-feeding bottle into Mathilde’s mouth, something he said he was not particularly good at.
When I went back the next day, she was still alive. And, thankfully, Tom the herdsman – a very caring man – was also there. He prepared a smaller pen – using a metal estate gate, and covering it with blankets and set to feeding the prostrated youngster. She was too weak to even lift her head off the straw.
I wasn’t due to go in for the next couple of days, but I phoned Hubert the evening before I was due to go in. He told me that Mathilde had died.
The following morning I had to go in to the kitchen because the outside taps had frozen and I needed warm water for mixing the other baby feeds. The male carer was in there and he couldn’t raise his eyes off the ground to meet my eyes. But there’s no point continuing with an awful atmosphere, so I talked about the weather and the taps. He said he was the one to find the body (an unpleasant experience I know) and did say that he realized I had lost a friend.
Tom told me that he had driven a pick axe through the – frozen – soil in order to dig a hole to bury Mathilde in. He said that he had said a few words of blessing by the grave, and marked it. He talked about how upset he had been; he works far more days there than I do and so spends much time with the animals. And he thanked me for my kindness.
Well this was an unnecessary death in my view. So, whatever you do, don’t reheat the milk (discard any milk not drunk at any one time) and sterilize the bottle, and the teat, after feeding any vulnerable young baby or baby animal. Wash your hands.
Love from Evangeline Tankful (DBE)