May 29, 2016 | Author: Jan
On Sunday, May 22, 2016, our finest alpaca, Fair Winds Sweet William, suddenly showed signs of illness. He went into cush, the legs-tucked-in resting position of the camelid family, and remained there, out in the middle of the field despite an increasing downpour of rain.
Dale went out to investigate and found that Billy, as we know him on the farm, was exhausted. He had no energy to stand or take himself out of the rain. And his herd had abandoned him. They had moved off to find shelter, placing the herd's needs ahead of that of the individual animal. Sadly, this made Billy's distress even worse. Alpaca are herd animals, and without their herd, they are stressed. They know their survival is linked to the herd's survival. Billy would have felt the absence of the herd at a very instinctual level.
Dale got him under shelter and got our vet to come out and examine him. All signs pointed to a sudden and severe infestation of barber pole worms, a particularly vicious parasite that takes hold and literally drains the life from their host. Dale immediately treated him, but Billy died about 3 hours later. We were heartbroken. Worse, we were thousands of miles apart. We both found ourselves alone, like Billy was, as we faced this tremendous loss for the farm and a very personal loss due to our connection to and love for this spectacular animal.
I know that being alone made this so much harder to face. Every instinct I had told me I needed to be grieving this loss in the company of someone I loved who had also loved Billy. I felt a physical reaction when I couldn't. There was an ache in my chest and a loss of appetite and interest in what was happening around me. The keening of my heart seemed like it would overwhelm me and I had to deliberately force myself into my intellectual side to find relief. When I was able to talk to Dale, it was clear that he was struggling in his isolation too. We cried together over the phone and that helped, and we both acknowledged how the separation made it worse when it already was so bad. It was hard to hang up, but we knew we had to and so we soldiered on.
This experience made it crystal clear to me what it means to be a herd animal. Being with the herd makes celebration happier, loss easier to bear, survival more likely, and day-to-day life more content. Being apart from the herd makes it all harder. Lots harder. There is a very real, very serious downside to isolation, for alpaca and for humans.
As we move forward from this loss we will be examining our practices on the farm. I'm sure we will be very critical of what we did before, but by so doing we will find better ways to sustain the integrity of our alpaca herd. We need to examine how we treat our human herd too. Figuring out how to keep the herd together will surely be a focus of mine in the future. Mending relationships, finding ways to connect, devoting time to bring us all together -- these actions just jumped in my priority list. I hope others can learn from our loss and move these items up in their priority lists too.