Gaia was born prematurely during the early hours of the 20th May 2010. It is usual for a new-born alpaca (called cria) to suddenly acquire a lot a ‘aunties’. The other female alpacas click and hum at the baby whilst the mother nudges it, encouraging it to sit up in the cush position (usually within 15 minutes) and then to be standing, feeding within 1 hour. It is very unusual for them to ignore a new born. Whether it was because her mother, Dusty Diamond wasn’t interested, or perhaps they tried but didn’t think Gaia would live, but for whatever reason, Gaia was left whilst the herd moved off to graze elsewhere.
Gaia was found lying alone, concealed in the long grass at 8 o’clock in the morning, already dry from the sun and looking like a rag-doll. She was weak and dehydrated; she didn’t have the strength to sit or even hold her head up and so the vet was called immediately. While waiting for her to arrive, Gaia was bottle fed artificial Colostrum, a vitamin enriched supplement she would normally get from her mother’s milk and which is essential for the well being of any cria. This started to take effect and Gaia began to rally.
Joy, the vet, arrived. Tracy sat, holding Gaia in a position which exposed her tummy, so that Joy had access to her abdomen. After being shaved and sterilised, Joy placed a catheter into the peritoneum and slowly injected Gaia with 100ml of plasma which would be absorbed into the stomach via the stomach lining. We waited nervously to see what would happen. It was incredible, Gaia started to get better almost immediately. Within 20 minutes, she could sit in the cush position and hold her head up for the first time. Then she needed to be bottle feed every hour; her little system only managing 10-15ml each time.
We used sheep hurdles to make a safe, enclosed space within the paddock and put Dusty and Gaia into it. Dusty was not happy! She wore a pained expression and looked like she thought she was being punished. Tracy returned to the paddock with the 6 o’clock feed only to find that Dusty had managed to break out of the pen. Two of the sides had collapsed inwards; luckily each stopping the descent of the other and firmly locking together only inches above Gaia who was happily snoozing in the sunshine! Dusty was off, grazing with her friends, she didn’t understand why I kept shutting her in with a little bundle of fluff that was no fun at all. She also didn’t care for being milked!
It was a balmy evening, but Gaia’s temperature started to drop. She and Dusty were brought in and put in a birthing cubicle at Houghton Hall Alpaca farm. Vigorous rubbing didn’t seem to work, so Tracy used the warm setting on a hair dryer to raise Gaia’s body temperature. Within 30 minutes, she was better and then wrapped in a pre-warmed cria coat and tucked up with her reluctant mother.
For the following five days, Gaia had to continue to be bottle fed because Dusty didn’t want anything to do with her. We stretched the distance between feeds and the quantities got bigger. Gradually, the quantities lessened because, at last, Dusty started to take an interest and let Gaia feed from her. They were both constantly monitored and we still brought them in at night. On 31st May when Gaia refused all the bottles and didn’t need our intervention any more, she was able to run with the herd and be fed by her mother.
On being reintroduced to the herd, Gaia gained her collection of ‘aunties’ who made a great fuss of her. They were so noisy, the alpacas in the adjoining field came up to the fence to see what was happening, then they too, clicked and hummed, accepting the new arrival.
Everything was proceeding as it should until Gaia was three months old, then suddenly, for no apparent reason, she died. Tracy was devastated! Her beautiful, honey-coloured, brown female, with a fabulous fleece just wasn’t strong enough to survive. We had already named our new skirt after her and through having Gaia as part of our new collection, she will never be forgotten.