Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Herd Transitions

Sometimes things come along and make you readjust your attitude and your priorities. Ferdie's birth has been one of those. Not just for us, but for the yaks as well.

We've now spent two near-sleepless nights perking our ears for the stealthy approach of large critters. We live in cougar, bear and coyote territory, so that's not much of a surprise. Unfortunately, Ferdie has decided that her favorite space in the corral is right up against the edge of the fence, where she could be vulnerable. On the good side, the dogs are constantly alert for anything roaming in the night. Of course that includes racoons, possums and potentially mice. Welcome to being awakened at 2 a.m. Because the dogs smelled...something.

Quantum and I have spent the last two days with perma-grin. Watching Ferdie's antics has been...just blow-away. We are convinced that she is the cutest little animal since the gods first created cute little animals.

We spent the first dozen or so hours of her birth worried because she wasn't nursing. Within the first few hours, Zoozoo kicked (gently) at her. As a first time mommy heifer, she wasn't used to someone trying to nuzzle at her underparts. I'm sure her thoughts were something along the line of, "What the heck! That tickles." Just before Quantum was ready to go to the feed store next morning for colostrum formula, Zoozoo started letting her nurse without kicking her away. Gods, the relief!

The change in the herd dynamics has been profound. Before this, Yonkers was the undisputed Queen of the corral. Bitchy, defensive, and never having had a good relationship with humans, we've been challenged in dealing with her from the start. We got her at age nine, and it was clear that she'd never been tractable, and never liked people very much. We've got the impression that the folks we bought her from figured, "sell her to some schmuck or make her into hamburger." Her purpose, before we got her was breeding babies and more babies, without much care or interest in helping her to be gentle.

Quantum has done a world of work with her in the nearly two years that she's been ours. She went from, "approach at your peril" to a creature who though not easily handle-able was at least respectful when we entered the corral. And for the last 6 months she's been eating out of our hands, even though she will still charge the corral fence when I or strangers approach.

This winter when the girls escaped for the third time, Yonkers managed to put a huge gouge in our friend RY's butt. It wasn't her fault. He got tired of waiting for her to get in the trailer (he's impatient) and wacked her over the head with a metal pipe. So I thought Yonk was fully justified in turning around and burying one of her horns in his butt-cheek. Good thing he wasn't facing the other direction!

Knowing how nasty Yonkers can be, we thought we' d need to separate her from Zoozoo and the baby once it was born.

As part of her job as Corral Queen, Yonkers has the idea that her time should be spent convincing her two daughters that humans are evil and not to be trusted. However her yak-mommy instincts turned against her in a way. It's the natural instinct of most mommy animals to wean their older children in favor of their younger babies. That meant that Yazoo (the older daughter) was getting chased from the hay piles and the water bucket on a regular basis. Which left our Zoozoo open to the wiles of my husband, who would make sure that Zoo had her own special pile of hay when Yonkers tried to chase her away from the food. Despite that ZooZoo has been told by Momma that humans were evil, it was humans who were making sure she had enough to eat.

Meanwhile 2-yr old Yeti is just on the verge of being weaned. I saw her nursing only a few months ago, and that might still be going on when I'm not looking. Yeti has taken up her Mom's stance of "people are scary" and doesn't let us touch her.

Less than twenty-four hours ago, that all changed.

Within moments of Ferdie's birth, Zoozoo, who had been somewhat "on the fence" regarding human involvement in her life, has come a bare step away from total acceptance. We are both (and the both part is a surprise, since she likes Quantum a heck of a lot more than she likes me) allowed to touch and handle the baby, get in the corral and push the baby towards her. In fact, when baby Ferdie gets herself somewhere between the wood and the electric wiring (now turned off) of the corral, I get the feeling that she's actually happy that someone is there and ready to push her baby towards her.

Yeti has gone from shy sibling to doting aunt. She's fascinated by anything the baby does and posts herself in guard position near baby Ferdie.

But the biggest change has been with Yonkers. Suddenly she doesn't act like she's the biggest and most important yak in the corral. After a few times of pushing off Ferdie (who wanted to nurse and couldn't figure out who to turn to for that) Yonkers is now quietly following the other yaks around.

And being pleasant and gentle to the point where Quantum has crawled into the yak pen stark naked (hey it's hot here!) without the slightest worry or challenge to his various man-parts.

Less than 24 hours from the miracle birth of our grandbaby, and it's somehow changed the herd dynamics to allow us to be accepted.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's a Baby Yak!

Born 7/2/2012 7:14pm

OMG it's happening!
We're trying to relax after a rough day in town and car breakdowns. I look over at Yazoo and notice that she's at the far side of the corral, lying flat on the ground in a rather unusual way. The baby bump is getting bigger every day.

"I think it's going to be soon," I tell Quantum. "Maybe in the next couple days." The other two girls are chowing down and I figure I should bring her some hay of her own. Yonkers chases her away from the food sometimes.

Just as I get back inside, Quantum looks out the window. "Oh my god! It's happening! It's happening NOW!"

Zoozoo (that's still Yazoo - our pet name for her) has her tail up and there's a pink bubble forming there.

I run for the camera. (Thanks again, Mom!) "Her water broke," Quantum says.

Absolute terror sets into both of our hearts. Neither of us has ever helped a critter give birth. We're miles from the nearest large animal vet, miles from town, and we're not even sure the truck will run. It had vapor-lock before, and we barely made it home. Besides that, even though Zoozoo has become relatively accepting of Quantum (and me to a lesser degree) we doubt she'll let us help if she needs it. She doesn't like to be touched. We've read that yaks are easy birthers, but as first time grandparents, we're trembling.

Yonkers and Yeti are curious, but Zoozoo makes it clear that she wants to be left alone, so Quantum climbs into the corral and keeps them away from her.

We watch, helpless, as Zoozoo grunts and strains and the bubble gets bigger and bigger. We can see tiny white hooves inside the veil of the birth sack. And then it slips out, landing on the ground, a tiny, motionless form of black and white.

Moments after birth.
"It's alive! It's breathing!" Quantum says. Both of us slump with relief.

Zoozoo starts licking the baby and eating the birth sack away. It's already clear she's going to be a doting mother. We watch, enthralled, as the baby makes several attempts to get to her (at least it might be a her, we're still not positive) feet.

"You can do it, Ferdie," Quantum says.

This morning. 10 hours old.
"You do realize that whether it's a boy or a girl, that's it's name." I say

He smiles over at me, his face alight.

We'd actually hoped for a bull-calf, because we had considered studding him out. We'd like to get the local ranchers interested in cow-yak hybrids. So if it was a boy, we planned on naming it Ferdinand. We hadn't picked a girl name yet.

It's so tiny and perfect and fragile. We don't care what its sex is. We're already deeply in love.Zoozoo keeps licking away and Ferdie struggles to rise and plops back down in the dirt several times.

Then she's up, tottering on the very tips of her hooves. She can't seem to figure out how to use them yet. She falls down again then finally rises and take a few wobbly steps forward. Straight towards me. Zoozoo stands alongside her, but doesn't protest Ferdie's interest in me.

Still a little wobbly.
I put my hand through the fence and she comes over to me, her pink nose just inches from my hand. She sniffs and gives a little baby yak grunt.

The two of us are stuck halfway between laughter and tears.

The other yaks are very curious, especially Yeti, but Quantum and Zoozoo make sure they keep their distance.

We're surprised by her coloring. Both of her parents are black Imperials with a white patch on their foreheads and white socks. Ferdie is a Royal, like her grandfather Sherpa, black in the front, white in the back, with spots and patches, here and there, white legs and a wide blaze down her nose.

We go inside, and let them be, feeling high and exhausted. It's going to be a long night, because neither of us are going to get much sleep, especially with the coyotes living so close.