Years ago, I was caring for an adorable, little cria named Bennie. Bennie kept getting sick, and against all odds, he kept getting better. He had pneumonia several times, many IV’s and even TPN (total protein nutrition IV). On 3 different occasions I kissed Bennie goodnight and goodbye, only to return again the next morning to see him alive and well, there. This lead to his nickname, the Energizer Bennie. He kept going, and going, and going, and going,…….
One day the nationally renowned veterinarian (NRV) with whom we were consulting, told me that I needed to do a transfaunation with Bennie. This meant that I was supposed to go and get rumen (stomach juices) from another animal and put them into Bennie’s stomach. Ooookaaay.
So I asked NRV where I was supposed to get this donation rumen. He wasn’t sure. Hmm. Goats were considered. My vet said he wouldn’t work for me anymore if I bought a goat. (No offense goat lovers, just that alpacas and goats aren’t a good mix due to parasite issues.) Then we decided to find out if there were any slaughterhouses around so that maybe we could get some rumen from a cow who had been slaughtered for beef.
I was so proud of my resourcefulness for thinking of this! I had no farming background prior to alpacas. This stuff was seriously foreign to me, WAY outside of my frame of reference. We got alpacas to avoid having to slaughter animals so I wasn’t familiar with where to find a slaughterhouse. Finally I located one about 90 miles away. I called ahead and told them that I needed a cow’s stomach. They said,” Oookaaaay,” like I had asked them for a heart from a Martian.
I had brought a medium sized styrofoam cooler with me in which to transport, the, ahem, rumen. When the nice man lead me into the “kill room”…do not faint, Katy, do not faint… I saw a massive thing on the ground. All around it had been cleaned up. The room smelled strange, of disinfectant plus something eerie, like death. I looked at my cooler. Then I looked at the bovine stomach on the ground. Hmmm. The cow’s gut was about 6 times the size of my cooler. I was at a loss.
“What are you going to use this for?” the slaughterhouse man asked. I explained it to him while he scratched his head, no doubt thinking, “It takes all kinds.” He did mention that it must be a pretty special little animal for me to be going to so much trouble. I agreed, told him about Bennie, and gave him my card. (oh yes I did)
Completely at a loss, I called NRV and asked him how I was to get that massive cow’s stomach home. Sadly, he was no help. Fortunately the slaughterhouse man had a knife. He cut open the gut and I decided that rather than take the whole stomach, I would just take its contents. The smell was bad. really bad. This is the stuff that people get worried alpacas will spit on them.
The stomach was basically filled with grass and some juice. We put the contents into the cooler. I want to say that he provided me with rubber gloves, but I don’t remember. (I think I’ve blocked it.) Soon I was happily on my way with the magic treatment for Bennie in the back seat.
Later I was to find out that even a former suburban girl can succeed in grossing out the most seasoned vet techs with her cooler full of cow’s innards. They would send me to the breezeway to make my “rumen tea” which we would administer to Bennie via a feeding tube and which he would proceed to vomit all over everyone in the room. Ahh, yes, I remember it well.
However, during the drive back from the rumen retrieval, I stopped at a gas station. I went in, used the facilities, and washed my hands thoroughly. I got back in the car, the gaseous smell of rumen permeating my van. I sat and ate two delicious chocolate Krispy Kreme donuts. Depleted by my adventures that afternoon, I relished those donuts, thinking they were the best I had ever eaten. At that moment I knew I had accomplished something I could have never done a few years back. For a moment, I reveled in the knowledge that I had run the gauntlet, an admittedly disgusting one, to help my little friend Bennie. Then I drove off into the sunset to save him.
Against all odds, Bennie has grown into a healthy male herdsire alpaca and has babies of his own. The day he left our farm I cried like a baby.