Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Odds and Ends

Apart from the usual delivering of hay and alf alfa to the paddocks, we continued halter training some of the weanlings. We are using halters with a short leading handle attached which seems to make the link between wearing the halter and being led more gradual. They are wearing the halters in the paddock so that they get used to the feel. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when we are open we bring the alpacas up to the paddocks near the farm yard so that visitors can see them. This is also a good opportunity for us to fit the halters and be sure that the haltered weanlings are happily eating and not having a problem.

We also took the opportunity to check the recently weaned cria. We were particularly worried about Isobel who seemed to be much more anxious about her Mum leaving. To start with she spent quite a bit of time on her own and did not always move with the rest of the herd. For the last couple of days she has looked more relaxed and we have seen her feeding on what is left of the grass and from the hay racks. When we caught her today she seemed to be in very good condition, so obviously her trauma has not effected her appetite or health.

As you will see from the photo the kittens are still ruling the roost. The dog beds seemed a bit damp so we brought them indoors this evening to air them and the kittens thought they were ideal for lazing in front of the fire.

The shop is pretty much organised now, and we are going to order some more stock - mainly gifts and alpaca blankets and throws.

Mike likes to take Jake around the farm with him and as you can see from the photo, Jake likes to go too.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Back to normal

After exciting things like poo picking the paddocks we spent sometime putting up the new display units in the farm shop. We have decided to get a few gifts to augment the natural alpaca products which are main lines so we are surfing the net for suitable extras. We are also looking for some machine knitters to make up some plain jumpers that we can sell along side our hand knitted aran sweaters. We have sold out of a lot of products we bought from Peru and with the current USD exchange rate it is not really viable to import any more at the moment.

The units certainly make it much easier to display our stock and instead of just having a few items on show with back ups in the cupboard we can put nearly everything out on show, which makes it look more interesting.

I picked up my computer from the repair shop this afternoon so I'll be able to catch up with the office work and check my emails properly which will be a relief.


Saturday, 27 December 2008

Starting up again

It's official - kitten rule OK. We had them in the house at lunch time with all the dogs. All was quiet and when we looked round the dogs were lying down quietly on the floor and and there was a kitten on each of the two dog beds which we keep in the house. They were casually preening themselves and generally lording it.

This afternoon we went into our local Woolworth to pick up some shelving that we bought. It was almost totally empty apart from a few late bargain hunters and other people who, like ourselves, had bought shop fittings.

It was very sad and we felt sorry for the staff, although they seemed to be keeping themselves cheerful. The manager took a group photo of all the staff before they went home.

We loaded our shelves in the horse box and look forward to working our how to reassemble everything.

This morning I took over delivering hay and alf alfa to the alpacas. This is mainly to get used to the new quad bike and was a dry run for when Mike is recovering from his operation. All went well apart from my idea of taking the dogs with me to get their exercise rather than taking them separately. All was fine until I opened the gate to the male's paddock. I told Millie to drive them back and Romie thought she would help but she did not understand what Iwanted so she drove them all up the race to the weanlings' mothers. Luckily Mike noticed what was happening and my shaking the bucket of feed with Mike bringing up the rear soon restored order.

Although freezing cold it was a lovely day and more than ever we appreciated living here with the wonderful view and our lovely animals, even if they include pushy hens and bolshy kittens.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas is over

Well it is now Boxing day evening and Christmas is well and truly over. We had a lovely Christmas day with my son, David and family. Christmas lunch with all the usual trimmings, lots of presents followed by a walk round the farmwith our dogs and David's dog who often stays with us. We checked on the alpacas who did not seem to know it was Christmas. It was great that my Mum was fit enough to join us for the festivities, although she was very tired at the end of the day.

Our Granddaughter was fascinated by the kittens and we enjoyed games of pass the parcel and charades before David, Jane, Zach and Tara set off for home. We all agreed that if the East Devon Council allow us to build a proper house here it would be lovely to have all three sons and their families rather that one at a time. It is not so bad in the summer because we can overflow outside but in the winter space is very tight.

Today we planned to have an easy day, although by the time we had got everything back to normal and done a few small jobs it was lunchtime and I am not sure where the afternoon went. We were quite chilly by about 4 p.m. and went indoors to sit in front of the fire. The kittens came in and lay in front of it preening themselves. The dogs all settled well, and it was the most relaxed the whole pack had been since the arrival of Polly and Souki. Their antics are very entertaining but rather too exciting for our collies and lurchers.

Sales in our shop were very good before Christmas so it will beinteresting to find out if we get any customers from now on. After Easter it will probably perk up again as we get quite a few holiday makers calling in over the tourist months.

We are going to concentrate on halter training the weanlings from now on. We only have three cria still with there Mums now so we had better get on with it in timefor the shows starting March.

The hens are still laying well and Millie is still doing the egg hunt every day. She did break one yesterday but I am hoping it is a once off. The dogs steal the chickens' food so today I put their feed bowls on top of the wood pile but Romie (my young greedy collie) still managed to climb up and dig in. We will have to revert to plan A which is that we feed the chickens when the dogs are shut in!! I had a bit of a panic this evening because I was reading and did not notice that it had got dark. I went out with a torch and luckily they had all put themselves to bed so I just locked them in. I would have been very unlucky if any of them were still out as they are black and would be hard to see - although I am sure that a fox would be able to smell them!!

Still all is well that ends well.

Monday, 22 December 2008


The weather has been quite kind for the past few days which makes life a lot more pleasant.

We have had quite a few visitors to the shop but mostly buying stocking fillers. Plenty of demand for gloves, hats and socks.

Sadly as everywhere else, Woolworths in Chard are closing down. We went in there when we went shopping today and many of the shelves were bare and the prices were through the floor. 40-50% off in a lot of cases. They are also selling off their shop fittings so we bought two really big shelf units and twelve shelves. Mike is going in with the horsebox after Christmas to pick them up. We felt really sorry for the staff. The manager dealt with the sale of the shop fittings and as he said, it is bad, but even worse that it has happened at this time of year.

We have just taken the Mums away from five cria who were born in July. Ideally we would have preferred to delay weaning them a bit longer but the females are starting to look a little thin and with the rest of the winter to contend with we felt it better for them to only have to feed themselves. We will be checking the newly weaned cria every other day for a while to make sure they do not lose condition.

The chickens are still laying well. They are very amusing. Today they met the kittens. The hens were not worried but the kittens were a little shocked I think.

I was a bit concerned because I fed the kittens a little meat to get them in from the field and they immediately went to sleep in their pen in the porch. Later I put the rest of their dinner in their bowl and they did not bother to eat it. Mike looked at them later in the evening and they had eaten it, so we are assuming that they were just exhausted. They have been running free more and more and today they were out for quite a few hours including going into the field with the dogs and chickens.

Having finished wrapping all the Christmas presents this evening, we are going to put our feet up for half an hour.

Friday, 19 December 2008


The kittens and dogs are getting more relaxed with each other - or rather the kittens are extremely relaxed and the dogs are slightly more relaxed but still worryingly fascinated by the speed that the kittens hurl themselves around the living room, up and down the curtains and in and out of the furniture. Luckily, every now and again they flop into a little huddle and fall asleep. We have moved their puppy pen into the porch so that at least they can have some quiet times and we don't have to worry about them.

I had a break through with Millie today. She retrieved an egg from the hedge and handed it over with only a small treat as a bribe. Touch wood, she still has not broken one yet.

Life is not quite so pleasant this time of the year and with the dark mornings and evenings and the cold and damp some of the daily chores seem more onerous. We would really love some frosty mornings and some time without rain so that the mud dries up.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Letter from America

We made our first sale of a hand made aran sweater to the USA today. The lady had tried to pay on line but our website only accepts UK credit cards at the moment, so I promised to look into how she could pay. I phoned my bank who were very unhelpful. Their way was either very costly or if she sent an international cheque it would take 6 weeks to clear. I mentioned to the customer services person that we were actually in the 21st Century and how could it possibly take that long to clear a cheque? No wonder the banks are in trouble if they cannot even do a simple transaction like that!!

Anyway, I had a look at paypal which we mostly use for ebay and found that she could send me dollars and they would convert it into sterling straight away no worries. It arrived this afternoon and her sweater will be despatched tomorrow.

Tilly is looking well but I took her and Maddy to the vet for vaccinations and the vet checked her heart and it has still not improved. She seems happy, which is the main thing.

Mike went to Shepton Mallet hospital today for his pre-knee replacement. He is going into hospital on the 7th January and is hoping to be back to normal by Easter.

The last of our cria have just had their second blue tongue vaccinations and we have started to halter train the weanlings. Last year we left it a bit late and it was quite embarrassing having to drag them around at their first show, so we do not want a repeat this year.

The chickens have made two new nests in the barn. Luckily they are just on different levels of the straw stack. Not sure where they will go when we have to use the straw, but at the moment we do not have any alpacas in the barn so it is not needed. They are still laying well and I cannot remember the last time I have to buy eggs.

We are trying to get the kittens on to mixed food like the dogs. So far they have tried their biscuits with egg over them, a little cheese, some raw liver, and some left over eggs and bacon. All seems to have been accepted with no ill effects. They have been out with the all the dogs in the living room quite a few times now and today they went into the garden with the dogs, so progress is being made. They come when called and the neighbourhood rings with my repeated cries of "come on girls" when calling the alpacas, "Chick, chick, chickens" (in an egg laying tone)for the hens, and "puss, puss, puss" for the little kitty kats.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The longest Day

Today was almost totally taken up with taking Tilly to the Vet Hospital near Gloucester. Mark Paterson the heart specialist discussed the options for Tilly's treatment. Her heart beat is EXTREMELY erratic and although she seems to be coping very well at the moment he warned that she could suddenly drop dead. Still, couldn't we all?

They are still not certain what has caused this problem since she must have been perfectly OK last year when she was vaccinated as they do a health check at that time. Mark Paterson thought that a pace maker might be the answer which would cost £3-4K. Mike and I had already discussed this possibility and felt that as she is 13 years old the risks were too great against the potential benefit and the specialist agreed that at her time of life she had probably had 90% of it and the pacemaker would perhaps increase her projected life by a small percentage. Different if she was a 3 year old. He did, however, recommend some more blood tests and a heart scan, so I had to go away and kill about three hours, which I did in a local garden centre. Caught up with the Christmas shopping and had a snack lunch.

Back at the Vet Hospital Mark showed me her scan. There is a nodule between the atrium and ventricle which might be inhibiting what he described as "the wire" through. This might be the result of some sort of infection which may or may not be confirmed by the blood tests or worst case scenario it could be a tumour although that would be very rare.

In the meantime he has given her some medication to increase her heart rate. At least we now know the probable cause of the heart problem but not the cure. She might make a natural recovery or might need antibiotics to fight an infection and if the damage is not permanent she might get back to normal.

At the very least we know that a pace maker is not the answer - even if she was 3 years old.

So far it has cost over £1000 to get this far. Makes you appreciate BUPA or the NHS!!

Tomorrow I am going Christmas Shopping (that actually means a quick look at the shops followed by a leasurely lunch in a nice restaurant) with Pauline, my bestest friend. We decided years ago that it was pointless buying each other Christmas presents so we just have a girly day out together. Poor old Mike will be on his own again (I think he quite likes it really).

Still I am doing driving duties and delivering and collecting him from the Garage (his Salisbury business) Christmas do on Christmas Eve. A great sacrifice worth many girly lunches in my book!!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Just a quickie

Lunch with the family went well and the kittens were popular. We had shut them in the barn whilst we had company because of lack of space but during the afternoon they had plenty of attention and luckily did not escape from their enclosure, even though they are both experienced climbers now.

Still finding new places to find eggs. We blocked a small hole behind the straw bales in the barn but whoever is laying over there decided to lay her eggs on top of the straw bales so we now have to climb up daily to find the eggs.

The alpacas are doing well and enjoying the few days of sunshine which we have had over the past week or so. They are eating a lot of hay and alf alfa now that the grass is not growing..

Our older dog, Tilly, who was so ill recently, is going to visit a cardiologist tomorrow. It is a 2 hour trip and I am not sure if it is a good route to go down. I don't think she should have any treatment which involves anaesthetic but maybe they will be able to control her erratic heart beat with medication.

The shop is still doing well as are our internet sales, although I keep having to remove stock because it has sold out. I am trying to get to grips with altering the website myself but so far have not been very successful.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Hotting up for Christmas

Our farm shop is getting very busy now and stocks are getting low. We'll be millyonares soon!!

The alpacas are coping very well with the changeable weather. One day it is freezing cold and the next milder and very wet. Last night we had torrential rain and many roads were blocked by flooding. Luckily the farm is on a slight slop so there are usually some dry areas, but we are dreading doing toe nails next week. Often when everything is so wet - and don't forget what a wet summer we had - we find that their pads are getting damaged. It also seems to make their toe nails much softer and they grow quicker which makes them more liable to get damaged.

We will also be topping up with vitamin D to make up for the shortage of sunshine.

All the field shelters were very wet this morning and the alpacas had obviously taken shelter from the terrible rain as they all needed to be mucked out much more than usual. Mike put straw in them to try and absorb some of the mud and poo.

The kittens are doing very well. All the dogs have met them off lead now but we think they are still a bit small to face six dogs all at once. I took them outside as they have been kept in the house for their first week here so they get to know where home is. They immediately went under the house and did not seem in the least bit interested in coming back to me. I had deliberately chosen a time when they normally get fed, so luckily after a while the lure of a bowl of Whiskas outweighed the adventure of the great outdoors. I think I will leave it a few more days before I risk losing them again.

The chickens are still laying a few eggs a day. They are getting very demanding and perch on the feed bin when I go near it and then mug me for their layers mash. They are venturing a bit near the A358 sometimes so I think we will have to think of a way to curtail their free-ranging a little bit. Don't want scrambled chicken.

My Mum's sister and family are coming to lunch tomorrow - that makes 9 in all, so I had better get into domestic goddess mode and start peeling potatoes and making pastry now.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Really cold

Well yesterday was the coldest up to then but this morning was even colder with the frost really thick on the ground. Still let's hope it will kill the bugs - blue tongue - midges etc:

We are going through a lot of hay and alf alfa now that the grass is not too good. Alpacas are used to sparse conditions in the Andes so they probably feel right at home.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Today must have been one of the coldest of the winter so far. When I did my morning rounds with the dogs even the thickest and soggiest mud was set.

The alpacas looked very happy. It must be a real treat for them to have kept their pads reasonably dry for a change. Mike has put some new hay racks in the biggest shelter where the main herd goes at night and they had emptied both racks and were busy demolishing the hay in the mobile hayrack in the field. Looks like we'll have to order some more hay shortly.

We have been out all day today and got back just in time to put the hens to bed - or rather shut the door on their house, as they had already gone in. They are such obliging creatures!!

The kittens are starting to be assertive and began mewing almost as soon as we got home. I assumed correctly that they thought it was about time they were fed.

They spend most of their time in the puppy pen when the dogs are around but they treat the living room like the wall of death when they are let out to run around. They tightrope walk the chair rungs. Last night one of the ran at the gas fire, which, luckily is enclosed, bounced off it with one paw, and obviously found it rather hot!! She spent ages licking and looking amazed at her poorly foot. We inspected her front paws very carefully but could see no sign of permanent damage, so hopefully it is just a painful lesson learned.

Monday, 8 December 2008

New Beginning

Hello if there is anyone out there still!!

I knew I had not made any blog entries for a while but was shocked to see it is well over a month since my last update.

Well we have several new additions to the Laurel Farm family. First of all we now have eight chickens. I have never really liked birds because they flap around and as a child I used to get chased by my uncle's geese. I have, however, always associated having chickens as part of farm life. The same uncle also had chickens on his farm and they were truly free range including frequest forays into the kitchen. Mike has always been against having them as he thinks they attract rats, but as I pointed out we already have animal feed around the place so a bit of layers' mash for chickens won't make much difference!!

Searching for a hen house was a major problem as most of them see to cost about £200 and there are few second had ones. Those that came up in the Free-ads either sold very quickly or were too far away. In the end Bob (who sells hay and straw to us) told us that he had seen some cheap sheds in Focus. Off we trotted and found a shed of just the right size reduced to £100.

Mike built a nesting box, fixed up perches and cut out a little door for them to go in and out of. he also added skids and made it as fox-proof as possible.

They are delightful and a great source of amusement. We thought that they were going off lay in November until we found a stash of 15 eggs in the hedge and only yesterday I found 8 eggs hiding behind the bales of straw in the barn.

Millie, one of our border collies, has developed yet another new talent on top of competing manically in agility, she is a brilliant alpaca dog and today she scented out eggs, picked them up without breaking them, and after a lot of persuasion gave them to me. I am hoping to build on this great new skill and teach her to help collect the eggs daily!! So far the retrieve is brilliant but the present needs some more work!!

Well, I'll teach Mike to worry about mice and rats!! The latest arrivals are two cute little kittens called Polly and Soukie. They are eight weeks old and are destined to be farm cats but their (accidental) breeder tells me they have to stay in the house for the first week so they do not run away. They started off in the porch but this proved to be inconvenient so now they are in a converted puppy pen in the living room. The dogs are fascinated and line up to watch their antics. We have had them out a few times and although we have not allowed them to run free with the dogs around yet, everyone seems to be behaving very well.

Back in September we took some of our yearling alpacas to the village street fair and we found out that a lot of people did not realise that we sold alpaca products or that they could come and visit the alpacas, so we advertised that we would be having open days every Tuesday and Thursday until Christmas. These have been very successful indeed. We have sold loads of wool and many of our hand knitted jumpers as well as the hats and clothes that we import from South America. Now there is rarely a day when we don't have a sale in the shop and we are also selling one or two items a day on the internet. A lot of this is obviously for Christmas but we are hoping to build on such a good start afterwards.

Tilly Tonkers, my lovely hairy lurcher who has been a great agility dog has been seriously ill this week. She was sick and then became very listless last week. She was diagnosed with kidney failure and her heart was EXTREMELY slow - only 20 beats a minute and irregular.

She was in vet hospital for 3 nights but came home on Friday and today she is looking quite good and back to eating, drinking and walking fairly normally. She is not out of the woods and she had more blood tests today. The feeling now is that the heart problem may have caused the kidney problem rather than the other way round. After the blood results we might be looking at scans etc: to find out what is wrong with her heart. Fingers crossed it will be something that can be controlled with medication.

I will try and be good and keep the blog more up to date. It would be a bit rash to say I will do it every day!! Some days there is not much worth reporting.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


Well, nothing much going on on the farm - just the usual routine, putting out hay, water, alf alfa and occasionally Camelibra (a supplementary feed).

The weather has been beautiful today and we have all taken advantage of the delayed winter weather which will surely be on its way soon.

Nothing to do with alpacas, but yesterday I went out on a relaxing day. Four of us went to Centre Parks at Longleat for a Pamper day. It was ladies only in the morning but open to everyone in the afternoon. They have a very smart suite of various spas. Mostly variations on the sauna but from different parts of the world. We samples the flavour of the orient as well as Finland and from the UK a giant jacuzzi.

It was a beautiful fine day which we could see through the roof but all our activities apart from the lovely warm jacuzzi were inside. We relaxed on water beds and dined on a healthy salad followed at tea time by an unhealthy cream tea!! The signs said that peace and quiet were the main requirement but luckily most of the time we managed to get the various spa experiences to ourselves - or maybe our laughter and chatter just kept everyone else out when they saw us in there!!

At lunch time a doe and her fawn strolled past the window and casually looked in before moving on. The whole compex is very well run and is set in a landscape of woodland and lakes, which gives you the feel good factor before you start.

I phoned Mike to tell him we had arrived and that my phone would be switched off until 6 p.m. and in response to his question "What will you be doing?" I said "absolutely nothing". In good company doing nothing is an art form and all four of us agreed we would like to repeat the experience. Thanks to Elaine for organising it, and to Lindsay and Caroline for their excellent company.

I am just going to have a dull old shower now but I'll imagine it is the tropical scented rain shower that I took yesterday!!

Monday, 20 October 2008

Back again

I know - I have not been keeping the blog up to date. I really meant to but life got in the way. My Mother who lives with us has only recently started to recover after being rushed to hospital whilst we were away on holiday. She has lost a lot of her mobility and also was very depressed. Although she was not really any trouble I felt I had to give her more time than usual. She now has a carer who comes in twice a day and helps her get washed and dressed, showered, makes her bed and generally attends to her physical needs. I now only prepare her meals and do her washing and ironing. This means that life is more or less back to normal and we have a lot more freedom as Karen, Mum's carer, is very attentive and alerts me or the doctor if any further problems arise. She cannot get into our car any more so when she needs to go to hospital for tests, Xrays, etc: an ambulance comes to collect her and brings her home. Again this means I have much more freedom as there is no need for me to go with her because she seems to get priority to save ambulance time and so is in and out much more quickly than when I used to take her.

All is going well on the farm with 12 cria this year of which 8 are female. Unfortunately and unusually we had seven girls who turned out not to be pregnant although they were spitting off after being mated originally. We found this out when they were scanned at the end of last year but decided not to do any matings after October as we have previously experienced winter births which are both risky and a lot of extra work if the cria have to be kept in for any length of time. Two of the seven were mated outside the herd and have been remated. They are both spitting off and we are awaiting a positive scan to confirm the pregnancies.

We are hoping for a lot more successful pregnancies next year. Perhaps thirty or more depending on how many are sold prior to the births.

Our latest cria is Lady Jessica and she is pictured here with her mother, Calpurnia. The other picture is of one of our collies, Jake. he loves to play football. Unfortunately I did not capture him earlier as there was a very amusing sight of all the alpacas gazing at him over the fence and watching his football antics. He has accidentally nosed his ball over the fence and is unsure as to how he is going to get it back.

We are holding open days every Tuesday and Thursday from November to Christmas to sell our knitted products. We will also have some new imported products from Peru and some Christmas Wreaths made by a friend of mine who makes really lovely natural decorations. If the chickens arrive we might even have some eggs to sell, and possibly Mike might get round to cutting some logs from the stacks of wood we have around the farm left over from the tree surgeon's visit and from the hedge laying last year.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Good News

Good news - the weather has been quite pleasant today. No rain (although no sun either) and not too cold.

Just as our neighbour arrived to help us with the paddock cleaning I noticed that Annabel, one of our original alpacas was about to give birth. This was a good excuse to let Mike and Pam start the poo picking without me!!

I wandered down and in a very few minutes the prettiest cria of the year was born!! Annabel is an experienced Mum and took a no nonsense approach. She looked a little cross with me when I picked up her baby to rub her dry and spray her tummy, but otherwise she took it all in her stride. The cria, Laurels Lady Baptista, is a very pretty light fawn - rather the shade of an apricot poodle. She was on her feet in minutes and suckling within the hour. All very reassuring.

We did the last spit offs of the year and luckily only two females failed to reject the male (meaning that they do not think themselves pregnant). Both have been known to mate even though they are pregnant, so we are hoping that is the case this time as we are working towards having all our births in a window between April and July.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Chardstock Street Fayre

We promised last year to take our alpacas to the street fayre but could not because of the F & M movement restrictions. This year we took 5 of our female yearlings - Emilia, Cleopatra, Nina, Dorcus and Helena.

The organisers had a bit of a nightmare coping with flooded fields. The main events field was not useable and the car parking field had to be changed and a flock of sheep removed so the cars could be parked. Some of the events had to be cancelled or moved and because the Chain Saw juggler was being moved into Strongs Field where we were supposed to go, we were relocated to the verge outside the post office. Ray Smith, one of the organisers, thought the alpacas might be worried by the chain saws - if they weren't I sure would be!!

Congratulations to everyone involved and all the visitors who made the best of everything.

There was constant music and even though severe and sudden downpours occurred twice during the afternoon, everyone remained cheerful. The hog roast seemed very popular and the tractor rally and vintage cars all stood their ground. There was a lot of interest in the alpacas and the children enjoyed feeding them whilest their parents and grandparents photographed like mad.

We took along some of our hand knitted aran sweaters as well as various garments which we import from Peru.

Despite having everything covered over to keep off the rain for a large part of the afternoon, we sold a surprising amount. Not quite as good as last year, but not far off.

Unfortunately I left our camera at home and could not get mobile reception in time to get Mike to bring it when he came over. After trying up and down the road in the village, I found that I just needed to cross over the road to get reception, but by that time it was too late.

I am hoping I might get a picture from someone else sometime.

After their final soaking of the day the girls (alpacas) were relieved to be reloaded into the trailer and on arriving home galloped into the field to meet up with the rest of the herd again.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Dancing with baby

Well the weather has been variable to say the least, but lots of rain.

We have been concerned about the heavy rain for our latest addition, Esteban. He is a week old today. On the morning he was born it was my turn to make the morning tea and as usual I glanced out of the window to check on the Mums- to- be and was surprised to see a little white cria in the kush position. This was rather surprising, given that it was 7.30 a.m. and he had obviously been with us for at least an hour, I should think. Normally alpacas can be relied upon to give birth during office hours unless there is a problem. We drank our tea in bed as normal and I quickly nipped out in my dressing gown just to reassure myself that all was well. His Mum was not really very pleased to see me, and so I just gave him a visual once over and went indoors to get dressed etc: as I needed to spray his belly button with blue spray to fend off unfriendly bacteria. I did not need to rub him as he was already fairly dry with just a few strands of membrane arround his back haunches.

He started to feed whilst we were having breakfast and had obviously been to the milk bar before as he went straight for the right place, albeit through his mother's back legs!! Luckily he has since learned that there is an easier option.

Now he has been here a week it looks like he is taking dancing lessons from Devante, another young white male. See the photos!!

Saturday, 30 August 2008

What alpacas do in the sunshine

Well it's a lovely sunny day today. I spent an hour or so indoors this morning making plum jam. My neighbour and champion poo picker told me that Miller's Farm Shop had Victoria plums in stock and I went over there with a friend who was staying for a few days with her husband.

I bought a box of 5 kgs and we all shared some for eating, and I stewed some up for deserts - as far as I am concerned that is just a carrier for ice cream which is my idea of desert!! The rest I made into jam much to the delight of the local wasp colony and of course, Mike, who loves plums.

We now have home made marmalade (nearly gone), apricot and plum jams in the store cupboard. We are expecting our chickens soon and the vegetable plot is well under way. All this combined with the stock of logs we have accumulated from hedge laying, tree thinning etc: should help us be more self sufficient next year. My neighbour also told me about a lady in Axminster who is moving and down-sizing. She has a chest freezer which is free to a good home, so we are collecting that in the second week of September.

The sunny day has given us a chance to air the caravan awning and I mended a loop which had come off whilst on holiday. My little dress making sewing machine found it quite hard going working on a tent!! The next job is to photograph the camper van and get that sold so we can recover from the outlay on the caravan. Better in our bank than parked in a field!!

The alpacas are really enjoying the weather today. It is the first really sunny day for ages. They love to paddle in their water troughs (making them muddy and in need of refreshing in the process) and also to sunbathe.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Back from holiday

Well - we are finally back from holiday. I think it is the first time ever we have had two weeks away. Usually it is a week or ten days.

We were delighted to return to the farm and find that our wonderful family have kept everything completely up to date including mowing the lawn!! Away above and beyond the call of duty.

All the alpacas seem fine and we are back to our normal routine, although we have several farm visitors - all wanting young males - and unfortunatley we currently only have three for sale and they will not be weaned until December. Still, it is nice to know we are in demand.

On Sunday I was doing something in one of the paddocks when I looked up and saw a scary sight!! Two enormous (16 - 17 hands at least) were trotting down our driveway. They were covered from head to foot in protective netting of the type used to protect horses from insects. They even had hoods so they looked very sinister.

Mike removed the dogs from the scene and I hung back until the horses were past the first gate and then shut them in. I then ran up to the road (the main A358) to see a queue of traffic overtaking a small red car with its hazard lights flashing.. The driver waved me over and he was on his mobile phone calling the police. He handed me the phone and I gave them our address and phone numbers.

He said he had followed the horses from The Olde Poppe Inn which is a mile or two away from us and ours was the first gateway they went into. He phoned his sister who lives in the village near the above pub and then drove off. She apparently spread the word.

About an hour later I saw a lady in horsy type attire entire our yard. I waved from the kitchen window and went out to meet her. Apparently she keeps the horses in a field on a bridle path and someone must have left the gate open. She went home and came back with her horse box and between us we haltered them and loaded them. A different experience to say the least.

We think all our females are now pregnant and we have had a new cria (white male) since we got home, with a few more expected.

We now have some old friends staying until Friday and we are looking forward to going to Bovey Tracy Carnival Agility show next Sunday with our dogs.

At last it looks as though we might have a few dry days so we are trying to catch up with the topping and have moved the alpacas around to new paddocks to give them some fresh grazing.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

English Summer

It really has been miserable for the last few days. I managed to cut the lawn yesterday between showers and just as well because it has not stopped all day. Luckily most of our cria are a few weeks old so they should be able to cope with the wet but it is always a worry. At least it is not too cold here.

We have put plenty of hay and alf alfa in the shelters and we have reorganised the herd so that there is a shelter for every group and they are being sensible and making use of them.
When we set up the farm for alpacas we designed our shelters so that they are alpaca friendly. They only have two sides and the top is made from Yorkshire Board - that is where the slats are vertical with gaps between so that they can always see out and do not feel trapped as they can do with three sides to a shelter.

The males are really like a load of teenagers in this sort of weather. They seem to hang out together and in the mornings they just lie around chatting and really don't want to leave their shelter. Mind you they are soon up and alert if they see the girls being moved around. That might mean they can pull.

David, Jane, Zach and Tara came back from their holiday today and collected Jax, their collie dog who has been staying with us. We shall miss her, although we do have six dogs of our own, so I think we'll get over it!! They camped in Spain for a week using David's Mazda Bongo which is his surfing van. Then they joined two other families for two weeks in the Pyrenees where they experienced white water rafting and canyoning amongst other things (including good food and wine, I believe).

They are coming back on Thursday to take over the farm whilst we go on holiday.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


We are going away for a couple of weeks from Thursday so have taken the opportunity this morning to reorganise the herd.

We have moved all the Mums and babies into one of the top paddocks and the imminent Mums- to- be are in another. The younger females who have recently been mated have been moved down to the bottom paddocks. This means that it will be easy for the farm sitters (members of our family!) to know which animals need extra feed and which can just be left to graze happily.

It is important to keep alpacas fit and well with adequate feeding but this has to be balanced against the dangers of overweight which can reduce fertility and, is generally not good for their health. They are not bred for their meat and so can be kept slim and fit. Over feeding can also effect the quality of the fleece so this is quite an important aspect of keeping alpacas.

The grass is looking very lush at the moment due to the rain and warmth, so they should do very well.

All are matings are up to date now. So far we have had eleven cria of which only four were boys.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Looking at the rain

Without a camera the blog is not going to be very well illustrated but I'll try and put something interesting in from time to time - even if it is not relevant to the day's story.

Rob at Wellground Alpaca Stud has send round a notice that Ice Cool Lad is back on his stud farm. We bid for a mating with him through the British Futurity in 2006 but by the time we had a suitable female to be covered he had been sent to Kent to stay with his co-owner. Unfortunately we have missed the boat again because my white girls are either still pregnant from last year's matings or have been mated this year already. Ardene is the only light coloured female available so I am going to take her up to Wellground next week. She is dark fawn but hopefully the Ice Cool blood will be beneficial in passing on finer fleece to her progeny.

As you know we like the coloured alpacas which provide superb wool to be made into our hand knitted aran sweaters. We also like to have some white for the traditional Arans. My personal favourite is the mahogony brown and luckily we have a number of alpacas (including a champion male) who carry this colour. He also has a very fine dense fleece.

It is really raining hard this morning - hence I have no excuse not to be in the office, although we had planned to do spit offs and matings this morning. It is forecast to be unsettled all week so we will have to hope that there are a few windows of finer weather we can use.

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, we are going away on the 7th August for two weeks leaving the farm in the hands of the family whilst we are away. We are very lucky living where we do as all our friends and family love to visit and enjoy the lovely views of the Devon countryside. We are also very close to the seaside which is an added bonus.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Catching up

There won't be many pictures for the next couple of weeks. David and Jane and the grandchildren looked after the farm for us last weekend and then went on to get the ferry from Plymouth to Spain for a week and then they are going on to the Pyranees for two weeks. On their return they are going to look after the farm for a week whilst we go off to two weeks of dog competitions in Peterborough, Ipswich and then Cheshire. Mike's sister and her husband are coming to look after things for the second week.

We are looking after Jax, David's dog. She is a fantastic sheepdog and adapts seamlessly to alpacas. She has not been professionally trained but is a brilliant working dog who seems to understand what to do with very little guidance.

David and Jane have borrowed the camera as they forgot their's.

We are starting to have more farm visitors now that the schools have broken up and fleece and garment sales are going well.

We are all up to date with our matings which will help us towards our goal of increasing the herd size so that we can sell breeding stock without depleting the herd.

Today's picture is of my uncle, who came to visit recently. He is a towny, but he loved the alpacas and got on well with our six dogs, even though he is in his eighties! He came with his lady friend and she took the pictures, including the one of me with Mooching Millie the dog.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

And another one!!

We had some farm visitors yesterday and whilst they were on their way down to see the main herd they passed the mums-to-be and shouted that one was giving birth. Sure enough Citrine had feet sticking out of her bottom and soon gave birth to a lovely baby girl. She produced a stunning fawn last year and seems to be keeping up the good work.

The visitors were thrilled to be present and luckily for us there were no complications.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Another girl

Bourree, one of our original alpacas, has produced 2 fine black males, Laurel's Ebony who has been placed at several shows this year including a 2nd at the Bath & West, and Laurel's don Alvaro, who has also started to gain rosettes.

This time she has given birth to a stunning black female whose fleece is very soft and has a lovely sheen.

The pictures were taken shortly after birth so they are a bit fuzzy. We will update them shortly.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Just a quickie

We noticed that Sunstone, one of the imminently pregnant females, looked as though she was going to give birth today, so we kept checking on her. The heavy rain recently which followed immediately we had them sheared has made them much happier to use their shelters and Sunstone and co spend quite a lot of time lately just chilling in the shelter, and eating hay or ruminating.

She gave birth at 10.20 whis morning in the shelter and by 10.45 the cria was searching for milk, always a good sign. He is a solid brown male and seems good and strong.

Repairs and Maintenance

Mike is making the most of a break in the rain to repair a problem with the tractor. We have a small two wheel drive Fergie which is ideal for topping the smaller paddocks but we have two other fields which are much bigger and have some rough terrain and for this he has to use the 4 wheel drive tractor. That's his story anyway. I think he just likes to buy classic machinery. Luckily he is an engineer and can restore or maintain most things. We bought a manual for the International off ebay and that combined with his extensive knowledge and experience (he used to race in hill climbs and built his own cars as well as building and reconditioning engines for may years) will, we hope, enable him to fix most things.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Surprise Package

Mike and I try to keep a close watch on the alpacas most likely to give birth but we were caught out yesterday. We had farm visitors for most of the afternoon and during that time we were standing outside the paddock where the next four expectant mums are living. All seemed fine.

We were going off to our Spanish lesson straight after tea (don't ask!!) and I said that I would quickly feed the girls and then get our meal ready whilst Mike fed the dogs and settled them for the evening.

As I approached the gate I saw that the bottom of Ardene's legs were very fat and I got my glasses out to have a closer look. The fat legs moved independently from Ardene and turned into a small head and body. Instead of going ahead with the feeding programme I made sure the dogs were shut in the garden and went to get Mike and the birthing box (the box with all the items which might be needed for a birth - like spray for the umbilical cord - towel for drying the cria - surgical gloves - colostrum kit etc:) and headed for Ardene.

Sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. she had given birth to a gorgeous brown girl with lovely curly fleece, straight legs and pretty head. Her fleece was nearly dry and so she did not need towelling. It was an ideal day for drying washing, so I suppose it was ideal for drying new borns too!

As we had not been watching her we did not know whether she had fed from her mother. This is very important as the cria needs to use the mother's anti bodies to help it resist various nasties that exist in the outside world and can be a killer for an unprotected cria. The weather forecast was very bad so we decided to bring the new cria, her mother and the other three expectant Mums into the barn whilst constantly checking to try and spot the cria suckling. She had not done so by the time we had prepared the barn with hay water and straw and walked them all in so we decided to phone our teacher to say we would probably be late and we went indoors to eat, shower and change.

As soon as I was dressed I went out to the barn intending to stand watch for as long as it would take but just as I approached the pen, the baby decided to start searching for milk again and eventually found it through her mum's front legs. Luckily her mother was very patient and just stood there and subsequent suckling has taken place in a more conventional position.

As it turned out we did not have to wait for long and actually arrived in class on time. This morning we let them all back into their paddock during a short period of respite from the rain and luckily they seem only too pleased to stay in their shelter and eat hay, so we feel that we can safely leave them in the paddock tonight, even though it is still quite wet.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The rest of the shearing pics

The rest of the shearing pictures, I hope.