Thursday 31 January 2008

New stock just arrived.

I was worried to see Castel, one of our cria limping this morning. We caught him and I had a good look at his front right leg which he was carrying. I could see nothing in the way of thorns or cuts, although I did think that there was a little extra heat in his joint which could denote some inflammation. I'll check him over again in the morning and decide whether to let nature take its course or whether a visit from the vet is needed.

My son, David, is coming down tomorrow. We are going to spit off the females whose scan was inconclusive. This is where the female is introduced to the male who is immediately in the mood for love. An empty (i.e. not pregnant) female will lie down and invite his attentions, but a pregnant female will spit, run away, kick him, and generally make it clear that he is not wanted!!

Although Colin is coming back to scan again, it will be reassuring if the girls make it clear that yes, they are definitely pregnant.

Frustratingly for the male, even if the females are receptive they will not be allowed to mate as:
1. We reserve specific males for particular females as part of our breeding programme.
2. If they mate in January it means the cria would be born in December or early January next year. Not a good time to be born when you live outdoors all the time. We do bring females and their cria in to the barn if they are born in bad weather, but it is not ideal for the animals and makes a lot of hard work for us as they have to be kept clean and fed and cannot rome as they like to. Daily mucking out as well as the cost of heat lamps for warmth is certainly not a joyous prospect for any breeder.

We have just sold Blizzard, one of white whethers (gelded males). He has lived here with his friend, Ben, for over a year now, so I expect they will both miss each other briefly. Alpacas are very adaptable and I am sure they will both settle down in their new circumstances very happily. Ben lives with six other males (five when Blizzard goes) so he will still have plenty of company.

Excitingly, we have just received delivery of a parcel of scarves, pashminas and squares from Chile. We went to Chile on an Alpaca buying trip in 2005 and met up with the Aymara Indians who tend herds of Alpacas on the altiplano high up in the mountains. One of the farmers we met, Santos, sold us some souvenirs - hand woven scarves and shawls made by his wife.

I later ordered a parcel of them to sell in our farm shop alongside our own hand made products. They are beautifullys soft and each one is finished in an individual pattern. After Easter we find that holiday makers tend to visit the farm and I hope they will appreciate the new craft items which we have for sale.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Colin Ottery - Alpaca Shearer and scanner 01884 38782

Quite a lot happening

Well quite a lot has been happening over the past few days. On Thursdays we take our agility dogs training to a venue near Shaftesbury. It is an equestrian centre and we park in the car park and take our dogs about 50 yards away to the training area. Last Thursday we behaved as usual and I took my handbag down to the training area. At the end of the lesson I went to get my purse out to pay the trainer and could not find my handbag. I thought I must have left it in the dog van, but sadly it was not there. After extensive searching we came to the conclusion that it had been stolen. It contained all my credit and debit cards, £100 cash which I had just withdrawn as well as all my keys - to two vehicles, the farm gates, the house, the office, the post box and even the carry boy which is the pick up cover on the back of our 4 x 4. Worst of all my driving licence was in it with my name and address on it.

The rest of the day was taken up in reporting the incident to the police, phoning the insurance company to claim, cancelling bank cards, arranging for the locks to be changed on the vehicles, buying crook locks to secure the steering wheels on both vehicles until the locks are changed, and generally feeling really fed up about the whole affair. We have, however, moved on and have even received my new mobile phone (although they omitted the sim card) and some of the bank cards already.

On Sunday I had arranged for Colin Ottery (our shearer) to come and scan our pregnant females to make sure that they are pregnant. He found that most were pregnant, one was definitely not and five were inconclusive - probably because they were mated late last year. He is coming back in a month to re-scan and hopefully give us a definite answer so that we know whether we have to remate them.

Pregnant females are in general the most valuable stock as they command the highest price when selling them. Stud males also fetch a good price but non-breeding males have the lowest market value.

The good weather has enabled us to start catching up on paddock cleaning. One of our neighbours was worried that her young labrador bitch was not good with other dogs so she has been coming round to go for walks on the farm with our six dogs. Her dog is fine with them and is showing all the right reactions, which our neightbour had thought were problems.

As I have retired from dog training I did not want to be paid, but luckily her husband is a builder and he is going to pay for the lessons by giving us some advice on some small building projects around the farm. And joy oh joy - she has offered to help with the paddock cleaning a couple of times a week. This has helped us a lot as the wet weather has put us behind.

Todays picture is of Colin dressed for scanning. Although you cannot see it, he has a back pack containing a monitor and the ultrasound scanning equipment.

Friday 25 January 2008

Alpaca Husbandry

My son, David, usually comes on a Friday to help with any husbandry that is due. His vehicle has been off the road for the last few weeks and so we have had to manage without him.

Mike and I decided to take advantage of the weather today to check all the alpacas' feet and cut their toe nails.

We also needed to give this year's cria a vitamin injection. Alpacas are native to South America and live at a very high altitude where they get plenty of vitamin D from the sunshine. In this country we have a more temperate climate but lack the sun, so especially in winter, most breeders give their alpacas a vitamin boost.

As we imported most of our alpacas, we give them vitamins all year and extra for the cria during the winter.

We brought the seven males, two wethers and five entire males in to the barn first. Pedro - our prize winning dark brown male has a very dense fleece that even grows over his head. It is so thick that eventually it covers his eyes and he can hardly see. We took to opportunity to give him a hair cut. He still looks cute but he can see us too.

We checked the young black male, Miguel and decided that he was good enough to show this year. We will be entering him in the Spring Show at Bristol at the end of March.

The young males both had a vitamin injection as well as having their toe nails cut. The other mails just had the pedicure!!

The next to come in were the six females who have been separated from the rest of the herd to wean off their offspring. They just had their toe nails cut. We also routinely carry out a condition check when we have them in. We check to make sure that they have no health problems and that they are not too thin or too fat.

Finally, after lunch, we brought the remaining 32 females and cria in. The cria had injections, toe nails clipped, condition checked and we decided which ones to show this year. Also some of them need their fleece trimmed to make them perfect for showing. If it grows too long it "blows" which means that it flops and has less crimp. Alpaca fleece (and other fleece bearing animals) has waves in each fibre. Usually the more wavy the fibre the denser and finer it is. The waviness is called crimp.

The adult females were condition checked and had their toe nails trimmed.

The whole operation took 3 hours, which is very good going for a total of 45 alpacas. We are now ready for a cup of tea and intend to put our feet up.

The shearer is coming on Sunday to scan the females to make sure they are pregnant. He will also clip some of the youngsters we intend to show.

Sunday 20 January 2008

Sunday at Laurel Farm

Mike said - whatever happened to our Sunday breakfasts? They were traditional in our house until we moved to Laurel Farm.

So I sent him to our village shop for mushrooms and cooked a mega Sunday breakfast for nine - 3 people and 6 dogs!!!

Eggs, bacon, baked beans, mushrooms, toast, butter and marmalade. Several thousand calories there, don't you know.

Well we decided paddock cleaning was the most exciting way to burn off the calories and set to before the rain came in as promised.

Whilst paddock cleaning is a boring job, it always encourages the alpacas to come to whichever paddock we are in and gives us the opportuninity to study them and make sure there are no tell tale signs of an unfit alpaca without having to bring them in to the barn for a full condition check.

The Mum's who have been separated from their cria are looking a bit forlorn, but their cria seem to have adjusted very well and are looking quite relaxed and tucking in to hay and grass to make up for the loss of mother's milk.

We have received an email to say that the spring show at Bristol is on the 29th and 30th of March so we have to choose which alpacas to take. We have had great success so far and this year's cria are stunning so we are hoping for good results this year too. In 2006 we had a reserve champion brown female at the Devon County Show and in 2007 we had a brown female champion and a reserve brown male champion at the Devon County Show followed by a First in the brown female class at the Bath & West Show and several other lower places.

Our stud male, Alario, has produced six beautiful female cria this year and a very promising male. The only down side is that we compete in Dog Agility and unfortunately the spring show clashes with a dog agility competition. Still, I suppose as alpaca breeding is our business, we will be going to the Bristol Alpacas Spring Show. Who knows, we might get a rosette or two.

I have been struggling with my camera today. We sell expensive hand made Aran Sweaters and I have been trying to photograph them but have been having trouble with getting the colour right. When they say the Camera does not lie - they are lying!! I spent ages fiddling with the menu on the camera, but am still not totally happy with the results. Evenually I got something close to the right colours and they will be going on our website in the next few days.

Friday 18 January 2008

Another wet day

When we woke up this morning we could hardly see anything. The mist and rain were very thick and the animals all looked bedraggled. I fed the alpacas early as they were in the paddock near the house. Just to reassure myself I lifted the fleece of the nearest animal and found that just below the surface she was absolutely bone dry.

In Peru alpacas have been dying in great numbers in the last few years because the winters have been so severe (climate change once again?) I guess we should be grateful for what we have even though I have concerns for their feet which have been wet constantly for days and weeks this winter and, indeed, last winter and much of the summer!!

We decided that it was time to clear the barn out as in the bad weather it has been used as a bit of a dumping ground. We do all our alpaca husbandry in the barn and so need to keep it clear of sharp and otherwise dangerous objects. We are also thinking that there is a possibility of very severe weather and it would be a good thing to encourage the herd into the barn on a daily basis in case we have to get them in at short notice. Quite a few of the cheeky ones sneak in from time to time to raid the hay stack if we leave the doors open.

Sadly we have had to separate six cria from their mothers today. We have left it as long as possible but as all the mothers are pregnant with this year's babies, they need a bit of a break to build up their resources. Rather than take the cria away, we take the mothers away from the cria. This means that the mothers have the company of other female alpacas and the cria stay with the rest of the herd which makes it less stressful - they still have the company of their aunties and the other youngsters that they usually live with.

Bourree - one of my favourites is a big black bolshy alpaca, but she seems the most sentimental and is looking very sadly over the fence to see her little lad in the distance, who is callously consuming grass and hay as greedily as possible. Perhaps he knows the milk bar is closed now.

Thursday 10 January 2008

January comes in with a vengeance

It is blowing a gale with driving rain just to add to the fun. Walking the dogs this morning took on a new dimension because I was singing at the top of my voice confident that nobody could hear me over the noisy weather and the dogs had the wind under their tales and did not stop running - possibly to get away from my singing - but I think just because they found the wind very exciting.

The alpacas are nowhere to be seen from the office window this morning. They are lying down by hayracks, behind shelters and in the hedges. After heavy rain they look really bedraggled and I used to worry that the rain would chill them, but the top layer of fleece seems to form a sort of thatch and just just below the surface they are as dry as can be. The cria are a bit more of a worry as their fleece is ultra fine (bearing in mind that alpaca fleece on the adults is very fine anyway) because it is more effective in keeping out the cold. It also makes it more prone to being blown open by the wind. Female alpacas are very good mothers and usually club together to shelter the cria and protect them from the worst of the wind.

We were planning to do a foot check on the herd tomorrow and cut their toenails as well as giving the cria an extra vitamin injection but it looks as though it will have to be postponed for a day or two. We normally carry out husbandry in the barn but injecting wet animals is not recommended and they will have to go through a certain amount of mud to get to the barn which makes toenail clipping a messy and slow job.

We used to do all the husbandry tasks at the same time, i.e. condition checks,vaccinations, worming, toenails and vitamins but we now only carry out one task at a time. The alpacas get used to being handled more often and because they are only in the barn for a very short time they are not at all stressed. In fact when they are free ranging they will sneak in to steal hay if we leave the doors open.

I am off to a dog agility competition tomorrow. I'll let you know how we get on. I am driving all the way to Chorley near Preston. I know it is mad but I have two dogs that I am trying to win with and the more chances they get, the better the odds.

Beatrice has been added to our sales page

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Winter Break at Laurel Farm

The wind is freezing and the rain looks likely to follow soon so I have been taking the opportunity to update our Alpacas for Sale page on our website

I really don't want to sell any of them as they all have their special attributes. Some are very valuable breeding stock and others whilst still being good breeding stock are great characters.

We sell hand knitted garments made from our own undyed wool so it is important that we breed animals with the variety of colours which alpacas are famous for.

As I sit in my office I can see all the females and cria of the herd who have decided to move up to the field nearest the barn in the hope of some extra food. We feed them a supplement several times a week to ensure that their vitamin and mineral levels are kept up.

The cold weather has prompted us to book a week's holiday in the sun in February. The farm is going to be looked after by my son and his family. This year should be less traumatic for them as none of our females are due to give birth until the spring. Last year I was sitting relaxing in a cafe on Gran Canaria when my son phoned to say that one of our recently imported alpacas was giving birth. I talked him through the birth and the cria was successfully born. I think some of the other holiday makers must have thought it a very strange telephone conversation.

He had the added task of performing well as the birth co-incided with one of our many farm visitors. It was thrilling for them and very good experience for David.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Freezing cold in Devon

Well the winter is showing its true colours today. Freezing winds and snow a possibility, but the alpacas do not care.

We went to Chile to buy them and on the Altiplano where they live, the night time temperature is rarely below freezing and ofter minus 15 - 20 degrees.

They don't seem to mind the wind or the rain on its own but will run for shelter when strong winds combine with heavy rain.

Luckily the cria (baby alpacas) are old enough to have thick fleece to protect them from the elements. The youngest were born in late September and although they stay close to their mothers they do not seem to be bothered by the winter weather.

We have been out cleaning the paddocks and Mike has been cutting back some of the hedges, but decided after lunch to work indoors and hope for better weather for the outdoor tasks.