Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Drying Out

After heavy rains yesterday, we have had to try and drain away excess water around the barn.

The barn was here when we bought the farm and has always had a drainage problem. The plan is that this summer we will get a man and a digger and improve the run away.

In the meantime it is still very useful for small cria, sick animals and husbandry.

As the weather was so bad we set up pens in the barn so that we could continue with our mating programme. All our female alpacas are either pregnant, have just been mated, or are too young.

We have four females on farm who are due to give birth shortly and then there is a gap until July when it seems this place will be like a nursery again.

Today I am removing my country hat and taking my 86 year old mum out for lunch with her friends, followed by a visit to my son and his family, culminating in going to the dog club where I have been chairman for a few years. It is near Shaftesbury and we have decided that the journey is too long and expensive to attend every week from Devon and also to go to committee meetings, so I have decided it is time to hand over the reins. Tonight will be my last moment as Club Chairman but we hope to keep in touch with all our friends who compete in dog agility.

After the storms

Monday, 28 April 2008

Spring is here

At least now we are getting a few fine days and the showers are warmer if just as wet.

We are just embarking on our spring programme of mating the alpacas. Over a period of time we are aiming to close the period of birthing. Alpacas are induced ovulators and can be mated and give birth all year round. This is fine except that it means for a small herd the owners are tied from April to September waiting for births which can be anything from a fortnight early to a month late.

We are hoping by next year that all our females will give birth between April and June. This has two advantages - as well as convenience it enables the cria to have all summer to eat well and prepare themselves for the English winter.

We now have two working stud males, Bono and Alario, and a third, Pedro who is nearly old enough and certainly has the right attitude. We are also expecting a white male from Chile shortly - he is called Laurel's Don Chale and is three years old.

Alario produced mainly female cria last year ( 5 out of 7) and we are hoping he will prove just as successful this year. He has already covered Cleopatra (our champion brown female) and Moonstone, another female who produces excellent progeny.

Saphire and Claribel have already had cria this year and as they can be remated 15 - 17 days after birthing, Bono will be visiting Claribel. Saphire (herself a reserve brown female champion) gave birth to a stunning black cria this year and I am hoping that she will be covered by the same male again. He is a stud male from an all black herd and has champion status.

The main problem with outside matings at the present is the blue tongue restrictions. The male we want Saphire to go to is in the protection zone and we are in the surveillance zone. No animals can leave the protection zone, so she would not be able to come back if she went courting!!

We are still waiting for Amethyst to give birth - she is well overdue now and we have two more due at the beginning of May.

The two new mothers and the three due immininently have been coming into the barn at night during the unsettled weather and the are so used to it now that we don't even have to call them. When they think it is bed time they wander up from the paddock and go into the barn on their own. If their dinner is not there they start humming, which is a recognised alpaca noise.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Wet Weekend

This weekend we had planned to go to a dog agility competetion at the Royal Cornwall Showground. We arranged for Mike's sister and her husband to come and farm sit.

Friday started very well. My son, David, came down to help me vaccinate the herd and trim 40 sets of toe nails - that makes 320 nails in all. Makes bath time at home look like a doddle doesn't it? Although the weather was not good, we still do husbandry work as we have a convenient pole barn which we clad in weather board. It is always ready to accept new born cria or any alpaca who needs special attention and comes in especially useful for clipping, vaccinating, worming or medicating alpacas. Sometimes we use it as additional housing for visiting dogs too.

We were well ahead of the game and were only waiting for our friends who breed alpacas near Honiton to come and collect a pig ark which was surplus to requirements and to look at some of our potential show animals. Lynsey is very good at asssessing and advising on alpacas and I often ask her opinion. They were due to come late afternoon or early evening.

In fact they could not get away and it was about 6.40 p.m. when they arrived. Lynsey thought that the show alpacas were all neat and tidy and fit for judging, but they had forgotten to bring the trailer to pick up the pig ark!! They are coming back on Monday.

We left shortly afterwards and after a fruitless search for a fish and chip shop in Wadebridge (where the show ground is) we finally arrived on site at about 10 p.m. Our friend, Gary, had saved us a place and we just took the dogs for a quick walk, had a sandwich, and went to bed. The next day it was pouring with rain, with a strong wind, and we had not sorted out our camper van. It was also very cold.

We both thought that we had made a mistake in coming and Mike said he could not compete because his knees were hurting him, so we decided to pack up and go home. I could not resist running Romie, my youngest dog, in one agility class, but she thought a demolition derby would be fun, and knocked down lots of poles. This convinced me that we had made the right decision and we left shortly after we devoured a huge cooked breakfast. I had cooked enough for the four dogs too - so we all felt much happier.

The weather got worse as we progress towards home, but we made the most of it. We visited a site where Canadian log homes have show homes. We are hoping to build a bigger version of these on our farm next year.

We also visited Trago Mills which we had heard a lot about. We hated it.

We stopped at Sidford at a lovely pub and had a ploughman's lunch and a glass of wine (at least I did) before heading for home to surprise (shock) the family. I think this is the first time in living memory that I have not stayed at a dog show to compete.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Spring has sprung

We have been really enjoying a lovely sunny day in Devon today. The view is gorgeous, the alpacas look all fluffy and happy. The cria are either running around or sunbathing. The dogs take it in turns to lie on the garden table to take in the rays, and we have been inspired to get on with jobs outside, enjoying working without heavy coats and boots.

We decided to tidy up the alpacas by trimming their topknots and made a start on trimming toe nails. All the males have been done and are looking very smart. They are in the paddock nearest to the road and so are seen first by visitors.

Mike has bought a new saw bench intending to make a start on the huge pile of logs left from all the hedge laying he has done as well as the trees which were cut down last year. We cannot decide whether to bag them and sell them or keep them until we build our new house and have a log burner. Think bagging up might be the best option since we might not know until 2011 if we will be allowed to build.

Today's picture is just the view, but it was so lovely in the sunshine I thought it would be worth putting up.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Second birth of the year

My friend Jean had arranged to come over this morning at 9.30 a.m. to impart some of her expert knowledge of fleece. She is a hand spinner, has her own alpacas, has completed the judging course for national alpaca shows, so she knows what it is all about.

I noticed that Claribel, one of my favourite alpacas, was lying down alone when the others were grazing, she then started to look uncomfortable and I guessed that she might give birth. At that stage Jean arrived and instead of going into the barn to sort fleeces, she joined me in the field for the alpaca watch.

Just ten minutes later the cria started to appear and and 9.55 a.m. she was born. She is a lovely solid brown and seemed very strong.

I rubbed her dry and as it was cold put a little coat on her to keep her warm. We then started the routine watch as it is most important (as with most livestock) that the baby feeds from its mother to take on board the colostrum which ensures its ability to fight off the various bugs which it would otherwise be fatal.

See pictures for today!!

We are still on alpaca watch as the first 24 hours are crucial. See our website for alpaca information.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Just another day

Saphire and her new cria, Laurel's Lady Olivia, enjoying some April sunshine. We are still bringing them into the barn at night in case of unexpected harsh weather conditions, but trying to get the little one into the fresh air and sunlight as much as possible.

Today we have been catching up with the shopping and having a good clear up in the yard and barn. The tempation in the winter is to just dump things down and gradually the place gets very untidy and nothing is where it should be.

We are planning a vegetable patch and have ordered 6 chickens to enhance "the good life" at Laurel Farm. To this end we have planted lots of seeds in a rather flimsy frame which is covered in polythene. Unfortunately last night the wind decided to change directions and wrecked our new enterprise completely!! The frame ended up on the ground with all the trays of seedlings mixed up together. We have sorted it out as far as possible and hope that with a little luck, some sunshine and remembering to water them, all with turn out alright in the end. I expect we have mixed up carrots with onions and all sorts of things, but it will make the garden an enjoyable surprise every day!!

The holiday visitors have started to arrive and today I showed two couples round the farm. Did not sell them anything, but both have vowed to return later in the year with their cheque books to buy a jumper or at least a hat!! They loved feeding the alpacas and I swear they (the alpacas) are learning to play to an audience.

We still have 5 girls in the paddock nearest the house and they go into the barn at night or if the weather is bad. They are imminently due to give birth so we rarely leave the farm together and if we do it is for a minimum amount of time.

I am off to Carn Brae in Cornwall tomorrow with my two collies in the hope of winning an agility competition. The weather forecast is not good, so fingers crossed it will be worth while.

I have been charging the batteries on the clippers today and plan to trim top knots (the fleece on top of the alpacas heads) on Monday. If the top knot grows too long they cannot see properly and this is not good for their eye sight and also makes them nervous when being handled as they cannot see what it going on. Mike and I will do this together. One of us holds the animal whilst the other does the trimming. The holding is most important as a buck in mid cut can cause some strange hair cuts.

Just another day

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A busy day on the farm

We were expecting visitors this morning at 10.30 a.m. and at 10.20 a.m.Sapphire our maiden brown female gave birth to a beautiful black female cria. It was a textbook birth and the cria was on her feet in half an hour.

Our visitors were enchanted and Mike watched the mother and cria whilst I showed them around. After they left at about 12.00 noon it was obvious that the cria was not having much success trying to feed so although it was a lovely day we moved mother and baby in to the barn and penned them close together. I checked Saph and found that her teats were blocked with the wax stoppers so I sponged them and got a little milk flowing. By 1.30 the cria had still not fed, so I tube fed her with colostrum and carried on trying to encourage milk from Saph. In the mean time Mike went to the vet to collect some Oxytocin which is a drug which helps to bring down the milk.

I managed to encourage a little milk and put the cria to the teat. She suckled for a short time, but as a precaution I gave her a second feed of colostrum. I asked the vet to come out to check the cria and he found her to be in good condition and we discussed the way forward. I explained that she only suckled if held her head under the udder and he felt that we should continue this every half an hour until she is self sufficient.

It is now 7 p.m. and she seems to be sucking stongly now, although still has to be put to the udder instead of finding it herself. We will keep going until about 10 p.m. and hope she can manage by herself after that, otherwise we will start again early in the morning.

The pictures today are of the new cria - will try and get a better one tomorrow - and the boys who have been moved into the garden for lawn mowing duties.

Find out more about alpacas on our website