Thursday, 29 May 2008

Comedy on the Farm

After the dog show was cancelled some of our friends, the Snooks, Bullocks and Lindsay Freeman came down to the farm with their caravans and dogs rather than go home and get back to the day to day chores.

Having said that they seem to love helping with our day to day chores including paddock cleaning and feeding the animals and they are also enjoying walking on the farm and visiting the local seaside resorts.

I rode past them yesterday on my quad bike gaily waiving and yahooing and went through the paddock with our males in it to feed the girls in the next paddock down. As I went through with the bike I left the gate open and headed for the troughs which is normally the cue for the girls to gallop down to be fed. Yesterday, however, they headed through the wrong gate (remember, I left it open) and headed for the males. Total confusion followed as rampant males chased receptive and non receptive females round the paddock, young alpacas were reunited with their Mums and food was entirely forgotten.

My friends were confused at first as they thought I had done it on purpose - obviously an experienced alpaca farmer would not leave a gate open long enough for such a thing to happen.

I explained my error but assured them that I could sort it out by running them into the race and from there into a catch pen to separate the different sexes and resume normal service.

This was not to be, however, as they were all far too excited and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts I enlisted their help and finally Mike noticed what was going on and between us we managed to stop unwanted matings and herd them out of the paddock and separate them back into their respective departments.

Holly, one of our older girls, decided that she would not move in any direction at all, despite bribing with food, pushing and pulling and moving the rest of the females along side her. Eventually we decided to move the males away from her rather than try and move her away and just before we implemented this plan, of course, she got up and ran to join her female friends.

None of the animals seemed particularly bothered - in fact it probably brightened their lives as they have been standing around in the wet for days and had been looking a bit dejected. Once back in their own paddock they all began calmly eating as usual.

At the end of the exercise we had ten males in the boys paddock instead of eleven. I realised immediately that it was Holly's cria who was missing and it was him who had encouraged her to move. As he is still very young we left him with his mum overnight and easily persuaded him to go home this morning with no harm done.

My friends now keep asking me what today's enternainment will be, but I am hoping it will something a little less exciting.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Back Sooner than expected

When we were due to go to our dog show/holiday we still had one female due to birth so in the end Mike stayed behind to make sure all went well. Lucky that he did as the cria needed some extra attention as the mother's milk was slow in coming down.

As it happens the dog agility show that I went to was called off due to bad weather, which is most unusual because most of us are mad enough to compete in all weathers. The fields where the show was held were flooded and although various attempts to move to higher ground were tried it was eventually abandoned because of health and safety issues when the flood water started to effect drainage and toilet facilities. It was very disappointing for all the competitors and gut renching for the organisers who put in months of work prior to a big event like this.

Hence I am home and trying to catch up with the farm accounts and making a quick entry on the blog. Today's pictures are of the new additions to the herd.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Back to normal

Well we are back to normal for a day at least. Mike is home and although tired from his journey has obviously enjoyed his stay in Thailand.

He brought back some beautiful silk and a silk shirt which I will look forward to wearing. He also has loads of photos which are great. They are not on the PC yet but will be shortly.

No particular news on the farm. Our guests are leaving tomorrow and the farm sitters will be arriving to allow us to go away for the week. Back in time for the Bath & West Show, although we will not be competing ourselves this time.

This will be the last entry on the blog until the 31st May at the earliest.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A waiting game

Mike is in the air and on his way home from Thailand and his return cannot come too soon for me. He will be staying in Salisbury tonight and we are meeting up tomorrow to go to our dog agility lesson.

The time has gone quite quickly in hindsight but there have been some long days. Also there has been a lot going on. We showed at the Devon Show as previously mentioned, another cria has been born, the grandchildren stayed for the weekend whilst their parents celebrated their wedding aniversary by spending the night in a smart hotel in Cornwall. One day to catch up and then my uncle and his partner arrived to stay for a few days and as soon as they leave on Friday Mike's sister and her husband are arriving to look after the farm whilst we go to a week long dog agility competition in Kent.

All the alpacas are doing well and the new arrival is playing with her older sisters and it is really sweet seeing the four babies lying down together in the sunshine.

Just one more birth due in May and then none until the end of June and quite a few through July.

August is completely clear and we are close to achieving our target of condensing the birthing season to April May and June rather than having them spread throughout the summer. Apart from convenience, we feel that it gives the new cria a few months of warmer weather and nourishing grass so that they are well set up to get through the winter.

The paddocks are looking really lush now and we have lots of wild flowers in the bottom fields which are not being grazed at the moment. We have also left a long strip which is not topped or grazed to allow the wild flowers a bit more space.

Sales in the shop are going well with quite a few holiday makers buying our imported knitwear and the hand knitted sweaters made from our own alpaca wool.

There will be some more photos when Mike gets back with the camera, so watch this space.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Another girl

It was a beautiful morning and a welcome change from the recent poor weather. At about 9.30 a.m. I noticed that Amethyst the next mum to be was looking uncomfortable. She kept lying down then getting up, had a roll and then stood with her legs wide apart and her tail in the air. I wandered down to get a closer look and could see the nose of a cria starting to push out.

Our latest addition hit the ground at 10.20 a.m. this morning, with a little help from her friends.

Amethyst was struggling and moaning every time she had a contraction and when the cria's legs came out they were crossed and so I staightened them out but she was still having a bit of a problem and needed a some more assistance. Once the new arrival was out she made rapid progress and was suckling within an hour and a half, which is always a relief

It is a shame that I have not got my camera at the moment, but I am hoping to get a friend to take one tomorrow.

This is the fourth cria of the year and they have all been girls so far which is most satisfying. Long may it continue.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

The Devon Show

My son, David stayed overnight on Thursday to help load the alpacas ready to transport them to the show. As it turned out I did all the advance preparation - packing the white show coats for the handlers not the alpacas, making sure we had the numbers for showing, hay, haynets, halters, leading reins etc: but he did everything on the day barring actually going into the show ring - despite encouragement from friends.

He used his own vehicle to tow the trailer and helped load and unload. brought the alpacas ring side so they were ready for the handlers (me and my friend Pauline) to take into the ring and generally ran the Laurel Farm contingent.

We started the day with a farmer's breakfast in the canteen opposite the show ring and included cornish pasties and ice cream in our daily diet as well as several cardboard cups of coffee and tea.

The weather was poor and the judges and stewards did their best to move the showing through quickly.

We were quite pessimistic about our potential show results because most of the young animals we were showing have very fine fleece with a long staple meaning that since the younger ones have never been shorn the length had pulled out the crimp. Surprisingly and most welcome were Laurels Lady Dorcus 2nd place in the Fancy class, Laurels Lady Emilia 3rd place in the intermediate female fawn class and Laurels Don Pedro with a 2nd in the intermediate brown male class.

We may be reviewing our shearing policies with a view to having the fleece at its best for the shows next year. We will be having a show results page on our website shortly.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Getting Ready For the Devon Show

Well I got that wrong!! The weather forecast for this area was for some rain but I was not expecting the torrential rainfall over night. If I had I would have brought the alpacas that we are taking to the show into the barn but it's too late now, they are absolutely soaked.

I left them out until about 4 p.m. this afternoon since they were already wet and the atmosphere was very damp and then got them inside where they instantly lay down in the straw which has stuck to their wet fleece. Pity there is not a novelty class - they could all go as Worzel Gummage look alikes!! Shame I have not got the camera because they look quite funny really.

Still they have got a few hours to dry out so fingers crossed that they will look at least normal again by the morning.

David is coming down this evening and coming to the show with me tomorrow as Mike cannot do it. We still have two girls whose cria are overdue so mother is on alpaca watch with the phone number of a local shepherd who has agreed to come in if needed.

I am not expecting very good results tomorrow because their fleeces have blown i.e grown too long which pulls out some of the crimp and generally does not look so good. Still it is good to have a presence at the shows and it is a good place to meet people and keep up with the latest information. Luckily the Blue Tongue zone has not caught up with us yet so we are still able to travel to shows in this area - some which are in the Blue Tongue Protection Zone are not open to us because we are in the surveillance zone.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

North Somerset Show

Well I lied. I said there would be no photos whilst Mike is away, but hey - our friend, Paul took some fantastic photos at the North Somerset Show. Pedro is the dark brown alpaca who won his class and was overall champion. He is being led by my friend, Pauline. Emilia is the fawn alpaca who came second in her class being led by me.

Another friend took some great pictures of our dogs at the Agility show at Tunbridge Wells last weekend and so we have these to show as well.

Friday, 9 May 2008

New Baby

These are the last photos on the blog for a while as we are going away for the weekend and then Mike is going to Thailand for ten days and taking the family camera with him. I will still try and keep up with the news but no pictures.
Wouldn't you know it!! We have been waiting for cria to be born for weeks and finally this one decided to pop out at 12.20 this afternoon. The pictures were taken at 12.45. She is a very strong girl and was on her feet within half an hour and suckling in just over an hour from birth.

Thursday, 8 May 2008


It has been another lovely sunny day and we have been making the most of it. We had to get the alpacas in to a catch pen to check them over and they took the opportunity to have a communal dust bath.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Sunshine all Day

Well what beautiful weather we are having. Alpacas have been sunbathing and rolling in dust baths to show their appreciation.

Pedro has told me in confidence that he will not allow his recent success to change his life in any way. This is just as well as he has to live with nine other males at the moment and they just would not tolerate celebrity tantrums.

He will back to work tomorrow courting and ravishing young females.

Emilia is equally unmoved by stardom and is certainly not aiming for a size zero figure judging by the way she barges her way to the feeding trough in the mornings.

Pretty much back to routine today, but much more pleasant doing it all in the sun. Mike has taken our camper van to be MOT'd today so I have been on my own. He is going to Thailand on Sunday but my neighbour has kindly offered to come in during the ten days he is away to help with paddock cleaning and give me a hand with other things if I need it.

She brings her young yellow labrador round to train on our dog agility equipment and normally repays me with beautiful home made cakes.

Monday, 5 May 2008

North Somerset Show

All went very well. Mike helped me to load up the alpacas going to the show and it only took about an hour and twenty minutes to get there.

The show was very well attended and there was plenty of interest from the general public who came to watch the judging of llamas and alpacas and talk to the breeders competing.

I met up with Lynsey Skinner of Dreamfield Alpacas and her friend Camilla. My friends Pauline and Pete came along.

Our part of the world did very well as three of Lynsey's alpacas gained places including a first and reserve champion.

Laurel Farm also had an excellent result with Laurel's Lady Emilia winning a 2nd place and Laurel's Don Pedro won his class and was show Champion.

Another friend, Paul, took photos and I hope to put them on the blog in a day or two.

Mike had a busy day and although very pleased at our show results, was gutted when I got home as my border collie, Millie, had gone missing. He had searched high and low and checked everywhere she might have accidently been shut in.

We let the alpacas out of the trailer and I went in search. We decided to have one more look and then call the police - then, of course, she turned up. I went down to the bottom paddocks and called her and she happily trotted out from between the hedge and ditch and was really pleased to see me. Mike was so relieved I thought he was going to collapse. Millie was completely oblivious to the worry she had caused and had probably been having a whale of a time and either could not hear Mike calling or was too absorbed to notice.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Pre Show Day

I am off to the North Somerset Show tomorrow. Unfortunately I shall be going on my own as we have 4 females all due or over due so one of us has to stay at home to keep an eye on things.

Mike has been away at a dog agility competition all weekend, so he will take over from me here.

The vet phoned to say that the skin scrapes she viewed under the microscope showed no sign of mites or any other likely cause for the irritation which is causing the alpaca to either rub off or lose her fleece coverage on her ears and nose. She is going to speak to another vet in the practice whose expertise is dermatology. In the meantime I am continuing with her high zinc diet, she has had a vitamin injection and I am considering returning to the Cam Rose regimen again.

The female who was thin seems better since she has been on medication, although she is not enjoying having it every day and is becoming more difficult to catch. I try to make it as quick and stress free as possible, but with the best will in the world force feeding cannot be a very nice experience.

Having done all the chores - changed the water, topped up hay, and fed everyone, I have printed out the list of things to take to the show. I was hoping to show 12 alpacas but David and Mike cannot come so it will be just my friend, Pauline, and me and as there are only two classes we will only be able to show 4 animals. We will still take six with us which is the maximum our Rice horsebox will take comfortably. We did squeeze 8 in for the Bristol spring show but it was very tight as some of them are nearly fully grown now.

We have been looking out for a Stock Trailer and are hoping to buy one in time for the Devon and the Bath & West Shows. If anyone out there knows of a good second hand preferably Ifor williams livestock trailer, 12ft with dividers, please let us know. We will then have an old but refurbished Rice Horse box for sale.

We will bring all the alpacas who are going to be shown in to the barn tonight for ease of loading in the morning.

The two cria who were born at the beginning of April have been coming in each night because the weather has been so cold and uncertain, but they are very strong and porky now so they and their mothers and the other soon to be mums can go into a paddock with a shelter over night from now on. We will move them back into the paddock near the house in the mornings so we can observe them and watch for birthing problems and of course natural births.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Vitamin Injections

This was supposed to go on the blog yesterday but there was something stopping my emails and web access. In time honoured fashion, I rebooted and tried again today. Everything seems to be back to normal.

Our son, David, paid his Friday visit to the farm to help.

The UK is at a fairly high latitude so in the winter the days become very short. Llamas and alpacas have evolved at low latitutes (mainly on the Altiplano in South America) where at all times of the year there are long hours of daylight and bright dry skies too. The UK's dark dismal winters do not provide sufficient sunlight for the production of Vitamin D in the skin, especially in young animals who are still growing. It is therefore good practice to inject them with Vitamin D at least three or four times during each winter.

We imported quite a few of our alpacas, and as they have not been bred in the UK we tend to give them vitamin D all the year round - about every sixe weeks in the winter and every three months in the summer.

Unfortunately it is no longer possible to obtain injectable Vitamin D in the Uk and so we have to import it from the States. We ordered it early in April and due to a mix up with the address it still had not arrived by Thursday.

After his welcome cup of coffee we had decided that there was very little actual husbandry needed so David was all set to start moving the wood left over from the intensive hedge laying that took place last winter. He was just about to hitch up the trailer when a delivery arrived - guess what? The vitamins. The change of plan did not take long to initiate.

We put up the injections and brought the alpacas in paddock by paddock for their dose of liquid sunshine.

The pictures show David bringing in the alpacas with his sheep dog, Jax. Jax is used to herding their flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep and find alpacas a bit confusing. They do not always run ahead of her. Sometimes they won't move at all and sometimes they will turn round and appear to be thinking "what on earth is that dog doing?"

Although we have six dogs, we do not routinely use them to move the alpacas because they are so easy going that it is just as easy to call them and just walk slowly behind them. They are quite happy to mooch along that way. We just put an arm out here or there and they seem to know where to go.

If we need them to go in to the barn we sometimes get Millie our smoke working sheepdog. She can bring them all the way from the furthest paddock and feed them in to the barn with only minimum help from us.

Anyway we did not start until about 11.00 a.m. and they were all done and out in their paddocks again by lunchtime. Not bad for 40 alpacas and two people.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Vet's visit

We have had concerns about one of our white alpacas, Audrey. She had a beautiful white male cria in September last year but she became very thin and to give her a chance to regain her weight we weened her cria off a little early. We also noticed that her teeth had grown over long and we wondered whether this might effect her digestion so when Colin our shearer came along to scan the pregnant females in March, he cut her teeth down so that they met her top pad thus unabling her to bite off the grass more easily.

She seems to eat just like the others and gets a supplement of vitamins and minerals but she is still very thin. Jenny, the vet, came this afternoon and checked Audrey over. Her stomach seems to be working very fast and she is passing unformed faeces, but she is not scouring, and there is no obvious reason. Jenny took a sample away for analysis and in the meantime we are to drench (give by mouth) her every day for five days with a gut flora stimulant. This should improve her gut flora and hopefully return her to normal health.

We also asked Jenny to look at one of our black alpacas who has had some skin problems which seemed to be getting better. Last week we were pleased to see that the bald patch on her nose was growing over very well and hair was returning to her ears. This week we were shocked to see that she had rubbed off most of the fleece on both sides of her nose and looked worse than ever. Jenny took some skin scrapes and is going to look under the microscope to let us know if she can detect any wild life in the skin that needs attention - or any other reason for this distressing condition.

Alpacas are prone to skin problems and we have followed all the known advice to avoid them so it will be very interesting to find out if there is anything else we can do. The good news is that that Charmain, the alpaca in question, seems very fit and well in every other respects, even if she looks a little moth eaten.