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.

Shearing again

Another attempt to post the rest of the shearing photos.

Friday 4 July 2008

Shearing Day Part 2

Well, it seems that the pictures have come out in reverse order so you have to look at them from bottom to top, then I lost the blog and I cannot get the rest of the photos to upload, so I am logging off now and will try again on Monday. Have a lovely weekend. Surprise surprise I am off to a dog agility comp.

Shearing Day

We booked Colin Ottery, the Alpaca Shearer, at the end of last year and as arranged he arrived yesterday to shear our herd. We had fewer numbers than booked as we have sold some, and some are away being mated.

The weather forecast was mixed and so we took no chances and prepared the barn so that the alpacas could come in overnight to keep dry. They cannot be sheared wet and it would have been a mini disaster if they had been caught in the rain. Who knows when Colin could fit us in again. He is very busy and travels the length and bredth of the country and even flies over to France.

We managed to fit all the females into the barn but had to get the males into their field shelters and pen them in. It worked pretty well and in the morning we let them out in the sunshine until Colin arrived.

Today's photos show one alpaca being sheared.

They are sheared on the ground, although Colin is thinking of getting a hydraulic table so that he can shear at a more comfortable height. They are stretched out with ropes for their own safety. They are too big to be held like sheep and most will not stand still enough to be shorn standing. With sharp electric shears passing over their bodies and given that they have quite thin skins it is quicker and less stressful to tie them down. Even though some scream and spit, they all get up very calmly once they are released, and often try to come back into the barn to be with their friends. So they are obviously not too upsetby it all. They must be relieved to get rid of their huge fleece in the heat of the summer.

Colin shears about five alpacas an hour and it is my job to bag the fleece and keep the shearing area clear so that he can work properly. The mat is swept clean after each animal to avoid colour contamination from one fleece to another. We also take the opportunity to cut their toe nails and administer any injections that are needed such as vaccinations, worming etc:

Today all is back to normal, although there is still quite a lot of clearing up to do in the barn.

We allocated a new paddock to the females which is bigger than the one they were in. When we opened the gate they all galloped in. The cria starting pronking round and round and many of them rolled in joy. They probably feel light hearted at losing their heavy fleece and having such lovely fresh grass.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

New Arrival

Coral has finally given birth to a lovely baby boy. He is a beautiful deep brown and his fleece is very curly and soft. He has some white on his head which means that we will not use him as a stud male but he will be very easy to sell as pet and/or fleece bearing alpaca.

The main thing is that Coral had an easy birth and the cria was on his feet within half an hour and when I went out half an hour later to make sure that he was trying to feed I found him plugged in solidly and I have seen him feeding several time since, so we feel sure that he has had his mother' s colostrum which is vital for stimulating his immune system and gives him some protection straight away, although he will still need to be vaccinated when he is a little older.

Millie, our smoke collie just loves the cria and will lie by the fence for hours just adoring them. She knows she is not allowed too near and the alpaca mums do not seem stressed by her.

We are expecting another seven births this year - although we have two females who were scanned as not pregnant who keep spitting off (i.e. rejecting) the males, so the jury is out on them. If they give birth in August we will know they were pregnant from last year's mating, if not, they have been remated and will produce next Spring. Maybe alpacas can have phantom pregnancies like dogs. We will have to investigate. One of them, Moonstone, comes over to the fence if we are moving the males past her paddock, almost beckons them over and then spits in their faces. Is she pregnant or just a miserable b....?