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.