Tuesday 29 December 2009

Good Tuesday

Nick and I cut the toe nails of the main herd and I was absolutely amazed at how little they needed trimming. Some of them did not need any clipping at all. I have always known that walking on concrete helps to keep them down, but it must be walking across our farmyard to get to and from the barn every day that has done the trick for us. It is covered in scalpings. I would say that if they continue to walk over it we can reduce our toe nail trimming to every three months instead of every couple of months as we have been doing up until now.

He also had a look at one of the goats that I was concerned about. They all, unfortunately, soil the fleece at the back end when urinating and it looks quite unsavoury. Apparently this is quite normal with goat. He checked the one which was particularly bad but found nothing of concern. Nevertheless I held her whilst he trimmed her to make it a bit more hygienic. We also checked her toe nails and Nick says they will need trimming shortly.

Javier, the cria with a poorly eye, is looking much better and we are hoping that he will not need much more treatment.

It has been raining most of the day and the wind has been really cold, so not much fun doing the daily chores, but our friends Clive and Elaine came to visit us this afternoon.

We had a light lunch and took the dogs for a walk and introduced our visitors to the new arrivals (the goats). We had a really enjoyable afternoon and it was lovely to see Elaine looking so well and happy. Elaine was pleased to see the alpacas again especially the babies that she looked after when she was staying with us.

Having hosed off the muddy dogs we all went down to the winter paddocks and brought the alpacas up. They were only too pleased to get back into their cosy barn for the night.

More later of the surprise they brought us!!

Sunday 27 December 2009

All move round

What with the winter weather and the shortage of good grass at this time of year our top paddocks are looking quite sparce and cut up,we decided to move the babies up one paddock to the middle paddock which incorporates the pig pen (named for the pigs which were intended to go into this small linked paddock) and put the main herd back into the winter paddocks which have survived the bad weather surprisingly well.

They have drained with only a few really wet areas. We are still bringing them into the barn at night to give their feet a break from being constantly wet. We went down to collect them at about 4 p.m. this evening and I just shouted my usual "Coomwon" a few times and they headed happily up through the farm to the barn and immediately upon arrival starter to tuck in to the hay and alf alfa awaiting them.

We need to do toe nails for the whole herd (including goats) and they are all due for vaccination shortly. Nick and I will make a start on Tuesday.

Thursday 24 December 2009

Whistling Women

The last of the lovely new hens (Buff orpington x Rhode Island Red) whose sisters were taken by THE FOX began to crow this morning.

Guess she won't be laying any eggs then!!

Tuesday 22 December 2009

New sight for goats

Nick came this morning and helped me trim the goats' fringes. A couple of them looked as though they couldn't see at all and as with alpacas, we thought that being unable to see would make them more easily spooked. They were quite easy to handle although we took the precaution of putting the buck outside the goat house whilst we operated on his does. Luckily his fringe did not need any attention.

According to Nick we might have left it too late to mate them - we were delayed in preparing their quarters because of the unending rain - but we are keeping our fingers crossed that they will come into season in a day or two. Apparently they will start "calling" for the male when they want his attentions. At least they will see him coming (approaching)now.

Maddy, our lurcher, has always been fascinated by the cat but we have never been quite sure if she looked on her as prey or a potential friend. Judging by today's photo, she has decided they are just good friends.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Goats R Us

We collected the Angora Goats this morning and they immediately settled in to their new home. Mike has doubled the size of one of the field shelters and enclosed it entirely so that they are nice and cosy. They tucked into the goat mix and haylage without delay.
The big one at the back is the buck and we are hoping that they will all come into season shortly and be mated ready to have their kids in the spring.
They have to be shorn twice a year and apparently should produce about 3 k of good fleece per animal so from just 6 goats we should be able to go straight to a commercial spinner to get our mohair wool.

Monday 14 December 2009

I See No Ships

Javier, the last remaining male weanling, has developed an eye infection so we are having to run a line of ointment across his eye daily. Having had a cria a few years ago with an ulcerated eye which eventually had to be removed, we are being very careful about his treatment. The eye does not look effected at all actually but he is producing puss from the corner of his eye.

We are handling the cria more often now that the weather has improved and they are being very much calmer and accepting of our attentions. We really need to start halter training them now.

The shop continues to get busier although the online sales seem to have slowed down.

Our latest edition to the shop is mittens with a string to hold them together. Some of our more mature readers may remember wearing gloves and mittens at school which were held together by a piece of elastic running through the coat sleeves. We supply the mittens with a kit consisting of two buttons and a crocheted string to join them together as an option. The idea is very popular with dog walkers who have a habit of losing gloves when getting their dogs ready to go back on a leash after a good run.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Alpacas in the sun

The alpacas have changed from queuing up to get into the barn at night to get out of the wind and the rain to insisting on staying in the furthest away paddock. We have not made an issue out of it as we feel that being outside is more healthy and natural for them. The ground has drained quite well and at least they are not paddling in mud all the time so their feet should benefit.

We took the opportunity today, however, to give them all a dose of mineral/vitamin supplement to help them through the grey days. We also checked that they were in good condition and no one getting too thin. We gave the two cria who have not yet been weaned an ADE injection and decided that they should be weaned this week as they are not doing quite as well as the weanlings. Sometimes cria flourish more when weaned than whilst they are suckling. Maybe they are a bit lazy when Mum still provides free food, or maybe Mum is running out of steam with the winter weather taking its toll.

Several visitors to the shop. Two people chose quite a few items but have not paid as they did not have enough cash or a cheque book. They are both local so will be back later in the week.
We really have to look into the possibility of taking credit cards. Banks are reported to be going to abolish cheques in due course so I guess it will be impossible to trade without the facility - presumably they will make it more affordable for small businesses if there is no alternative way of accepting non-cash payments.

The goat house is ready for occupation. Mike finished it today so I will be phoning to arrange for them to arrive as soon as possible.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Happy Hen

Well, lucky we did not cull the sick hen. Nick took one look at her and said she is just moulting. Apparently the white powder is just part of the process - presumably from the feathers - and the stubs are new feathers growing not the remains of diseased feathers.

There are very few eggs being laid at the moment but we are hoping that when we collect the shed that Pauline has donated we will be able to get some new chickens. I spent a small fortune at the farm stores on electrice fencing (it looks more like a tennis net) and tonics for the "sick" hens. Nick said it was not wasted money because when moulting the chickens will benefit from
the nutrition boost. We need to get the fencing up quickly for two reasons - the chickens scuff up all the soiled straw in the barn which should be left undisturbed using the deep litter system. Also there is a large vixen on the prowl and she has been seen in our hedges, so she needs to get a swift electric shock to remind her that the hens are ours and not a readimeal for foxes.

It is lovely to have some good weather again. We are hoping the muddy gateways will dry out a bit.

Bono, fingers crossed, seems to be getting better.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Weather Woes

Apart from making life much harder the long spell of wet warm weather has brought other problems to the farm.

Firstly there has not been a dry blade of grass for weeks. All the gateways are churned up and the race between the paddocks is slippery and waterlogged. The alpacas have not seen dry land for a long time which gives us concerns about their feet. Although they do not suffer with foot rot like sheep, their pads start to skin with holes appearing. Their toe nails grow more quickly and we feel that the constant rain makes their lives pretty miserable. When the sun does come out they seem to look more relaxed and of course much less bedraggled.

Usually they stay out all year, but last winter we brought them into the barn at night when the weather was too bad, such as the snow. We have decided to do the same thing again from now on this winter. We are hoping that a few hours a night on dry straw will help to keep their feet in good condition and save us problems later. It is also easier to feed them and keeps the wear and tear off the sodden paddocks.

Obviously as, even after this year's sales, we have 49 alpacas left, we cannot fit them all into our small barn so the males and the weanlings are remaining in their paddocks but we are cleaning them out daily and topping up the straw so that they also have the opportunity to keep their feet dry. The males usually go into their shelter at night anyway and the weanlings have their alf alfa and hay in their shelter which encourages them to spend time inside. Most mornings when we draw the curtains these days there is no sign of an alpaca.

We had sent off a routine dung sample to test for worms but in the meantime were alerted to the extra danger of fluke worm this year by our friends Ian and Lynsey Skinner. We went to their house for dinner on Thursday night and had a lovely meal and a very sociable time with the Skinners and their neighbours who were the other guests.

They have had some alpacas with fluke and so on Friday I checked the husbandry records and although it was only just over ten weeks since the last treatment decided to drench the whole herd straight away. Just as well, as Tim Lawrence, one of the vets, phoned on Saturday afternoon to say that the samples from the males and the weanlings showed some fluke eggs. Strangely the main herd which has been on the wettest pasture were clear. This unlikely scenario - i.e. fluke in the dryer paddocks and no sign in the wetlands, vindicated our decision to worm them without delay.

Bono took a step backwards. He started to look tucked up again and spent some time lying down on his own, so he is back on the Antepsin. We have reduced the dose to twice a day and it seems to have perked him up again. We are still waiting for the results of his blood tests.

The weather improved this afternoon and made everything look rosy again.

When I was putting the hens to bed tonight I noticed that one of them was looking poorly. We had noticed that she had some grey around her head but it seemed to had got a bit better. We are now feeling really guilty that we did not examine her more closely because when I picked her up I found that most of her feathers on her underside had disappeared leaving only stumps and she seems to have a sort of white powder on her - perhaps some sort of skin problem or mite. We are going to check them all first thing in the morning and make sure that the others are not effected. In the meantime I will try and find out what causes the symptons and see if it can be treated or if it is terminal. Not looking forward to having to kill it if that is needed.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Time goes by

Our van, which Mike drives most of the time, broke down recently and he took it up to the garage to replace the fuel pump. Unfortunately when he got home the pump failed again. We got it back to the garage and Mike changed the fuel pump yet once more. It was very late when he phoned me to say that he had fitted the new pump but the engine had failed. He has not talked about it very much (understandably) so I am not sure what the problem was, but the outcome is that he has spent today at the garage fitting a replacement engine.

Chris phoned on Monday to break the bad news that the garage had been burgled on Sunday night (obviously not by Christians) and thieves had taken some valuable hand tools and expensive diagnostic equipment. Chris spent Monday night camping out in the garage armed with a base ball bat but they did not return. They are in the process of repairing the damaged fences,roof and window and putting in metal bars to the window and a steel roof. In between working on the van Mike helped with the new security measures.

Meanwhile back at the ranch the weather was horrible so after checking all the animals I spent most of the morning in the office. There were a couple of orders for hand knits to be parcelled up and sent off and I spent quite a lot of time resizing and uploading photos to the website.

I had a phone call from a local small holder who had seen us in the breeders' directory of Country Smallholding (one of the few places we advertise) and he and his father came over to talk alpacas and have a look around. Despite the weather we had some customers in the shop and we are getting daily visitors now, although it is not as busy as this time last year. Maybe there will be a last minute rush.

Monday 30 November 2009

Alpacas go to school

Today we delivered the last of our young males to their new home.

Isidro and Iago are this year's weanlings and so are still quite small and instead of taking them in the horse box we took them in the back of the truck. They were very cosy with a bale of hay and plenty of straw. We had to lift them in but once they were settled they soon went into the kush. They stood up from time to time on the journey but seemed very laid back about the whole thing.

We had a three hour journey to a school in Tooting which has started a small farm. Driving through Tootingh High Street we began to doubt if it was possible that there was any green land anywhere near. We had not visited them prior to delivery because of the distance involved but had their assurances that they already had pigs and sheep, a farm vet and had been inspected by Animal Welfare officers.

When we arrived at our destination we were shown round the farm which consisted of about an acre of ground but with grazing on the playing field when it was not being used for sport. The animal housing was all newly built and lovely and clean and well cared for. The stable which was to be the boys' night shelter was equally immaculate.

We have been handling the weanlings on a regular basis and putting a halter on the two boys but with so much rain we had not got as far as actually getting them walking around so it was a bit disconcerting when we found that we could not drive into a catch pen or a yard to unload the them, so we walked them on their halters for the first time. They were a bit reluctant to start with but amazingly they allowed us to take them all the way to the stables along quite along path, up and over a bank and down into their living quarters with very little resistance. Little stars.

I had seen City Farms on TV but this was my first experience of one in real life. There is a full time farm manager with two other designated staff members and it is manned all day with evening security visits too. The animals probably get a lot more attention than ours!!
In addition to the pigs, sheep and alpacas (two of each) they also have an aviary, a couple of dogs, and about ten hens.

Apparently the pigs and sheep and the alpacas will be going for walks on Tooting Common once they are all leadable.

We stayed just long enough to get the boys settled in and then had to get home in time to put the hens to bed to avoid another meeting with Mr.Fox. Luckily the torrential rain we experienced on the outward journey had cleared and we had a pleasant sunny drive home. The extra light skies meant that we had time to check the herd, walk the dogs, feed the alpacas who are in the barn and still get the hens to bed on time.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Bono bulletin

Bono is looking much better. He does not look so hunched and is mixing with his alpaca mates more of the time. When we look towards his paddock he is usually grazing whereas before he was often lying down on his own. We have decided to go ahead with the blood tests in case there is an underlying reason for his condition which is not apparent. We are also going to have a female blood tested. Crystal used to be very well covered and was always the biggest female on the farm but since getting pregnant with her last cria we have just not been able to get her up to condition.

Mike is back to normal and will not require blood tests.

He is busy measuring up and ordering wood to make one of the shelters into goat housing so we can get them here. Apparently they are all in season and cannot wait to start having babies!!

We are looking for an old shed to use as a hen house so we can get our new chickens. 8 x 8 or 8 x 10ft would be ideal if anyone knows of one going at a reasonable price.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Below par

When Nick was helping me on Tuesday he noticed that Bono, one of Pauline's stud males had a hunched back. As he has very good conformation, including a straight back, this set alarm bells ringing and we caught him to check his condition. He was quite thin but otherwise there were no obvious signs of ill health. We took precautionary measures - gave him a vitamin injection, wormed him and gave him a does of Total Solutions which is a sort of all round tonic with vitamins, minerals and other miracle ingredients. Nick suggested feeding him some concentrate - i.e. pelleted food to try and fatten him up.

As luck would have it, when I was at the Goat Farm Tessa (our vet) mentioned that there had been an increase in incidents of ulcers associated with too much concentrate. We actually only feed ours in the winter and then only as a booster from time to time and we hardly ever give the males extra feed, although we do provide them all with Alf Alfa Chaff ad lib along with their hay. Given this information we decided not to feed Bono up after all.

Yesterday we were concerned that he seemed to spend quite a lot of time lying down on his own, although he did graze with the others at times. I wandered over to him a couple of times when he was lying down and he was not cudding - chewing his regurgitated food, but just lying there, and he was still looking tucked up which made his back look humped when he was standing.

I called the vet and Tim Lawrence came out within about half an hour, which was much appreciated given that the weekend was approaching. He checked him over and we discussed the options and decided to try an ulcer treatment initially with the possibility of blood tests if no improvement was apparent by Tuesday. There was no point in taking bloods on a Friday as they would not be tested until Monday at the earliest by which time the samples would have deteriorated.

We are now injecting him twice a day and giving him a drench three times a day. We started off by catching him and administering the medication in the catch pen but having been soaked a couple of times and given that we felt he should not get too cold we made a pen in the barn. He will not be alone as there are five females in there at nights at the moment having mite treatment. They go out in the day but we will probably keep Bono in if he does not get too distressed.

This evening when we administered his final medication of the day we felt that he was looking a lot better already. His back is now straight and he is eating for England.

We have been given loads of black fleece and so spent most of the afternoon sorting it as the weather was not condusive to going outside except when really necessary. It is really good fleece although some of it is spoiled with too much vegetation - probably imported alpacas who have travelled in straw or maybe animals that have been housed in a straw filled barn. We are only about one third of the way through it, but I am really impressed. Makes me want to sell our blacks and start again.

Mike is also below par and although it is only 7 p.m.has just gone to bed. I hope he will be feeling better tomorrow.

Thursday 19 November 2009

It's a cat's life

No wonder we don't know where the cat is half the time. Mike was moving the small trailer we use for taking hay around to the paddocks when he noticed something dark. The dark patch gradually grew ears and eyes and emerged as part of our cat, Polly. She certainly knows how to look after herself and keep warm.

Yesterday I went to a Goat Farm Walk at Forde Grange which is only a couple of miles away. I received the invititation from our vet practice who were in attendance. It was really aimed at people interested in goats for milking but I thought it might be worth attending in view of our intention to get some Angora Goats (for fleece). I did not expect to see anyone I knew but on arrival Tessa, Alison and Emma from Coombefield (our Vets) smiled and waved me to join them. Tessa was there to do a short presentation on the health issues. They have nearly 2000 goats all housed indoors. Although quite tightly packed they all looked nice and clean and did not appear stressed, not like the treatment that battery hens have. I am pretty sure that if they were unhappy their milk yield would be adversely effected.

After Tessa's talk was pretty worried about all the possible things that could go wrong, but as she confirmed afterwards, our five or six goats are not really likely to have much in the way of health problems compared with 2000!!

Lunch was goatburgers and muffins for pudding. I went to look at the milking parlour which is like a huge caroussel (if that is how you spell it). The goats wander on and stand still whilst feeding and being milked. Apparently it takes about 8 seconds per goat. I am not sure if this is just the labour time or if it includes milking. I should't think it includes milking as their udders would be sucked inside out if it was done that quickly wouldn't they?

We have been experiencing really high winds here. Whilst it is quite unpleasant in some ways, it is drying out the ground very quickly.

Our Christmas rush seems to have started in the shop and on line. Mainly hats, socks and snoods, but it is surprising how it mounts up. I think the shop would do better if the weather improved a bit.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Bad news

Everything has been going really well lately (apart from the weather) but that all changed today.

I was away all weekend at Discover Dogs helping my friend, Pauline, on the Association of Pet Dog Trainers' stand. We sell dog related goods to finance the association's presence at important events including Crufts. The idea is to promote reward based dog training in the UK and members of the APDT have to abide by the code of practice and have their dog training and class instruction skills assessed before they can become members.

Although we work long hours it is very enjoyable and we generally have fun in the evenings relaxing in a pleasant restaurant and even imbibing the odd glass of wine.

I arrived home yesterday shortly after 11 a.m. and soon got back into the normal routine. Mike helped me to set up the second hand knitting machine which I bought some time ago. I supervised whilst he undertook the less demanding task of assembling it. We suddenly realised that darkness was fast approaching so I went to shut the chickens in. They usually put themselves into the hen house if I am a bit late. As I looked inside to count them I realised to my horror that there were only seven chickens. All the black rock hens were there but only one of the new Buff Orpington/ Rhode Island Reds. I searched everywhere and as it was getting dark rapidly Mike got the torch and went to search the alpaca shelters which the hens often frequent. There was no sign of them so we had to give up.

This morning we found feathers in two paddocks - one being the chicken's home paddock and the other being on the opposite side of the boundary going into our neighbours fields. The fox had used a paddock with no alpacas in it as a corridor and must have caught them as they were going to bed. It must have happened very quickly because we did not hear any noise and the dogs did not bark in the excited way you would expect if they had heard a lot of mayhem. We would have ignored the odd yap as they occur quite frequently.

Our neighbours on that side feed the foxes as they work on the principle that if they feed them they are saving them from taking their meals on, for example, other people's chickens. That worked then.

It is quite a worry as obviously there are times when Mike and I are both out and this would be an ideal opportunity for the fox to return.

When we get the extra chickens we will have to put them behind and electric fence as we cannot risk major slaughter and we cannot gurantee to have alpacas in every paddock that free ranging chickens might wander into.

The second, less important event was then whilst in the shower this evening I noticed a spider had rolled itself up and was presumably drowned by the shower - or maybe it was a large fly. I tried to push it down the plug hole as I did not fancy treading on it. At first it would not go but I finally forced myself to actually touch it with my foot and give it a good shove which succeeded just as I realised it was my favourite stud earing which I had forgotten to take out before washing my hair.

Now I am waiting for the third thing.

I am going on a Goat Farm Walk and lecture tomorrow which will be part of my pre goat owning education. Nick says it will be very interesting. He worked on the goat farm at Ford Abbey for thirteen years. As it is only a couple of miles away it is ideal.

Nick helped me do a few jobs with the alpacas and then he and Mike measured up the large shelter in the bottom paddocks with a view to making it into a goat house. I phoned Steve at Corrymoor to confirm our order for 5 maiden females and we are also buying a prize winning stud Buck. Starting to get excited.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Autumn Jobs

Mike and Nick are starting to catch up on the Autumn jobs like cutting back the hedges. We are not allowed to do this between March and September because of disturbing wild life.

It was raining this morning so Nick spent an hour in the kitchen drinking tea and discussing the way forward with the farm. We are thinking of diversifying into Angora Goats who are reknowned for their beautiful fleece (Mohair) which would fit in well with the alpacas. We are also going to extend the free range chickens by another 30 hens. This will enable us to make a reasonable income from them. We have already discovered that they are fun to have and are easy to maintain. We might also consider breeding chickens for sale once we have got into the swing of things.

We checked all the weaned cria this morning and they are all in excellent condition. Even the latest weanlings have resigned themselves to leaving their Mums and getting down to the serious business of eating themselves silly.

Nick was telling us that he had a conversation with a vet recently and she was saying that there is growing concern about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases because the alpaca stud males cover such a wide area of the country and go from herd to herd very quickly. I asked what happens in the sheep world and he said that normally you would buy a ram to cover the herd and replace him. This is more or less what we do - and we now have 4 working males on the farm with another one from this year's breeding coming through and we are hoping to sell one or two of them to finance the purchase of a new male.

Up to now we have tried to go outside our own herd for one or two matings a yeat to bring in outside blood, and otherwise kept our matings within the herd.

Sunday 8 November 2009

A Winter's Tale

Nothing much to report really. Winter seems to be on its way with lots of rain and clouds but the occasional bright sunny day to cheer us up.

The new hens are really big now and we still don't know if we have one or two cockerels. they are standing up for themselves against the originals now and they all share the feeder and are often to be seen wandering around together as one flock.

We have made a temporary pen for Alario behind the barn. As he is the male who causes trouble if he has to share a paddock with other males we try to graze him in areas that would otherwise be wasted. He is right next door to the other males but we keep their hay rack and water well away from the fence so there is not much chance for them to get too close.

Before we open the gates in the morning and when they are closed in the afternoon we are letting the rest of the boys graze along the drive. It is good grass that would be strimmed if they did not eat it. Unfortunately they also seem to like browsing on Mike's young fruit trees, so he is not best pleased. I told him they need pruning this time of year but he is not convinced.

We have completely run out of males for sale now. The last two have been bought by a school as part of their new farm project. We are keeping just one, who shows signs of being a potential stud male. I am a bit worried about introducing him to the other males as usually we have several so that they stay in a mini herd within the bachelor herd until they are old enough to hold their own. I hope we don't have to keep him in another separate paddock. At the moment he is in with the young female weanlings.

The main herd have moved down to the bottom paddocks for the winter. Unfortunately the recent wet weather has made it rather soggy down there but there is still plenty of very good grass for them. The forecast is better for next week and the area drains quickly so we are hoping that they will be OK. They can see us coming from quite a distance when we walk down in the mornings with the dogs. They come galloping up to the gate in the hope that it is feeding time. Sometimes it is but usually I go down later in the morning or Mike will take some down when he tops up the hayracks.

A lady in the village has just bought some alpacas from a local farmer who wanted to "get rid of them". She phoned us for help as she was worried about them. I went round to see her and was able to reassure her that they are in good condition but she has very little land so it might be a problem through the winter. When they have constructed a suitable catch pen I am going to visit again to do a proper hands on condition check and show her what they should feel like so she can monitor their progress herself and adjust their feeding regimen accordingly.

She has five wethers and one entire male,but they seem to be used to running as a bachelor herd and get on with each other. They also seem quite relaxed with people so she will cope well.

The nights are drawing in and the chickens often put themselves to bed before I notice that it is getting dark and time to shut them in.

We have started to use the central heating some days now which is cosy when you come inside having been in the FRESH air all day, but makes it hard to stay awake in the evenings. Or maybe it's just our age?

Thursday 29 October 2009


Our friend, Elaine, has been staying with us for the last 3 weeks. She has been under a lot of pressure at work and home and her family thought it would be helpful if she could get away from it all for a while, so she took us up on our open invitation to come down to the farm.

At first she just chilled out for a while but soon started to take part in all the farm activities. She has been looking after the weanlings and set herself some goals to make it more interesting. This included getting the chickens and baby alpacas to feed from her hand (achieved), she also made a start on learning all the alpacas' names, which was a more demanding task.

She really enjoyed cleaning the paddocks and getting involved with the running of the place and it helped her to relax. It also helped her to get rid of her excess energy and because you always have to be calm and confident around livestock she felt that we should call the experience AAT - Alpacas as Therapy. I don't suppose that we will be taking alpacas into hospitals like PAT dogs, but watch this space.

Sadly for us Elaine is moving on tomorrow, but has promised to keep in touch and come down for some agility training from time to time, and just to socialise. Buttercup, has really enjoyed it as well. Buttercup is a fluffy rabbit which is going form the basis of a children's storyline which Elaine is planning. See today's photo.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Nick's advice

Nick came this morning after being kept away by rain and ill health for a couple of Tuesdays.

Mike and I had trimmed toenails and administered vitamin injections to the females who are being built up whilst feeding their babies and one or two who have not recovered from feeding the weanlings. This just left the main herd of 25 breeding females for Nick and me to do.

We started at 8 .20 and had finished by 9.30p.m. which was very satisfying. We then checked the weanlings and found them to be in excellent condition despite being weaned earlier than normal. If no complications arise later on we will continue to wean at 4 months to allow t.he Mums time to recover before the winter and their next birth.Obviousluy we will have to be careful and there will be occcasions when a cria needs to remain with its mother for longer.

Nick is also helping us to diversify a little. We are planning to increase the number of chickens so we actually make some money out of them and he has suggested we have more goats and we are going to go to a few farm sales to see what is on offer.

Monday 26 October 2009

The girls are back

We finished our paddock cleaning in record time this morning and after a very pleasant tea break on the decking we got ready to go and collect Constance and Isobella, two maiden alpacas who have been to M & M Alpacas for mating to their stud male, EP Cambridge Hallmark.

They are based near Exeter and have a really diverse selection of animals as well as alpacas. They have pigs, geese, chickens, ducks, pigmy goats, dogs and are expecting a small herd of Dexter cattle soon.

We arrived at about 2 pm and had a welcome cup of tea and a tour of the farm. I fell in love with the pigmy goats. There are two young billies (neutered) ready to go soon and we put our name down for a couple of breeding females from the next litter as well. Apparently they get on well with alpacas, only need a shelter and spend most of their time browsing on whatever is available including weeds. They can start breeding at about 15months old. They have horns but Mike (of M & M) assured me that they mainly use them for scratching themselves, not headbutting humans.

The girls were in excellent condition and have been scanned pregnant so we are looking forward to some lovely cria next summer.

Eventually we dragged ourselves away and on arrival home we vaccinated and wormed the girls and they will now stay in a quarantine paddock for 2 - 3 weeks before integrating with the herd at Laurel Farm again. They seemed pleased to get home and started grazing immediately.

We are having to put the hens to bed soon after 5.30 since the clocks have gone back. It seems that winter is suddenly looming although it is nice to wake up in daylight again.

Friday 23 October 2009

Cat in the basket

As you can see, I get plenty of help when hanging out the washing!

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Day Out

I went to London for the day with my friend Pauline. She lives in Andover so we arranged to catch the same time. I got on the train at Axminster at 8.57a.m. Pauline got on at about 10.30 a.m. and we got to Waterloo by about 11.25.

We headed to St Pauls Cathedral and called in to a small old fashioned pub for a snack lunch. We sat outside in a small courtyard where the pub's tame squirrels begged for peanuts. We dont see each other very often these days so we had lots of catching up to do.

At about 2 p.m. as planned we headed for the Old Bayley. Pauline had visited before but it was a new and fascinating experience for me. We sat in on a trial of three Turkish men charged with the "Honour killing" of the daughter of one of them and the daughter's boyfriend. The witness was being questioned through an interpreter so was a little difficult to follow, but nevertheless it was riveting. The case was adjourned at about 4.15p.m. and after a quick coffee we walked over the Millenium Bridge and took a look round the Tate Modern.

Pauline ventured the opinion that it would all be rubbish, although she used a different word, but I thought that there would be some rubbish but also some inspired work. In the event I had to come round to her point of view and we both agreed when observing the intense "art" fans that they had a severe case of the Emperor's new clothes!!

We had an early evening meal in a Brasserie next door to the Globe theatre. The view of St Paul's and the Thames, especially when lit up after dark, was spectacular. We had a loveley meal and cuaght the 8.20 train home. Unfortunately after Pauline got off at Andover I had another 2 hours to go because the train stopped at every station. We were also delayed a further 20 minutes because of a road accident with a railway bridge. Still I was home by midnight (Mike collected me from the station) after a really brilliant day.

Back to reality today.

Sunday 18 October 2009


Big family get together yesterday. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves - with the possible exception of the dogs who had to spend nearly all afternoon and evening in the garden. They did have a nice big load of marrow bones to chew, thought, so it was not all bad.

We decided to delay moving the herd down to the winter paddocks but opened up three top paddocks and also the race that we normally walk the dogs down. there is plenty of good grass in it which will keep them going for another week or so.

Today we finally delivered Alvaro, Amato, and Esteban the three young males who we sold some weeks ago. Their new owners have been waiting for their fences to be finished. After a bumpy and twisty journey they arrived and in usual alpaca style, casually wandered out of the trailer to start their new life.

At last we have our 4 x 4 truck back. It has been in the garage for several weeks, but we were delighted when Chris delivered it back to us when they came down for the family get together.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Boys will be boys

We keep most of our males in one paddock - three working studs, three younger boys who are going to a new home this weekend and one wether (castrated male). Alario our first stud male tends to fight when in the same paddock as the other boys so he has a paddock all to himself, albeit in sight of the rest of the herd so he does not feel too isolated.

Usually they get on quite well apart from the odd spat over nothing, but whilst I was feeding the hens this morning I heard a lot of screaming which usually means that there is a bundle. I dropped everything (much to the hens' disgust) and picked up my sticks (which I use when herding the alpacas in open areas - makes my arms seem longer) and rushed up to the male paddock.

I shouted to Mike so he knew what was going on - just in case of accidents. Pedro (dark brown) had Bono (white) pinned against the fence behind our caravan which is parked in their paddock for winter storaged. It looked like a serious fight so instead of piling in like I usually do, I thought I would give Mike another shout in case I needed help.

By the time I got back to the paddock all was calm and all of the boys were looking at me in surprise. They then turned away and went back to grazing as if nothing had happened.

This is an exercise in how to tell a story about absolutely nothing.

We have finished paddock cleaning for the day and are about to move the alpacas around to better grazing. All the top paddocks are struggling to support them now so we will move the main herd down to the bottom paddocks where the grass is still quite lush, although this time of year it will not be as nourishing as in the spring and summer.

We have to move hay racks and feeding troughs and decide whether to change the herd structure in any way. It is a shame really because we like it when we can see the whole herd from the house. The place looks empty when they are out of sight.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Pet Females

Nick came yesterday after missing last week because of the weather. We prepared 3 young males who are going to their new home on Sunday. This entailed clipping their toe nails, giving them a final ADE (vitamin) injection, and doing a last minute bit of brushing up on their halter training.

We also rescanned some females who had uncertain results when last scanned and some who were not far enough on in their pregnancy to scan before. The results were more or less as expected but not as hoped. Two white females, Audrey and Bianca were not pregnant. Bianca has never been pregnant and Audrey did not take last season or this year. The other two who are not pregnant are the females who think they are males - Emilia and Imogen. It seems they are right. We are going to sell them off at the same price as pet males, which is a great shame because one of them has been successful in the show ring. It is not fair to put them through the obvious stress which overcomes them when confronted with with the possibility of sex with a rampant male alpaca. Can't say I blame them really.

We also formally condition scored the alpacas in the "Remedial Paddock" where any out of condition females are contained so that they can have extra feed and closer attention. It was good to do this with Nick as a second opinion so that we could agree the score. There was only one that we differed on, and of course, Nick was right. We will follow up in a month to monitor progress. We have weaned off as many cria as possible, some of them quite early to give these mothers more of a chance to put on weight to see them through the winter, but some still have cria at foot milking off their backs, as they say. Condition scoring is done on a 1 - 5 scale and involves assessing the coverage of the backbone. The more concave the coverage the lower the score. 3 is the optimum and most of them were 2.5. We are giving them extra vitamins and minerals, all the remedials have been wormed to make sure that is not the reason for their loss of condition - and we currently have a nil worm egg count on the farm apart from a very low presence in the male paddock. We are currently looking for a good Zinc supplement which we feel might be a factor.

Tanya, the black and white cria, is in with the remedials with her mum because after the early weaning of the of the others she would have been the only baby in the main herd and would have no mates to play with.

Mike's dog Jake, seems to have decided to settle down a bit and is doing some stunning agility at home and at training, so watch this space for next season's results

Monday 12 October 2009

Blog forgot

Have had a friend staying for a few days so have not kept up to date with the blog.

We have been very lucky with the weather and it is great to think that every sunny day now shortens the winter to come a little.

All this year's cria have now been fully vaccinated, which is a relief. Although it is not guaranteed at least we feel that they are safer from some common diseases. The booster jabs consist of one injection but the first vaccination has to be given twice four weeks apart before immunity kicks in.

Tanya, our lovely little black and white cria who had the hernia operation now has knock knees, which signals a Vitamin D deficiency. We routinely give Vitamin D to all alpacas under two years old to prevent rickets, but sometimes the darker coloured alpacas need a bit more as they do not absorb the sun's rays as well as the lighter ones (we think). We have given her her booster vaccination and a slightly larger dose of Vitamin D than normal in an effort to treat her condition. She is, however, very robust and lively, so there is not too much to worry about.

I am getting quite brave these days about moths, although still a little less comfortable with spiders. Even I was daunted by the Hawk Moth we have living in the laudry room in the barn at the moment. It is absolutely huge - according to google the wingspan is 80 - 120 mm!! I am facinated by him but at the same time would like to ask him to leave.

Another lesson learned - remember when the hens are in the back garden don't leave the kitchen door open. See photo.

I have not been able to get a good photo of the moth as I am not that technical with the camera. The Zoom only makes it a blurr.

The good weather has brought out lots of customers for the shop and grannies and grandads with their grandchildren coming to see the alpacas.

Friday 2 October 2009

Autumn is here

We were woken up at about 3 a.m. this morning by Jake barking his head off. He is usually very good at night, so Mike got up and let him out.

He then came back in to me and got me out of bed too as he could hear strange noises in our fifth paddock. We have recently weaned some cria and all six are in that paddock. We were really worried in case some sort of predator (fox?) was worrying or hurting them.

As luck would have it the moon was covered in cloud so it was very dark and we had to rely on a torch to show the way. We took all the dogs with us and they were clearly excited by the noises which increased as we got nearer.

Thank goodness the cria were agitated but obviously not involved. No - it was Alario and two lady visitors. He was very excited and was chasing them both up and down in his paddock. All three of them were extremely stressed and the girls were on the point of trying to jump out over the fence. We left the dogs in an impressive down stay outside the paddock and went in to try and sort things out. It was fairly farcical in hind-sight. We were both in our wellies and terry towellling bathrobes, running around waving a torch and trying to head off a very determined Alario. Eventually we managed to get the gate to the next paddock open at the right moment to let one then the other female alpaca out.

Why were they in together anyway, you might be asking. Well Emilia and Imogen seem to have some hormone problems. They both act like males to the extent of getting sexually excited with other females. Both of them reject the attentions of males and we have not been able to get them pregnant even by holding them to try and make them submit to mating. Not a thing we would do lightly as we try as far as possible to go with nature rather than forcing things. Emilia has been estrumated, which involves a very quick injection with a drug which in effect induces labour in a pregnant female but causes any blockages such as an unfertilised egg in the tubes of a non pregnant female to be cleared to make it more likely that she will conceive.

We scanned all the girls this week and unsurprisingly found that both Emilia and Imogen were empty (not pregnant) despite a forced mating. We decided that they would have to be written off as breeding females, but as a last resort, Nick suggested that if they were put into a paddock with a male (Alario drew the short straw) they might be stimulated by his maleness and change.

At first all seemed calm apart from a few sniffing sessions around each other's tails and noses, and so we felt that it would be worth leaving them to see if time would convert the girls from their gay lifestyle. As you see from the above, the fairy tale ending did not materialise for us, although it probably has for Emilia and Imogen. We shall probably sell them together as they are unlikely to find many like-minded alpacas - although more may come out if they have these girls as role models.

Although the cria had not been hurt in the night, it re-inforced my earlier fears for the safety of the littlies all alone in the furthest paddock from the house, so today we moved them to the top paddock which they apparently adore. They galloped in and started grazing on the lush fresh grass immediately and then had a skittish run round before finally settling down to their new life.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Catching Up

Well, as my friend Pauline reminded me, I am behind with the blog. This is a quick update, not necessarily in chronological order.

The picture is of Mike, Rich and Dee, and our neighbour, Pam relaxing in the garden after cleaning the paddocks. We were very lucky with the weather.

Colin, the shearer , sheared some of our cria who are likely to be good enough to show next year. They were not too worried by their experience but their Mums rejected them after they had been shorn. They probably smelt of the shearing oil and looked very different too. After a few hours all but one of the Mums had accepted her off spring again. For a few days we caught and held Ariel (the one who would not feed her cria), but it was stressful for all concerned and so we decided to wean the cria who was very fit and healthy at four months.

Nick, our contract helper, suggested that they should all be weaned at 4 months as in most other farm animals the young are weaned at three months. We decided to go ahead with this plan and although they are still not very happy the cria seem to be feeding well. In the past we have taken the Mums away from the cria but Nick felt it was better to leave the cria in a paddock they were familiar with and then put the Mums on to less rich pasture for a few days to encourage their milk to dry up. This we did. In a few days time they will go back with the rest of the herd. We will do condition checks on a regular basis. If it works well we will probably do this next year too, as it gives the Mum's more chance to build themselves up ready for next year's birth.

Our young black male yearling, who has been sold, presented with a very nasty wound in his ear. We are guessing that one of the other males was involved in a fight with him. We checked for fighting teeth and found two had teeth that had come through, Ben, the wether and Bono, the Stud male. Colin examined them both and decided that Ben's would not need filing off until shearing time next year, but he said that Bono's were "massive" and he was probably responsible for Alvaro's injury. We had a struggle with him - Colin held his neck and stuffed a towel in his mouth and filed off the offending teeth, whilst I knelt on the back end. Bono quickly jumped up when he was done and was back to normal almost immediately.

Alvaro's ear became infected and we had to wash it out and spray it and we also gave him an antibiotic injection.

The new chickens are settling in well, although they still don't mix much with the originals.

Egg hunting is still adding mystery to our lives. I found eight in a shelter this afternoon and there is a hen sitting in the back of the landrover who I hope is busy laying an egg. There are probably a few in there.

We helped at Honiton Show at the weekend. Mike was under the weather - we think due to King Prawns in our Chinese Takeaway. I did not eat them and I was fine. Romie came 5th in the Grade 1 - 7 Steeplechase on the Saturday and won Grade 4 Agility on the Sunday.

I have just been to see a farm collie who is looking for a home. She is quite nice, although a little stubby. She is about Millie's size and does not seem to have had any training at all, although she likes to chase a ball. Her owner died at age 45 and she is in a foster home at the moment. She is going to meet our dogs next week sometime and we will see how we get on.

Romie has not come into season yet, but I am hoping she will soon, so she can become a single mum.

Mike is working at the garage today and Pam and I are going to a Jamie Oliver party this evening - I think it is like a Tupperware party but more classy and probably more expensive.

When Nick was here on Tuesday we scanned all the potentially pregnant females and most of them showed a positive result. I felt much more confident about doing it this time and more sure of the results.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Cock Sure

Nick, who comes in for half a day a week to help us out on the farm brought three pullets this morning. They are Rhode Island Reds crossed with Buff Orpingtons. Apparently one breed lays loads of eggs and the other is larger so we get the best of both worlds. They are a very pretty reddish fawn. I will photograph them tomorrow but today they are shut in the chicken house getting used to their new surroundings. He also brought a bonus Cockerell who will be ready to go in a few months time so we can breed our own hens!! He is going to teach me how to sex them etc: and hopefully he will despatch the males - I am not sure I would have the heart for it.

We had a busy husbandry schedule. We checked all the cria who have been tagged as we had some problems with some of them becoming manky and one was quite infected and the tag had to be cut out altogether. When we removed the tag we also gave her an injection of a long acting antibiotic which has stopped any further problems and today her ear is fine.

We are going to have some of the cria shorn tomorrow because their fleece is getting long and by the time we come to show them next year it will be past its sell by date. Others still need microchipping because they were too much for Mike to hold with his arthritic elbow. He had an operation years ago but has never been able to straighten it since - so you can imagine how painful it is if he is holding an animal which decides to rear or suddenly turns round in a way that tries to straighten it. The cria are much harder than adults to hold because they are smaller and very squirmy.

Colin, the shearer, will have no problem holding them. They will either be hobbled for shearing or he will be able to hold them whilst I microchip them.

To ensure that the cria are dry for the morning to be sheared, we brought them into the barn this afternoon and because they have not been weaned yet, their mothers had to come too.

Tanya, Bourree's little black and white cria was due to have her stitches removed after her recent hernia operation. I thought I would hold her whilst Nick removed the stitches, but he thought it would be a good idea if I did it. I have never done it before but have often seen Vets and Doctors do it, so it was no big deal and all went well. I will check on her again in a few days just to make sure.

Lastly we trimmed the bonnets (top knots) of most of the female alpacas. They look really smart now and are less likely to be spooked because they can see better without the fleece growing over their eyes.

We also tested three young alpacas to see if they are pregnant. They all rejected the attentions of the male, which is good news for us, but disappointing for the male .

Dee and Rich, who are old friends have come to stay for a few days and they arrived just as Nick and I had finished working with the alpacas.

It was perfect timing for lunch and after a leisurely hour or so Mike and I put the alpacas in the barn - just before it started to rain, and Mike and our visitors took the dogs for a walk around the farm.

I am signing off now to become a domestic goddess for an hour or so - or maybe I'll just get dinner ready!!

Friday 18 September 2009

Tour of Britain

Yesterday I had a girlie day out with my friend, Pauline Wise. Pauline is a dog trainer/behaviourist and to start the day we visited another friend who needed help with her dog. As we were in Honiton we decided to have lunch there. I was also looking for a "Victorian" painting for our sitting room, so it was a good excuse to tour the antique shops for which Honiton is famous. The bad news is that they were all too expensive and the good news is that I did not find one that I liked anyway.

Then we went on the all important hunt for a good lunch. We found a delightful wine bar and partook of an excellent lunch (with wine of course) and spent a happy hour or so catching up on our news. The wine was very good so Pauline asked the waitress what it was and she told us as well as pointing us in the direction of the wine shop two doors away who supplied it. It was a no brainer to pop in and buy half a dozen bottles each.
I took Romie (the bitch we are hoping to breed from) to the vet for blood samples for DNA testing to be taken this morning. As usual the cat hopped into the van as I was getting ready to go. I knew I could spend ages chasing her around to get her to get out and stay out, so I grabbed her and put her in one of the dog cages. She squealed all the way to the vet and all the way back!! When I got home I packaged up the blood samples and took them round to the post office but there were police no waiting signs everywhere in advance of the cycle race coming through, so I went home and will take the samples round this afternoon.

The wine came in very handy today as the Tour of Britain cycle race was due to pass the farm at about 1 p.m. and I gave my friend, Pam a ring. She came round and we sat at the farm gates on our BNP deck chairs (that's what we call the white ones with the big red cross on them) and tested the new wine whilst waiting for the cyclists to come by.

I am not a follower of cycle racing but it was very exciting. There were loads of motor cycle police who went ahead to clear the way - obviously loving the opportunity to sweep along the empty roads - then came the cyclists who were past in just a couple of minutes - followed by an entourage of back up cars with spare bikes on the rooves and presumably other kit inside. A motor bike parked just where we were and as the cyclists came into view they rode off with camera at the ready. We are thinking they must have been TV or newspaper photographers.
Pam and I had a pleasant chat and obviously enjoyed our wine whilst we were waiting to see the boys go by, but the actual even was over very quickly.

Monday 14 September 2009

Moving Around

We frequently move the alpacas from paddock to paddock to give them fresh grazing. We chose to do this job this morning and the pictures show them on their fresh green grazing. Alario - our first herd sire has to live on his own because he fights with the other males but we like to keep him near the rest of the herd as they do not thrive if alone, so we brought him down to be next to the other alpacas and he is obviously very relaxed about it all and enjoying the sunshine.

Friday 11 September 2009

Late Summer

What a lovely change of weather - blue skies, light breeze and yes, sunshine!! The alpacas love lying in the sun soaking up the rays, topping up the Vitamin D and just chilling out.

Today we checked our cria to see if them are likely to be show quality for next season's showing. We found six or seven potentials who we have listed, so we are hopeful that they will retain their lovely bright crimpy fleece into the spring of 2010 when the shows start. We have some lovely older girls (yearlings plus) but since they are now pregnant we will not be able to show them.

Mike is currently topping the agility paddock as the warm wet weather which we have had for a while has really encouraged the grass which is bright green and very long. Once topped we will graze it as well which will help to keep the area up to scratch.

The cat is well on the road to recovery after suffering a broken hip whilst we were away on holiday. She still has a dose of metacam every night and we are keeping her caged at night to stop her going out hunting and playing with cars, especially as she cannot run very fast at the moment. During the day she still manages to do silly things like climb up into the hay loft on the ladder and hop down on three legs. We are trying to think of the best way to keep her under cover at night. I think we will put a door on one of the dog compartments in the kennel (a converted lorry unit). The theory is that the road is quiet at night so she might get taken by surprise if a vehicle comes along and not get out of the way quickly enough, but in the daytime with constant traffic perhaps she will be less likely to even go near the road.

We have not had a present of a mutilated vole or headless mouse for ages, but she has started to come for the morning walk with the dogs again so she is nearly back to normal. She meows a lot when she is caged for the night as she really wants to get outside and saucers of milk, bits of chicken and other inducements really do not do it for her when there is the call of the wild - well semi-wild anyway.

Chickens are still acting in mysterious ways regarding egg laying. Hoping to have a couple more soon to replace the kidnapped/murdered ones. I expect as soon as the new ones arrive we will find a huge stash of eggs somewhere.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Ministry Check

Mike took one of our females to be covered by an outside stud male yesterday. He got just down the road and was stopped by "The Ministry" checking his vehicle, the trailer and his documents. All went well and the alpaca on board was in a kush and did not even bother to stand up when they looked inside. They were happy with the roadworthinesss of the vehicle and trailer and the cleanliness of the interior. We have an SVA Authorisation document allowing us to transport animals up to 8 hours but the female checker told Mike we should have a Certificate of Competence too for journeys over 20 miles. This was a bit worrying but when I contacted BAS (British Alpaca Society) they told me that it does not apply to alpacas as they are not classed as livestock and BAS have a letter from a Defra official confirming this.

Tanya, the cria with the hernia, had her operation yesterday. We took her in to the vet's in the van. I sat in the back with her. We put her mother and another alpaca in the barn so that she had company whilst she waited for her baby to return. Bourree was not at all amused when we took Tanya away and left her in the barn and did a lot of kicking and stamping. The cria struggled when Mike carried her to the van but was very calm during the journey and caused quite a stir and lots of "ahhs" when Mike carried her through the reception area to the hospital. We dropped her off at 3.30 p.m. and she back on the farm by about 5.30 p.m. all seems to be well. One of the farm vets will call to check her tomorrow and then we will just have to wait for a couple of weeks to take out the stitches.

She spent one night in the barn and is now back with the herd looking as good as ever.

Monday 7 September 2009

Another day on the farm

Today I decided to walk to the little village shop/post office in Chardstock (Tytherleigh is in the parish of Chardstock). Mike had taken one of our young alpacas to be mated on another farm and so I took the opportunity to catch up on exciting things like the ironing before setting off.

Maddy is our ten year old lurcher. She used to compete in agility but her heart was not in it and we retired her last year. We felt that she was being left out of things and needed a little bit of attention of her own. Sandy our little terrier is quite old now and seems content to rule the roost and get fed and not much more and the three border collies all compete in agility and get training sessions so they have a fairly interesting time. I thought it would be nice for Maddy to come to the shop and she agreed. We met one of our neighbours walking her little Scotty dog. He and Maddy seemed to like each other. She trotted along quite happily and was very good when I tied her up outside the shop whilst I went in to get my milk, which was the main reason for the trip. I also bought more than planned so had a heavier shopping bag that I was expecting.

I was surprised at how much more exercise the walk on the roads seemed than all the walking we do on the farm. I should probably do it every day, but that is not likely to happen although I think it would be an idea to do it a few times a week to give the dogs experience in walking on a lead and behaving well in public. It is also nice to meet the villagers and get away from our hermit habits.

Friday 4 September 2009

Busy Busy

We seem to have been busy ever since we got back from holiday with both pleasure and work.

We took delivery of 90 bales of hay which had to be hefted up into the hay loft, later took three of our boys out to do outside matings, today we tested the whole herd to find out who is pregnant before we go into autumn and winter and we split off some of our females who seem to be underweight and put them into a separate paddock to feed them up and give them extra supplements.

We have also been to our regular agility training session, visited Mike's garage at Wilton, unfortunately missed combining it with seeing Josh our latest grandchild as he was at nursery.

We checked all the cria and sadly found that our latest edition, Tanya, has a hernia. She is going to have her operation on Wednesday. The vet thinks it will be OK as it is still very small and soft, but the sooner it is fixed the better.

We have also been preparing for the Chardstock Street Fayre. We usually take a few alpacas along and sell our jumpers and socks etc: We are hoping for better weather this year as last year it was a wash out.

The cat, Polly, seems to be recovering from her broken hip. She is getting depressed with cage rest so we are allowing her some freedom during the day and the plan is (ours not Polly's) that we will keep her in over night. This will be the hard bit as she loves to roam and hunt at night and sleeps most of the day.

Still having varying results with eggs. 6 one day and 3 or 4 another. The latest laying place is in the hay trailer which makes it difficult as we need the trailer to take hay to the paddocks. The hens get shirty when we drive off when they are laying!!

Thursday 3 September 2009

Dogs on Hols and Bourree Baby

Ahh - they are so cute but they are just looking at Mike dishing up their dinner on the other side of the wind breaks outside our caravan when we were on holiday.
The sweet little cria is the result of a misguided experiment. We put Chale our best white male to Bourree an older black female hoping to improve the black fleece but although Tanya (the cria) does have a lovely soft fleece she has also inherited a white face and feet which were not planned. She is lovely, though.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

We're Back

We had a lovely holiday starting off with the KC International Dog Agility Show, then two days at Dogs In Need followed by a week at Dashing Dogs and finishing off with a weekend at Dordale Dog Agility Show.

We were very lucky with the weather and only had one day where there was any significant rainfall and that was conveniently not when we were competing. The electrics on the caravan played up and the portable TV would not work so we had to be careful about saving the battery but otherwise everything went very well. Mike has decided to give up trying to get Jake to wait at the start of his agility runs. It had turned into a battle and was spoiling their fun, so at least for the last week or so they had some good rounds, and one was nearly a clear.

Romie had a seventh place at the KC, 2 firsts two thirds at Dashing dogs and a second at Dordale so she has definitely come good. Unfortunately I seem to get a slight hesitation in the middle of each course and this is enough for her to go the wrong way, so I need to do some serious memory training exercises I think. She seems to have overcome her tendency to knock jumps down which makes it more likely that she will get a clear round and hence a place.

She also met her future soul mate at the Dogs in Need Show and we are hoping she will be covered next time she comes into season. I am hoping for a Romie clone.

The alpacas were all in good form on our return and a new black baby had been born to Bourree.

She was overdue and the day before we went on holiday Tess (the vet) came over and induced her labour. She was born the following morning.

David and Jane manicured the whole herd whilst we were away so apart from some routine stuff there is no backlog of work to be done.

It was a lovely holiday but nice to get home too.

Monday 10 August 2009

Getting ready

We are going away for a couple of weeks soon and leaving the farm in the hands of our trusty farm sitters, so we are trying to make things as easy as possible for them by getting most of the jobs done and leaving them information to make their stay as easy as possible. Far from being empty there will be more people on site than usual, which is reassuring for us.

David and Jane are going to trim toe nails for us which will be a major job out of the way. Jane is very good with the alpacas and David has his own flock of sheep so those sort of things are just routine for him. We usually do it ourselves of course, but when someone volunteers we cannot disappoint them by refusing!!

Only two more cria due and we are not convinced that one of the Mums is still pregnant. She is showing some signs of discomfort which might mean that she is thinking of giving birth but she does not look as wide as she normally does when pregnant. We are hoping they will both oblige within the next day or so.

At the moment we have 7 female cria and 5 males left after one male and one female cria were sold with their mothers. It would be great to finish the year with two more girls but we'll be pleased with whatever we have as long as they are healthy.

Saturday 8 August 2009

Summer's Day

At last some dry weather. The ground is starting to dry out and we can think about topping the paddocks and catching up with jobs that need to be done in the dry.

Mike's sister and her husband are staying for the weekend and have been helping a lot. The drive is looking very neat after being strimmed and the garden is back to its former self.

The alpacas all look nice and fluffy after being damp for days. The grass is much greener after the rain and the warmth of the sun. Let's hope it lasts for a while.

Friday 7 August 2009

Busy day

Yesterday we went to the Honiton show as planned. The weather forecast was good and although we had two females ready to pop we felt that we could leave them in the care of our neighbour Pam. She was to phone us if either of the two females gave birth and one of us would return home.
In the event the 4 x 4 decided that its drive shaft would start to play up (Mike is an engineer so he knows about these things) but as we were nearly at the show we decided to carry on.
We arrived with little time to spare because the schedule said judging would probably start at 10 a.m. and the show rules said that livestock should arrive an hour before judging. They actually decided to start judging at 9 a.m. so we only had a few minutes to book in before the judge's briefing. Ian Waldron from Langaton Alpacas was the judge.
The weather held for a while - in time for us to show our two females - one won Junior Fawn Female and the other was second in the Intermediate Brown Female class. Then the rain started and all the competitors and the judge took shelter in the tent which was being used as a collecting ring. At about the same time Pam phoned to say that a white cria had been born and that it was tipping down with rain on the farm. The cria was already suckling when Pam arrived so we did not have any immediate concerns. In fact if the weather had lived up to expectations we would have just let nature take its course and dealt with the cria on our return after the show.
Because of the rain we felt that we should return home and make sure all was well but of course with a dodgy car we could not risk a double journey so we had to pack up our alpacas and go home without showing our boys. The showground arranged an escort to lead us out as there were lots of members of the public walking around and we arrived back at Laurel Farm in pouring rain.
The cria was looking quite strong and healthy but had not had the opportunity to get dry so we took her and her mother and the other pregnant females into the barn and put the heat lamp on to get the cria dry. We kept them in overnight and today they have all been released into the wild again to continue normal alpaca life.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Just a quickie

Finally a fine day. This morning I took Jake and Romie training at Tollard Royal where strangely the weather was still foul.

At home it was lovely and we took the opportunity to test our females to make sure they are pregnant. So far so good.

We then selected the alpacas we are taking to the Honiton Show tomorrow. Only two females because the other young ones we might have shown are all pregnant now. Only two males because we did not have many males in 2008 and most have been sold. We checked them over and decided that we ought to spruce them up a bit so we cut their toe nails and trimmed their top knots.

We let the girls wander around in the farm yard until about 7.30 p.m. when we put the chickens to bed and then put them in the barn just in case the weather forecast is wrong and rain comes in. Our two females are very pretty although only one has a fleece which I think might catch the judge's eye.

It should be nice and relaxing apart from the actual showing which can be a bit time consuming.

Pam - our lovely neighbour who helps clean the paddocks twice a week - is going to keep any eye on things (especially the pregnant soon-to-be Mums) and give us a ring if any of the remaining two pregnant females for 2009 give birth.

Friday 31 July 2009

Dry day

A dry day at last, so we took the opportunity to give all the alpacas their vitamins. We don't normally do the whole herd in summer but as there has not been much sun we extended the normal dose of vitamins ADE to everyone instead of just the cria. We also took the opportunity to bring all the cria up to date with their vaccinations. Only the very youngest are now left to do when they are due, and of course the unborns.

We kept the farm gates closed all day as it makes it easier to deal with working with the animals if we have no interruptions.

After a visit to Tim Hey of Inca Alpacas (his stud Jack of Spades has covered a young black female of ours) we have decided that we want to re-jig the barn lay out to make it more user-friendly for husbandry etc: Tim has a brand new barn but Mike thinks he can adapt our high roofed Belgium barn to a similar design inside, albeit on a smaller scale.

We cleaned out all the shelters so that Mike could take the straw down to the bonfire in one go and release the trailer to move our dog agility equipment. We have decided to utilise about the only really flat paddock on the farm which is further away from the house (thus preventing the dogs inside getting over-excited when other dogs are running around) but it is not as far as the bottom paddock where we used to train. It also releases the paddock nearest to the house exclusively for alpacas who need special attention.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

New Resolution

Well it won't last long but at least I have something to put on the blog for two days in a row!!

Today we eartagged all the cria microchipped the cria and then this afternoon took one of our black girls, Adriana, to Inca Alpacas to be mated to Jack of Spades who is a fantastic big black alpaca with lots of presence and all the other attributes you would expect from a stud male. We are hoping that his genes will improve our stock of blacks.

Having arrived home quite late we are now off to the pub for a meal. That means that the chickens and alpacas will not want to go to their night quarters without a fight. Any other night they trot in as if butter would not melt in their mouths.

Monday 27 July 2009


With the start of the school holidays we are already seeing quite a few more visitors than usual. Most just want to look at the alpacas but some buy in the shop and others remove our "Free Alpaca Manure" for their gardens. Apparently alpaca manure has been recommended on one of the gardening programmes so it is now even more popular than ever. It's a shame we cannot rig up a bag under each tale to collect this valuable commodity. Picking it up whether by hand with a scoop and scraper or with the paddock cleaner (hoover) is a really boring job.

We have been catching up on the spit offs and matings today and most of our alpacas are now pregnant for next year's births. There are a few going to other breeders for outside matings and one or two who have not taken and had to be mated again. The rest are waiting to be scanned with our new scanner when they are 60 days pregnant.

We are nearly up to date with vaccinating all the cria. Just a few late babies waiting for their second jabs and one or two unborns who will start the process all over again.

The new ear tags and microchips have arrived and we now have no excuse, we will have to bite the bullet and get on with this task this week. We are not looking forward to it at all, although I must say that they don't seem to find the eartagging particularly painful. Still I fainted when I had my ears pierced so I am no judge.

I went to South Devon Dog show on Sunday and Romie finally got a clear round after months of nearlies. We had a big glitch because I was not in the right place but she still came second - so there is plenty of room for improvement.

Weather is still very variable so we have to fit in jobs as and when we can. I don't think the alpacas have had dry fleece for about a week.

The can has succeeded in training me to produce yoghurt or milk on demand and the demand is becoming greater all the time. She has also taken up residence on my pretty victorian dining chair which is covered in velvet. I will have to be careful that she does not get spoilt!!!

All quiet on the hen front - nearly always six a day at the moment. Nesting places vary from the barn to field shelters to a gully behind the fence in the yard.

Nothing much else to report.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Defeat of the Queen

Because of the bad weather our mating schedule has been disrupted and it was only today that we were back to normal. We introduced Emilia to Chale and he was less than gallant in telling her what he wanted. She tried her previous behaviour and gave him a very hard time but I guess her heart wasn't in it quite as much as before. She finally stuck her head under the fence which allowed him to do the business.

The first time she lay down she suddenly realised that Chale was going to take advantage and jumped up unexpectedly. Somehow she went between my legs and got up too soon, throwing me against the gate. It would have been hilarious but unfortunately she slammed my elbow against the sharp upright on the gate using her whole body weight (she is a big girl) and I nearly fainted with the pain. I was unable to do anything except lean against the fence for quite a while and as soon as I could I went indoors and made sweet tea for me and normal stuff for Mike. I took some ibrufen and put an ice pack on the damaged limb. After about half an hour I began to feel better and decided that I would live without a visit to A & E. I am amazed at how little discomfort is left. I probably won't even have a respectable bruise to boast of.

On a more mundane note - the hens have decided to lay five eggs in the barn and one on the bank outside - result. One of the eggs was tiny - literally about three quarters of an inch high - more like a Robins egg size. We are thinking that maybe one has just not been laying for a while and this is her starting to produce again. All that time wasted looking for the missing eggs!!!

As I am writing this I can look out of the office window and see the hills bathed in sunshine and all our alpacas looking really relaxed and happy. Poor things have been soaked for days.

We have a few who are a bit thin and one or two who have yet to birth so we have put them in a separate paddock which is nice and lush and given them extra hay and feed to fatten them up. Some of them lose weight when they are feeding their cria and judging by the weight of the cria when we have had to catch them or lift them up, they are being very well fed - no wonder Mums are suffering.

Saturday 18 July 2009

The Queen of Alpacas

Well Tessa was due to give Emilia her injection at 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon. It was with some trepidation that we caught her and put her on a halter. Mike was standing by in case of a repeat of her prima donna behaviour of recent times.

I walked her across the yard and she looked like a race horse on its way to the race. She held her body taught and proud and her nostrils were flaring and everything about her said"Come on boy - make my day". Dirty Harry had nothing on her.

She has not been on a halter since she was shown at the Devon Show in 2007 but she had not forgotten her training. She looked absolutely stunning.

We put her in a temporary pen to await Tessa's arrival and Mike left me to keep an eye on her. She was very restless but did not actually try to jump out.

Fortunately Tessa was very much on time and I held Emilia whilst she Estrumated her - a very quick injection. It was a real anti-climax as the alpaca behaved perfectly. I walked her back to the herd and now we have to wait about three days before trying to mate her again.

I have alerted A & E to my impending arrival!! The Animal Psychologist is on call to counsel the rejected and battered male.

Mike is away at a dog show today with Millie and Jake so I am left to my own devices. I am planning to reorganise the paddocks and barn to make handling the alpacas easier, as we have been discussing lately. We have many reasons to separate certain groups for others and it is quite difficult to decide which to prioritise.

I am hoping the weather will stay dry as there are lots of outdoor jobs which are getting behind.

Thursday 16 July 2009

A rainy day in Devon

The weather is really miserable. Mike has gone to do his monthly day at the garage and I was hoping to get lots of odd jobs done. Can't dry the washing. Can't mow the lawn. I am down to making cakes and cushion covers and grooming the dogs. Even the hens have only laid 4 eggs. They laid one each at the weekend when I was away. Is it something I said?

We are well into our 2009 mating programme for the alpacas. We are planning to stop mating by the end of this month to try and condense the birthing season to spring and early summer next year. This allows us more freedom and more importantly means that the cria have all summer to build themselves up ready for the winter. Also they will be ready to wean earlier which takes the strain off their mothers in the winter months.

My favourite female (isn't it always the way) did not give birth this year as expected so we assumed she needed remating.

She was mated 5 times in 2008. She first spat off in May 2008 after three attempts.

She was remated in June 2008 and spat off four times, appearing to be certain she was pregnant. Cria was due in May 2009 and she did appear to gain weight and look possibly pregnant. We did not have the females scanned this year as usual because we had quite a lot of births expected and felt that the odd missed one was acceptable. In the past we have found the spit offs quite an accurate way of diagnosing pregnancy.

Her due date has long past and she will not accept a male at any costs. She rears, spits, kicks, attacks us if we try to hold her, and as her grand finale yesterday she jumped out of the mating pen whilst spraying all and sundry including passing alpacas with spit - luckily without hurting herself.

We have tried putting her near the male paddocks to stimulate ovulation or at least interest, I have injected her with 2ml receptal prior to mating attempt.

If she was not such a good female I would write her off but I would like to breed from her.

As she is quite big I wonder if it is hormonal or if she needs estrumating. I emailed all of this to the Vet and Tessa phoned me back. Apparently my email had caused some hilarity and some of the girls at the vet thought we probably had a lesbian alpaca. Others just sympathised with Emilia (the alpaca) saying that they know just how she feels.

The serious outcome, however, is that Tessa is coming to estrumate her tomorrow. This is an injection which causes to body to reject anything that might be blocking the tubes such as the corpus luteum.

Once the egg has been released from the follicle, the cells re-arrange and over a 3 to 6 day period continue to grow into a solid mass called the corpus luteum (CL), the producer of progesterone.

I am hoping that Emilia will behave nicely for Tessa - I think it is only the attentions of males that upset her.

Next time you feel upset with your male try spitting, kicking and rearing up. He might get the message - although the alpaca males just seem to find the whole thing very exciting and challenging.

Monday 13 July 2009

Not a lot

Not much going on at the moment. No births this week.

One of the alpacas who looked fit to bust a couple of weeks ago now does not look pregnant. I am hoping it is just that the cria has shifted position ready to arrive in the world. The weather has not been great this week but the grass is looking lovely and green because it has been fairly warm and wet. The Mums seem to be having enough sense to take the really young cria into the shelter at night when it is very wet.

At last the chickens are back to laying six eggs a day. Mike has done a lot of strimming so if there was a stash anywhere he would probably have uncovered it by now, so maybe they were just having a rest. After all they laid every day throughout the winter. We will never know.

Everything else is just going on as normal.