Sunday 31 May 2009

A long stand off

Yesterday Pam helped me to label and bag the rest of our wool. The balls are now packed in tens ready to sell to wool shops, which is much better that my taking an order and then coming home to bag up and deliver. Now I will be able to have stock with me ready to go.

As previously mentioned Mike has, as far as possible, Tia proofed the top paddock. The first time I took her in there she played for a while and then ran off. Eventually I tricked her into being caught. Having spent days since then training her and trying to make it as much fun as possible I thought today I would give it another go in the paddock. Again she played for a short time and then would not bring the ball back. I ignored her and sat down waiting for her to come back which she did so we played again. The next time the trick did not work and she would not come near me. I sat down, head bowed, not looking at her and she just stayed out of reach - not that I had any intention of grabbing her. She ran off to the bottom of the paddock and stood looking at alpacas, presumably hoping I would chase her, shout at her or give her some sort of attention.

I fetched the wheel barrow and cleaned out the hen house which is in the same paddock (no hens at that time of day), then ignored her some more. She kept glancing at me but defied me.

To cut a long story short after a few nearlies, and three and a half hours, she came up to the gate, allowed me to go in without running away. I played the most exhausting game of tuggy with her whilst singing, I won, I won I won - which luckily she did not understand. When we stopped she ran off again but came back almost immediately so she had another game of tuggy which seemed to stretch my arms beyond endurance. I then asked her to sit and quietly put the lead on. We were all sitting on the front veranda having lunch, so she came to sit with us (walking very nicely on the lead, I have to say) and enjoyed lots of stroking, praise, chelsea buns and ham sandwiches.

My plan is to try and cut the time down to two and half hours tomorrow!!

She seems very calm at the moment but I am sure it will not last for long.

Hens back to six eggs a day now we have blocked their exit into the right hand race where they used to lay in the hedge. They are now laying 4 eggs a day in the barn and 2 under a young hazel nut tree behind the barn. Mike is going to fence the chickens in so that they can only go in the barn, yard, top paddock. It is a shame but it is for their own protection. We are hoping to replace the Tytherleigh Two who have disappeared.

Pam and Malc have now gone home. We had a lovely weekend including a meal at the pub over the road last night, just getting home in time to see the result of Britain's got Talent without the tedium of seeing all the acts again. The weather has made a big difference.

Mike is gradually working his way through repairing and repainting our agility equipment and I rubbed down the side of the lorry which we use as a garage for the quad bike and paddock cleaner and also as a kennel for some of the dogs.

Now we are going to sit in the garden and do nothing for the rest of the day.

Friday 29 May 2009


We seem to be having quite a few enquiries for alpacas which is encouraging.

Chale is proving a bit of a challenge in the mating department. I think he needs a lot more practice. We are having second thoughts about selling Alario as he is so reliable although we do need some new blood.

Mike's sister and her husband were going to be farm sitting this weekend but Tia is in season so I am going to stay at home. Now Mike is staying at home too because Jake, his dog, is lame. Romie stole a whole dish of left over cauliflower and carrots so maybe it is just as well she is not going to as we are expecting an explosion shortly.

Pam and Malc said they would like to come down anyway and arrived yesterday afternoon. As always they have been very helpful - mowing the lawn, strimming, helping Mike clear the straw and build a bonfire. Malc spotted a pile of feathers behind the barn, which we had not found. We think it must be the signs of one of the hen's last struggle with the fox? There were also two eggs and some egg shells in the same place which seems further evidence of an intruder. Mike and Malc are going to try and fence the top paddock and yard so that the chickens don't go behind the barn any more.

As always there is plenty to do this time of year and Mike has been topping the paddocks to try and get to grips with excessive growth of buttercups that we are experiencing.

I am continuing to train Tia three times a day for her meals and she is a very quick learner. Shame she can't learn to stop chasing things. She can sit, down, go to a target, roll over, and beg - although the beg is still a bit of a grab.

Monday 25 May 2009

Another one bites the dust

Another hen has disappeared under suspicious circumstances and Mr Fox is the prime suspect. Still only getting 3 - 4 eggs a day. Mike is going to try and fence in the top paddock and include the farm yard so that the chickens are contained in a smaller area. Not sure yet if it will be possible but worth a try.

My friend, Pauline, who has been a dog trainer for years came to visit the alpacas which she owns and at the same time give me some help with Tia. We did a lot of work with her on a line and explored various ways of telling her that alpacas are bad news. She is very good on the lead now and does not pull to get them even if we are quite close. She has also stopped lunging out at them when we walk past. We have made the top paddock as Tia proof as possible by putting logs along the bottom of the gates so that she cannot duck under and get to the alpacas. She is getting her meals one morsal at a time and has to come to me. If she does not come I give her food to the other dogs. This is what I have already been doing for a couple of weeks but I was just withdrawing the food until she came rather than actually giving it away. She seems to improve but today we have had a really bad day where she would not come back even in the garden. In the paddock she has started running off towards the gate which leads to the alpacas. I am really worried that she will find a way out, but on the other hand need to teach her to come to us even when she wants to do something more exciting.She really will not be able to stay if she gets in with them again as she drives them towards the fences and they try to jump over. One of them is going to get badly hurt eventually. We really love her but if she becomes an incurable stock chaser life will be too stressful for us to continue with her.

The good news is that in the tia-proof paddock most of the time I can actually call her back so her stock chasing is not as strong as it could be, but of course it is very rewarding and the more times she succeeds in getting in with them the less likely it is that we can cure her. Maybe it is not fair to keep her here with temptation always present. We are not sure.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Going Down

Following the loss of one hen, we are now down to only 3 - 4 eggs a day. We still cannot work out where or whether there are eggs being laid in some hiddeen place!! It is such a shame because not only were we having fresh eggs every day but three of our neighbours were regularly buying them too, which more than paid for their keep. We are trying to think of a way to keep them in a small area for a few days a) to find out if they are all laying at the moment b) If so hoping we can encourage them to lay somewhere accessible for us to steal their eggs!!

The kittens (as they will probably always be known) have got used to Tia. They seem to sense where she is and as soon as she goes indoors or is put in the kennel they appear in the garden. otherwise they stay in the paddocks, farm yard or the barn out of her way. Whenever we have visitors to the shop or to see us, they appear like torpedos to check them out and a hoped for cuddle or stroke. They seem to be active at night, judging by the noise they make on our roof sometimes. The log cabin has a steel roof, although it looks like tiles. When the kittens gallop over it, it sounds like a stampede. In the daytime they spend a lot of time sleeping in the hay trailer or sunbathing in the yard, always waking up if food is on the agenda.

We are having trouble mating some of our females. Four females who should be ready to mate are rejecting all attentions from the males. It is not unusual for this to happen with the odd one and we usually just leave them alone for a while and keep trying until they seem receptive, but it is not working this time. We are always reluctant to allow the males to force the females down as we feel that there must be a reason why the mating is not welcome. For instance, if a female has recently given birth it is understandable that not every one will be ready for remating at the same time. Likewise we sometimes do not mate a female if it is too late in the year so she might be "empty" all winter. We would then expect it to take more than one attempt for her to become receptive again. We have tried swapping suitors in case it is just a dislike of one male and are running out of ideas. Our only option seems to keep repeating the process in the hope that the females will change their minds.

Tia is still a work in progress but apart from not being able to let her off leash on her walks because of the alpaca chasing, she has become fairly normal. I am usually very good at getting dogs in to me and Tia is in to me but not in the usual way. Instead of wanting to please me I think she looks on me as a possession. She does not like any of our other dogs coming to me for fuss, although she is happy to share Mike. She is gradually learning that she is just one of the pack with no special priveleges but I am wary in crowded doorways or in corners because she can be quite snappy. She had a fight with Romie yesterday, mainly because I was making a fuss of both of them. Neither was backing off but Mike put his foot in and neatly flipped Tia on her back and before she knew it she was in her crate. We think she did not know what happened and probably thought Romie had done it. Although you would have thought they were killing each other, neither dog was injured and the only casualties were my wheelbarrow full of grass cuttings which got tipped over and a container full of plants. Neither do they seem to bear a grudge towards each other, so in dog terms it was probably just a tiff, although as a spectating human it seemed like potential carnage, not helped by the fact that Millie and Maddy thought it might be a good idea to join in the bundle. Luckily they do have a good recall and came to me when called.

Later she upset Sandy, our old terrior. With Sandy it could have been that she looked at her in the wrong way. Anyway the fifteen year old put Tia in her place very quickly. Tia did not respond to Sandy's growls and slunk off without even thinking of a fight.

I once qualified as a masseuse and although I have never been involved in the treatment of animals with the Tellington Touch methods, I have an inkling of what it is about, so I have been giving Tia some gentle massage especially round the ears and along her back and this seems to have relaxed her a lot. She had some very solid tension areas behind her ears and they have gone.

Added to this I make sure I play games with her every day - usually throwing a ball - so she gets exercise without me having to exert myself too much. At first I had to use a second ball to make her drop the first one, but now she brings it back and gives it to me most of the time.

She also gets fed separately and I hand feed her meals in small increments and she has to lie down or come to me in order to get a portion of her dinner. Again, I do not usually have a problem teaching dogs to come when called, but Tia is not even rock solid around the house and garden yet. I think in the past she has learnt that being "naughty" is the best way to get attention. I am trying to react in the opposite way to what she expects/hopes. If she won't come indoors we just shut her out - instead of the hoped for chasing round the garden to catch her. Until she comes instantly when there are no distractions we will have no chance calling her off the alpacas or the cats.

Wool sales are going well. We have had quite a few hand spinners who have bought raw fleece and have also been selling the yarn well, even though it is summer.

I have sacks and sacks of fleeces to sort. I plan to do it next week as it is getting in the way. At least once it is sorted it can be stored in the loft even if we do not send it off for spinning straight away.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Still Missing

The eighth hen never turned up so she is presumed dead.

We are now only getting a maximum six eggs a day and one of the hens disappears but we cannot work out where to.   We are assuming that she has found a new hiding place for her nest but despite searching hedgerows, under trailers, behind the stock box and barn we have been unable to work out where she goes.   We keep counting them but somehow she slips away when we are not looking and then appears again as if by magic.

Tia is still a devil/angel.   Around the house and garden she is doing very well and she had a lovely time on Sunday when we went to an agility training day with Ali Worden at Tollard Royal.   She did not join in the training as she is too young, but she was able to go for a lovely off leash walk.  She tried to chase the horses but they hardly noticed and even though she barked at their heels she got very little response.   Nothing like as exciting as making alpacas gallop.  I am sending off her Kennel club registration for Agility in the hope that I can teach her a good enough recall to control the behaviour but the jury is still out on that one.   We chained her up in the race today and ran the whole herd of alpacas at speed past  her thinking that this might frighten her enough to give them some respect but unfortunately she broke her chain and had a lovely ten minutes terrorising the herd  again.   Another backward step.  Mike thinks there must have been a fault in the clip - perhaps a weak point that gave way under strain.   He usually makes things so strong they are unusable let alone breakable but something went wrong today.

I am clicker training her and have used the training discs (an aversive training tool) which seems to have worked slightly when she meets the hens and chickens on her flexi lead.   Cannot test her off lead yet as have no confidence in her recall yet.

Gave the latest cria their first vaccinations today.  Hoping for a couple more births at the beginning of June.

Have started selling our wool into shops which seems to be going quite well.

Tuesday 12 May 2009

The naked alpaca

Colin came and sheared our alpacas - ten on Saturday and the other thirty eight on Sunday. Surprisingly we did not have any complaints from the neighbours despite the fact that some of them scream the place down whilst they are being sheared. When they are released they do not even run away - in fact some of them actually try to come back in as if to get a closer look at what they have just been put through. My job is to keep the shearing mat clear so that Colin can carry onworking. At the same time I sort the fleece into grades. nnLater I will be sorting it and removing any vegetation and deciding what is good enough to be sent off for spinning. It is hard going and apart from a couple of short breaks it goes on all day. I slept like a log on Sunday night.

Tia is settling down a bit. She has a lot of good points to outweigh the issues that we have to sort.

The cats are a bit more relaxed about her. They don't come into the garden any more and lie around with the dogs but they are happy to relax in the barn and come into the house if they know Tia is outside.

Sadly one of the hens has gone missing. She did not come last night when I called them to put them to bed and has not turned up today so we suspect the worst. I am going to get the others in earlier in the evening in case she has been a victim of a fox. I am still hoping that she is just being broody and sitting on some eggs somewhere, but I think I am just clutching at straws. After lunch today I thought all the others had been snatched too as there was no sign of them but after a search they all appeared from behind one of the field shelters.

Friday 8 May 2009

Tearaway Tia

Today David, my son, and I took my Mother's ashes and buried them in my father's grave.  It has taken this long for the Vicar to be able to give us the necessary time.  Still it is done now and he was very pleasant and said a prayer and a few words of comittal for us.  We had lunch together, David and I without the Vicar!!

I took three of the dogs with us so that Mike did not have to worry about them, especially Tia.   She has turned out to be the collie from hell in some ways and a complete angel in others.   As David said it will take a while to make up for the first eight months.

With her devil's hat on today she managed to wedge herself between the dog cage and the side of the carry boy (the cover for the pick up rear of our Nissan Navara).  This would not have been too much of a problem except that I had opened the window.  Luckily her body was wedged but I was going through Wincanton when her barking seemed to get louder and I saw in the wing mirror that her head was out of the window and she was barking frantically at any pedestrian that she saw.   Luckily I managed to pull into a private car park and firmly shut the window.   She continued to bark on and off for most of the journey but luckily the noise was deadened with the window shut.  We have ventilation in the roof so the dogs still had plenty of air.   Thankfully neither of the other two dogs joined Tia in her barking - in fact they just looked really bored with her.

Her greatest crime so far has been chasing cats and alpacas.   The cats who used to live in harmony with the dogs and take over the best beds and even try to pinch their food sometimes, now rarely come into the back garden and definitely not into the house.   Still Maddy, our lurcher, was a real worry with them at first so we do not totally write off the possibility that the cats will get used to Tia and she will not chase them eventually.

I took her for a walk yesterday on her own and let her off the lead when we had passed Alario, our male alpaca who is kept in a paddock on his own.  Big mistake.   She doubled back and went into the next paddock which had its gate open.   She chased him up and down the fence line, would not come back, and I could not catch her.   Annoyingly Alaria kept running up and down even when Tia became stationery so this wound her up even more and prevented me from getting near her.    I went back to the house and got Mike to come out in the hope that we could corner her but no chance.   Eventually I think she exhausted herself and lay down for a moment and allowed me to catch her.   By this time Alario was dribbling with stress and was very very upset.

She has the strongest chase instinct that I have ever seen, although she is not really as interested in chasing toys or a ball, so  I am just hoping that it can be chanelled and she can become a herding dog or at least that I can teach her an instant down and/recall which over rides the chasing.   Teaching her agility might help in the long run but in the short run she needs some basic obedience.

Still waiting for Holly to give birth but no sign so far.  

Shearing this weekend, and the weather forecast is good so we are hoping that we don't have to get them all in over night as they cannot be shorn if their fleece is wet.   

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Two - one

Two boys and one girls so far this year. Ginger belongs to Pauline and lives on the farm. This is the new baby after only a couple of hours. He was born at 10 a.m. and already up and trying to feed at 10.30 a.m. He is a gorgeous dark brown and his fleece looks really good. He is obviously very friendly and already has a girlfriend.

I went to a dog show on Sunday and met Tia a young 8 month old collie being fostered by my friend, Ali. She has had 6 or 7 homes in her young life and the latest owners took her to the vet to be put down as they could not get her into a rescue centre. Luckily the receptionist took her in instead. She has got a few issues but she seems to be an honest little dog. Time will tell. The good news is that after a few settling in arguments all our other dogs seem quite relaxed around her. Not so the kittens or alpacas who are the target of her chase instinct. Our shepherd friend, Nick, thinks this shows a good working sheepdog attitude.
Mike has been busy topping the paddocks to try and keep control of the docks and nettles, and in his spare time is building a wardrobe in our bedroom to give us a bit more storage space. Our home is really a holiday home and therefore lacks permanent storage in general.