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.