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?