Thursday, 25 February 2010

Riding Not For Me

Last time we were in Mole Avon, the local Country Store, we saw an advert for Chickens locally, so I went to have a look at them on Sunday and put down a deposit on 8 Silver Link Hens.     As soon as Mike and Nick can get the new chicken shed up we will be collecting them and adding them to our egg producing flock.   We are also hoping to breed a few more hens as egg layers and to sell on.

Mike and Nick have nearly finished cutting back the hedge and trees on one side of the gate and if only the weather will allow they will soon be working on the other side.   It has really opened up the farm and made it look much more open and friendly.

We are busy clearing out the office and what was the shop as we are going to decorate them and make them more usable.   The old shop will become a general room where I can use the knitting machine (if I ever learn how to), have the sewing machine and Mike can have his gym equipment which gets nearly as much use as the knitting machine at the moment. 

All the animals are doing well including Romies puppies who are becoming quite boysterous and noisy now that their eyes have opened and they are starting to walk.

Two of the alpacas are due to give birth in March/April so we are going to keep them in the barn from tomorrow so that we can be sure that the cria are not born in the cold and wet as they can easily die from hyperthermia at this time of year.

They are really piling into the hay now so we are really looking forward to the grass growing again.    First job every morning rain or shine is to feed chickens, goats, and alpacas spread over five paddocks, all of which are in various stages of disappearing under a sea of mud.    Actually I suppose we are quite lucky really as it is mostly the gateways and walkways which are really bad.   There is still plenty of  drier areas but the dogs have to be hosed down every morning after they have been running around and you can almost see them cringe when they see the hose pipe.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Wooly Jumpers OK

The goats seem to be fine since we put up some tarpaulin to help keep their shelter cosy.  It is only a subtle change but I can just feel that they are more relaxed.  The little one (number 765) who seemed off colour responded well to the anti-biotic and I gave her some twin lamb drench which is usually used to support ewes who have twins.  I think the glucose in it picked her up quite quickly and I am definitely going to keep a bottle in stock for any animal that needs a quick pick-me-up.

I joined Lynsey Skinner from Dreamfield Alpacas, Jean Field (the fleece witch) and Lynsey's friend Sue to attend  a talk by Gina Bromage, who is a respected camelid vet.   It was in Exeter and about TB in alpacas.  Out of a herd of 20,000 there were 68 cases last year which was an increase over the previous year.  It seems that, like cattle farmers, alpaca owners will have to live with the threat, but with sensible precautions we can keep the numbers low - unlike the something like 50,000 cases of TB in cattle each year.

The main message seemed to be that we all need to pay even more attention to bio-security.  As luck would have it, we have accidentally complied with many of the recommendations.  When we first moved here the farm was so overgrown that we could not put stock fences right up to the hedges, so we have pretty much got a 10ft minimum barrier all round the farm so that our stock cannot mix with the neighbours.  Obviously this does not stop wild life from entering the farm, but we are already in the habit of picking up feeding troughs immediately after use and keeping them clean because we don't want to encourage vermin.   We (that would be the royal "we", i.e. Mike) have already made stands for the water troughs so that they are well off the ground.

Another source is stagnent water.   Last year Mike ran water to every paddock so it is really easy to change the drinking water.   We also have small churn brushes on a hook next to every drinking trough which makes it easier and thus more likely that we clean the troughs out regularly and fill with clean water.  The winter paddocks where most of the herd is at present has a spring fed stream.  Gina felt that water courses on a farm were a risk because wild life use them to drink at but I feel that a fast running freshly fed stream must be a healthy source of water.

Intimate contact seems to be the main way that the disease is passed from alpaca to alpaca, so movement between herds needs to be strictly monitered.   We have long kept careful movement records and now, rather late in the day, the BAS have issued a movement book based on the one that Defra use for sheep and goats for members.  We will probably use it for visiting alpacas (if any) and continue with our computer records for other movements.

The TB bacteria can remain active on the ground in faeces, urine, etc: for weeks but is killed by heat.  It thrives in cold and dark, so let's hope for the B-B-Q summer we were promised last year!!  The rise in numbers this year could well be due to the wet winters and summers we have experienced for the last few years.

I walk the dogs around the perimetre of the farm most mornings which might deter some wild life and also alllows me to check that the bounderies are secure.   The dogs  take great pleasure in chasing deer who might have strayed inside.   This always seemed a shame but as they are potentially carriers of TB I will not try to stop the dogs. When being chased the deer can clear our 4ft fences as if they are not there.

Some people are having badger proof fences built round their farms but this does not take into account birds who can also drop infected food - e.g.maize which has had badgers amongst it, and only addresses one of the issues Gina highlighted.

All the inhabitants of Laurel Farm seem to be doing well at the moment.    A couple of alpacas are due to give birth next month, although at the moment only one looks pregnant.   I scanned them both in September and the result was positive, so I am hoping that they have both carried the cria through the winter.  The Goats (woolly jumpers as Colin, the shearer calls them) are looking pregnant but this might be just because their bellies show up more now that they have been sheared.  I will scan them in March to confirm.

This evening we weighed Romie's puppies.   We weighed them on the 12th Feb when they were a day old and now nine days later they have all more than doubled their weight having put on an average of 416 g .  The lowest weight gain was 378g and the largest 466g.  They seem lively and are moving around quite well, although they have not opened their eyes yet.  Romie is still being very patient and protective but leaves them on their own more often and for longer now.  She still jumps out of the whelping box if she thinks she is missing something completely regardless of what the puppies are doing.   If they are suckling or she stands on them there is a terrific hulabaloo when she leaves.  Unlike human mothers she seems quite happy to ignore their screams if she feels like it.

Today I think I finally managed to get all the stock in the shop priced up.  It really looks lovely.   Since cutting down the hedge next to the gate we seem to be getting more people in who just want to look at the alpacas.    I suppose it must look more welcoming or something.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

All Systems Go

We drenched all the alpacas with ADE paste yesterday to ensure that they have enough vitamin D in the months when there is not much sunshine.  By the way, drenching means administering by mouth!!  We don't spray them with it!!

Ben, our only wether, is always a pain about having his toe nails clipped, and  unfortunately when we were administering the ADE we noticed that his nails had grown to a point where they looked uncomfortable.  The whole herd is overdue for a nail trim, especially since they seem to grow faster in the wet weather, and this will be done shortly.    We have noticed on other occasions that when an alpaca gets really worried about anything we are trying to do, they calm down a lot if we cover their eyes.  This usually entails just putting a hand over them and Nick suggested we tried it with Ben.   We wrapped a towel across his eyes, and although he went into a kush, Nick, who was holding him said that he felt quite relaxed.  This is the first time since we have had him that I have been able to trim his nails without having a fight.  It was much less stressful for him and for me too.  Nick says this works with other livestock, so it is worth remembering.

I am really concerned about the goats who seem to be really cold.     They are shivering a lot even though they are shut in the goathouse and we have put extra layers of straw under them.  When you touch them they feel quite warm, though.  Mike is away today, but I nailed up a tarpauling across the doors to try and keep the wind out and make it a bit cosier for them. 

This morning one of them looked really poorly so I gave Nick a ring to help me give her an anti-biotic jab. If it was an alpaca I could do it on my own but I am not used to handling the goats yet and I did not want to stress her too much.  He thinks she just has a cold and advised giving her some glucose and extra feed.
I had already put them back on to the more nourishing haylage plus extra goat food.  I am now upping the feeding to three times a day instead of two until they get their fleece back.

I wish we had not had them sheared now, but it was a catch 22 situation.   When we bought them we were told that they needed to be sheared twice a year and were due in January.   We did not have it done in January because of the snow and really bad weather, and judging by the amount of fleece I think it would have been very difficult to shear them if we waiting any longer than we did.

Good news as well, though.  Bono is still thin but not quite as bad as before.  He is also much more lively, so we are hoping he will continue to improve.  Crystal, who was very thin, is at last putting on some weight.   She has been thin for a long time but we could not find a reason.  Her blood tests showed no deficiencies or any particular reason for her condition.  She was thin all the time she was pregnant with this last cria and as it was a late birth, the cria was only weaned a month ago.  She will now have several months to get back to being her normal hefty self.

The puppies are doing well.   Romie is being a very good Mum but is quite careless when jumping out of the box or back in - she often causes a noisy outcry from her babies.   

Mike and Nick have been cutting down trees along the farm entrance and our neighbour from across the road volunteered to help.  He cut back the laurel hedge that runs the whole length of the frontage on one side of the gate in just two days.  He is coming back after his holiday to do the other side of the gate.  It makes it look a lot more cared for and has released quite a lot of extra space which can be used for grazing.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Latest News

Things have been a bit busy lately.

Romie has had six puppies.   See Photo Gallery on our website.  Three girls and three boys.  

The goats have been shorn and are really feeling the cold, but they are supposed to be shorn twice a year.  We delayed doing it in January because of the snow etc:  but unfortunately the postponed date of the 10th February was still very cold.    They really needed to be done, however, as Colin, the shearer, found it tough going as it was.   Their fleece is really thick and crimpy/wavy and unlike alpaca fleece is quite oily.  They also have Soft rolling skin which makes it even more difficult, so he would have been struggling even more if we had delayed again.

I have increased their food and they are staying in the goat house all the time until their fleece grows back a bit.

The buck had foot rot last week and Nick pared his nail right back.  We gave him some anitbiotic and sprayed it.  Subsequent checks have shown no signs of its return and he is able to stand on all feet again instead of limping.

The Chardstock 6 are very happy.   Now they are no longer in quarantine we have given them an extra paddock which is near our own alpacas but has a little more grass than their original one.

We have moved the farm shop to the ground floor and we have stocked it with some new gifts, and some locally made biscuits. We are also selling logs, free range eggs and our latest line is felt made from our own alpaca wool.  It is very unusual and would make lovely jackets or throws I should think.  After Easter we plan to have a picnic area and will sell snacks and ice creams from the shop.  I have nearly finished pricing and labelling everything and it certainly looks really good.

The website has been revamped and the online shop has just gone live.   This was another time consuming job as I had to upload all the details, prices, photos etc:  It is actually very easy but as it is all very new to me it takes a long time to do.

We are also planning a coffee/open morning in the spring in aid of the Devon Air Amulance.

Although it is not really hard work,  it does seem a bit relentless this time of year when it is very cold and all the animals need feeding daily.  The main herd are in the winter paddocks at the bottom end of the farm but we still  have various groups in the top paddocks - Alario on his own because he is the fighter, 4 Adult males, then the weanlings and finally the Chardsock 6.

In the summer it is a lot easier because they don't eat much hay and of course the grass is much more plentiful and nourishing.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Under Blue Skies

The blue skies and crisp mornings have made us feel much more cheerful and keen to get on with things. Rain is due again shortly so we are taking the opportunity to catch up with the halter training.  Two of the girls are nearly there and we are going to start on another two tomorrow.

We took the opportunity today to trim the crias' topnots as some of them were in danger of  being unable to see properly.  Alpacas are more easily "spooked" if they cannot see properly so it is important when halter training that we avoid anything which might make it a bad experience.

We seem to have had a few eye problems lately.  Our little male cria (future stud male)  had an eye infection a while ago which we cleared up with ointment but it seems to have come back a bit.   We treated him again yesterday and today anbd again it looks fine, so we will give it one more dose for luck and hope that it goes away.  It is probably a bit of hay dust or something that sets it off.   One of the Chardstock boys has a similar problem which we are treating, but as they are still in quarantine and have had no contact with our alpacas it must be just co-incidence.

Bono is still very thin and so as a last resort to try and get him to eat more we have started to remove two of his fellow males from the paddock during the day, just leaving Bono and Ben, who is a non-threatening wether (gelding).  We don't want to feed up the rest of the males in the paddock as they are already on the tubby side even taking into account their huge fleeces, but equally we thought that Bono might be even more worried if he was left completely alone.  We then take in two buckets of alf alfa which some hard feed in the hope that Bono will eat it if he thinks there is little or no competition.   We will be condition checking the herd again tomorrow, so we might detect a difference, although it is rather early days to see if the latest ploy is working.  If this does not work we will just have to hope he does not detiorate any more and perhaps when the grass becomes more nutritious he will start to improve.  He seems happy enough in himself and always seems to be eating, but favours the grass over the haylage and hay which would do him more good.

We have bought a whelping box for Romie and as instructed by the manufacturer are trying to get Romie to get used to using it as her little home.    She is about the only one of the dogs who does not think it is the best bed in the house.   I think she knows that I really want her to use it and thinks I have some ulterior motive in getting her into it.  The cat, on the other hand, thinks it makes an excellent hotel.