Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Building for the future

All the blocks for building the back wall, and the barn waiting for the internal work to start.

Today we just did the routine jobs and some dog training but somehow the time went very quickly. 

The weather was very unsettled today so just as well we had not planned any big jobs.  I did a bit of herding practice with Dolly, but the goats take much less notice of her than sheep or alpacas, so I let my son's dog,Jax, who is staying with us, show her how to do it.  

It actually worked too, as Dolly copied Jax and they soon moved the goats back where we wanted them.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Normal Service Resumed

The weanlings are pleased to be back in the fresh air after a few days in the barn.
Everything back to normal today except that Nick is having a week off so did not come for  his usual Tuesday stint.

Mike made a start moving some earth from behind the barn so that Larry, our builder neighbour, can make a start on the supporting wall that will surround our "sunken garden" left when they removed earth to level out the ground for the new barn.

We bought some poor quality straw a while ago which was dark and full of sticks and other unexpected additions and Mike  replaced it with some better quality bales so he has been using  the left overs to try and cover up some of the most muddy and slippery areas in the race and the gateways.  It is a temporary solution but we hope it will keep the tracks viable until they have dried out.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Back on line

Since I last blogged, I have been away for a 4 day break in Prague leaving Mike to look after all the dogs and the farm, including wading around in mud as a result of the all the digging involved with the new barn combined with the rain, which has made the whole place pretty squidgy. Not only that, but my son,  David asked him to look after his dog, Jax whilst he and Jane went away for the night to celebrate his birthday with friends.  What a star - Mike, I mean.  He just takes it all in his stride.

Pauline and I had an amazing weekend visiting the Christmas markets in the old and new towns as well as sampling the local cuisine and seeing the sights.  The locals were very friendly and helpful and the only slight downside was that literally every other shop was a souvenir shop with almost identical, although in most cases quite lovely, goods.  Their speciality is glass and jewellery which come in some really beautiful forms, but not very practical for transporting home.

When I got home and finally got round to checking my emails I found that none had been received since the 11 December and discovered that my broadband was down.   Then followed a frustrating few days when I was given conflicting information and made to repeat the same tests over and over under the instruction of call centre operators whom I could barely understand because of the strong Indian accents.  Five or six operators and hours later and after being told variously that there was an outage and then there wasn't and then I must bedoing something wrong,  I decided to get the local IT repair  man in to check that I had correctly set up the equipment and replaced all the filters etc: etc:  and another hour and £56 later he confirmed that it was definitely a fault with the broadband  line and nothing to do with my equipment.  The  last call to the Indian call centre confirmed that there was definitely an outage and they would send an engineer on Friday 23rd - 12 days after the fault started.

My neighbour let me use her PC to pick up the online orders for Alpacastuff products and I had to hand write them and bring them home to type out as her printer had run out of ink!  I phoned the customers concerned and explained the situation and they were all understanding and I hope received their orders in time.

I changed several appointments on that date to ensure I would be here between 8 a.m. and 1p.m. but on the day he phoned to say the fault was at the exchange.  He came out anyway to check the lines but they were fine except that the phone in Mike's workshop was faulty.  He recommended  changing it as it would be slowing down the broadband speed.  Anyway we were finally there and luckily most of the 183 emails that had been held up were headed straight for the Junk Mail folder so not much was lost.

After quite a busy time in the shop in the lead up to Christmas we are closing until further notice as the building works will be starting in earnest in the new year and we think it will be awkward to park and probably very dirty and lots of coming and going with materials and machinery.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Babies Growing Up

Well Alario just would not get out of the picture, but at least you can see how big the weanlings are growing.   We have been opening the farm shop on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays and keeping the cria in the barn for those days.   People love to see them and it is good for them to get used to visitors being around as well as unusual noises. 

At first they were quite nervous but they are quickly becoming bomb proof.

This morning we drenched the whole herd of alpacas and all the goats with a vitamin and mineral solution which we hope will ensure their health through the winter.   We will be giving the cria ADand E paste monthly and repeating the drench in two months time.  The grass still looks quite green but it will not be as nourishing as it is in the spring and summer so the animals are tucking in to their hay and haylage now.

I was really pleased with Dolly.  She fetched up three different groups of alpacas in a really calm way and they just trotted along in front of her, seemingly quite relaxed.  When I was feeding the goats two of the little monkeys got into the stock trailer where we store their hay and straw and would not come out so I sent Dolly in.   At first she just went in and came straight out, then she realised what I wanted and chased the kids out.  They were not too bothered as they were soon trying to climb back in as I was trying to shut the door.

Afterwards we let the weanlings into a nice fresh paddock and all the Mums have been put back into the main herd so we can rest some of the paddocks.

Touch wood, cross fingers and toes,  all the animals seem to be doing well now.  Even Seven seems to be OK, although we are still surprised she is around!!  The only disappointment is that the hens do not seem to be doing their job.   I asked Nick to have a look at them to reassure me that they had no health problems, but he thought they all looked good and several should be laying.   He reckons there must be some stashes of eggs somewhere, although we have looked really hard.  I suppose eventually we will have to shut them in for a few days and hope they get used to laying near to home again.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Barn Dance imminent

They started cladding the barn today and expect to have it finished next week.   The builders are only able to come about 2 days a week at the moment as they are also working elsewhere.  Once they are finished the floor will have to be concreted and some internal walls built.

The bucks seem to be having foot trouble at the moment.  We keep having to clean out their hooves and spray with blue spray. It is probably Strip caused by the warm damp weather.  It is a bacterial infection which seems to cause pain outof all proportion to its appearance.

Seven seems to be doing quite well and is holding her own in the eating competitions.  She was scouring again a couple of days ago so I dosed her against worms again which seems to have done the trick.  

Today we re-scanned a few females whose pregnancy was iffy.  Most of them appear to be pregnant so we should have a good haul of cria next year.  We are hoping to redress the balance of the last two years where we have had far too many boys.

Dolly came to fetch both batches and did most of it herself without stressing the alpacas at all.   They hardly broke out of a walk.  Mariana, a young pregnant female tries to argue with her and it will be interesting to  see if Dolly wins the war.

We have just bought  a loom.  It is only small but we are hoping that if we get on with it OK we will be able to progress to a bigger one and make throws.   When we used to import them from Peru they sold well, so we hope we can make them pay using our own wool.  Mike is quite keen to have a go,and I am really glad because the loom looks very complicated so needs his engineering skills.  It has inspired me to have another go at the knitting machine, especially as there is now a group of alpaca owners in Devon pooling resources to enable us to pay an affordable price for trade stands at agricultural shows in the area.  If that idea develops it will be a new outlet for our alpaca products.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

What Headache?

We decided to introduce Emperor and Drake a couple of days ago.   They circled each other to start with and this was followed with a prolonged session of head butting, including taking a run up to each other to give the headbut more force, mixed with hind leg balancing acts.  Luckily their horns grow backwards so there was no locking of horns.  After what seemed forever, they finally settled and it seems they have decided their pecking order.  I think Drake won, but it is hard to tell as they seem to be best buddies now.
The young bucks just ignored the whole thing - unlike young male alpacas who would have become very excited and probably started to tussle with each other.   Emperor is limping a little and I cannot find anything wrong with his feet so I am thinking he might have done a little damage when battling with Drake.  Perhaps when he was balancing on his hind legs dancing around like a boxer.  It does not seem to be getting any worse so we hope he will be sound in a day or two.  I am surprised they have not got headaches.   Maybe they have - it is hard to tell as I don't speak goat.

The barn builders returned on Monday and by the end of Tuesday they had erected the framework.   They have left to finish off another job but should be back next week to clad the outside and concrete the floor - or maybe they will disappear again for a while between cladding and concreting.   Mike is going to get Larry, who has done work  for us before, to build some blockwork internal walls so we can have the farm office, somewhere to make a cup of tea and a toilet in the new barn.  It seems quite big so there should be plenty of room for hay storage, feed and animal handling.   We will also use it at kidding so we can keep an eye on the does when they give birth and also to keep the kids warm so we don't have the issues we had this year with a couple of the kids becoming hyperthermic.

Dolly's sheepdog training is going well.   We have done a course of six lessons and with Christmas coming up followed by lambing, we will not be doing any more until the spring.  In the meantime I am hoping that we can build on what we have done so far.  All being well I shall probably be helping our instructor with lambing. She has 600 sheep (not sure how many pregnant ewes) so it will be a good experience to give me confidence if I need to start rummaging in alpacas.  In my experience they rarely need help, so I  have not had to intervene very much.  I attended a lambing course a couple of years ago, but pulling a dead lamb out of an old oil drum does not compare with the real thing.

The chickens don't seem to be laying at all at the moment.   We think they must have a stash somewhere as most of them look healthy and it seem unlikely that none of the eight  are producing.   We will probably buy some more point of lay hens shortly.   I actually had to buy eggs this week for the first time in years.

We will be opening the farm shop on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays (afternoons)from now until Christmas and bringing up the alpaca cria as an added attraction.  We have also bought a small loom which will be arriving shortly.   The last batch of wool which we had spun did not live up to expections but should make nice soft throws.   Mike says he would be quite interested in trying weaving.  Something to do in the long winter evenings.  Watch this space, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, 14 November 2011

New Blood

Emperor is our latest aquisition.  He is an awesome addition to our little goat herd.  As you can see he has a lovely long straight back, a really handsome face, well proportioned limbs and (as you cannot see) an excellent temperament.    He is in quarantine at the moment and has a little whethered kid as company.   The kid is also in quarantine until Emperor's thirty days are up.  They are the best of friends and Andy (the kid) is actually looking at  one of our dogs,not trying to escape!!

We have had a nasty shock with 7 and 9, one of her half brothers.   Both were scouring badly and I medicated them for coccidia and took  faecal samples to the vet to see if there was any other cause for the problem.   We were particularly concerned for 7 who has probably had her immune system compromised by her recent illness.   She has recovered from the swelling but seemed to be going downhill again.

The samples went in on Friday but I was concerned when I had not received the results by Tuesday morning, especially as both kids seemed to be detiorating and 7 kept falling down and could not get up again.  I phoned up and expressed my concerns quite forceably.  Tessa phoned me back and I  was horrified to hear that 9 had a Faecal Egg Count of 5000 and 7 had 1000.  No wonder they were going down hill.

We had wormed all the goats at the end of June and took a 20% sample from individual members of the herd  in late September which was reported to be completely clear so we did  not worm at that time.   Somehow in less than two months the egg count has gone up from zero to the above.  Seems unlikely, although the weather has been very mild.  More likely there was something wrong with the samples or with the testing.

Needless to say all goats have now been wormed and after a couple of days of being under par, both 7 and 9 seem to be perking up. 

I spent the weekend at Earls Court helping Pauline on the APDT stand at Discover Dogs.  Seems that dogs still need their new toys, beds, equipment and bling despite the economic problems of the country.  As usual I went intending to spend nothing but soon found some must have items, such as an additive of seaweed which breaks down plaque on their teeth.   Sandy has awful teeth but she will be 18 in April - more worrying is that Romie  (6)has always had plaque which bones and teeth cleaning keep at bay but never get rid of it totally.  I also bought new nail clippers, a year's supply of wormer for dogs, 5 balls on a rope which were only £1 each but could not buy the pink head collar that I wanted for Dolly because luckily the colour was out of stock in her size.

We have two females alpacas who have skin problems which we have never been able to clear.   They breed every year and their cria do not seem to have inherited the condition.   They have been treated with everything under the sun over the past few years.  We are now trying zinc added to some alpaca nuts each day in the hope that it may be a zinc responsive condition.

Bad weather is holding up the start on the new barn.  If it is fine on Friday we are expecting the builder to come and lay concrete pads for the main supports, which will be good.  Once the concrete has set they should be able to proceed with the erection.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Hunt the Egg

Well - we do not have many hens at the moment - some died of old age presumably, the fox got some, but we were getting two or three eggs a day until recently when it went down to only one.  We resigned ourselves to chosing eggs for cakes or frying but not both on the same day until either the spring or until some more start laying again.  Nick and Mike discovered the nest of 18 eggs pictured above when they were going around checking the fence posts on Tuesday!!   Mystery solved.  They were in a hay rack in one of the shelters.  One of the down sides of free-ranging hens!!  Still I love seeing them wandering around the place.

Over the past few weeks we have been worming, drenching with ADE, and giving the herd a preventative dose of Fasinex which eliminates liver fluke which can be a killer.   We weighed all the cria again and the photo shows some of them looking rather bedraggled and fed up in the catch pen, and looking forward to going back to their six acre paddock where most of the herd spend the winter months.

We were pleased that one cria (recently weaned) had maintained the same weight but all the others had made significant gains.

We kept two mums back when we sent the herd back down as their cria were ready to wean.

Mike and I went to an Anthony Clarke training session yesterday.  The Sunday was fully booked, but Kim, the organiser fitted us in for a session at her training venue which is outside.  We were very lucky with the weather.

It was only about half an hour away and we really enjoyed it and found it very useful.   Mike's new attempt at making Jake wait was very successful.  He was able to leave him for more than two jump's distance until the very last exercise when we thought he was starting look as though he might revert to his bad old ways, so instead of allowing this, I held him at the start.

Dolly, as always was very good and caught on to what she was asked to do very quickly.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

High Winds and Deep holes

Last night was very windy and wet and although we did not notice it at first,  one of the fences dividing the paddocks had actually blown down.  16 out of 20 posts in that line had rotted at ground level.  Mike and Nick had to abandon their plans for the day and set to demolishing the remaining fence and clearing away the wire to make the area safe for the grazing alpacas.

We were particularly upset because when we first cleared the farm we paid out thousands for supposedly good quality fencing which you would expect to last.   Apparently around the time we had our fencing done there was a problem with the tanalising (preservative) of much of the fencing timber supplied.   There have been reports of problems in Farmers Weekly, even, according to Nick.

We are not alone and I have found out that several other alpaca breeders are having similar problems.   Now Mike will have to check all the fencing and put in extra supports to any posts which are suspect.   Not only that but the post holding up the farm gate has rotted and the wind pushed both the fence and the gate out of place.    They have replaced the gate temporarily with a spare steel gate.  Eventually they will fit a new wooden gate.

Mike skillfully fitted his mini digger under the full size digger which was used to do the ground works for the new barn.    He thought it would make a good photo and he was right!!

The other photo is of the mini digger in the hole behind the existing barn where they excavated earth to level the site for the new barn.   At first it was a big shock but we quickly saw lots of possibilities for it.   In effect we have been given a lovely big flat area surrounded by high sides giving complete privacy.   Mike is going to shore up the sides with railway sleepers which should give the area a pleasant rustic appearance and it can become a sunken garden, patio, or something similar.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

It is starting

Mike received a telephone call yesterday evening to say that the digger was on its way, so we quickly called all the dogs indoors and Mike opened the farm gates to admit a huge lorry and trailer carrying an equally huge digger.  At 7.30 a.m. this morning Danny, the digger driver, arrived and commenced work.  By lunchtime he had completed the footprint of our new barn and started the levelling process which includes bringing in extra earth from other parts of the farm to form a level base.   The goat mountain and the big bank inside the farm gates have been removed and used as infill.  He is also going to take some earth away from the back of the existing barn and level that site whilst using the earth to continue the levelling process for the new barn.  Trevor, has now arrived with a big tractor and trailer to ferry the earth around.

It is absolutely amazing how he handles the machinery - he even scrapes off excess earth from the grass just as we would rake it off the edge of a lawn.

Dolly went training again yesterday.    She was promoted to another field with a flock of 80 ewe lambs.  She made a very good job of rounding them up and holding them and Freddie, our trainer, was impressed and pleased that Dolly was calm and the sheep were not stressed by her.  We spent most of the hour teaching her to "walk on" behind the sheep.  Some of the time she was on a long line in front of us and whenever she started to go too fast which might upset the ewes, Freddie would pull her back on the line whilst I told her to lie down.  This was to teach her the speed needed to make the sheep advance without stressing them out.  She really enjoyed her trip in the landrover which took us to the new field, especially as it was an excuse to sit on my lap.

Luckily I was wearing my farm overalls because I had had "normal" clothes on underneath as I was going to collect Zach and Tara who are spending a few days of their half term holiday with us.

We have set up a catchment area in the winter paddocks so that I can start to handle the cria on a more regular basis which helps to make them more cooperative when they are bigger.   Already after just a few sessions they have cease struggling and resign themselves to being held gently until released.
They all seem to be thriving quite well except one of the two cria that we weaned and he has lost a little weight so we are keeping a close eye on him.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

First Weaning

 After many trials with my laptop I phoned PC Doctor in Chard who usually help me out with anything to do with IT.  They suggested I take it in to the shop to test it and of course found that everything worked perfectly well.  There was only one thing that the young child/computer genius in the shop did differently so I thought it might be a eurika moment, but no, when I got home all was as before, so I had to call them for a home visit.

The owner of the shop came out himself - probably felt like a break and an opportunity to see what we keep behind the big wooden gates at Laurel Farm.  He was really pleasant and within a few minutes identified the problem.  I had keyed in the BT Fusion wireless key instead of the Home Hub wireless key.  What is BT Fusion, I asked.  Well I still don't know, but it sounds very useful.  This was an extended case of not reading everything on the label. In this case, both key  numbers were clearly displayed on the back of hub, but I fixated on one of them and did not try the other.   Seems really daft now, but still  I have no excuse now for not blogging.

I had the same problem trying to book tickets for a train journey to Whitstable.  I am going to visit my father's brother and my friend, Pauline is coming too.  I kept inputting the information and the ticket price kept coming up as £106+ but I finally realised that it was the price for two tickets and not the individual price.  I felt somewhat vindicated, however, when I was watching breakfast TV this morning and Vincent Duggleby from Moneybox Live was talking about simplifying the tarrifs for energy.   It was mentioned that booking rail tickets had been simplified, but he said that he had recently tried to book  and had still found it quite tricky, so I am in good company.

We dosed the alpacas against fluke (a nasty parasite that thrives in wetlands and causes fatal liver damage if it takes hold) and also condition checked as usual.  Some of the females suckling cria could do with a little more weight but two in particular were cause for concern and as their cria were the eldest we moved the adult females down to the winter paddocks but left the two thinner Mums behind.

Their cria were a little lost looking for a while but they are now staying with the herd and getting over their loss.  Both are males, so, sadly, they will probably not get near their Mums again.   Females tend to stay longer and eventually, once weaned, can rejoin the main herd and bond again.

Mike has sold the great big JCB which he bought when we first moved on to the farm.  It has certainly saved us a lot of money but has had its day and is now going to a new home.   He now has a smaller digger which will come into its own around the farm and especially when we need trenches for services etc: for the barn conversion.

He is having one more go at teaching Jake to sit at the start of his Agility runs.   All going well so far and he hopes to try it out next time he goes training.  As always what works at home often goes pearshaped at a different venue.

Dolly missed her sheepdog training because of poor weather on Wednesday but is going tomorrow instead.   Will report on how she gets on when let loose in the field with the sheep instead of in the training pen where I have more control.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Time Flies

Quite a few people have mentioned that I have been lax in my literary duties with the blog!! I must admit I did not know it was quite such a long time since I updated it.  My internet connection on the laptop was very slow and my son, David, took it away and diagnosed a fault with the wireless card.  He supplied and installed a dongle to replace it, but I have fallen at the last hurdle with an apparent inability to connect with my home hub.   That means that blogging has to take place on the farm computer in the barn.  Not very appealing in the evenings.  I will have another go at the laptop shortly.

Another excuse is that our TV died, and although we do not watch all that much TV in the summer, we thought it would be a good idea to replace it so we have bought a modern TV with LCD screen LED back light etc:  Not a huge one, but 32" is about as big as we could stand in our little log cabin.  The thing is it is really riveting.    Everything is bigger and better.  Mike can actually work out which car is which when watching Formula 1 and the scenery looks great in Escape to the Country, Sheepdog trials etc:

Since the 13th September when I last blogged, I went to the annual Veterinary Issues Day run by the South West Alpaca Group and found the speaker quite interesting but the second speaker was unwell and so another alpaca breeder who is studying for a PHD gave a very interesting talk on parasitology.   We have FECs (Faecal egg count) done by our vet to avoid long term use of wormers which can encourage resistance to the treatment in the worm community.  We worm when there is a significat presence of worm eggs in the dung.  The talk highlighted the importance of taking individual samples as opposed to pooled samples, which I have been doing, and she had also been doing some interesting research into the effects of wormers on cria when weaned.   Stressed livestock are more likely to seccumb to disease, parasites etc: and of course having your mum taken away is stressful for the cria.

I decided to have some individual samples tested and the results were very interesting and although I knew that each alpaca would have a different level, if any, of infestation, I was surprised at how big the difference was.  As a result we have changed the wormer we use, as a once off, as two of the alpacas had a presence of tape worm.   This is usually not particularly harmful, but we decided we would try and get rid of it anyway.   After  24 hours we moved the females down to the winter paddocks which have not been grazed for several months, hoping that they will have shed the eggs before moving.

Tessa, the vet, came to carry out pre-movement TB testing on some alpacas which were about to go to their new home and whilst she was here I asked her to look at Maddy's shoulder again to see if she thought I should take her into the surgery.   She agreed that the swelling was increasing and thought they should withdraw some fluid and send it away for testing, so I took her in and after a few days the results came back showing that the swelling did indeed contain blood but the suggestion was there could be an underlying tumour.   I was not surprised, but obviously worried.    We decided to let nature take its course and keep her on metacam to control the pain and see how it went.  

The swelling continued to increase and she spent most of the time stading up and panting and so last Monday Tessa came and euthenased her.   I held her leg to make the vein stand out and her heart stopped before the entire dose had left the syringe so she must have been ready to go.  Mike buried her next to my dear Tilly Tonkers behind the barn.

On a more cheerful note, Dolly is going great guns with her sheepdog training.   She absolutely loves it and she is going out into the big field next week, which is apparently much sooner that expected with a novice dog.  Her agility is also improving.  It was mainly her weaving which was holding her back but she has found out that it is more fun if you go fast.   She does a bit of a Diesel scream as she goes through them.  I hope it is a good omen because Diesel Designer Blue to give him his full title is a very successful agility dog and he is her grandsire.

We have ordered our new barn so that we can start converting the old barn into a dwelling in the new year.  It should be arriving in about a month and in the meantime we are hoping that the groundwork will take place so that it can be erected as soon as it arrives.  Robbie, our architect, came along on Thursday to finalise a few points to enable him to alert the Building Regulations Department and get various reports which strange initials which you have to have to comply.   We have arranged for gas to be piped to the new build at a very reasonable price because the pipeline runs through our property anyway so there are no complications with having to dig up the main road or anything.

Seven, the sickly kid, is in remission at the moment but she is not right.  Her twin sister, Eight, is always with her, which is sweet.   The other five kids are together most of the time but Seven and Eight are often to be seen cuddling up or in the shelter munching at the hay when the others are out and about.

Chickens are not laying much, but still enough to keep us in eggs for domestic use.  No surplus for the neighbours, though.

We put the male alpacas in with the does and the buck for a short time whilst we were clipping toe nails and worming the females.    Pedro and Charlie climbed goat mountain. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Making Sure

Had a really interesting weekend.   Attended a dog agility competition on Saturday and Romie and I finally achieved a clear round and she won her class in Grade 6 Jumping.   She also did a very good round in the agility but when she was heading for a tunnel I peeled off too soon and she thought I wanted her to come with me so she had a refusal which incurs 5 faults.  Charlie and Dolly my two "baby" dogs both did very well.  They are both actually running the correct course most of the time but both are having difficulty understanding that they had to do the weaves in competition as well as in training - as I am their trainer I have to take responsibility but have not hit on the answer yet.  Probably just more practice.

On Sunday we went to a self-build show to pick up some ideas for when we start converting our barn into a dwelling.  It was very interesting and very much geared towards "green" ideas.    Solar panels were highly represented, but we were quite interested in rainwater harvesting and some of the indoor finishes such as slate worktops for the kitchen.  We also looked at the various options for insulation as obviously that is a priority these days.

Yesterday we returned the buck and the young bucks to their normal paddock as they were going stir crazy in the barn.   Drake, the buck, spent lots of time looking over the gate of the barn and chewing bits of bailer twine that were holding up the hurdles.   They galloped like spring lambs when they hit the grass again.

We kept the does and female kids in the barn until today as they needed their nails clipping.  We separated the older females and put them in a paddock with buck after  fitting him with a raddle.   That is a harness with a marker crayon - a big square lump, not a pencil - so that when he mates the females we can tell that he has done his duty because the marker attached to his chest leaves a stain.

Nick and I also scanned all the female alpacas who were far enough into their pregnancies.   The results were pretty good.  Only two females scanned negative and they were two who we have had problems with for a long time.   We will probably give up on them now and sell them as non-breeding females - hopefully before the winter and expensive feeding starts.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Shear Joy

On Saturday we did our usual stint at the Chardstock Street Fayre which is an annual event in the village.  Although we live in Tytherleigh, it is a bit of an add to to Chardstock and we come under the Parish of Chardstock when dealing with the authorities such as the council.

We took the same four boys who went to the Hawkchurch Fete and they were extremely laid back.   They had plenty of visitors but because they were facing the street they were not surrounded quite so much so they had more opportunity to lie down and also to munch their hay.   Sales of our products were not as good as they were at Hawkchurch but lots of people took our cards and promised to visit the farm shop when Christmas Shopping - the season for which is approaching far too rapidly.  I still have not got to grips with my second hand knitting machine which was intended to be used for making alpaca scarves for last Christmas.  I really must do something soon!!

We had the Angora Goats shorn yesterday and they are now living in the barn for a few days until some of their fleece starts to grow back.   It was very windy yesterday so we had to make up make shift covers for the pens to make sure they kept warm over night.   We did not think about taking photos until all the bigger goats had been done so this is one of the kids who decided to go all silly and floppy!!

Number 7 whose Mother only had one udder and was bottle fed for her first few months of life had oedema (swolen tissue) around her belly and down her front legs, which we discovered when she was being shorn.  I took her temperature which, if anything, seemed low rather than high, and we put her in a cria coat to keep her warm.  Cria coats are actually for baby alpacas who need extra protection if they are weak or born in exceptionally cold wheather.

She had been scouring (diarrhoea) so I had already medicated her and thought she was OK.  We cannot think of a reason why she should be suffering in this way but I have started her on a course of anti-biotics and also treated her for fluke which is a parasite that attacks the liver.   The whole herd of goats and alpacas are due to be treated routinely for this during September.

One possibility is that she has been bullied by one of the older goats as they are all in a more confined space and if she had been butted against one of the metal hurdles she may have internal bruising. 

Today she is still a bit lack lustre and does not respond to my voice which she usually does. Fingers crossed she will recover soon but in the meantime it is very worrying and mysterious

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Alpacas to go

The last week or so has been quite mixed.   We did not seem to get back into our usual routine for quite a while and the jobs we left before we went away caught up with us.

One of the main jobs that Mike had hoped to get done was re-hanging some of the farm gates which had dropped through a combination of rotting posts and the dry summer which changed the position of some of the posts.  The photos show Mike and Nick pondering the problem with Jake supervising whilst guarding the old rotten post which has been replaced.

Mike has also been fixing the brakes on the tractor and the parts he was waiting for arrived today so he is hoping to have it back in use very soon now.

On Saturday I went out for the day, meeting my friend, Pauline, for lunch in Shaftesbury, followed by a spot of retail therapy and a cream tea!! 

On Sunday Mike and I went to Honiton Hill where they have an annual "Rally" which includes tractors, vintage cars, demonstrations such as axing, lots of stalls, old Hurdy Gurdy organs, and an agricultural auction.   We saw one or two things in the auction which Mike made a note of but in the event we did not go back yesterday to bid because we had agreed to take some alpacas along to Hawkchurch Village Fete in the afternoon.

We just took 4 boys who were very co-operative.  They loaded into the trailer without any objection at all and behaved themselves really well all afternoon.   Their pen was constantly surrounded by visitors and I wondered if they would get too worried but after a while they continued to eat their hay, kush down for a rest and generally do normal alpacary things whilst their admirers oohed and aahed.

We took some products from the shop as well as some of our yarn and sales went very well.   We enjoyed sitting in the sun chatting to interested customers and even managed to have a look round the other stalls , visit the beer tent and watch some of the events in the arena all to the jolly sound of the silver band.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Alpacas at Home

We arrived home from our holiday on Saturday evening - a day earlier than planned.  We had a lovely break including two Agility Competitions.  One in Northamptonshire and the other in Suffolk. 

Son, David, and family looked after the farm whilst we were away but as they had only just returned from holiday themselves before taking over, I think they were quite glad to go home, even though they enjoyed their stay.  David had to kill one of the white hens as it was obviously failing.  I had noticed that she was not getting on her perch at night with the others and was looking a bit lack lustre in the field, so I was not surprised.

Maddy, our older lurcher, had stayed on the farm and unfortunately her shoulder was injured in some way.  Jane took her to the vet who thought it was a strained ligament but by the time we got home on Saturday her shoulder and both sides and underneath her chest were very swolen and her left leg was very thick and swolen, so I took her back to the vet on Monday and saw Tessa.  By the time we got there late on Monday afternoon the swelling had subsided a lot but I was still concerned about her panting especially as she has a heart murmur.   Although usually a murmur is nothing to worry about, I though perhaps something had changed.  Tessa seemed to think, as I do, that she had received some sort of trauma to her shoulder - possibly a kick - which was also my feeling especially as Maddy is always poking her nose in where it is not wanted.  Her heart was not a problem so probably the panting was because of pain or worry about her injury.  The lump on her shoulder was firm and was likely to be bleeding under the skin - i.e. a wacking great swolen bruise.  She prescribed some more Metacam (pain killer and anti-inflammatory) as she will need it for quite a while.  Maddy seems pretty bright and happy now and mooches around quite happily so she is obviously making a good recovery.   Let's hope she has learned her lesson and stays clear of the back end of alpacas - or perhaps goat horns!!

It looks as though there had been a lot more rain here than we experienced.  The grass is looking green and inviting and all the alpacas and goats seem in good condition.  There were a few jobs which we did not do before we left - as usual running out of time, so we got on with them almost straight away.  My main job of course was taking care of ten days' worth of washing - the ironing still staring at me!

Several of the cria needed vaccinating and although Tony, our helper, had struggled valiently we felt that we should give him a hand to catch up with paddock cleaning etc: on Monday.  We also have two alpacas with ongoing skin problems despite many attempts by ourselves and the vet, so we applied iodised salve to their ears and legs and checked the eartags of some cria who were tagged last.   All was well and they obviously did not miss us at all!!

Yesterday Nick and I spat off all the females (i.e. presented them to a male alpaca for mating. ( Pregnant females will reject the male  by spitting, kicking and running away.)  Most seemed to think they were pregnant and we mated two who had recently given birth, remated another and today we remated a second one whose pregnancy had not held. 

As the weather forecast was not very promising Nick and Mike replaced a very hefty gate post as both the gates it supported were dragging on the ground and very heavy and difficult to open or close.  Mike used his new digger and he was pleased with the results.  Nick did quite a lot of the digging as he has used the same model before.   It took a long time because the ground is so hard with lack of water and naturally stony.  It was about 7 p.m. by the time they finished and Mike will still have to hang the gates which is apparently quite a big job in itself.

In the meantime I mowed the "lawn" in an effort to beat the incoming weather but as it has turned out it has not been too bad at all so there was no panic.  Famous last words!!  I expect we will pay for it later.

We are waiting for the shearer to come and shear the goats in the next few days.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


We were at a dog agility competition for the first part of the week, coming back in the evening of each day so the animals were only left unattended for a few hours.  Mike stayed at home on the Tuesday to work with Nick and also to have a tooth removed - not by Nick but by a more qualified person in a white coat.

On Thursday we were due to go to the Honiton show with with seven alpacas to show, but the females had been remated and were not far enough into pregnancy to risk driving them around,  two of the males rolled in an old bonfire, getting covered in ash, and as the Judge was wearing cream trousers I had a feeling that he might not appreciate handling them, especially as when we got back from agility we decided to take a chance and leave them out in the paddock over night.   Bad move as the rain was torrential and we ended up taking four very bedraggled animals to the show.  So we only showed the two young males in the end.

Honiton is unusual in that it is a Shorn Fleece show as by this time of the year most herds have been shorn.  This means that the judge cannot make a very good assessment of the fleece given that it is only about an inch long.  He can assess conformation and other traits.

Jose and Pepe did achieve second and third place but the judge remarked that they were lacking in substance for young breeding males, which is OK as they have already been sold as quality pets.  I am not going to put a non breeding restriction on them, though, because their sires are great hefters.  Pepe the younger one was an orphan and so shared an adopted mother which has probably delayed his development a little.

We had quite a lot of interest in the alpacas including an interview with a reporter on one of the local free papers and two enquiries from people who actually have some land already and live fairly near to us.

Monday, 1 August 2011


We checked the does udders and found that they are fine.   They seem quite happy to share a paddock with Alario (the lone male) and the chickens or what is left of them.  Even Number 7 kid has stopped bleating and they just look like a contented herd of small goats.

Because the grass is not as good as we would hope at this time of year we have opened up all the paddocks on the North side of the farm so that the alpacas and their babies can graze a bigger area rather be confined to a small paddock and then moved on to the next small paddock.  They are also grazing in the race which is the lane which runs down the middle of the field dividing the paddocks on either side.  Its main use is for driving the tractor through, herding alpacas from paddock to paddock or up to the barn,  or for us walking around the farm without having to open too many gates on the way.  It also helps to form catch pens when we need to gather animals in a small area to carry out husbandry or check their condition.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


Our grass is very disappointing.   We put fertiliser down again just before the last time we had rain but the ground is still like concrete and the grass is not as good as we would hope at this time of year.   We have opened up several paddocks to give the alpacas more room to graze and they are actually eating hay which is unusual at this time of year.  We could do with some prolonged rain.  I expect it will come when we are on holiday.

The kids and goats seem to have accepted their lot and really have been very civilised without too much bleating.  I will have to check the does' udders tomorrow to make sure they have not got mastitis which is a risk when the kids are weaned.   Number 7 seems to realise that I am not going to give her any more milk from a bottle.  I miss our few minutes of a morning but I suspect all she misses is breakfast.  

We are taking some alpacas to the Honiton Show next week so we have been catching up on halter training to remind them how to behave when we get there.  It is a bit hot and humid but it's a job that needs doing.

Murder Most Fowl

Last night I was reading in bed having arrived home from a pub meal with my friend, Pauline, just in time to put the dogs to bed in their kennel.  Jax, my son's dog who is staying with us while the family go to Portugal for a couple of weeks, decided that she wanted to sleep in the kennel.  As she had made herself comfortable in Jake's bed I decided to let sleeping dogs lie, as it were, and let Jake sleep indoors.

A couple of hours later I thought I heard the scream of an animal being killed but assumed it was a rabbit or other small mammal, but it seemed to be accompanied by a lot of noise and unusual sounds which made me think that maybe a fox had got in with the chicken.   By this time Mike was also awake and we both shot out.  Jake dashed out too and started to bark excitedly.   We opened the garden gate and he and Romie galloped off at top speed barking as they went.   We then saw the fox cutting back across the paddock where the chickens live.   He just disappeared.

Shining the torch around we saw one of the Black Rock hens gasping her last and so after making sure there was no further sign of the fox we went back to bed.

About an hour later I heard the same sounds again and sure enough he was back.   This time he had killed a further three hens and Mike found the  Cockrell sitting traumatised in the middle of the paddock.  He survived being attacked by a fox once before so we did not give much for his chances of pulling through once again.  Mike, however, put him in the hen house and we crossed our fingers.  Amazingly this morning he was up and crowing loudly at about 4.30 a.m. bless him!!

We had a final scout round trying to work out where the murderer was hiding when we heard a rustling in the hedge and Jake and Romie got very excited.  Then a fox ran towards me and ducked under the wire netting heading for the hedge where the rustling was coming from - presumable to join his mate.  He nearly ran over my feet at high speed and I was so taken by surprise that I screamed suddenly and loudly.  He ducked away and disappeared into the night, and I discovered that if I scream in the middle of the night nobody will hear me!!

Jake gave a final display of bravado and barking and then we noticed that Romie had disappeared.   We called and whistled to no avail and Mike was just setting off to investigate in next door's field in case she had accidentally gone through the hedge and could not get through when he saw her standing at the yard gate.  Luckily she has a white chest or he would not have seen her.   She had obviously run all the way round the field and come to a dead end when she reached the gate.   She did not have the sense to bark or squeak to let us know she was there waiting to be let in.

We think that when the automatic pop hole closed for the night the cockrell and the hens which were killed must have been roosting in the field shelter.  In future we will make sure they have all gone to bed in right place.   A bit of a nuisance because the point of the sheds closing automatically is to save us having to do a late evening patrol.   Up to now the chickens have been quite reliable at putting themselves to bed.

After a cup of tea and some mindless television we finally went back to bed for a much shorter night's sleep than planned.

This morning Mike has had the horrid job of disposing of bodies and clearing up feathers with the hoover which is really designed for cleaning up poo in the paddocks.  We would have been upset if the fox had caught one hen for his dinner but at least you could say that was reasonable but why do they have to go on a killing spree when they cannot possibly eat the kill?

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Alpaca Clothing

Had a phone call from the Valuation Office this morning.   Apparently when we got our planning permission the council notified them that we had a farm shop and so we might have to pay up to £1000 per year business rates.

When we set the shop up we checked that we did not need planning permission but did not think about rates.   The Valuer is coming when we get back from holiday.  We will probably close the shop and just sell online and at shows and fetes as the turnover of the shop is not big enough to warrant any more expense.


Yesterday I wanted Nick to help me trim toe nails of all the alpacas as they had not been done since shearing in May apart from the alpacas we had shown.

We set up the barn as usual and decided to get the boys in first as that includes Ben, the gelding who really hates having his toe nails trimmed.  Mike would be around to help to hold him whilst I cut his nails.  We normally blindfold him with a towel as this keeps him calmer.  We put him on a halter and covered his eyes and he was actually quite relaxed and co-operative but when I came to trim the nails they were rock hard and instead of the quick snip snip which I usually do I had to gradually pare them back to a reasonable shape.  In the end I had to give up.  See photo of Ben below.

Although we have had some rain recently the ground is still very hard and I suppose the lack of moisture in the ground has meant that the nails have become very dry too.   We did manage to trim all the males' toe nails but I had to hand over to Nick a couple of times because my hands were aching so much trying to close the clippers and achieve a cut.

We have decided to do the rest of the herd in batches on consecutive Tuesdays so that we do not have too many to do at once if they are that tough.   If we have some rain it might well be a different story next Tuesday.

We also weaned the kids - i.e. separated them from their Mums.   All except number 7 were fairly accepting of the change.  I expect they had been gradually suckling less and eating more grass.   We put their Mums in a shelter where they could not see them but of course number 7 looks on me as her source of milk as she has been bottle fed so she is finding it more difficult to get on with life without her Mum and me.

Two chickens have died - I think they were both quite old and probably found the heat a bit much.  There were no signs of illness or parasite infestation of any kind.  This morning I found the remains of a third one - or at least a pile of feathers.   We think she must have been shut out when the automatic doors on the chicken shed shut last night.  Alario is in the same paddock but the murder took place behind the sheds so perhaps he did not see.

David and Jane with our grandchildren Zach and Tara came down yesterday evening as they were dropping off Jax, their dog, for us to look after whilst they go to Portugal for a couple of weeks.  When they come back they are going to look after the farm so we can go away on our annual dog show holiday.   We had a BBQ supper and some champagne to celebrate our planning permission to convert the barn into a house.  So that was very enjoyable.

The grass is looking a bit sorry for itself - we could really do with some prolonged rain, although it would spoil holidays for a lot of people. 

Monday, 25 July 2011

Horizon Anchor

Absent Birth

We went to Sidmouth on Sunday to a fete at a Residential Care Home.   They asked if we would take some alpacas along for the residents and visitors to see.  It was a very low key affair but everyone was very friendly and enchanted with the alpacas.

When we returned home we found that Baptista had given birth early to a lovely little white FEMALE cria.   She was trotting around and obviously there had been no problems, luckily.   Her ears had  been bent in a strange way in the womb so she looked more like a mini llama, but we have put some masking tape on them to encourage them to grow into the normal alpaca shaped ears and she looks quite pretty now.

We are about to wean the kids so are expecting a lot of noise tomorrow because they will not like being removed from their Mums.   We are going to put them in the paddock nearest the house so that they cannot see the other goats.   The young bucks will go to live with Drake (our stud buck) and a little castrated male kid from last year in their pen which is farther down the farm.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Latest newborn, Lucky number 7, Horrid Job done

Another girl is born.  In the photo she is only about half an hour old and then a little older searching for Mum's milk bar already.

Number 7 is the kid we have been bottle feeding.  She is now about three months old and will soon be weaned but she is so friendly (cupboard love?) and comes running when anyone goes into the field.  She also jumps up like a puppy which might be a bit scary when she is a full grown goat.   She really is lucky because she nearly died of hyperthermia when she was born in March during that awful winter weather. 

On Tuesday Nick and I did my least favourite job on the farm which is tagging and chipping the cria.  Although not required by DEFRA as alpacas are not governed by them, most responsible alpaca owners comply with the normally accepted rules for other livestock and identify them with an ear tag and most also insert a microchip which is really only used if the animals are to be shown or exported to ensure that the right animal is shown or shipped.   It could also be useful in the event of theft as alpacas are generally registered with the British Alpaca Society who also record the microchip number.  

Tagging involves a process rather like having your ears pierced but using a really big earing which supports a plastic tag - see number 7!!  Goats have to have one in each ear or (and they are covered by DEFRA - or Animal Health) an electronic tag.  I think that is a microchipped ear tag, but I am not sure.  The tagger is like a giant hand held pincer machine and you attach the tag to the piercing pin, hold the pincer over the ear, being careful to avoid the veins which run either side of the centre of the ear, and squeeze hard.  Alpaca ears are much tougher than goat ears but kids make a lot more noise.   I think the pain is only momentry and as soon as they are released they trot off as if nothing has happened.

Microchipping is really just like a subcutaneous injection in that you use a large needle and applicator to push the tiny microchip under the skin of the animal.  In an alpaca it is normally at the top of the neck where other dangers lie, such as the carotid artery.  There is also the problem that alpacas are naturally slim creatures and it is quite difficult to find sufficient loose skin to allow insertion of the chip.

Nick says that I am very proficient in this task, but  my hands are always shaking with apprehension when I start, although once I have done a couple I usually relax.  Number 92 was born today (see photos with Mum, Luciana) which means that I must have tagged and chipped well over a hundred animals including the goats.  I suppose you get used to it more quickly if you have to tag 100  at a time and not spread out over a few years

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Guess the sex!!

Lavinia, a really pretty light fawn girl has just given birth to - you guessed it - another boy.  He looks as though he will fall into the new beige colour range as he has a trace of fawn along his topline, but cannot be sure until he is properly dry.  We name our boys from a list of Spanish boys' names which I downloaded ages ago.   We thought this would be appropriate as the alpacas come from South America, where Spanish is the national language in most countries.  We are on the Vs and he is going to be called Laurels Don Vitas - which is quite apt as he seems to be full of life already.

Last night we celebrated the news that we have been given planning permission to convert part of the existing barn into a house and to build a new barn which will be bigger and much more useful than the one which was already on site.  This will give us a new burst of energy, and whilst we are very comfortable in our little log cabin it will be lovely to have a bit more space and get all our belongings out for use again.  It is also good to know that we will not have to leave our beloved Laurel Farm.  

Ideally we could have done with some females being born so we could sell off the older stock without diminishing the numbers of breeding females too much.   We might have to have a big rethink once we know the final numbers and sexes.   We have already decided that we will use Alario this year to cover as many females as possible as he seems to be very fertile and generally throws more female offspring than male.   They are usually good quality too.    In the past we have not used him over whites but we are thinking maybe he would produce fawn cria, which would be lovely.  Hopefully his imput will redress the balance of the sexes.   The main problem is that he is related to many of the herd so we will have to be careful when setting up his matings.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

I don't believe it!!

Baptista, a very pretty light fawn female, gave birth to yet another boy!!  I cannot believe that we now have seven cria and six of them are boys.   The good news is that most of them are very attractive and all but one are coloured i.e. fawn, brown and black, which makes them easier to sell in the pet market.  The latest addition is fawn with a white face, and seems to be quite strong and although his mum is a maiden she is looking after him really well.   He started to suckle very quickly and the weather is looking OK at the moment so we are hoping that we won't have the torrential rain overnight that we had last night.

I went to Axminster this afternoon to collect some medication from the Vet and buy some egg boxes as we have run out of second hand ones.  I was shocked to find that they cost 20p per box for six eggs.  Since we only charge £2.20 per dozen for our surplus eggs that would mean a massive 40p per dozen for just the boxes.  We are hoping that this is just a glitch and that more second hand ones will be donated in due course.

We have been having a bit of a tidy up around the yard and Mike dismantled some old fencing which we made from old pallets when we first came here.   The log cabin has just been repainted and with our hanging baskets looks quite attractive.  Mike is struggling a little with work around the farm because his elbow locked up a few days ago and he has had only limited movement since.  He went to the doctor today who thinks that he may have dislocated it some time in the past and it has not returned to normal,so he is going to have it xrayed next week.  He is having a run of really bad luck with his health at the moment but let's hope this is the last of it.

I took Charlie to training this evening and although he is still as manic as ever he is now listening as well.   If I am quick enough with my instructions he does it right and Sam (our trainer) said he was "awesome" at one point.   I just hope I can achieve the same result at the next dog show.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Boys galore

We have just sold the last of last year's boys, Jose and Pepe.   They were prize winners at the SWAG  Spring Show and the Devon County Show where they attracted a lot of interest because they were so handsome and such a lovely colour. 

Just as well because of the six births on farm so far five have been boys which is quite unusual for us as we have had a majority of girls most years in the past.   They are all very good looking boys and we will hope to add some value before selling them by taking them to shows in the hope of picking up some rosettes.

The animals are all enjoying the sunshine at the moment and getting fat on the lovely summer grass.

We have moved the agility equipment down to the bottom of the home paddocks in an effort to save the neighbours suffering the barking of the dogs left shut in whilst we practice.  

Most of the rest of the births should happen this month so the new arrivals will be well grown before winter sets in.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Latest Arrival

Laurels Don Senon is the latest arrival this year.   He was born at 2 p.m. on Sunday and his mum, a maiden alpaca is very laid back and has taken to motherhood like a duck to water.   He seems a little small and arrived slightly earlier than expected but nevertheless is coping well and is already starting to play with the other cria.  So far we have only had one girl and four boys which is spoiling our hitherto enviable record of breeding mostly females.   

Today we caught up with ADE vitamins for the alpacas and wormed the goats and kids.  I have also updated the website with some more stock for sale and am just off to take some photos of the latest additions.

Mike was busy topping the paddocks between showers but something has broken and so he has been doing some of the smaller paddocks with the ride on motor mower.     They look as good as lawn.

We also vaccinated all the cria apart fron Senon who is too young and Salvador who was born first and therefore vaccinated earlier.  We will give them a second jab in four weeks and about two weeks afterwards they should be protected from coccideal diseases.

Posted by Picasa

Monday, 20 June 2011


Well apart from the welcome rain - which would be even more welcome if it came at night - nothing much is happening at the moment.  All the cria and kids seem to be OK and have been updated with their vaccinations.  

We  are really looking forward to the rest of the cria for this year being born and it has made us realise how far we have come in a short time and how our herd has improved and changed.

Whilst sorting the filing cabinet, a long overdue job which is not yet complete, I came across the details of our buying trip to Chile which emphasised the point even more.  I expect I sent it to some of you at the time, but it might still be of interest.  This is the story of our most expensive holiday ever.

"Well we actually did it!!!

As usual our timing was poor.   We moved house the week before flying to Chile.  Managed to get more or less straight and even wash and iron enough clothes to take with us.

Luckily I looked at the e-ticket and found out that we were flying on Tuesday and not Wednesday.  Bit of a rush to the outdoor shop for hiking boots and warm jackets.

We left home (in Somerset) at about 9 a.m. delivered mother and six dogs to their holiday destinations, had a pub lunch on the way to Heathrow and arrived far too early for our flight.  Probably better than the usual Geraldine-time where you have to run to get to the boarding gate just as it is closing.

Departed Heathrow at 17.35 Tuesday and arrived Santiago (via connecting flight from Madrid) at 7.40 a.m. local time on Wednesday -  they are five hours behind us.

Our agent met us at the airport and we went back to his apartment for a shower and rest prior to flying to Arica in the north of Chile - a 3 hour flight.   We then picked up a 4 x 4 - actually I think we should have had a tracked vehicle, given the terrain we had to cover driving on the Alti Plano, where roads were mainly dirt tracks.  You could see another vehicle coming miles away by its dust storm.  That, however, was a rare sight as there were not many other drivers.

Geoff, our agent, had arranged to see alpacas owned by three Indian farmers and during the day we called on others to arrange to see their animals the next day.   The drill was that we arrive, meet and greet, and the Aymaras disappear for about an hour and mooch back with 50 - 100 alpacas.   They herd them into enclosures of dry stone walls and we select the ones we want to buy.   This was a bit scary, but Geoff was very helpful and we soon gained more confidence.   There were a lot of frogs, but I think we selected mostly princes.   We would point to the one we wanted to see and the farmer would either catch or lassoo the animal.  If we decided to buy and Geoff agreed we had selected well, he would eartag, microchip and photgraph the chosen animal.

 The Indians only speak Spanish or their native tongue, so conversation was a bit limited but they appreciated our efforts I think.   We were invited for coffee in one Indian home and I offered to help Carmen, but apparently I asked to go to the toilet.   This caused a lot of amusement.

Over three days we selected 15 alpacas  including what I hope will be an excellent Light Brown stud.   I saw a fabulous white Macho as they call the males, but could not afford him.  Maybe next time!!

Geoff was also selecting for other clients and as his normal assistant was not able to come, we helped as much as we could.   Unfortunately on the last day Mike woke up with a bad nose bleed and had another one later so he had to stay in the vehicle.   We drove to Arica after the day's work and he had the worst nose bleed I have ever seen just as we arrived at the hotel. It was a lucky day for the porter, though.   I was busy trying to cope with registering at the hotel, which involves passports and form filling, worried about Mike and wondering if I should try and get a doctor.   the porter was quite concerned, but also hovering for his tip.  In my haste and without my glasses, I selected a $20 bill.   Normal tip would be 500 pesos - about 0.50$ - still I am sure he enjoyed spending it.

Luckily after a rest and a bath Mike was back to normal and we went out for a meal with Geoff at about 11 p.m.  It was a fabulous restaurant overlooking the crashing waves of the ocean which were dramatically visible through the huge windows.  We finished our meal feeling human again at 1.20 a.m. when we finally took the hints of the restaurant staff and left.

Next day we flew back to Santiago where Geoff took us to an excellent hotel and we parted company.   We agreed to meet up later in the week so that we could receive a CD with pictures of the alpacas we had selected.

We had a private tour of Santiago the next day.  Our guide, Carlos, was great and even made a special trip back to the hotel to return my phone which I had managed to leave in the taxi.   The following day we went shopping (clothes are very cheap) and spent time relaxing in the main square.   Had to have pasta for lunch as I could not understand the menu - even with my phrase book.  I am pretty sure that Conger Eel stew was being offered.   We sat outside, but the clientele inside were watching a bull fight on the TV.

In the evening Geoff and his wife took us to a great seafood restaurant.   They were both charming and it made a lovely end to our stay. 

We had a long and uncomfortable flight and were relieved to arrive at Heathrow finally.   We were ready for another pub lunch on the way home as our last meal was breakfast on the plane from Santiago to Madrid.

The trip was definitely not for the faint hearted, but it was a great experience.   The Chilean people are really friendly and helpful, and we felt very safe all the time we were there."

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Missing out

We were at an agility competition last weekend when my mobile phone rang.  It was my sister in law, Pam, who together with her husband Malcolm, were farm sitting for us.  She was in the goat paddock and had slipped, breaking her ankle, she thought.  I phoned my neighbour who kindly went round to stay with her whilst waiting for the ambulance, as Malcolm has health problems and we were worried that he would overstretch himself if he tried to do too much.  

We were in Wales and we did the fastest de-camp we have ever done and were on the road home within about 15 minutes of the call.  We made good time and Mike  and Malc went to Exeter Hospital to collect Pam.   They spent another night with us before heading off home and after a further operation Pam now has the long wait for her ankle to heal.  Needless to say they will not be farm sitting again this year, which means that Mike and I will be taking it in turn to go to shows until our holiday in August when David and family are farm sitting.

As I could not go to the show today, I have taken the opportunity to do some agility practice at home. It is not the same,but the dogs still enjoy it!!

Ginger gave birth to her first ever baby girl at lunchtime today.   She has previously had 4 boys!   The cria is very sweet but  at the moment her fleece is a very pretty colour and is very soft but it is not as good as the boys have been.   This may change over the next few weeks or months as I have made this sort of judgement prematurely before.  The photo is not the best one of Ginger (the dark female) but I thought her expression was very amusing!!

It was really strange because whilst I was watching the cria to make sure she suckled, the other females would not leave her alone.   Usually after a birth they all gather round to welcome the newcomer and have a good sniff and then lose interest after five or ten minutes but for some reason with this one two or three of them just continued to follow her around for ages.  I was a bit concerned that they were distracting her from feeding and so decided to put her and her mother in the shelter, but Ginger  became so distressed that I felt it was counter productive and let them out again.  I shooed the others away but they kept coming back so in the end I let them all wander down to the day paddock and Mum and cria went too.  I kept checking on them and finally saw the cria suckling quite professionally, so I felt reassured that nature was taking its course. That is the first hurdle of her little life.

Although the weather looks good I brought them all back to the night paddock at about 4p.m. so that they are near a shelter.  If it rains I hope that Ginger will follow the lead of the other Mums who, unusually, have had the sense to go into the shelter with their cria when it has rained heavily, which it has done a few times over the last few days.

My vegetable patch is doing very well.  I have Pak choi, cabbages, and little gem lettuces all ready or nearly ready and mange touts, broccolli and tomatoes with quite a way to go.   I also have loads of strawberries and Mike's gooseberry bush is laden even though it is only a couple of feet tall at the moment.  We planted runner beans in the winter paddocks as it stays damp in what we call the wetlands, but they are not thriving, so maybe it is too damp or they are not getting enough light.  I also planted what was left of a sack of potatoes and they are shooting through - probably not as good as seed potatoes but even if we get a few it will be useful.

The goats are all looking a bit overweight which is surprising because they are not having any extra feed apart from a bit of hay.  The bucks were free ranging but we have shut them back in their small paddock to try and restrict their diet abit.    It is surprising really because with the lack of rain I would have thought the grass would be quite poor nutritionally but apparently not - unless it is wind!!  On that note I'll sign off.