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.