Friday, 20 December 2013

Jake bereft

Despite the other four dogs, the cat, the chickens, alpacas, sheep and goats, Jake is only interested in looking out for the return of his beloved Mike.

Mike has gone up to the garage near Salisbury where we used to live and work and usually he takes Jake with him, but today he was loaded up with Christmas presents, wheels from a vehicle he is renovating and as he is borrowing a sporty little car whilst our big van is hospitalised, he has no room for his trusty companion.

Jake recognised all the signs of a trip to the garage, where he is welcomed and spoilt, but was very puzzled when Mike drove off without him.  I may have to book him into therapy.  On the other hand, probably his breakfast will distract him sufficiently to survive the day!!

The weather has been extremely wet and windy down here for the last few days, with a few hours of calm and brightness in between.  Since the alpacas do not get a chance to dry in between I have gone back to shutting them in at night. Until last year we never felt the need to get them in at all, but the winter was so severe that  we had the main herd in the barn. This year with our fewer numbers I am keeping them in their paddocks but enticing them into their shelters with a feed just before dark so that I can at least make sure they are not exposed to the wind and rain over night.  It is not a bad thing as it forces me to go do the rounds morning and night so that I will spot any fallen trees, broken fences etc: caused by the storms.

The upside is that it is no longer a case of chasing stray chickens into their run at night, since the are only too keen to get into their cosy shed and shelter from the rain.   They seem to spend most of the day either in one of the alpaca shelters or in the barn.  Luckily they have not worked out how to get into the hayloft  yet.  No doubt the older ones will remember soon and show them all the way up the ladder.  Although it maybe that the cat is guarding her territory up there and acting as a deterrent.

The goats love being in their shelter and always go in at night and they hate the rain so stay in there during the day if they can.  To start with it was dry and easy to keep clean but the wet weather started to make it rather unpleasant so I am giving them fresh straw every day in an effort to keep them clean, warm and dry.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Cock doodle doos!

Even the alpacas were surprised to hear Victor, our resident cockerel. He has has finally achieved it.   For ages he has been croaking.  Then he developed a "cock-a-dooerrr" but this morning he gave forth a true Cock-a-doodle-doo!  Luckily it was about 9.30 a.m. and even then it was not too raucous, so fingers crossed he will remain conservative in his vocal efforts.  I think it will be a mixture of crowing and croaking for a while yet.

Who needs expensive climbing frames for the chickens when they can play in Mike's yard!!

Having quite a few hens and their feed,  has been an attraction for rats and I have been trying all sorts of things to keep them away.  I sprayed the perimeter of the pens with Jayes Fluid and put concrete blocks all around the fencing of the pens.  It all worked for a while  but the little devils kept finding other ways to raid the chicken feeders, so it was a constant battle.  The final straw was when after several weeks of covering the feeders every night and blocking them off with concrete blocks and wood panels, one came back again and actually chewed the side out of one of the feeders, leaving a neat circular hole.

Now at night  I take their feeders into the shed where I keep the chickens' straw etc: so that there is nothing left to attract vermin.  The chicken are fed outside their pen during the day when the dogs and alpacas are around, not to mention the cat, to deter invaders.

The downside was that the area became very muddy and unpleasant in the wet weather and the feeders also became encrusted with mud not to mention the dogs and me, so Mike has now spread an area with scalpings so that the feeders can remain clean and I can get to the shed and the feeders without sinking into unsavoury mud.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Ex Chicken Licken

Alpacas are our main farming interest, but our other animals including the chickens also have their place.  They pay for themselves and make a bit of profit too.

Chicken Licken (ours, not the story book one)  is now an ex chicken.   The first signs that she was poorly were that she easily knocked over by the other chickens and on one occasion I saw her actually somersault. On Friday she became lethargic and had obviously lost interest even in eating, which was her favourite hobby.   By yesterday she was not really with us and we made a comfortable bed for her in the shed where I store the straw for the henhouse.
This morning I thought she was dead but she chortled very slightly, so I just let her rest on until later when she finally breathed her last.

Originally a battery hen, she was the sole survivor of a fox attack a few years ago (when I accidentally left the door to the henhouse open over night) and my friend Pauline taught her to be cute and feed from her hand.  From then on she thought she should have access to all of our property including the kitchen if we were not careful.  She was often seen riding in the land rover or the back of the quad bike.

All the other hens are all right, but they only lay eggs, they are not friends!!

Weeks ago I sorted out the alpacas that are for sale and put their details on our website, but I just have not had a chance to photograph them.  Either the weather is poor or other pressing jobs or trips seem to prevent me.  The next sunny day will definitely be devoted to alpaca pin ups.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Demolition Day

Mike and Nick have been really busy today.

They have been clearing the ditch which runs down the side of our property and which drains surface water from the main road.   When they got to the old goat shelter, which later became Alario's shelter and was made out of an old pig ark with a wooden porch, they had to take it down to allow access with the digger.

It took several trips backwards and forwards but it is now in the barn being revamped into a garden shed for our sunken garden.  It is quite low and so will not be seen over the retaining wall.  I was surprised that I could not find any photos of it, but I suppose it was not the most attractive shelter so I probably left it out when possible.  It is just visible behind these young males who are now yearlings!!

My pet hen, Chicken Licken, is looking very poorly.   She does not always get up on the perch to roost at night, although she still pesters me for extra titbits.   I will be surprised if she survives this winter.
This is a photo of her when she was in her prime!!  

My first customer this morning in the farm shop asked if he could pay by card and I admitted that he could but that he would be the first person to experience it as the machine had only just arrived.  He was lovely and the transaction went smoothly.   When the second customer arrived I felt much more confident and simply acted as though we had always taken cards.   It is not that it is a new thing for me, but just a really long time since I used one.  Really it would be hard to go wrong because the screen tells you exactly what to do but anxiety is a normal state for me.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Branding complete

Having reduced our herd of alpacas this year we are taking the opportunity to re-brand the business with greater emphasis on the wonderful alpaca products that are available both from our own alpacas and from South America.   Our online shop has been revamped and the Christmas Market was  a re-launch for the farm shop.

We will always have our own alpaca wool and our practical, classic hand knitted products but there is also a place for the lovely bright colours available from South America .

The new borns in the spring will revitalise the herd and continue to provide lovely soft fleece for spinning.  I just love the baby alpaca fleece which is the softest of all.

Last Monday I had a visit from a representative of the FSB - Federation of Small Businesses and by joining I have got some really good deals for the shop.   Special Business banking rates and also an excellent deal on a card terminal.  In the past at shows and on the farm we have lost quite a few product sales because we did not take plastic.   Now we can!!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Successful Sunday.
All went to plan for our Christmas Market with lots of visitors for most of the morning.  The cars started to pour in at 10.30 a.m. and it was really busy up until lunch time when it started to quiet down.   The farm animals, alpacas, sheep and chicken all behaved well and were quite a draw especially for the children.

Our farm shop was very busy and my grand daughter, Tara, spend virtually all day serving customers with only a short break when Jane, her mother, took over.  Yesterday morning when I went to do a stock check it was quite a quick job because she had sold so much.

The rest of the family including son David and grandson Zach helped get everything ready on Saturday and it was all hands to the deck all day on Sunday with jobs varying from Car parking to waiting on the exhibitors with teas and coffees.

Unfortunately it was extremely cold in the barn despite Mike's attempts to make it more comfortable by lining the walls with sterling board and by the afternoon the stall holders were very chilly, but they kept cheerful and most of them seemed quite happy and just accepted the fact that a barn in December is never going to be the most comfortable place.

We hope to have mains electricity in the barn before next winter so we might be able to find a way of heating it.  It would be an improvement if we could just lift the temperature a few degrees.

I had my camera all ready to take photos of the event, but for some reason, it was over before I got round to it.
This morning we finally finished dismantling and packing away all the temporary fencing, signs, tables and chairs etc:

Friday, 29 November 2013

Christmas Shopping

With the Christmas season nearly upon us the alpacas' wool and the garments we make from them are at their most popular.   Our online shop is doing well and we expect the Christmas Market on Sunday 1st December will give us a kick start in the farm shop.

The weather should be dry for Sunday, so fingers crossed we will have plenty of visitors to make it worth while for the stallholders and, of course, for our own shop.

The barn will be full of interesting stalls from pottery and handmade walking sticks to soap and goats cheese with patchwork, bunting, natural Christmas decorations, fabric goods, cakes and preserves and more in between.

As we do not dye our own alpaca wool, we have introduced a range of fair trade alpaca throws, scarves and shawls in vibrant colours to complement our own classic and practical hand knits.   Our alpaca socks are, as always at this time of year, selling well and now that most of our building work has been completed the farm is looking quite neat and tidy.

Monday, 25 November 2013

It's Official!

Our farm shop is open weekdays 11.30 - 3.30 p.m. except Wednesday and we are closed on Sundays notwithstanding  unforeseen events.   Today I had very few customers but just before I was about to close a car pulled in and four young men emerged.  They wandered down the drive as I wandered up and I made the observation that I presumed they were not interested in the shop and they confirmed that they were more interested in the alpacas.

As usual when visitors particularly want to see them the alpacas had removed themselves to a lower paddock, so I offered to bring them up so they could see them at close quarters.  They were really pleased and so I called Dolly the dog out to help me move them.

As luck would have it Dolly acted like a participant in One Man and His Dog on this occasion.  (Sometimes of course it can go horribly wrong)!  She listened to my voice and whistle commands and casually herded the eight young males up the paddock and through two gateways.  She then lay down to block the second gateway whilst the visitors took photos and generally enjoyed the experience.  When I felt that the alpacas had settled down I called Dolly back and raised my hand in a wave as Dolly and I walked away.

One of the boys waved back and shouted "I have got to say that your dog is  awesome." so what I always knew is now official!!

Jake, Mike's dog, still retains the title of "The Saint" as he can do no wrong in Mike's eyes, but as I said repeatedly until Mike told me to shut up, "awesome" is much better.

Preparations are going ahead for the Crafts and Gifts Market at the weekend.  Mike is still in the barn as I am writing this at 6.20 p.m.  He is pressure washing the floor so that it is fit for humans.  Tomorrow he and Nick will be putting up temporary fencing for the car park and for Animal corner where we have a few alpacas, sheep and chickens for visitors (particularly the children) to see.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Tidying Up

We are making the most of the weather to prepare for the winter ahead.   We sent the three older male alpacas who normally free-range around the house and barn areas down the race which separates our paddocks from the perimeter fence.  The grass was in need of a trim up and the boys enjoyed the fresh grazing but after a couple of days they kept coming back up to the gate in the hope that they could access their normal shelter and, I think, be part of the "family" including the dogs and chickens.  They are now back in their home territory  and enjoying being Lords of all they Survey again.

The chicken run was very muddy and unpleasant for me when feeding and cleaning them, so I went to our local sand and gravel merchants, who normally supply our scalpings etc: and chose some gravel which Mike spread around their run.   They free range during the day but are shut in for their own safety overnight.
They were so pleased that the cockrell (see photo) was even contemplating a bit of agility!

Millie, our oldest Collie, likes to feel that she can mingle where she pleases and on the whole none of the other animals seem to object.  We have to keep an eye on her because she is not averse to pinching the occasional egg for herself.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Pedicure Time

We have been gradually working our way through the routine husbandry for the alpacas and finally finished by trimming their toe nails.  It was a nice easy job as they are all well behaved and the wet weather has kept the nails soft and easy to cut.   Sometimes in long spells of dry weather the nails seem to be as hard as stone.

One of the young males had a strange foot problem which we treated with  antibiotic spray and an injection followed by regular checks and further application of the spray.  The treatment has obviously worked because, apart from pink feet where the spray has weathered, his feet look quite normal again.

The hens are starting to produce fewer eggs with the days being shorter and several have decided that the hay rack in one of the shelters is an ideal nesting spot, which means that we have to remember to check it daily before any other animals accidentally crack them.

This evening when I shut them in I found the cockerell with his wing over Chicken Licken (the old pet hen).  I do not know whether he was cold or he thought she was but it definitely explained the expression "to take someone under your wing".  Unfortunately I think I disturbed them, but I like to think that they snuggled up again when I had done my head count.

With our Christmas Market coming up, Mike is going great guns at clearing out the barn and neatly stowing away the dangerous farm machinery, which he loves.  I have been labelling and arranging all our alpaca products  and have bought some extra stock in ready for the Christmas "rush".

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Not just a fluke

With the wet warm weather that we are experiencing, the warnings are out that liver fluke is becoming a problem for sheepand alpacas in the area.  The liver fluke is a flatworm with a complex lifecycle which relies on moisture and warm temperatures for survival, 

Acute infestation can cause livestock deaths if the parasite is left to multiply unchecked. Sheep of all ages are equally susceptible, with the most acute forms of infestation observed during the autumn.  Alpacas can also carry this parasite, especially if they are grazing on wetlands .  We have a spring in the winter paddocks and quite a large marshy area, which is particularly attractive when the marsh orchids are in bloom.

As a precaution we drench our alpacas against fluke three times over the winter, starting in October and the last dose in April.   With our smaller herd it is an easy job for me to do without any help.   Today was the turn of our females and I was really pleased at how well they behaved.  Even Perdita, a well built but sometimes unco-operative young female, gave way gracefully.

The Gotland Sheep were also more helpful than usual.  I think they have decided to take a lead from the alpacas.   The goats are quite easy to deal with but you just have to watch out that the horns are pointing the right way.

The next drench will be ADE paste which is a sugery paste as a carrier for essential vitamins, especially Vitamin D which is very important for alpacas who originate in South America where they are exposed to higher levels of sunshine with less filtration from the atmosphere.    I intend to start this on the next dry day. 

The Christmas Market is now fully booked with no more stall holder spaces available.  I have put out posters and advertised the event in the Marshwood Vale Magazine, the Parish Newsletter and on our website.  It now just depends on the weather so that enough visitors come along. 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Confused animals

The forecast storm came but on this occasion our mini climate which usually gives us worse weather than our neighbours seemed to work in our favour.   It was very windy and it rained, but we slept through it and in the morning the effects were not noticeable.   As far as I can see none of our lovely trees suffered and all the animals seemed quite normal this morning.

The chicken guarding alpacas are obviously feeling on top of the world and told Romie, the dog, to leave their exalted position.   The chickens think that Mike's yard is just another perching opportunity and the dogs are accepted as four legged chickens, I think.  Only the cat remains aloof and literally on top.   She has taken over the barn as her abode and sleeps on the highest bale in the hay loft.

 I took down all the agility equipment so that it would not get blown around last night.  As the alpacas are using the shelter next door, there is nowhere handy to store the equipment under cover at the moment so it just stayed on the ground.

Friday, 25 October 2013

B & B for Alpacas

Having survived the terrible winter and summer last year when for the first time we had to keep our alpacas in the barn for several weeks, we have had a change of plan this year.  We have sold off about half the herd this year and are left with just 24 now.   The female alpacas are in the "winter" paddocks which boasts a large shelter in one corner, and the young males are in the home paddocks with the three older stud males free ranging around the farm yard area.

Rather than having to occupy the barn for long periods, thus making it unavailable for any other purpose, we have decided to house the alpacas over night in the shelters.   Whilst it is not yet cold we have had torrential rain sometimes (usually when I am out without a coat) and when it happens during the night as well as the daytime the animals do not dry out.  If this were to be combined with cold weather, they could well get very cold indeed.

At the end of the afternoon, Dolly and I wander down to the winter paddocks and get the girls into an enclosure around the big shelter where they have hay and water under cover.  We then do the same with the males - except that they are shut into their shelters as there are not so many of them.

As they are creatures of habit I am expecting that they will soon be mooching towards the shelters themselves at the end of the day and all I will have to do is shut the gates.

In the morning when I let them out they often do not bother for a while and finally stroll out in their own time, so they obviously enjoy their indoor accommodation with ad lib food.

The sheep just follow the alpacas and the goats, bless them, run for cover at the slightest hint of rain.

The chickens are wallowing around in mud in their pens at the moment and the shorter days are taking their toll on the egg production.  Although they free range during the day, we have to shut them in for safety at night and they come out as soon as it is daylight and so have time to scratch around in the mud.   I have ordered some more grit to spread in the pen in an effort to keep it cleaner.   This will make my job of feeding etc: more pleasant and also help to avoid dirty eggs.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Detective Dolly Dog

Dolly  usually herds the alpacas when we need them moved around but one of her other duties is helping to put the chickens away at night.

In the summer we do this at tea time before we go indoors for the evening and Dolly is very useful as the hens do not believe it is bed time.   She herds them into their pen and they can still wander around and feed until dusk when they go indoors and the automatic pop hole shuts them in safely for the night.

As the days get shorter the hens go to roost without Dolly's help and just need a quick check to make sure they are all in.   Yesterday I left it a bit late and it was very nearly dark when I went to do my rounds.  All the hens appeared to be roosting but a count revealed that one was missing.  I scouted round but it was getting darker by the minute so I went back to the house and brought Dolly out.   She ran up and down and under parked trailers, along the hedge row without any results and just as I was about to give up and just cross my fingers that the missing hen was in a safe place and would avoid becoming the fox's dinner,  Dolly ran to an old freezer which has been abandoned temporarily against the hen house wall.  She sniffed both ends and then lay down pointing towards it.

I peered over the top but could see nothing.  I shone the torch along the very slim gap behind the freezer and could just about see some feathers.   By this time Mike was already coming down to see if he could help and he held the freezer out whilst I reached in and grabbed the hen.   She was carried, protesting loudly, into the hen house and I deposited her on the perch with the others.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Worm Battle

The Vet recommended a suitable wormer to fight the parasites identified from dung samples and we have now dosed the bucks, sheep, male and female alpacas, so they should be fine now, although I will probably take a percentage sample for testing in a couple of weeks just to make sure the treatment was successful.
The three alpacas who act as chicken guards and lawnmowers in the house area did not appear to have any worms according the test results but we have decided that it would be a good idea to give them a prophylactic dose anyway.

They were all very good apart from Perdita.  You might remember she was the female who managed to clear fences over three paddocks to get back to her Mum when they were separated.   She decided she did not want to be wormed and reared up and ended up on her back.  Luckily we managed to hold on to her and she did not learn that way to escape.  It came as a complete surprise because we have often cut her toe nails and carried out other husbandry without such a reaction.  The picture below was taken earlier in the year.  

I will make sure that she gets more attention for a few weeks until she is calmer and, I hope, happier with being handled.

Since having our "Shop Alert" system set up I have been able to open the shop much more because I can get on with other jobs and only go up to the shop when the alert sound tells me that a car or pedestrian has entered the premises.   It also often tells me that a tractor is driving by and Mike thinks sometimes it reacts when someone is driving past using a mobile phone, but the odd false alarm is well worth the benefit of being available to customers.

On recommendation of my grand daughter I have added  hand knitted headbands to our range of knitware.  They are lovely and soft and today, the first day they have been on sale, a young woman purchased one, which looks like a good omen.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Fighting the good fight.

We only have three Goat Bucks left and we may have a buyer for them.  Of course today when I was cleaning their paddock, which we do every few days in an attempt to keep down the likelihood of parasite infestation  such as worms, I noticed that one was limping and another scouring.  Just what you need at this time!!

I enlisted Mike's help to hold them and trimmed all 12 feet and gave them a dose of Vecoxan which is a medication to control the internal parasite coccidea, which can be one cause of  diarrhoea.  I am waiting for some advice from the vet about the best worming product to treat some other internal parasites  which have shown up on a routine examination of the alpacas' faeces  and given that the goats live on the same farm, it is a good bet that if they have any worms they will be the same type.

The new hens have started to lay and we are getting about six really cute small eggs a day from them.   They are all getting very bold and really free-ranging.  Luckily they all now return to the right hen house and are usually already on their perches when Dolly and I turn up to shut them in for the night.  I gave both hen houses a good clean out this afternoon.  They find this really exciting as they love rummaging around in the fresh wood shavings or straw.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Reluctant Working Sheepdog

Since moving into the house we have rarely ventured into the sunken garden - pictured above.  Mike suggested recently that it would be good to have a patio area at the front of the house which faces our lovely view, so we thought it would be an idea to turn the back garden into a walled vegetable and fruit garden.
We cannot put containers out front because the area is constantly grazed by chicken-guarding alpacas, so they can be used on the small patio which we will retain as a sitting/reclining area and the wooden ones which Mike made will make ideal areas for "bringing on" plants.  Well that is my plan anyway!!  In the meantime we will still make our weekly trek to town or the farm shop.

This was mainly brought on by some statistics I read in a book about a small farm.   The constant demand for lots of cheap food means that even potatoes are treated with a minimum of about six sprays of various sorts.  This obviously applies to most of our store-bought fruit and vegetables.  I was also horrified to find out that ham, for example, can be a year old by the time it reaches the supermarket shelves but when you open the packet it is considered "fresh".   Obviously there are complicated storage and preservation issues and the meat is probably perfectly safe.  I know this is old hat and we all really knew it was going on, but at least now we have downsized the alpaca herd there will be more time to experiment with other aspects of the smallholding.

Who says we don't get up early!!   This was a recent stunning sky early in the morning.  Worth taking the time to stop and stare.

Dolly (dog) is brilliant and helping put the chickens to bed and  herding alpacas but she seems to be having some problems lately.   Two of the alpacas (both black) one female and one male have decided to stand up to her and it is only when I walk towards them that they back off and allow Dolly to move them on.   I realised that I may have been asking her to run before she can walk.   She will run ahead a long way but tends to run round the herd instead of getting behind and moving them forward.

I think I have assumed that because she will go a long way ahead, she knows what to do.  I have gone back to basics and will work with her close to the herd and gradually back off once she is back on track with what I want her to do.  I suspected also that if the sheep were separated from the alpacas she would not know what to do, so I set up a pen in the race and used it to send her Bye and away round the sheep who were contained within the pen.  This was fine but once the sheep were let out again after our training session she was quite nervous of them.  I made her lie down in front of the sheep once the pen was open and she was obviously not happy but she held her ground and did not move until I released her.

Once we got them moving off towards their field, she ran behind them more confidently.  She is a quick learner and as well as the normal whistle to come to me, she will drop into the down position on the whistle.  Next step is to get her going left and right to the whistle and then hopefully when she is a long way away she will still understand that I am asking her to do.  That and a bit of confidence building should do the trick.  Whatever the outcome, she is a lovely dog to work with and she can never have enough work (she says)!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Shorn the Sheep and Horny Goats

The sheep and goats seem to have survived the removal of their warm woolly coats.  Percy (the little goat) was really shivering yesterday and I was worried this morning when he was missing.  I checked the big shelter which was empty and then went to check Alario's old shelter.  I approached in trepidation - half expecting to find a dead or sickly goat,  but no, he had obviously found it nice and cosy in the smaller shelter and jumped up in quite a lively manner when I looked in through the door.  Later he was to be seen sun bathing in front of  it.  The two old bucks took it all their stride and just carried on as usual. The sheep returned to their alpaca friends and did not even bother to go into the shelter.   Their fleece was absolutely perfect and Cedric made a really good job of shearing them.

It looks as though it is raining mushrooms.   We keep thinking that they are coming to an end when another crop pops up.  These days I try not to go shopping until the 'fridge and all the cupboards are nearly bare.  It works well and I have to be creative when using up the last bits and pieces and it definitely prevents any wastage.  Last night I used a picking of mushrooms with the penultimate vegetable in the 'fridge, a marrow.  I tossed them in butter and added some quorn, spices and tomato ketchup to make a lovely sauce and served it all with rice.  It was really

Sunday, 22 September 2013


Cedric, the goat shearer, came this afternoon and deftly removed the fleece from our Gotland Sheep and  the last three remaining Angora Goats.

We put them in shelters last night in case of rain.   It is very mild and I think they all seem more lively now they have lost their thick coats.

We have decided to hold another Christmas Market this year and most of the stall holders that we invited back have accepted.  It is on 1st December (the same date as last year but it falls on a Sunday this time).

Pam and I are knitting as much as possible and there will be a few new items to add to the stock which we hope will sell well.   Refreshments will be dispensed from the porch of the house, and provided the weather is kind we hope it will be as successful as last year.

We really are living the good life now.    We have always had one or two mushrooms in August but this year we have had loads and they are still appearing daily.   Presumably it is due to a better summer making the conditions perfect for the tasty fungus.  Mike is the chief mushroom picker and as well as keeping us well supplied he has given bags away to our neighbours, the local farmer who supplies our hay and straw, friends and family from Salisbury.  As always we are enjoying our constant supply of eggs from our free range hens and tonight we are having mushroom omelettes, and  blackberries from around the perimeter of the fields.

We are even considering growing some vegetables but that it is still under discussion at the moment.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Deathwish 2013

Mike is still working on clearing up the debris from the barn building last year.   The chickens love it and we are fully expecting a funeral for the cockerel soon.   He dices with death every time the digger starts up.   He ducks and dives around the bucket, presumably searching for worms.   Several of the others are just as excited but not quite as stupid.  When Mike drives off with the trailer he is often pursued by a few of them, presumably hoping he is going to do some more digging somewhere else.

It might be a co-incidence but since we heard shots in the field next door, together with men's voices and revving engines and we saw flashing lights (lamping?) there have been few traces of Mr Fox's visits.   The shooting took place for about three nights in a row, so maybe they scared the foxes, or maybe they  shot them.  I am sure it would have been an unintended consequence if they have, because I would assume they were shooting rabbits or deer.   We did not feel inclined to interview the gentlemen concerned!!

Thursday, 12 September 2013


As part of our grand clear out we are selling anything that is not nailed down and has not been used recently.  A few years ago we bought a PDQ caravan awning based on the abbreviation being Pretty Darned Quick to erect!!  There was a short video declaring and demonstrating that one man could erect it in two minutes.  Even armed with that we found it almost impossible to erect in less that about 15 minutes and much stretching and clenched teeth, not to mention torn arm muscles  when the wind caught the canvas.  It was very frustrating and was finally re-homed in the attic.

The gazebo which we take to fetes and fairs gave up the ghost last summer and Mike had the bright idea of adapting the awning (which had lain neglected and despised for a couple of years) to hitch on to the side of the van.  He spent quite a lot of time and effort devising a rail and a way of attaching it, but it did not work.

I would ask him why so that I could include that riveting piece of information but I am reluctant to bring the subject up!!

Good old Ebay - we thought.  Having taken the awning out of its packaging we realised that actually it was very smart and a useful size and so I suggested that we had one more go at trying to put it up and pack it away.   The original attraction was that supposedly you can just roll it up into a special bag which stays on the side of the caravan ready for use at the next stop.

I found a demonstration on You Tube which was loads better than the original one and we watched and re-watched the bits which we had found tricky.  Eventually we decided to have one last go and, despite high winds which suddenly sprung up (of course) we were quite successful and have decided to keep it as a caravan awning after all.   As you can see from the photo we need to work on our pitching technique, but that is the least of our worries.

As well as being foxed by the awning we think we are being invaded by foxes.   We keep the paddocks clean and I clean up around the house and barn every day.   As well as the usual deposits left by the dogs and alpacas, foxes are joining in.  We are sure it must be more than one but so far we have not had a sighting.   They seem to be in almost every paddock including the goats'. When we let the dogs out last thing at night Jake often goes out at full speed and barking his head off, so we think he either smells or sees the enemy.  The others join it but I doubt if they really know why.

Dolly and I put the hens away at tea time and make sure they are secure in their runs in case the foxes are brave enough to attack when we have gone indoors for the day.

We hear quite a lot of shooting going on at the moment, especially after dark, but of course we do not know what the target is.

I have just finished hosing off three of the dogs who seem to adore fox perfume!!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Constructive Tidying
It was Nick's day for helping Mike and they made a very impressive start on moving the stones, debris and earth that was left behind when they stripped out the barn which is now our house.  They spent nearly all day digging out the pile and transporting first the hard core and then the earth down to the winter paddocks.   The plan is to make a track round the edge of the field which will be firm underneath but will then grow over with grass so that it does not spoil the scenery or detract from the amount of land that can be grazed.  It will allow tractors and other farm vehicles access to some areas which are now too boggy to navigate.

When they had nearly finished for the day I took Dolly down to put the hens away.  This is her favourite job of the day and she now seems to know which hens belong in which run without me telling her.   She wanted to go into the run where the newbies live and I tried to stop her because I did not want her to chase them outside.   She insisted and when I went to investigate I found that our young cockerel was in there.  Of course she was right and when I told her it was OK she rounded him up and chased him, protesting loudly, back to his righful home.

In passing Nick and Mike told me that I needed to look at one of the hens as her spur claw had caught in her leg ring.   Nick went home and Mike went indoors leaving me to it!  I quickly identified the hen in question and she certainly had a painful looking swollen claw.  I caught her and her claw had been partially the ring which she had somehow managed to get tangled in.  I managed to get it off and carried her up to the barn and sprayed it with some antibacterial foot spray that we sometimes use on the goats or alpacas.  Of course I managed to spray my fingers too.

I am now crossing my fingers and hoping that it does not get infected and that the circulation was not cut off for too long before I rescued her.  I threw the ring away.  It is meant to identify the age of different batches of hens, but since neither me nor Mike are likely to be ringing the necks of any chickens who are too old to lay eggs, we do not really need to know their ages.  I expect one day we will have a flock of  geriatric hens who just get fed and enjoy life.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Autumn Leaves

After spending most of the summer in the home paddocks we have moved all but three stud males down to the winter paddocks which have been rested all summer.  The good weather has produced some really lush grass and we hope it will help to prepare them for the winter to come.  The three remaining boys are charged with guarding the chickens and keeping the grass down in the barn area and round the house.

We took four young male alpacas on Saturday and three on Sunday to the River cottage Autumn Fair.  Our pitch was near one of the main entrances so the alpacas were the first thing that many visitors saw.   The children were very excited and could not wait to come and meet them.   We had the same pitch as last year but a very rustic and well built lambing shed had been built where we had our tent before.  Luckily it had a big overhang on the roof and so we were able to display our products under it.  There was even an abandoned farmhouse dresser which made an attractive display unit for some of our knitwear.  As always alpaca socks were one of the most popular item followed by our hand made beanie hats and mittens.  We were very grateful for the solid roof when we have a bit of a cloudburst as were several passing visitors.

We even took orders for Christmas presents, so Pam and I need to get knitting.  My machine knitting lady, Jean, made two sample double rib alpaca scarves  which were ready for me to collect on Friday evening.  When I arrived home at about 7 p.m. I settled down to make the fringes, with Mike's help.   He measured and cut the wool so that I could thread the strands at both end of the finished scarves.   They were lovely and soft and very cosy looking. They both sold within the first hour, so they will definitely be added to our Christmas stock.

This afternoon we unpacked the truck and took all the summer furniture out of the summer house in the top paddock ready to turn it back into a shop ready for the pre-Christmas trade.

Lacking green fingers, I seem to be doing quite well at keeping the containers of geraniums and busy lizzy alive and well and have even planted a bed of strawberries - my very favourite fruit.  Pam has a beautiful garden including a pristine vegetable patch.  She kindly gave me 18 plants which I am keen to keep healthy so that we can enjoy a yummy crop next year

Monday, 22 July 2013

Fleece Sorting

The alpacas were shorn in May and ever since I have been meaning to sort the fleece.  I am now running out of time to get it to the spinner who will be buying it.  Later on I will be able to buy back wool.  Why not wait until we have a heat wave?

At least it is done now and later in the week we will deliver the goat fleece to the collecting point and the alpaca fleece to the mill.

I sort it by colour and remove as much vegetation as possible.   When the animals are grazing or in the barn lying on straw some of it inevitably gets into their fleece.  This has to be removed so that the final product does not have bits of hay, bramble, or any other unwanted material.

At the same time I discard any fleece which does not feel good enough to be processed. Garbage in Garbage out as the saying goes.  Since we usually sell off our older alpacas and keep the younger generations on the farm, the fleece tends to have a soft handle (feels soft).  The fleece becomes courser as the alpacas age.

The best fleece is called baby fleece for obvious reasons.  Unfortunately the fineness which is the wonderful part also makes it very difficult to keep clean.  Bits of hay get lodged amongst the very fine fibres.  It breaks my heart sometimes when I have a beautiful baby fleece but have to reject it because it is impossible to clean.  We usually try and keep the alpacas away from hay and straw as much as possible in the lead up to shearing but sometimes it is impossible, particularly if the weather is bad.

Once the fleece is sorted into bags it has to be protected from unwanted guests - namely the free range chickens who like nothing better than to romp in a fresh bale of hay or a bag of alpaca fleece!  Hence the bags are weighted down with anything that comes to hand until they are weighed and finally sealed.  In this case wheelbarrows and an old box were the nearest suitable items.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

New Arrivals

We have quite a few loyal customers for our free range chicken eggs and sometimes have to disappoint so when we saw an advertisement for almost point of lay hens at our local Mole Avon Farm Shop, we decided to buy some more.

I phoned yesterday and they were delivered this afternoon complete with a free bag of chicken food.

They arrived at about 5 p.m. and seem quite traumatised at the moment.  Not surprising really as they have been shut in a crate and then dumped into a completely new environment.   At the moment we have just given them some food and water and left them to settle in.   From past experience it will only take a few hours before they are strutting their stuff about the place.

If all goes well they should be laying eggs in a couple of weeks.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Paying Guests

We quite often have holiday makers and local residents leaning over the gate, or talking to us at other events, and they ask when/if we are open for visitors.  It must be about eighteen months since we last opened the shop because first of all we were building the new barn, then the old barn was being converted and of course it was difficult, if not dangerous, to have would be visitors on site.

Now it is all over bar the shouting (and lots of tidying up) and we are ready to go again.   We still need time to look after the alpacas and the land on our small holding so we have decided to open the farm for a few hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays during the holiday season.  We will also be open at weekends when available.

We have set up a picnic area in the top paddock, which is nearest the road, and the paddock on the other side of the track will be a showcase for some of the alpacas and sheep.  This will mean that visitors can see them, photograph them, and generally admire them without the bio-security risks which arise when people walk on the land and will also safeguard the children from dangerous farm machinery.  Mike loves his toys but they are for big boys only!!

As the farm gates are on one of the main access roads to the coast, particularly Lyme Regis, we are also hoping that we will have some passing trade from tourists.

My clever friend, Sue, has made a very good job of  re-using two of our old A boards to make  signs.  She tells me that the less writing there is the better and so has drawn a steaming cuppa to indicate that we are offering refreshments!!  See photo!!

I arranged a meeting with a lady from the Environmental Health Dept and she answered a few questions I had and gave me some sound advice.  She also agreed that as a temporary measure our caravan would make an acceptable mini-catering kitchen.  It is always clean but has now had an extra deep clean.  Colour coded chopping boards, lots of anti-bacterial spray, and careful refrigeration are in place.

Prior to building works we always had a picnic area near the shop and also sold Moore's Biscuits and flapjacks which are famous for their taste and quality, and are based just a few miles from here.  These together with packets of sweets, posh crisps, fresh fruit , chilled drinks and home made cake are available on a self service basis,  whilst I will prepare sandwiches made to order from our sandwich menu!

Wherever possible I  have sourced quality local ingredients.  As we are a few yards from the Somerset/Devon border we have access to many excellent suppliers in the South West.   The ham is from Childhay Manor Farm in Somerset, the Cheese is Lye Croft Farm (where my cousin-in-law holds a key post),our own free range egg mayonaise,  and the bread is baked at a local bakery. Oh and the butter is also from the West Country.  Only the houmous for vegetarian Sandwiches is from a well known store.

As well as chairs and tables we have a blanket box with throws and rugs so the purists can actually sit on the ground and do proper picnicing!!

I opened for the first time on Tuesday, and as predicted, Mike was my only customer.   He had to pretend to be a real customer and it was very helpful as a dry run.  Several lessons were learnt - such as don't forget the sugar - how do we serve the milk to go in the hot drinks - don't try and cut sandwiches on a paper plate and more.

On Thursday we invited our neighbours from across the road to come and sample what we had to offer.   They are definitely ahead in the hospitality stakes, so it was nice to offer them something in return.  The other neighbours have just moved in so it was good to meet them.  We used them as a focus group (as they say in The Apprentice) and they approved of the set up and the service.   The only missing ingredient now is footfall with real customers.  Fingers crossed that the village newsletter will give us a bit of local trade and we have another advert coming out towards the end of the month in a free magazine.  Let's hope the seats will be full for the photos next time.

The good news is the weather is good and the school holidays are close!!