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!!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Alfresco Alpacas

This lovely weather has encouraged us to make maximum use of our large windows.   We have removed all the rugs from the living room just in case we have any unwanted visitors as the floor is natural stone so can be washed easily.  Chicken Licken has already made a bid for entry but we are trying to make sure that only the dogs consider it home.   The alpacas used to look in as if they hoped to make it return to its old use as a barn but have now decided that the new barn is more to their taste.  Luckily the free-ranging sheep stick with the alpaca herd or else huddle in one of the field shelters for shade.

We are often asked for our opening hours by people who would like to come and see the alpacas and possibly buy some of our alpaca products.   We love to have visitors but also need time to tend the animals and land on our smallholding, so we have decided to experiment with opening on a regular basis during the holiday season.

We are going to offer Refreshments and picnics 11.30 – 3 p.m.  Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays and we might extend it to weekends later  if it goes well.  (Closed  on the 1st and 13th 14th  15th August)

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Heat is on

Like everyone else we are really enjoying this spell of lovely weather.

I decided to trim the alpacas' toe nails this morning with a little help from a very nice man who came here for an alpaca handling course a few weeks ago.   He volunteered to come for some hands on practice, so I could not refuse.  He is coming next week to help with halter training.

Now the herd is much smaller I plan to spend more time getting the remaining animals really used to being handled.   We trimmed all the girls toe nails and they all behaved impeccably  and my helper was excellent.  He has a really gentle way with animals.

The boys, however, did not need their nails trimmed at all really.   They have been free ranging around the farm for a long time which includes wandering at will on the scalpings which cover the farm yard and track leading to the barn.   Their nails were actually worn away much as they would be if they were in the Andes on the rocky ground where the species originates.  I mentioned it to Mike and he suggested that we should alternate the females and males so that the females wear their nails down too.  Obviously we cannot let them mingle with the males so we are going to alternate them every week and see how it goes.   We may never have to trim another nail!!

Subject to some formalities, such as waiting for the camping gas stove to arrive,  we are going to open the shop on a more regular basis again and include hot and cold drinks and picnics.   We have quite a few people who just walk in if the gates are open and they like to see the alpacas and hear about them, so we think they might also like an excuse to stay longer and enjoy the view whilst having a snack.  We might even train the alpacas to be taken for walks around the farm.  It seems to be popular on other llama and alpaca enterprises and we are quite often asked about it.

We (mainly Mike) have been working hard to get the outside looking tidier.   Most of the farm trailers and vehicles have been parked behind the barn and the lorry unit has been consigned to its permanent home against the barn.   We have some trellis fencing to cover it and the rampant honeysuckle from our garden area is desperate to have somewhere to travel to.

I was intending to take some photos but the battery on the camera is dead, so will add later.