Sunday, 28 December 2014

We had a lovely Christmas with David, Jane,Zach and Tara.  The dogs are probably feeling a bit deprived now that they are back to normal dog food without the unexpected extras they have been enjoying.

I was not  going to open the shop for a while, thinking that there would be no customers,but yesterday morning I had a phone call from a  family who were parked in the gateway.   They were asking  when we would be open, so of course I let them in.  They had bought a shawl from us and wanted another for a friend who was ill and had admired it.

Before they left another car  drew up so I  decided to open for the rest of the day,which turned out to be quite busy.

It has been very cold at times over the last couple of days but other than that everything seems to be back to normal.   The ram is restless but seems more content to stay with his ewes and the alpacas  now.  Mike is taking down the electric fence which was protecting our young willow trees from grazing alpacas and wildlife in the bottom paddocks and is going to put it across a possible weak point in the ram's field, just in case he tries to get out.

Everything is back to normal now and as usual there are plenty of jobs waiting to be done.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all at Laurel Farm!!

Thursday, 18 December 2014


Yesterday I went down to the bottom paddock where our four ewes and Henning III the ram we share with another breeder/friend.  To my dismay Henning was missing.  I phoned Mike to let him know and proceeded to search both bottom fields.

I found footprints near the stream which divides us from the next door farm and woods and it was obvious that there was an easy escape route for him.  There was a big gap under the fence where it straddled the stream.  Previously it had been covered in vegetation and so neither us nor the sheep were aware of the doorway to freedom.

I walked all round the area calling in on a couple of smallholdings and I also called in on my friend, Pam, and asked her to keep an eye open if she was out walking her dog, or heard anyone mention a stray.

Eventually I went back home and after checking in with Mike so that he could look after the shop , I went off to try following Henning's trail from another direction.   I climbed over the style at the bottom of our property onto the public footpath and began to walk up towards the road again, when I saw Pam approaching.  Bless her, she had got herself all togged up for walking and was searching as well.   We teamed up and followed the public footpath until we saw a flock of sheep in the distance.

Pam asked if he would go looking for sex with the sheep and I assured her that it was very likely indeed.
When we got close to the sheep I could see a darker figure amongst them  which I felt sure was Henning.

We knocked on the farmhouse door and the lady of the farm told us that her brother was out but she phoned him and Pam and I went home.  The farmer phoned me quite soon afterwards to say that he had moved the sheep so that we could catch the ram, so I drove round and together after some chasing around we managed to separate Henning and get him in the farmer's trailer and bring him home.

Mike was waiting at home and we quickly secured him in a catch pen and later re-united him with his own ladies. I am guessing they must be pregnant otherwise I don't think he would have deserted them.

I am going to keep a low profile at lambing time in case the farmer has a few grey (Gotland) coloured arrivals!!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Unexpected Outcome

We decided to have two of our males castrated this week as we do not intend to breed from them any more and they were becoming aggressive towards each other, mainly because we have brought them up to the home paddocks which means they are closer to the females.

 Pedro and Spirit have been fine in the past, but I think that my experiment with field matings in 2012 upset them.  That is when a male is left with a female harem for a period of time and is able to mate at will, instead of supervised matings in a pen, one to one, and then being returned almost straight away to the rest of the males. It is normal practice with sheep, but did not seem to suit our boys.

Pedro now seems possessive of all the females on the farm and it has changed his personality, although he is still perfectly well behaved with humans and is very easy to handle.

When the vet carried out the procedure all seemed to go smoothly and she said that the only slight worry would be if a bleed occurred, although she stressed that it was unlikely.

I checked on them both at lunchtime and then again late afternoon, when I saw that Spirit was indeed bleeding and when I lifted his tail I observed a heavy flow of blood.   I phoned the vet and in the meantime Mike and I  shut him into his shelter and I applied pressure to the wound for hours (it seemed).  Another vet arrived and did a very good sewing job and following four hourly checks during the evening and over night it looks as though Spirit will be OK.

They are both looking quite perky now but it will take about six weeks for their testosterone to leave their bodies permanently.  We are just hoping that it will make a difference to their behaviour.  There is no guarantee.

Spirit and Dolly.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Should have gone to Specsavers!

My son, David came down on Friday afternoon with his lovely collie dog Jax.  He always gets roped in for a few odd jobs when he is here.

I was still serving customers in the shop at dusk and had hurry down to make sure the chickens were shut in before it got too dark.  I usually take a scoop of food to entice the odd strays into the pen.  I did not notice that Jax had gone ahead of me into the chicken coop.  When she saw me she tried to get out, which she did by barking and jumping through the flock.  In the process about a third of them waddled and cackled out of the shed into the field again.

This meant a comedy chase around trying to persuade them all back into the pen so we could bring the male alpacas down from the shop paddock.

Again, I did not notice that Jax was behind me.   I walked up to get behind the alpaca group whilst Mike opened the gate at the bottom.  I was planning a leisurely walk down but Jax had other ideas and decided to help by running them down at speed.   Mike was not quite ready with the gate with the result that four of them missed the entrance to their paddock and joined the females who were coming up for their evening feed.

Chaos ensued, with the females being chased and the males trying to mount them whilst their friends in the right paddock were getting excited and wanted to join in the "fun".  By this time it was nearly dark.

Luckily we were near the barn and with the help of Dolly (my dog), Jax and David we managed to get them all in the barn and we  separated boys and girls into separate pens.  A Few of the girls were still outside which made things a bit complicated.  We would have liked to just release the males and herd them over to their paddock.  

In the end we led the four male alpacas  across the field on halters and when they were secure in their own paddock we released the female alpacas, who were, by then, happily chomping on the hay.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Alpacas Fighting Problem Solved

Well, I emailed the vet, but Tessa, who usually looks after our alpacas was going away on holiday.  Lucky for Pedro, because instead of booking her in on her return we are going with Mike's obvious idea!!

The sheep have always liked Pedro and used to follow him around when they were together before, so he is going to live permanently with the sheep.  It might be a bit inconvenient sometimes as we often put the sheep and alpacas in together, but this way Pedro with be useful as a sheep/lamb guard and he will probably be happier in the long run.  It must be very stressful fighting and protecting "his" females all the time.

At the moment they are all out in the pouring, freezing rain, but they have access to shelter all over the place, so I can only assume the rain has not yet got through their thick fleece.  The hens have got more sense.   They have spent most of the day in their shelter.   Unfortunately they do not seem to be laying many eggs at the moment.   We shut them in for a day yesterday to try and check whether they are laying elsewhere but it seems not, as the number of eggs in the shelter were the same as before.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fighting Talk

This time of year our lower land gets very soggy and muddy, so we decided to bring all the males up to the home paddocks before the track becomes impassable.  Apparently we are looking forward to the wettest winter on record.

Two males have been together in the top paddock some time so it was no surprise that when the new arrivals were brought up by Dolly there was some excitement, but they soon settled down and we thought we might  have got away with it.  We had sprayed the two resident  alpacas with vinegar which helps to disguise their smell.  We went indoors for our tea break but were soon disturbed by alpaca screaming.

Pedro, an older stud male, is a known troublemaker and he had attacked Nanook, a young aspiring male.  I rushed out with Jake,Mike's dog, who is ace at keeping alpacas away from gates when we want to drive through and breaking up the (luckily) rare alpaca fights.  He quickly identified Pedro as the aggressor and chased him off whilst I shut Nanook and his companion into a small enclosure and safety.

I noticed that Nanook was bleeding from his mouth and thought be had either bitten Pedro or hit himself against the pen whilst fighting.  I went to the barn to get the antibiotic and Mike came to hold Nanook so that I could check him over.  It turned out to be quite a minor injury to his gums, so nothing to worry about.

I phoned my friend, Pauline, who owns Pedro, to get her to agree to his castration.  He is related to most of the coloured alpacas on the farm, so is unlikely to be needed as a stud any more and it would not really be fair to pass him on to anyone else given his temperament.  Besides, since downsizing the herd last year we need animals to graze the land.  I emailed the vet straight away and in the meantime Pedro and Nanook will have to be housed separately. It will take a while for Pedro's testosterone to work its way out but let's hope he will be more amenable once  it does.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Ram Arrives

Yesterday afternoon Henning III, the Gotland Ram that I am sharing with Jenny, the friend that sold me the four Gotland ewes that are here already.  He seems a very calm ram and Jenny told me that they had had no problems when they had had to handle him.

He seemed very interested in one of the ewes but soon settled down, so presumably they are not in season at the moment.   They have a 17 day cycle so he should mate with all four over the next few weeks.  When I checked on them this morning, the ewes came over as usual, but Henning remained a little aloof.   I am mindful of Nick's advice, that it is not a good idea to get too friendly with the ram as he may then expect attention and if he does not get it will use the ram headbut method!!

The village school held a Christmas Fair in the school hall yesterday evening and I took a selection of products along as I think it is important to try and support such events when possible.  There were lots of lovely stalls and some very ingenious hand made Christmas decorations as well as cakes, artworks and, of course, tombola.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Knitting keeps you fit

Well, who'd have thought it!!  My new interest in knitting includes using a vintage knitting machine to knit scarves.  It is a "chunky" machine which means it is for thicker yarn and therefore it is a bit harder to push the carriage from side to side, particularly as I am knitting 2 x 2 rib which requires two carriages and two sets of needles.

The scarves that I make consist of 280 rows so I have to push the carriage back and forth 280 times, which gives me quite a work out.   After a few days I began to feel my waistline returning from wherever it had disappeared to.   

Yesterday I made a cowl instead of  scarves, meaning a few less rows.  I would have shown you a picture, but it sold in the shop today!  

Monday, 17 November 2014

Colourful Shop

The continuing rain is making the land very soggy and every indentation becomes a mini lake every time we have a downpour.  Mike is busy changing the hen house and run, making use of the old goathouse to give them more perches and removing the current night time shed.  This will mean that the main entrance to the run will be at the side on flat ground instead of the front which is in a slight dip and is now almost ankle deep in mud.

When it is done it will make life more pleasant for us when we clean out the pens and sheds and also make it easier to keep the hens' feet  clean so that they don't make the eggs so dirty in wet weather.   When they have laid an egg they roll it around with their feet and any mud is often then attached to the egg, which makes them look grubby to say the least.

We have decided to bring the male alpacas up to the home paddocks as the bottom paddocks are fairly wet in the winter normally, and they don't seem to have recovered completely from last year's soakings yet.  The only concern is that they will be in a field right next to the female alpacas, and as some of the the females are not pregnant, this might cause some problems with the males.   If it becomes too difficult we may have to think of a different solution whilst still giving them all access to shelter when they need it.

The shop is in need of the TLC.  It needs to be waterproofed and painted. At the moment you can see the rain seeping into the actual wood.  We have decided to give it a bit of a face lift at the same time and use some Cuprinol colour which will brighten it up as well as preserve it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Work Experience

Today we spent some time with a very young lady who is keen to become a farmer when she leaves school. We do not have enough work to warrant extra help even on a work experience basis but we introduced her to alpacas and she shadowed me for an hour or so.   We did not really need to trim toe nails today but did so to give her some experience of handling and dealing with the alpacas.   She did really well and at least had something else to put on her CV when the time comes.

Apparently as well as attending school she has helped on a farm at lambing time, regularly helps with milking a dairy herd at the weekends and has several pets (including a snake) of her own and she is hoping to adopt a lamb to rear next year!!  She should go far if she carries on as she has started.

We took the opportunity to do a condition check and have decided that the boys definitely need a bit of a boost, although they are still in very good condition, they have become slightly thinner than a few weeks ago.  We will also send of dung samples from the whole herd to see if they need worming.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Mike makes money!!

I went out to an Antiques Fair  with some girlfriends today and Mike was left in charge of the shop - a job that  he says he hates, although I think he over eggs it a bit.

After a quiet start to November today was the the busiest day for a while and Mike said he was up and down to the shop like a yo yo.When I arrived home it was getting dark and the last customers were in the car park getting ready to leave.  It makes a lot of difference when the weather is good.   Cold and bright is best.  We hardly ever get any visitors if it is raining.

 It was good the see the alpacas starting to dry out.   They have free access to the barn and I feed them in there at dusk especially on wet days in an effort to keep them out of the rain, but most of the time they stay in for a while and then wander out again.  Of course if the weather was really severe we could shut them in.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Sheep Shape

We kept the sheep in the barn for a few days to keep them warm after shearing but they were starting to get restless and so today we let them out with the female alpacas for company.   They loved it and the fab four were always in the forefront wherever the alpacas were.  We will probably let them stay together so that the sheep paddock can be rested for a while before the ram, Henning III comes to stay.

I have been busy replanting the strawberry plants into containers.  My friend and neighbour, Pam gave me 30 new plants so with my own runners and the established plants I reckon we will be selling a few strawberries in the shop next year.

Mike is about to start cutting the hedges back and so there will be bean sticks for us and to sell as well as willow whips from our willow trees which we bought back in the summer.   Every little helps, as they say.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

New Stuff
Nearly stocked up for Christmas sales in the farm shop.   We have hand made soap, hand-made candles in vintage containers and luxury hand made candles, all with lovely natural scents.   Coming soon we have hand made Christmas wreaths, made by one of my agility friends.   She is extremely artistic and inventive.  Of course this is in addition to our normal alpaca products, gifts and cards.

Today Mike and Nick are continuing with the installation of a permanent penning and handling area in the barn.   For the last two winters we have had all the alpacas inside for part of the winter and it has involved setting up lots of hurdles, often tied up with the indispensable  baler twine, and taking it all apart again afterwards.   The new system will be adaptable with some parts fixed and others made up of gates that swing to enclose, cut off or release as required.

The Gotland Sheep have just been shorn.  I tried to get a good photo of them but as soon as they see me they think they are going to be fed so they get quite excited and won't stand still.   They are shorn twice a year and of course this time of year they will feel the cold until the fleece grows back a bit so they are testing out the first part of the new penning.   We put a tarpaulin up to prevent the cold wind blowing in on them.   The fleece grows back very quickly and so they will be allowed out in a few days.   They have a shelter in their paddock so they can take cover if they feel the need.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Lost and Found

I have decided to expand the gift section of our little farm shop and so when we had to go to Taunton I took the opportunity to visit a few charity shops and a bric-a-brac/antique market on the way back to buy some unusual containers for my new candle-making enterprise.   Well, I was thinking of one shelf in the shop, really.

On the way to Taunton we picked up fuel and it was not until I wanted to pay for a new watch strap with my card that I realised it was missing.  I emptied my handbag and went through the contents several times and came to the conclusion that I must have either left it on the counter or dropped it at the Petrol Station.  As I stood in the queue to to get to the till, the cashier recognized me and waved my missing card, thank goodness.  Apparently I had left it in the card reader.  I am guessing it was when I asked for a VAT receipt.  I took the receipt and forgot to take the card.

I visited the charity shops in Chard and bought a some interesting  pots and on the way back from Taunton went to the Antiques Bazar  in Crewkerne where I bought quite a few little gems, including six unusual wine glasses.   When I got home and unpacked my little treasures, I found that there were only four in the bag.

One of the staff had carried two wine glasses to the counter and Mike and I carried two each, so I think the person packing the bag only saw the ones that we put on the counter together and missed the other two.   Luckily our neighbour goes into Crewkerne quite regularly and agreed to pick up the missing glasses, after I had phoned to make sure they were there.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Mike comes to the rescue

This is the time of year when the footfall in the farm shop increases.  We should probably fix some antlers to an alpaca and dress Mike up as Father Christmas - only problem is they would probably both have strong objections to that idea. Socks are very popular at the moment - luckily because I have had to change my supplier and buy larger quantities.

The damp, mild weather creates an ideal breeding environment for fluke (a dangerous parasite which causes permanent liver damage) so starting in October we medicate the alpacas and sheep to try and protect them against this dangerous and unwanted pest.  They will repeat this at least twice more over the winter period.

Having got to grips with my knitting machine at long last, I needed to make some more scarves, so I set up the machine and started the process when to my dismay the carriage on the ribber attachment dropped to the floor.  Apparently I had not located it properly and although it looked OK it was not fixed.

The floor in the farm office is tiled so of course the carriage could not fall sideways, it had to be face down which meant that the plastic cover for the cam lever (whatever that is) broke and lodged itself inside the housing.

I could see that the carriage could be dismantled, but given my record in putting things back together when I have investigated problems, I felt it was best left to Mike.   When he got home he stuck the plastic back together with super glue and this morning it is ready to go again.   Fingers crossed all will be well.

I think I am having in the throws of a series of small but annoying problems.  I undid a new bale of straw this morning to put in the chicken shed when I cleaned it out and managed to drag the baler twine along,  which decided to wrap itself round the wheel of the wheel barrow several times before I noticed.  I went to get another wheelbarrow and by the time I got back the alpacas had scoffed half the chicken food which was also in the barrow.

All went well then until I went into the shed where the chickens are fed.   The lid fell off one of the feeders and I put the bucket on the floor so I could pick it up.   Several hens jumped on the bucked and emptied the contents on the floor.  I left them to it and went back to try and dislodge the baler twine which was embedded around the hub of the barrow wheel.

At least that went well and I am now safely indoors!!

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Well, we cannot grumble really.  We have had a very good summer but now the weather is biting back. Only one or two chickens thought it was safe to come out again after the cloudburst.   The alpacas are hiding under a hedge and our A boards at the farm entrance blew over in the high wind.

That was five minutes ago.  Now the sun is shining again!!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Weather or Not

After a really good summer which has made all the jobs seem much easier, we experienced torrential rain and very high winds last night.   The chairs and tables where we offered teas and coffees next to the shop were blown around and the ice cream sign came apart.   Luckily there was no real damage and we will be storing the furniture away in the garden shed tomorrow.

The day started off very wet so we both went out and cleaned and fed the chickens and checked on all the animals before going back indoors to get out of the rain and do some of the many outstanding jobs in the dry.

Mike put the first coat of white on the ceiling in the room next to our bedroom which took quite a few hours.  I missed the opportunity to photograph him actually painting.  In the photos he (and of course trusty friend, Jake) are on the way down and are in the boot room/dog room.

I carried on the exciting stint of washing the paintwork which I have been doing gradually over a few days. After a good soaking first thing, the dogs seemed quite happy to laze around indoors.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Fox Surprise

The dogs have a small enclosed area at the side of the house so that we can let them have access to the outside even if there is a reason to deny them access to the rest of the 15 acres available.  For several nights in a row when they have been let out for their last night comfort stop they have gone mad and rushed up and down the hedgerow.   When checking the area the next morning I have been finding fox poo./

The gates to the yard will prevent the dogs going out but do not prevent the odd chicken from wandering in, so I asked Mike to put some chicken wire up.  He has done a really good job and we are hoping the fox will have a nasty surprise when he tries to come in later this evening or overnight.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Elephant in the Rooom has Moved

The old lorry unit has been very useful.  When we bought it we had no under cover storage on the farm and the dogs had nowhere to sleep as the original mobile home we had on site was too small.  

Mike partitioned it off and the dogs had half as a sleeping area and the rest was used for storage.   Since we moved into our new house it has been moved next to the barn but was still visible even though it was behind some trellis.  It became a paint store and a dumping ground as a half way house for things on their way to the rubbish tip.  It was also something that we did not talk about!!

This week Mike carried out some welding repairs so that it could be moved and he and Nick towed it into Mike's yard (out of sight) where it will be used as a garage for his precious Fergie tractor.   Hooray!!

Photos below - to be fair they both worked really hard all day, but in the photo Mike and Nick are taking a well earned tea break!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Late Blog

Well, I really do not know where the time has gone since my last entry. Not a lot has happened but we seem to have been busy nevertheless.

We decided to close the shop for a couple of weeks, re-opening on the 2nd October.  Although it is not much trouble to man because we have an alert which sounds in the house when anyone comes into the farm entrance, it is still a tie on the days that we open.

Autumn/winter opening will be Thursday to Saturday 11.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or dusk as we do not have electricity in the shop!).  Sales are never great in the summer, obviously, as people are not really thinking about keeping warm, but from now on until Christmas we become more popular.

I have been updating the stock on the online shop as that also gets busier in the autumn.  Three of us are knitting now and we have some new additions such as aran pattern cushions (very "in" at the moment), floppy hats, and I finally got to grips with the knitting machine so I can make scarves very quickly.

Friday, 12 September 2014

New Blood

Nick has been nagging me for ages to breed from our four Gotland Ewes and since we have reduced by half the number of alpacas that we have on the farm, we are finding that even on our 15 acres, we have excess grass, plus sheep eat what the alpacas don't!  Apparently when grazing they eat what they like but pull up and discard what they do not like, so the grass improves over time.

Like my original feelings about my beloved hens, I was not too keen on sheep until I met the Gotlands.   They are friendly and have exceptionally soft handling fleece which sells at up to £13 per kilo, well in excess of shearing costs.

We gave up the goats because they were quite high maintenance, especially when the bucks decided to have a tiff and would knock out the side of their house (now an extension to the chicken housing) or demolish a fence post!!  The Gotlands have goat-like characters without the horns and destructive tendencies, although they are very inquisitive and have been known to steal things which are not good for them.  They can also be like naughty dogs and swallow the offending item just so they do not have to return it.  I learnt this very quickly and am always very alert to any potential danger for the little devils.

After a lot of searching, discarding the idea of cross breeding, I have bought a half share of a Gotland Ram.  He is the first generation from a Danish Champion and so is definitely not related to our ewes.  My partner in the purchase is collecting him at the end of the month and he will come to me to meet his new wives and to over-winter with our male alpacas after that.  We will have to sell him on after two years as, obviously, he cannot sire lambs from his own daughters.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Being Methodical

There are always plenty of jobs to be done on the farm but since we have been living in our new house a few more have been added, such as a back garden, a hole where our log cabin was sited whilst we waited for planning permission and then converted the barn, and revamping the farmyard, not to mention creating a permanent indoor handling set up in the new barn.  Much of our original fencing is rotten so we are removing some and replacing other parts.

We have decided to work from the top downwards, which means that in addition to building a corral so that we can catch alpacas if we need to and in future maybe offer farm walks with an alpaca, the fencing at the entrance and all around the first paddock was rotten and have to be replaced.   The car park has been cleared of vegetation,

and Mike is going to level it with his digger and extend the hard standing area for visitors to the shop.

Last Thursday Mike and our good neighbour, Andrew, who lives across the road, stripped the roof from the shop, which was temporarily repaired in the winter when storms ripped half of it off, and replaced it with heavy weight roofing felt, which they assure me will last for many years.

Monday, 18 August 2014

End of an Era for Us

Mike has decided that he is not going to compete at dog agility competitions with his dog, Jake, anymore, so we are going to sell our lovely caravan.  We have had it for several years but have only used it for a few weekends a year and the dogs have not been allowed in it, so we have been advised that it should be easy to sell.  Time will tell.

On the up side, Mike will be on the farm when I go to shows and he will be on hand to keep an eye on the alpacas and "spare" dogs at home.   I am guessing there will be a trade off of some kind, but that has not been revealed as yet.  Days out at motor racing events are a possibility, I feel.

Of course as soon as we pulled the caravan out into the field to take photos and give it a clean up, the alpacas thought they had better check it out!!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Work and Play

Some time ago we ordered 100 bales of hay to see us through the winter and on Wednesday they arrived.  Michelle (a local farmer's daughter) and her partner Allen arrived at about 9 a.m. and whilst Allen threw the bales up to the loft, Michelle and I stacked them three high.  It was hard work, but rewarding, and good to know that all our animals will have fodder for the winter.   If it is a hard winter we may have to top up, but fingers crossed we will be fine.  Allen made light work of throwing the bales well above his head.  They were the same price as last year, but much heavier, which means better value for us, and harder work for them.

What with the daily chores on the farm including shifting hay bales around, getting to grips with my knitting machine, which gives me a good work out, and jobs as described above, I have definitely trimmed my waistline, though sadly, not my appetite!!

Mike was gutted that he could not help because he has to be careful since his health scare over Christmas, but he took over all the other morning jobs like cleaning out and feeding the chickens, collecting the eggs, clearing up after the dogs and  alpacas and other mysterious tractor and digger jobs.

In the meantime, Romie and her daughter Dolly enjoyed a good game.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

New Arrivals

Quite a few of our hens are getting on a bit and that combined with the very hot weather has reduced the number of eggs we have each day.   There seem to be quite a lot of regular customers who buy eggs at the farm gate, putting their payment in the honesty box, and when one of us happens to be near, they tell us how much they like our eggs and the fact that they can actually see them free ranging in the field.

We have just bought another ten point of lay hens and are very pleased with them.   We kept them in for 48 hours and then opened their pen so that they could wander out.   Only two or three went out the first day, and one of those was frightened when Charlie, one of our border collies, tried to help Dolly (the farm shepherd) round up stray hens.

Unfortunately by the time I had taken Charlie out of the equation and got back to put the rest of the chickens away, the stray newbie had disappeared into the hedge across the ditch and through the wire fence.  Dolly and I could not persuade her to come out and in the end we had to go indoors until dusk and hope that she would return of her own free will, assuming she could remember how she got there in the first place.

Mike came out with us in case he needed to cut the wire so we could get to the hedge, but luckily she was outside the pen squawking away.  We managed to get her into a corner and I picked her up and put her  back in the pen.

Tonight most of them went to bed willingly but a couple needed a helping hand.  I am sure they will get into the routine soon.   They are already laying lovely little eggs and seem generally healthy and happy.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Battling the Buttercups

We try not to use weedkiller so it is lucky that Mike is never happier than when he is trundling around on his old Fordson tractor (another project) with the topper.   My theory is that, like a domestic lawn, if you mow it often enough the weeds will gradually go.  Today he is topping the last of the paddocks where we have a problem with buttercups.  It is the third time they have been done and so we are hoping that next year they will be a little less of a problem and if we catch them early we might see quite an improvement.

It has worked with the Himalayan Balsam.  Mike and I always try to pull it all up but it was a mammoth job.  Last year our friends Elaine and Clive stayed for the weekend and helped with lots of jobs including pulling up the attractive but unruly HB.  We have seen the benefit this year with smaller areas.  Let's hope that next year will be even better as we have pulled up all the plants that we can both see and reach.

I am not sure if the hens wanted to go for a walk, but Millie and Dolly obviously thought they needed some exercise!!

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Fencing Report

Mike and Nick are still beavering away at the fencing and it is looking really good.   The sunken garden is now safe without the use of hurdles to stop grazing alpacas falling into it!!

I have been playing with my new toy - a cordless strimmer.  It is very light and after mowing the edges to the drive I was able to slash the long grass along the fence so that it is starting to look quite smart.  Certainly beats the shears!!  Mike and Nick use a heavy petrol driven strimmer, which I think would probably be too big for me.

The female alpacas are spending a lot of time in the barn at the moment as it is cool in there.   Sometimes they pop out for a quick dunk in the old galvanized trough which is just outside.   The males are in the winter paddocks where there is a spring which feeds a small pond, so with that and all the overhanging branches from the woods next door they are sorted too.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Nicko is a proper bloke!!

The female alpacas and their cria spend quite a lot of time in the barn and we are pleased that they feel so at home in there whether the cat, dogs or chickens are about or not.  The downside is that, although they do not soil inside the barn, they use the entrance as a midden, which is not quite so nice. We are trying to find a solution without discouraging their love of the barn!!

One morning when I looked out of our bedroom window at about 6.30 a.m. I saw Nicko, now three weeks old, come out on his own, relieve himself, have a good old stretch and go back into the barn.  I thought it was amusing, but was surprised to find that he does the same most mornings.  I don't know what he does when he goes back into the barn - probably wakes his Mum up so he can have breakfast!!

Mike and Nick are continuing with the fencing and have nearly finished the paddock at the back of the house.   At the same time they are shutting off an area by the back door so that we can let the dogs wander outside when we are out and to prevent them disappearing for half an hour when we let them out last thing at night.   Millie, our old bitch, is the worst.   She is a bit deaf (she says) and it can be very frustrating when we want to go to bed if she decides to go on one of her walkabouts.

The old kennel in the photo was given to us by our friend, Lindsay, some years ago and is very popular.   The dogs all take turns to use it as a retreat or to get some shade.  I am waiting for Mike to power wash it so that I can give it a lick of  Ronseal and restore it to its former glory.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Waging war on weed

Himalayan Balsam, an imported weed, which is very pretty but overpowers our native plants is always a problem at this time of year.   It is best to get rid of as much as possible before it flowers but we missed that window this year and so are battling against really big flowering plants.

Luckily they are easy to pull up and Mike can get behind the fences and strim them too.

Pedro, the Macho (alpaca) who was behaving aggressively towards the other males after our first attempt at field matings (i.e. putting the male in the same paddock as the females we want him to mate) seems to have settled down nicely and become a normal alpaca again!!   The photo shows him with the other boys and they are all nice and relaxed now.   Peace has reigned for several week now, even after Pedro visited a female and returned to the herd, so fingers crossed he will remain a well behaved member of the herd.  

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Day out for the boys

We do not go to Alpaca shows anymore but we sometimes take young male alpacas to fetes and street fairs partly to promote the business and sell our alpaca wares but also to give them life experience.  Males who are not kept for stud use often go to so called "pet homes" where they may meet children and experience all sorts of things that they would not experience if they were being kept for breeding on a farm.

They are used to visitors at ours  and also our five dogs and the cat, but taking them to events prepares them for all eventualities and means that they also get used to being loaded in the horse box.  Venues are not normally grazed by other animals and they will not meet other alpacas, so there are few health hazards for them.  Like a well socialized dog, they will be less worried by new events in the future.

As usual I took my camera but forgot to take any photos until everyone had started to pack up.  

Friday, 11 July 2014

The Power of Food

Dolly helps to round up the stragglers when I put the hens to bed after I have listened to the Archers!!  They appear from nowhere as soon as they see me go into the barn where their food is stored.  It can get quite chaotic  in there because the alpacas often stroll in to get out of the rain or for a bit of shade from the sun.  The hens follow me in and flurry around whilst I get the food out of the feed bin and then they do beautiful heel work all the way to their pen.