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.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Identity Confirmed

Although alpacas do not come under the umbrella of DEFRA, responsible alpaca breeders and especially those registered with the BAS (British Alpaca Society) follow the rules which apply to farm livestock such as sheep, goats and cattle.  To this end we have just micro chipped and tagged three of this year's cria.

I am completely hardened to most husbandry, including dealing with sickness and the occasional injury to humans, livestock, chickens, cats or dogs, but I find ear tagging and micro chipping really unpleasant and worrying.

As Nick says, if I was used to working with hundreds of sheep I would not have any qualms, and he is right. Even though we are now on number 114 of our own breeding, I still find it traumatic.   I think some of it is because it is not something that is actually helping the animal to remain healthy.

Anyway, we got the Mums, Aunties and Babies into the barn and separated the cria to be tagged and chipped.   All went smoothly and after a squirt of ADE vitamin  paste, they trotted off to suckle their Mums, which is a reflex reaction when they have been upset in any way.

All the Mums are concerned, but Citrine, one of  only two of our original imported alpacas, is a particularly fierce mother.   You would really want her on your side in a fight!!  She seems relaxed most of the time but if anyone, human or canine, approaches her cria, watch out!!  She stands tall and if you don't watch out she will spit.   Unless it is something really quick, we usually separate her from her cria before doing any husbandry.   As soon as she is sure the cria is safe she relaxes again and she is perfectly pleasant again.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

New Look

Prompted by the necessity to replace rotting fences we have been able to rearrange things so that we can have alpacas grazing near the shop for visitors to see whilst keeping the entrance to the shop clear for pedestrians.   This is proving a very popular idea.

We have also made some small changes to our range of products.   We continue to sell our own alpaca yarn and hand knitted hats, mittens, snoods, and scarves together with a range of colourful alpaca accessories from South America.  As well as our popular Country Socks we are now offering walking socks with cushioned soles and we have a range of amusing cards, mugs, reminder boards  and coasters from Alisons Animals.

We also have some other interesting plans which will be revealed as and then they come to fruition.

With the arrival of the school holidays we have seen visitor numbers increasing, and as we now have the facility to accept card payments, the turnover is showing a healthy increase.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Breakfast at Laurel Farm

It is on days like this that living the good life seems like reality.   This is the view from our kitchen yesterday. The hembres (female alpacas)  with their cria are free ranging the home paddocks at the moment whilst Mike and Nick demolish rotten fencing and re-organise the set up.  Now that we have fewer alpacas we do not need to separate groups often and so are not going to replace all the fencing, leading to larger grazing areas.  The barn will be the only handling area and the yard where the alpacas are lazing around will be out of bounds except as a holding area and lead in to the barn when we need to carry out routine husbandry, shearing, medication, and so on.

After a relaxing sunbathing session in the yard they retired to back garden for a quick top up.