Saturday 15 July 2023

Mid-season update July 2023

Well our birthing season is well underway - we have two very smart males Rockit and Rubens, but the season started sadly with a male dying during birth: 

I looked out of the window at 6 o'clock one morning to see one female with a head that had emerged, but no feet, so we rushed down, made an examination and found the legs folded back - the cria was already cold and had died, so the mum must have been like this for some time - we called the vet, who was here by 6.30, and she delivered it, and mum was given anti-biotics - a very disappointing start to the season.

Blossom delivered a healthy boy, Rockit (yes, an apple variety, but during Glastonbury Festival it was an appropriate name )weighing 10.4kg, and he has gained weight steadily, though mum has one swollen teat, which I have milked, but it refuses to reduce in size.

Next, Libby gave birth to a male just before 8 hours of continuous rain arrived - 8.75kg, and standing within 20 minutes - this gave us a predicament, because usually mum will stay away from the herd for a few hours while she bonds with the cria, but we couldn't leave him to face 8 hours of rain, so we put a coat on him, but then mum decided she would rather be in the shelter with the other 7 girls and Rockit - this became confusing, because they were too close together and Rubens didn't recognize his mum and wandered around trying to feed from all of them, and she wasn't sure who he was! So we sent most of them out in the rain exept the other mother and her cria - but Libby attacked her, presumably accusing her of stealing her cria! I still hadn't disposed of the placenta, so I got it and rubbed it along the back of the coat - mum immediately recognized him, and he went under and suckled! Joy declared me a genius, and I am still revelling in that today!

The two boys have become great pals and are always playing or sitting together. 

With the warm dry spell in June, shearing and hay-making took place smoothly, and before that we had blood taken from one of our females, and spun down to provide plasma to re-stock our supplies in case of emergency following births.

In May we attended The North Somerset Show, and were please with Apple Vale Pixie  being awarded 2nd place in her class of 7 juniors, and Reserve Champion White Female, and she came 3rd out of a class of 6 at The Devon County Show.

I've also been 'nurturing' some wildlife: I placed some small pieces of roof sheet offcuts over some nettles for the dual purpose of keeping the nettles down, and hopefully encouraging some slow worms - I hit the jackpot when I discovered two grass snakes, and three slow worms 'snuggled up' together, and much as I loathe snakes, I have an irresistable urge to check on them on warm afternoons!

We are now looking forward to more (alpaca) births in the next week or so.

Sunday 9 July 2023

2022 - A Summary

Well life got in the way of blog posts this year - more accurately, it's the growth of Facebook, so that rather than post a blog summarizing news every now and then, we post our events on Facebook as they happen weekly daily, or occasionally more than once a day. So just for the record, here's a simple list of what happened:

North Somerset Show - Apple Vale Marianne - 2nd Intermediate White Female

North Somerset Show- Apple Vale Nutmeg - 2nd Junior Light Female

Cornish Fleece show - Apple Vale Liberty - Reserve Champion Light Huacaya

SWAG Fleece Show - Apple Vale Liberty - 1st Beige Huacaya

SWAG Halter Show - Apple Vale Marianne - 2nd Adult White Female Huacaya

Katy, Lady Alice, and Madeleine were sold to a new breeder. Sadly, Katy later had a still birth at 10months, and Alice gave birth to a premature cria at 314 days - plasma was given, and it seemed to be progressing, but sadly died overnight on the third day, seemingly due to an impact, perhaps a kick or rolled on...

Libby gave birth to Pixie, a white female, at 333 days, weighing 6.34kg, in drizzle. See 2023 for show success for her.

Emily gave birth to Pumpkin Spice, white with a large grey spot on her rump, at 356 days, weighing 8.35kg on a hot afternoon, with vet's assistance due to slow progress.


Saturday 8 January 2022

End of 2021 report

The mums and cria taken from a drone.

 Well this is a bit late, but here we are into the New Year, and I'm only just producing the finale to last year.

Apple Vale Nova

At the beginning of August, two weeks after the birth of Norman, Apple Vale Katy, a maiden, gave birth to Nova at 354 days, an 8.73 kg light fawn boy, sired by  Hemicoyo Matrix of Urcuchillay. The birh was normal, and he started to feed in good time, but his weight dropped more than usual after 24 hours, and then only slowly gained after that at around 100g per day - we tried goat's milk, and gold-top cows milk, but he would only take small amounts (20-100ml). Katy always appeared to allow him plenty of time to nurse, her teats were in good condition, and after 30 days he had gained 3.5kg - it was frustrating, as we had been used to cria gaining between 200 and 400grams per day - we could find no reasons for the slow rate of gain, and were at least satisfied that he wasn't losing weight at any time, so accepted it, but have kept a regular check on his weight, and he's still progressing slowly but surely.

Apple Vale Ozark Gold (Ozzie)

 Three days later, Blossom (Redingvale Valentina) delivered a strapping boy at 10kg, another light fawn, Ozark Gold, or Ozzie to his friends. Sired by Apple Vale Jupiter, he has a fabulous fleece, and he has developed well.

Four weeks after giving birth to Norman, Alice, at the age of 2years and 2 months, surprised me one morning, when she joined in at the feed troughs, and started eating mineral supplement, which she had never done since birth, and has done so every day since!

In early September, we joined in with the BAS Open Alpaca Farm days, and welcomed visitors from our village.

Visitors enjoy the company of alpacas during the Open Day.

 We entered two fleeces in the South West Alpaca Group Show, and were pleased with Libby (Apple Vale Liberty) gaining 2nd place Light in a class of 10, and Gus (Popham Augustus) our stud male being awarded Reserve Champion Light, judged by Mary-Jo Smith.

It was a generally mild and dry autumn, the paddocks held up well until significant rain came at Christmas, and the home paddock became a quagmire. I spotted a case of fly-strike at an early stage on our whether one evening, which just proved the value of checking your animals twice a day.

Mums and cria relax in the shade, on a warm September day.

 We had the pregnant females scanned in October, with 100% positive, and so we look forward to this year's births and shows, with weaning, halter-training and getting through these dark months, distributing 'tons' of hay to keep up their condition with little nutritional grass, and trying to manage the paddocks to avoid any paddock becoming beyond recovery - paddock cleaning is really difficult: the ground is too wet for the machine, and the poo is too wet for the vacuum hose.

Apple Vale Emily under the Willow.


Sunday 1 August 2021

Nutmeg and Norman


Two births so far this summer, with more to come.

At the end of June, our star dam, 'Apples' (Helenia Diana), produced Nutmeg, sired by Beck Brow Gee Whiz of Angersleigh - a beautiful fawn female - she has thrived, although mum had a prolapsed uterus around five hours after birth, which the vet came and dealt with expertly, and mum has been fine since. 





Then on the second day of the recent heatwave at 7.30a.m Apple Vale Alice, a maiden, gave birth to Apple Vale Norada (Norman to his friends), sired by Apple Vale Jupiter who is now working for Tinryland Alpacas in the Republic of Ireland. Born at 323 days, Norman was down on his pasterns, and his teeth hadn't erupted. With the fierce 29 degree heat and being dismature, he wasn't progressing to suckle, so we gave him Immucol colustrum replacer which we had got in stock to trial as an alternative to plasma, as we had other cria due, and limited plasma.

 This, importantly in the heat, gave him fluids in addition to the colostrum - after 8 hours he began nursing from mum, and we continued to give him occasional Immucol imcluding the next day. With 29 degrees reached on his first five days, we kept a constant eye to see he was spending enough time in the shade, and after the third day his weight began gaining at a rate of around 300g per day, which has continued, and he now enjoys chasing and playing with Nutmeg. 


We were very pleased with results from the Cornish Fleece Show: Apple Vale Libby was awarded 1st place in the Light class with 82.5 points, and Reserve Champion Light, while our stud male, Popham Augustus of Apple Vale was awarded 1st place in the White class with 84.5 points. 





Saturday 8 May 2021

Are they easy to look after?


Popham Augustus of Apple Vale, our stud male

One of the most common questions people ask me about alpacas is, 'are they easy to look after?'. To which I reply that the basic requirements are similar to most livestock or even dogs and cats, but like all animals they have some unique characteristics. The similarities are, that feeding is straight-forward, you need to look at them at least twice a day, so that you learn what is normal behaviour and can spot when something isn't right, and they need water and free access to shelter from hot sun and cold rain. What also has to be borne in mind, is that in the longer term, paddocks, fences, gates and shelters will need maintenance, and that is  arguably where there is as much commitment required as you give your animals.

The vibrant green patches of grass, are the latrines, which can amount to a large area, and the alpacas won't eat unless desperate

Spring is the time when there is a little less animal contact required, with the exception of halter-training the weanlings, as shearing, birthing and mating is usually a couple of months away, but the paddocks will usually be at their worst, with growth having stopped over winter, and excess rainfall will have contributed to the paddocks getting easily churned up. If you are stocked up to the maximum number of animals for your acreage, you need to work hard to keep it in good condition.

Apple Vale Marianne

One of the difficulties will be, that you can't improve all of the paddocks at the same time, because of your animals, and as the weather every year is slightly different, you can't have a rigid plan but just have to react to the circumstances. So what have we been doing?

In early March, once the ground surface had dried, I dragged the chain harrow around a couple of paddocks, and then towed a 'spiker' over them to open up our clayey soil.

Fertilizer spreading with the 'shopping trolley'

Then we put some fertilizer down using the trusty 'shopping trolley', which doesn't take as long as you might think. We found that there have been shortages of fertilizer, and also our usual 20:10:10 mix is no longer available in 25kg bags.

I extended the canopy for one of the field shelters to make sure all of the females could get cover from rain and sun.

Joy mows an outbreak of buttercups

Then recently, we noticed considerable amounts of Buttercup in some areas, so we either spot-sprayed or mowed them to reduce the number of seeds likely.

Apple Vale Liberty (Libby)

Like most places, we had an exceptionally dry period, with just 3 days of light showers in a 46-day period from mid-March to the end of April, and the grass growth was virtually non-existant.

Once we could see some extended rainfall, we scattered some grass see over bare areas.

This bucket can easily be kicked off and spilt

Since we began breeding alpacas 13 years ago, we have provided drinking water in buckets set on an up-turned bucket or plant pot, and tied to the wire mesh - the flaw with this, is that in hot weather, one of the alpacas will try to get their feet in the bucket, and knock it off the 'plinth' - for years I have tried to think of a suitable simple stand that I could make...and then last autumn I had a eureka moment....

I buy three buckets, cut a square piece of 12mm or 18mm plywood to fit under the bucket, then screw two of the buckets to the plywood, base to base and remove the handles....'doesn't the bucket leak with screws through the base?', I hear you ask...yes it would, but you take your third bucket and set it inside the upper bucket, the base can't be kicked away, and the bucket doesn't fall off! Now, as a structural engineer I have assisted architects in designing many fine buildings including hospitals, schools and houses, but this may be one of my most satisfying creations! :-)

Marianne poses beside a bucket set inside another bucket which is screwed to an up-turned bucket.

Apple Vale Emily

Meanwhile, these characters have joined us, meet Bob and Penny:

 Finally, Fiesta loves to inspect the paddock hoovering:

Sunday 21 February 2021

There's a new kid in town

 Four weeks ago, we separated the weanlings with their chaperones, and also started halter training. After the usual slow but steady progress, and struggles with trying to walk on saturated, slippery ground, they have settled down, and are walking steadily.

 Having sold our stud males at the end of last year, our thoughts turned to this year's mating plans, and after looking at the For Sale ads, and making some discrete specific enquiries, we found Popham Augustus, an excellent male ready to start work this year.

Sired by 2015 BAS National Show, Supereme Champion, Popham Havengore, and with the dam of 2019 BAS National Show Supreme Champion (Popham Gabine) as his grand-dam on his dam's side, he has distinction in his immediate ancestry, while his pedigree as great grand-sires or great-great grand-sires includes Accoyo Remarque, ILR Alpine Fibre's Brutus, Peruvian Spartacus, Cambridge Navigator, Perumbete Inti, and Jolimont Warrior.

Naturally he has a fabulous fleece and conformation, and a gentle temperament.

 We gave him a welcome of warm Somerset rain, served horizontally, and he came wearing a 'grey Cornish coat', understandably given the recent weather - in the coming week(s) he will lose that  and become his natural white, (probablywith a tint of pink Somerset soil!).

He has settled-in well with his paddock mate, and has shown a keen eye for the ladies - we have a few open females for him, and once this years cria have landed, we will have more selections to make to keep him busy.

Our thanks to Gary and Felicia of Popham Alpacas for entrusting us with this lovely boy.

Tuesday 29 December 2020

My bonnie lies over the ocean...

Apple Vale Jupiter


As I write this (Dec 29th) I have the mixed feelings of someone who has just sold two of their best and favourite alpacas - a lump in the throat beckons with the thought of missing two familiar characters each morning, but happiness that they are moving on to become part of a bigger herd across the Irish Sea, where they can find more 'work' and hopefully pass on the best of their genetic traits.

Apple Vale Fortune

I'll return to that subject later, but back to where I left off in April: exceptional warmth and sunshine during April and May helped the grass to recover from the wet winter and early spring, although it actually baked the saturated clay too quickly, so that re-seeding was wasted as the ground hardened.

At the beginning of June the brilliant Colin Ottery sheared the herd plus some for clients, and though the preceeding days had brought showers, the improvements I had made to the main field shelter meant we could go ahead with dry animals, and then house them overnight to prevent chilling.

Two days later Apple Vale Florina gave birth at mid-day, to a black male with pretty white face markings - although quick to sit up and stand, he was down on his pasterns and unable to stand to suckle, so in the early evening we intubated plasma to ensure that he got sufficient anti-bodies to protect against infections, and at 9 in the evening we saw him suckling and could relax.

Marble with Apple Vale Florina behind

Due to the dry spring, by now the paddocks were thin on grass, the ground cracked and prairie-like, but a showery June followed by a burst of heat at the end of month ensured a recovery, though not enough to produce our own hay this year, so we traded hay in return for labour, helping to load 360 bales from our brilliant neighbour Bas' who also helped me to knock-in replacements for a large number of rotten fence posts.

Later in the summer, Florina, her cria Marble, and Kit (potential stud male) were sold to Foxhole Alpacas to help them build and develop their new herd.

At the beginning of August, Apple Vale Gala gave birth to Marianne (sire: Patou Goose), a fabulous-looking 7.4kg white female, just as 'ordered'. Despite a good start with feeding, weight-gain was slow - this was due to feeding from just two teats, and even though I expressed the other two teats on several occasions, she never really used them, and her weight-gain has been half the norm, although always upwards, and she is now over 25kg.

Marianne and Madeleine

Later that week, Blossom of Redingvale Alpacas gave birth to Madeleine (Maddy), a lovely white female sired by our own Apple Vale Jupiter. A strapping 9.45kg, Maddy has thrived.

We've carried out some interesting new matings this summer, and all scanned positive in the autumn, so, fingers are crossed for healthy births next June/July.

Given the absence of halter shows, we entered a couple of fleece shows: at the Cornish Camelid Fleece Show, Apple Vale Jupiter was placed 3rd white huacaya 24-48 months in a class of 9, beaten by the eventual Supreme Champion in 1st place and Best of British Bred in 2nd place, with half a point separation in each case, scoring 84.5 points, and then at the South West Alpaca Group fleece show he came second with 84 points.

Meanwhile, the hens have been locked-down in the polytunnel due to the Avian flu' outbreak - not at all nice for them, being used to free-ranging the paddocks.

It's been a funny old year, though I'm sure you will have your own description of it - the usual calendar markers of agricultural or alpaca shows went missing, but at least as farmers we had the seasonal activities of shearing, hay-making, birthing, mating etc. to keep us slightly in tune, albeit they are all variable.

Finally, we had a sales enquiry at the beginning of December, following-up a previous enquiry, regarding our stud males - could they be delivered to the Republic of Ireland before the UK left the EU on December 31st? As a fellow exporter said to me, "we can, but we'll have to get a shimmy on"! First we had to register as an Exporter with APHA, only then could we make an application to export - meanwhile, we booked the vet for TB and Brucellosis tests - the normal turnaround for the Enferplex test was quoted as 14-21 days, so with a 4-day Christmas break looming, it was going to be tight - and the transport was booked for tuesday 29th. The skin tests and brucella results were negative, and the Enferplex test results came back negative on the 21st - almost there, but you have to have a vet health check within 48 hours of their intended journey on a certificate issued by APHA, and this hadn't arrived by Christmas Eve! At 2.00 I 'phoned APHA and was told it was waiting on a 'SAM' results check - at 4.00 I 'phoned and was told by a different officer that she would do it straight away...the office was due to close at 5.00 for I 'phoned again at 4.45, and was told it would be 5.55 we received an e-mail to say it had been sent to the vet! Credit to the civil servant who was true to her word on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, Covid 19 had played another trick with it's variants, and the possibility of travel to the EU became doubtful...but the ban only applied to visitors not freight. So the vet carried out her pre-travel check on Bank Holiday monday (yes another 'twist') and so it was that at 7.30 this morning the boys were collected, and at 6.30 this evening I heard that they were grazing on Irish pasture, although I did hear that they (and their fellow travellers) had re-decorated the inside of the van green during the journey!

Well, it's weaning and halter-training next, while tackling the winter and hopefully avoiding the virus - Happy New Year everyone!