Saturday, 29 April 2017

Small is beautiful.

How often have you wondered what your alpacas looked like from above, so you got out the step-ladders but they weren't high enough, and then you tried to climb onto the roof of the trailer, but couldn't, and then when you were on a high ladder cleaning the house guttering you discovered the alpacas had been moved to a different paddock?  Then wonder no more, because a friend of mine has a drone, and last autumn he filmed our herd from on high, and at long last I've had it edited, so here it is:

The last big event was the BAS National Show in March, and I was serving (?) as a Ring Steward in Ring One, the female alpacas, with Judges Amanda VandenBosch and Rob Bettinson. If you're not familiar with an alpaca show, well there are several stewards to assist the event, who variously, inspect the alpacas in their pens on arrival (Pen Stewards), assemble the waiting alpacas and their handlers before going into the ring (Collecting Stewards), record the results (Recording Stewards), and organize them in the ring and assist the judges (Ring Stewards).

I discovered why the required dress code is black trousers and white shirt: it was so cold that you needed the constitution of a penguin! I had three shirts, a scarf, thermal leggings and trousers, and after a couple of hours had to pull on the knitted alpaca wrist-warmers - but it was a great experience - I was able to meet every handler with a female alpaca, and look them in the eye, but of course, couldn't speak to any of them - the two judges were great to work with, I didn't get kicked, and it was the very last alpaca on the saturday afternoon that spat at my white shirt!
The weather here in Somerset has been very dry with no measurable rain in April (though it's coming tomorrow), so the paddocks are bare and cracked  - as we've rotated the groups around the paddock I've fertilized the paddocks using what I call, 'the shopping trolley' - when Joy first suggested this years ago, and went out and did the spreading, I thought she was bonkers - but with small paddocks it is very quick and simple - small is beautiful:
I've just taken delivery of a heap of fence posts and stock netting to enclose a new paddock, so that's going to keep me busy for a while, and I've also bought a chain harrow which can be pulled by the mower - again, small is beautiful:

We have our first cria due any day, from Apples, our Dovecote Jaquinto daughter, who has given us three fabulous offspring so far. We are looking forward to it very much, but we are hoping she doesn't choose monday when we will be at the North Somerset Show, our first of three shows in May.

Back soon...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Elbow, Eucalyptus and ocean-going yachts...

Well, the 'alpaca year' is getting going already - entries are already open for the first couple of shows in the summer, so I've done those this evening. We are weaning last year's cria, and now halter training them, though that is taking time with just the weekends available. Hawkeye has taken to hard feed, but not Harvey.

We are having a few trees pruned, and that includes the Eucalyptus, which the alpacas love, so there is a great pile of branches which we are distributing slowly, to their obvious pleasure - I hang it up in the shelters, and they eat it, and rub their coats in it.
I recently assisted as a Handler and Ring Steward at the BAS judge training and certification week. For those unaware of this, the BAS re-assesses existing judges periodically to ensure consistency, and the opportunity is also taken to assess potential new judges (Apprentices) - the process involves setting up a show situation, almost exactly as in a real situation, with six sets of six alpacas in two rings running together - so at least 16 handlers and stewards were required, along with alpacas and shorn fleeces on loan -  the judges and apprentices judge  as if in a show situation, assessing and giving oral reasoning, followed by a written exam (apprentices only for the exam, I believe). This was all over-seen by two American judges and an Australian. It clearly took a tremendous amount of planning ahead, effort and organizing through the week, and it went very smoothly, with all due credit to the organizers. While the halter shows may not be a perfect, objective assessment of every characteristic of an alpaca, we can be reassured that considerable efforts are made to seek consistency in the process - ultimately a show result is purely an assessment made on the day, in those particular weather conditions, between those animals in the ring.
The senior group having 'breakfast'.
I was paddock hoovering on sunday, and over-filled the bin - I have a Muck Truck mounted hoover, and when facing downhill it tipped onto it's nose -  usually, I can climb on the platform and lean back, as if on an ocean-going racing yacht, and get it to tip back, but not this time - because the poo is wet at this time of year it is heavy and sticks to the front of the bin as it shoots in - so I had to lift from the front like an east European weight lifter - does anyone else have this problem, and have they fitted deflectors to correct it?

I'll leave you for now, listening to the new album by Elbow, where I noticed in a track titled, 'K2', the lines: "See you in Hull, in a sweater made of Atacama Llama wool"... either songwriter Guy Garvey was using poetic license and it was alpaca wool, or it wasn't as good a sweater as it might have been. I met, and shook hands with Guy Garvey at Glastonbury Festival in 2008 as we both queued up at the Cider Bus - we discussed their performance the day before, and it was just before the release of 'One Day Like This', which has become a modern classic - I'm sure I was the first person to recognize how good it was...................see you at the National Show.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Looking forward

Late autumn is a time when alpaca breeders begin to find time to draw breath - the country shows have mainly finished, no birthings are usually planned, and the hay will hopefully be in the barn. As the nights draw in, for those with a full-time job, paddock chores and husbandry have to be carried out at the weekend, so we hope for good weather at the weekends...not always assured. The late afternoon check on the herd becomes difficult when it is dark before the working day ends - as I am self-employed and my office is just 6 minutes away in a near-by village, I nip home for twenty minutes mid-afternoon for a few weeks , unless I am away on site, but it's frustrating not being able to enjoy them in the evenings like you can in the summer. Paddock hoovering becomes difficult when it is wet as the hose becomes clogged, and it is like two hours weight-lifting.

We watch the cria develop, making sure they grow steadily, becoming independant, and see how the character of their fleece develops. Joy will accelerate her fibre processing, creating woven, knitted and felted items to build-up stocks for the Chrsitmas markets. This winter she had successful open evenings in the studio and craft fayres in the village hall.

Paddock management becomes critical as the grass stops growing, and we increase supplies of hay in the mangers and hay-ricks - the paddocks become more muddy depending on the amount of rain - this autumn has been relatively dry, and the paddocks have held up well - we must be due a wet spell, but with lengthening days now, hopefully new growth will begin soon, and reduce the deterioration if we get a wet spell. We've had quite a lot of frosts and foggy or misty mornings recently - the fog and mist bring a special silence to the coutryside, with a blanket deadening all sounds.

Our herd numbers remain constant, as we sold and bought equal numbers - unfortunately we had a disappointing year last year when two females lost their pregnancies over winter and a third had a still-birth - we have two male cria, and they are developing well. On the brighter side, we have five pregnancies, and our stud male, Fortune, has begun work, with several pregnancies, some to clients and other breeders. Fortune gave us many highlights this year in the show ring, with a 2nd place at the 'National, and three Firsts at county halter shows, along with compliments from other breeders and 'off-duty' judges.

I will be helping at the judges assessment in a few weeks, and will also be stewarding at the National Show, all very exciting.

On the farm, we have more fencing lined up which I will be doing with my neighbour, and I have plans for a new shelter in my head, re-cycling timber form our village hall.

So we have plenty to look forward to in 2017....soon I will take a look at the options for cria names in the list of apple varieties under the letter 'I' - it's not urgent but fun to anticipate what might arrive, males or females, and what colours: we 'expect', a grey, a brown, and three whites....time will tell!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Follicle challenge.

(Dr.)' Harvey', and his dam 'Blossom' (Valentina of Reddingvale) Sire: Reddingvale Class Act;
Apple Vale Hawkeye Delicious

It's been a while and many of you have asked how are the herd etc.....well all right, nobody has, but I'll tell you. Autumn is a time for enjoying the growing cria, checking (and hoping, as it's too late to do anything about it) that pregnancies are holding, and trying to make the most of the grazing as grass growth slows down, and we don't know what the winter will throw at us. Of course, the autumn weather has been fabulous, with endless sunshine, starry nights, and a couple of showers, so our ground is very dry and cracked, and with an abundance of wild rabbits exploiting the cracks to start holes, I've been filling them in to try and avoid the risk of damaged cria legs or ankles as they charge about, but it's a losing battle - does anyone know of an effective rabbit deterrent?
Rabbit divots.
Apple Vale Florina

The South West Alpaca Group hosted a talk by Graham McHarg of Fowberry Alpacas titled, 'Feeding for Fibre' explaining how to maximise the potential of your herd fibre by careful feeding and pasture management - a fascinating presentation, and followed by the group AGM and dinner. As a result of Grahams talk, we are now carefully trying to plot the feeding and grazing regime of our pregnant females to suit the fibre follicle develpment of the foetus.

We have a public footpath crossing our land, and our village held a 'Countryfile walk' in aid of Children in Need, which included the path - when we divided the land into paddocks, we chose to create a laneway incorporating the path so that we, and walkers, don't have to worry about the alpacas - ideal in this situation.

We had a friend visit with his camera-mounted drone to film the paddocks and alpacas, and my daughter is editing the several clips together for publishing soon.

Meanwhile this afternoon, along with hedge trimming, I spent some time trying to get a few light-hearted photographs:
15 year-old Moira in her sunday best!
Moira with Scrumpy beyond.
Making progress with the two-headed gene!
Time for a rest - back soon!

Monday, 22 August 2016

Ellingham & Ringwood Show...and new arrivals.

I had been told that the Ellingham and Ringwood Show, near Ringwood Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forest was a nice show, and well attended, and that was exactly how I found it to be. A beautiful day beckoned at 5.15 when I got up, and set off just before 6, for the 2-hour drive. It took another quarter of an hour to cross the vast estate to the site of the show, but as always, a good-humoured bunch of alpaca owners, and show organizers, in this case Viv & Andy Redwood, and Rosemary & Carl Aylett were there to greet me.
Supreme Champion - Artwork Mischief

There are always a few breeders that need a bit of help in the show-ring, or just handling their alpacas to and from the ring, so I got involved  with those, as my two entrants were not due to show until late, being in the white classes. Garry Naish's team wound themselves up into a frenzy by running up and down the trailer ramp to and from the pen, and one of them sneeked out of the pen, deciding to explore the site, but Andy Walker.charmed the alpaca into giving up it's short-lived freedom.  Another breeder needed a colour check of one of her team, entered as grey, and an 'independant handler was required, so I took the animal to show-judge Nick Harrington-Smith, who declared it an appaloosa. Andy Walker of Reddingvale needed an extra handler for his Intermediate Black Male, Shylock, and I was pleased to don the white coat for him. Now Shylock is a sweet boy, but has a short attention span, and likes to draw attention to himself - and so one minute he would rest his chin on my chest and gaze into my eyes, and the next, he would drop to the floor and roll around or play dead - highly entertaining for the crowd of onlookers, but I imagined judge N.H-S already marking us down before getting to us (I joke: if you are not an alpaca owner, animal behaviour isn't taken into account). As it happened, Shylock was awarded first place, and as Nick talked about Shylock auditioning for acting roles, he duly dropped and rolled, as if he was listening, to much hilarity!

Well our turn eventually came, but unfortunately, neither Apple Vale Fortune who had been shorn seven weeks earlier (and the shearer had left a bit of length on), or Apple Vale Gala, had sufficient fleece length for Nick ("I'm struggling here")  to compare with the others in the class, so they didn't  get in the 'medals'. Nevertheless after three full-fleece shows, Fortune remained un-beaten, and has his 2nd place in the National Show on his C.V. Given the wild weather last saturday, we had a smashing day, with thanks to the organizers for their hard work.
Reddingvale Valentina ('Blossom', to us), with 'Harvey' (Apple Vale Doctor Harvey)

Back on the farm, with an unfortunate birthing season, we identified a shortage of light fawn fleece for the craft studio, and so after some searching, we found Reddingvale Valentina (Grand-sire ILR Alpines Fibre Brutus) , with her cria, sired by Wimmera Skies Class Act, (whose progeny have won many classes this year) who she is again mated to, and they have joined us, and settling-in..

Thursday, 4 August 2016

REM to B-E-W

"we're off to a new paddock - Florina, you shut the gate!"

Those who know me, will know that REM are one of my favourite rock groups...Rapid Eye Movement, a tenuous link to this years only cria, who turned out to be a 'BEW', a Blue-Eyed White. We had hoped to have four cria running around this summer, but two females lost their pregnancies over the winter, one female, (as you may have read in the previous blog) had a still-birth, and the final one, born the same day, was a white boy, with a small grey spot...and over the next twenty-four hours, I realised he had blue eyes. I had been aware of the existence of such alpacas for many years, and knew that it wasn't an ideal condition, but I hadn't come across one, and didn't know anyone with one - it seems to be a bit of a taboo subject - and so began research into what we had been presented with. Perhaps a little ironically, the apple variety he was named after, being an 'H' year for us, was Hawkeye Delicious, before we confirmed his condition the next day.
Apple Vale Hawkeye Delicious
Apple Vale Elstar, our fawn female from Apple Vale Bramley (sire: CME Centurion), had been sired by Qjori of Patou, and knowing that Qjori had some grey ancestors, we selected a grey stud male (Urcuchillay Smokin' Ace) to cover her, in the hope that a grey cria would be forthcoming. Well, it appears we have a male carrying a grey gene, so that's a positive.

What have a I learned from my research:
One of the six foundation white sires imported into Australia, must have been BEW - he produced 25% grey cria from all colours of females. The other five produced 3% greys, mostly from grey females. This sire was confirmed as BEW by his last owner.
What is clear, is that the phenotype of BEW is the result of multiple genotype, a combination of genes, and is not due to a single BEW gene, and it is not a disease.

BEW is most likely to occur between two whites, grey x white or grey x multi;
Mating grey to a dark-eyed white has higher risk of producing BEW;  A BEW should not be mated to a grey or a broken-coloured mate.The best mating would be to a solid black or dark bay;
Some all-white alpacas have white spots on them, but of course you cannot see them, and it is possible to get a BEW from an all-white bred to a white-spotted, or grey alpaca. To eliminate BEW's from the gene pool, we would have to eliminate all greys, white spotted, and patterned alpacas, and a good number of white alpacas would still have white spot alleles, which we would initially be unaware of - so it just isn't a realistic course of action.

BEW's are often deaf, and we are fairly sure that Hawkeye cannot hear. It is considered that in a captive, farmed situation that is of little disadvantage, as their sight is so good, and they are aware of the herd movements - certainly Hawkeye charges around the paddock freely like any other cria. He is quite a character, and will happily chew or suck your shorts, and has become a bit of a nuisance to his aunties.

They often have very good fleece qualities, as they may come from the best white-breeding lines, and some consider that the best use of Blue-Eyed Whites is to produce more, possibly better-fleeced grey and coloured alpacas. Clearly careful selection of the mates is paramount, for this to produce satisfactory results.

It is too early for us to say whether that will be our course, but it gives us possibilities from a dismal summer of births, or lack of them. 

I understand that there is currently no formal BAS judging policy on them, but there are moves to make the situation clearer. There's more information in the references given at the end of this blog.

"...oh, no, I said too much, I haven't said enough....." Losing My Religion - REM;

Meanwhile, we have re-mated or mated our eligible females, and so we look forward to next summer in that respect. We got our hay in a couple of weeks ago, between showers  - 100 bales which usually sees us through the winter. 

We have a couple of short-fleece shows - the North Devon Show yesterday, saw Apple Vale Fortune lose his un-beaten record for this summer, when he came second, in a reversal of a previous result, to Alpha Bilbo, who went on to become Champion white male. Next week, Ellingham and Ringwood. Today we welcomed a lovely couple of potential new alpaca owners, and introduced them to the herd.

Credits: Elizabeth Paul - The Alpaca Colour Key 2011 (available from Classical Mile End) 
Merriweather and Merriweather - Nyala Farms 2007
A better use for Blue-Eyed Whites - Alpaca World Magazine - Elizabeth Paul - Sept. 2005

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Hawkeye and The Hip-ster.

Apple Vale Hawkeye Delicious, with Pixie, our grand-daughter.
Last saturday began sadly, with the discovery of a still-born cria, with mum sat beside him. We had been watching the dam for some time, as she was three weeks past the 11-month date - she had a still-birth two years ago, a few weeks premature, so we rested her a year and tried again. There were no obvious problems, the membranes were clear of the face, but still covered the body and feet, and there had clearly been no movement. We assume that the dam (who has always been more susceptible to mites, and abcess at injection sites) is compromised in some way, but strange that she can carry to full term, so we won't try again.
Elstar makes birth an occasion for all to share in.
Things picked up at lunchtime the same day, when Apple Vale Elstar (Sire: Qjori of Patou - Dam: A.V Bramley) had a short labour and text-book birth, and has followed with being an ideal mother.  She didn't go off on her own like some do, but stayed with the group, who all had a close look at the proceedings.
Perfect presentation, looks a bit white...
The cria, a male, named Hawkeye Delicious (an apple variety), is active, and growing well - we had 'planned' a grey, but he is brilliant white with a grey spot. There are theories about this outcome, which I will go into in a later post.
It's the Milky Bar kid!

I've checked this afternoon, and the alpaca on the right does actually have a neck and head!
Another female's due date is tomorrow, so we've been studying her for a couple of weeks, and more-so recently.
Meanwhile, I finished the new field shelter - it's called The Hip-ster, because it is a hip-roofed shelter, and the connotation with a trendy, neatly bearded city gent makes me chuckle...
The walled sides back to the south and west, against the rain-bearing prevailing winds, and provide shade to the mid-day and afternoon sun - the height is minimal to reduce wind load, and the walls are open at the top and base to reduce wind load, and provide sight for the alpacas, to encourage the to use it. currently, they are in other paddocks.
Two weeks ago, the herd were expertly and efficiently shorn by Colin Ottery, all in a morning, as I am busy with other stuff this summer.
Finally, this afternoon, we had the grass cut for hay in two of the paddocks.