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.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Royal Bath & West Show 2016

Apple Vale Fortune with his hat-trick of first-place rosettes.
We committed five days to the Bath & West this year - starting on the tuesday, I (Dave) helped to erect the two marquees that the South West Alpaca Group (SWAG) bought last year, after the Show stopped providing the enormous canvas marquees that enabled us to hold the entire show undercover for so many years. With the site set up, I could return to work for a couple of days, whle Joy helped the fleece and fibre part of our show, by demonstrating her felting techniques, along with the shearing, spinning and fleece judging. After a dry set-up day, the next couple of days were damp and grey, but when the halter competition took place on the friday and saturday, the weather improved, and the crowds swelled. Our site set-up this year, provided an avenue of alpaca pens, and the showring, all within easy reach of the public
On the friday, Apple Vale Florina, our brown female gained 3rd place in her class, with her soft handling, fine, fleece, and she will be mated soon to a male that can add some density and character - she has a lovely calm temperament, popular with visitors, which she continues from her mum, Bramley. The show was judged by Rob Bettinson, assisted by Apprentice Judge, Julia Corrigan-Stuart, who both did a great job of informative judging, complimented by the informative show commentator, Shirley Bettinson.

In the evening, our chairman, Mark Steele, hosted a barbeque for the group members, on a fine evening, a chance to relax and chat, after the intensity of showing, before the final day.
Saturday arrived, and we were looking forward to the Intermediate White Male class - Apple Vale Fortune had gained two firsts so far this year, and second at the National Show. With five entered in the class, there was just a bit of apprehension whether he could sustain his success
But, we were chuffed when he was awarded first place, making it a hat-trick of firsts in the West Country shows. We then lined up for the championship against the Junior and Adult class winners and runners-up. Again, he was beaten by the Junior and Adult - I have thought since the show, that the Internediate male is in the 'twilight zone' - the Junior is judged on his first fleece (and conformation), and the potential that he has, subject to some speculation on the judges part - the Adults and Seniors are judged on their fleece that has endured more than two years of provenance of sustained quality - the Intermediate Male is like a teenager, full of potential, yet none proven, and it seems, may have to show a disproportionate  level of quality over his rivals. Nevertheless, we were heartened by the many compliments paid to us afterwards regarding his quality, by other, respected breeders, and we look forward to more shows.
Finally, the award of Supreme Champion went to the Fawn Senior Male, Green Park Neptune, now owned by Alpha Alpacas.
Apple Vale Fortune with his hat-trick of first-place rosettes.
Now, we look forward to the birth of cria any day, shearing and hay-making.....

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Devon County Show 2016

At 4.45a.m on thursday morning, the alarm went off - I'd been awake for a while, fuelled by a cocktail of anticipation, excitement and apprehension that our preparations for this show would pay off: we would arrive on time (7.00), we would have all the equipment required for showing alpacas (mineral feed, hay, water buckets, Apple Vale pen banners and leaflets, poop scoop and bucket, white coat, wet weather clothes, dry weather clothes, cold weather clothes, warm weather clothes, folding chairs (though we never get time to sit in them!), fans to keep the 'pacas cool), and finally, that our alpacas would be judged highly against good competition.

We arrived to find that 'The Devon Eye' had been erected next to our usual show area, and I thought that would be a great opportunity for an aerial photograph of the show ring:
The day had begun with clear skies, sunrise as we drove across the Levels beyond our village, but slowly cloud gathered.
As I waited with our brown female, Apple Vale Florina, (dam: Apple Vale Bramley, sire: Van Diemen Qjori of Patou)we could see the band of rain coming from Dartmoor, and spots of rain began, so the judge decided to move to the showring in one of the marquees. Florina was placed fourth out of four, but the judge began her summing-up by saying that 'all of this class had a fine, soft-handling, 'buttery' fleece', which was a positive comment, and we know that she needs to add density and character to her fleece by mating to a male with these characteristics, so we weren't disappointed.
Friday morning came, and having left the alpacas in the marqee overnight, we could have an extra half an hour in bed, not having to round them up, and not having the trailer to tow. first in th ring was Apple Vale Gala, a junior female (dam: Helens Diana of Apple Vale, sire: CCNF Talon of CME). She wasn't placed at the National Show, but in a class of twelve here, I was relieved when she was called forward into the front row, being the best seven out of the twelve. Then followed a bit of alpaca 'hokey cokey', as the judge juggled us around...we went from fourth to third, back to fourth, and finally to fifth, which we were satisfied with from a class of twelve, with good genetic ancestry.
There was a bit of excitement at one point in the day, when an alpaca that had been in an outside pen for a bit of drying sun and breeze, got spooked by a dog, and leapt out of the pen - I saw this happen, and shouted something like, "alpaca loose!", as it darted off behind a one side there is an off-road buggy track, to another side through a hedge, the fun fair, and to another side, the entire showground stretches out...the thought of an alpaca loose amongst thousands of show-goers and dogs must cross all of our minds...anyway, I saw alpaca owners in the marquee rushing towards the outside rear of the marquee, having heard my shout or the clatter of hurdles, so I headed down the side, and as I reached the rear corner, the alpaca started heading back towards me at full speed...I launched myself at it, got a grip, but it was an intermediate or adult, and so at least as heavy as me, and as it dragged me around guy ropes, a pulley to raise the marquee, and power cables, I realised one of us might be garotted and let go, landing in a then realised it was better off with it's owner, and walked back into the arms of 'mummy'...panic over.
Next, it was time for the Intermediate White Males (age 12-24 months) - Apple Vale Fortune (dam: Helens Diana, Sire: CCNF Talon of CME), was in a class of seven. Having gained second in his group at The National Show, and first in a smaller group at The North Somerset Show, we had high hopes...we weren't disappointed...
Fortune was awarded first place, the judge commenting on his fine, dense fleece, being consistant from his head to his legs, and the character being consistant from the skin to the tips of the fibre, and mounted on a good frame and chest. I often wonder what other breeders think about when the judge is coming to their have an idea of your alpacas good points and not-so-good points, so you guess your position, but you haven't examined the competition, so then you allow yourself to consider first place, but then you try not to set yourself up for disappointment by considering a low placing or, 'the walk of shame'....and then comes the decision...or do other breeders just look at the sky, the audience, and enter a state of otherworldliness?
It's the Royal Bath & West Show, in less than two weeks - Joy will be demonstrating fibre felting on wednesday and thursday in the marquee along with other demonstrations of fleece processing, and we will have three of our alpacas in the halter show on friday and saturday - do come along and say hello, and don't be intimidated, all the alpaca breeders love to talk to the public and answer questions.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

North Somerset Show and more.

The Show was held on May2nd. A band of rain was forecast to arrive around 11.00 and to leave around 3.00. We all arrived in dry weather, but a few spots of rain had us urgently erecting gazebos, only for it to fizzle out. The show started, with judge Liz Barlow assisted by apprentice Viv Darcy. Rain arrived 'on time', during the blacks and browns, making judging very difficult. We gained a third place for Apple Vale Florina, sired by Van Diemen Qjori of Patou.Intermediate Brown Female.
The rain passed and the sun came out around 3.00 as forecast, and after being chilled by the seeping rain, we slowly warmed up. Then we had Apple Vale Gala (sire: CCNF Talon of Classical MileEnd) in the Junior White Female class, and were delighted to gain second place in a class of six.
Finally, Apple Vale Fortune (sire: CCNF Talon of CME) was awarded a "well deserved" (judges quote) first in the Intermediate White Male class. The ground dried up, and all was pleasant for packing up. A lovely show, always.

Meanwhile back at the farm I have begun constructing a shelter for our farthest paddock - it will be a simple, two-sided open shelter in the corner, but I wanted to create something individual, sculpted to the land which has a gentle slope, but is exposed to a long open fetch of levels, so I designed it to have low sloping eaves to minimise the wind resistance, with a hipped roof for some 'elegance', and a cantilevered canopy for extra cover. That's my theory - so it's not an off-the-shelf rectangular box, but something I am crafting and enjoying, saving in cost, but spending a lot of time building in fine weather with the alpacas observing.
The wall stud frames laid out.
Walls erected and temporary hip prop in place.
Hip rafter and verge rafters in place.
Truss assembled.
Jack rafters and purlins in place.
 We are just about to enter our birthing window with the first due, Caton Freedom, and she is rather susceptable to mites, so noticing some patches on her legs we gave her Eprinex in pig oil down the back line, (she is also prone to abscess at injection sites) and Udder Salve on the legs - I tried to check the condition of her teats, and she is quite a placid girl, but being pregnant she's a little guarded, and while on my hands and knees peering under her belly, she gave me a kick on the nose! Luckily, it must have been at the end of her range, because although it smarted a bit, and I thought it could be broken, there was no damage.

This week we also replaced our plasma supply - the vet came and took a donation of blood from Apple Vale Autumn Gold, who was very calm about it, and we took it to Classical MileEnd to be spun down.

The warm weather this week has brought our shade/shelters into use,
as the herd have been feeling the heat:

And finally, completing the news round-up, we gave Apple Vale Fortune his first 'session' with a lady - both he, and Pelachuta, an experienced dam, were keen, and we hope this will show he is ready to start his stud career - more as this develops.

Well, it's the Devon County Show this week, so fingers crossed for good weather, good competition, and good be continued.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

The year begins to unfold - developments on all fronts.

Apple Vale Fortune
 It's been a while since the National Show, and Spring finally arrived - though it's taking a while to warm up, we have had plenty of dry days. The paddocks are beginning to look well, particularly the rested ones. 'Magic Day' , when the grass grows at a faster rate than the alpacas are eating eat is not yet perceptable, but areas that I re-seeded for repairs are sprouting. We have fertilized each paddock in rotation, and next we have to tackle the weeds that are pushing ahead.

The herd have been given another ADE vitamin 'shot', which we hope will be the last until the autumn, but we just have to see how the summer goes.

We had a photo-shoot for a young model who is creating a promotional portfolio, and she brought her photographer to our farm to use the alpacas in some of her scenes.

Since the New Year, we have had visitors in the B & B Studio from California, Austria, Singapore, Estonia, all over the UK, and a couple from Venezuela and Santa Fe - they all enjoyed a tour of the alpaca paddocks, and seeing how we (Joy) uses the fleece to make unique, luxury, felted and alpaca wool garments.

I have started creating a new shelter for one paddock - as usual for me, it will be a bespoke shelter suited to the aspect of the paddock - I enjoy the creative design and build aspect - I also have plans in my head for another shelter in an adjoining paddock, which received an early boost when our village hall had it's 25mm Maple floor replaced, and I rescued 8 panels destined for Her Majesties bonfire beacon, so I now have to design that shelter around these heavy panels!

Closer to home, I've discovered several bird nests - firstly, a Hedge Sparrow (Dunnock) nest with white alpaca fleece lining was particularly exciting, these two chicks have now fledged and are hopefully surviving -
Fleece-lined nest.
Faces only a mother could love!

secondly, we currently have a pair of Blackbird chicks in the same hedge - and thirdly, I found a fascinating nest lying under some trees in the paddock, which I suspect had been knocked out of a small tree by an alpaca. It is like a soft pillow, the size of a melon, with an outer casing of moss, lichen and strands of spider web, stuffed with hen and duck feathers, which I believe would have been built by a Long-Tailed Tit.
Nest of a Long-Tailed tit, with feather stuffing.

In the paddocks, a Kestrel has been ever-present for several weeks now, flitting from fence-post to shelter roof and dropping to the ground then back again, as I've gone about my tasks.
Easter bonnet.

A new hay feeder that I made.

We are now one week from the first of three local alpaca shows, a busy month of to-ing and fro-ing, and seeing so many of our friends in the alpaca community, followed closely by new cria, shearing, and new breeding decisions to be made and so on.
Three mums-to-be, plus one (Florina) to start this year.
Each birth that we anticipate, has a significance to the mating: from new genetics, a new colour, an advance in the genetic mix, and a new beginning, each is anticipated with growing excitement!