Sunday, 29 April 2018

BAS National Show

The end of March brought the BAS National Show at Telford International Centre. Around 600 alpacas were judged over two days, broken down into their various classes of Huacaya, Suri, Male, Female, and each of the colours, grey, black, brown, fawn, light and white. I had the role of Ring Steward in the female classes, assisting UK judge Liz Barlow jointly judging with international judge Karen Caldwell from Australia.

The role of Ring Steward is a combination of assisting the judges with lining-up the entrants, helping to restrain boisterous alpacas, recording the result and ensuring the judges sign the result sheet, and collecting the rosettes, sashes and trophies for the judges to present. You will start by liaising with the collecting ring stewards, and informing the judges how many animals are in each class, and with small classes, asking the judges whether they want to bring more than one class into the ring at the same time. The role of restraining differs in the National Show, as the two judges restrict the space left for the steward, whereas in the regional shows there will be one judge, and the animal has a 'free' side, and while it may appear like a lot of standing around, you have to be constantly alert to the behaviour of the animal, ready to spring into action when needed - sometimes, an alpaca will slip it's lead, or may just be very large relative to it's handler, who may need a bit of support to prevent being pushed over. Then there is the less glamorous poo shovel duties, and handing wipes to the judge to maintain bio-security standards, and collecting fleece samples that the judges no longer need! You get an opportunity to meet every handler or owner face to face, and yet there is no opportunity to chat. Sometimes you are privy to the judges discussion, and other times they will be very discrete.

If you were at the show, you may have heard the commentator referring to 'the man with the electric jacket'! Anyone who has attended the show, will know the bone-chilling cold that seeps into you during the day - being a ring steward, the dress 'code' is for a white shirt and black there is a limit to how many layers you can wear beneath a white shirt, without buying a shirt four sizes larger than normal and looking like the Michelin Man! So, for Christmas Joy gave me a heated waistcoat, often used by motorcyclists, for example, made by Keis. This fitted under my usual shirt, with a re-chargeable battery in my trouser pocket, and worked very well!

In the ring, we had entered Apple Vale Jupiter, a junior white male, who had done well at the Midland Halter Show in November. With me doing the stewarding in the female ring, it was left to Joy to take him in. In a class of nine, we were very pleased when he was given fourth place.

Meanwhile, in the Fibre Zone, Joy had entered two scarves, and did very well with a second place, in the 'hand-spun hand-woven' category - testament to her skill and creativity, as they also included dyed colours.

I have wondered for some time, what condition the soil in our paddocks was in, with constant grazing, although we do fertilize the non-latrine areas, and so I contacted Mole Valley to have some tests carried out. In february, I took 60 (!) spoon-size samples, as instructed. The results showed that we have maintained the condition of the soil, and we are achieving the correct amount of fertilizing.

Recently we have fertilized the resting paddocks, and carried out treatment of the weeds, docks and Thistles.

We are about to enter 'show month' for us, with 3 shows, commencing on monday 7th, with the North Somerset Show, followed by the Devon County and Royal Bath & West at the end of the month.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Snow gallery

This winter, we had a good fall of snow, it lasted 48 hours, so we have to make the most of it:
Hat? What hat?

Monday, 1 January 2018

Yin and Yang, and potty training!

Wishing a happy and successful year to readers, I won't waste time looking back at the old year, that is history, and you can read the posts if you want to review our year.

We started weaning the second batch of cria two days ago, to rest their mums, and to ease the wear on the paddocks, which are now all thread-bare and squelchy, by reducing the size of groups.

Jupiter, who was weaned in the autumn, has been selected as 'Head Prefect' to look after the weanlings, Jazz and Jester.

People regularly ask how they can stop their alpacas from using their shelter as a latrine - well I can't stop them, but you can encourage them to go where you want them, and here is the method which has worked for me: years ago, after a period of sticking their bums out of the shelter when nature called in the night, ours went through a 'lazy' spell, and used the shelter - this was when we put down a good bed of straw, which we no longer do - while you can get the 'beans' and 'dumplings' out of the straw, you can't remove the smell of urine, and having a full-time job, I didn't change the straw every day, so they were always attracted by the smell of the urine, to use the same place. Without the straw, the earth floor started to get soggy and it became more difficult to clean, so I concreted a small area, where they tended to go regularly.

When I moved the weanlings in on the first night of their seperation, I went and collected some of the day's droppings, and put them in the middle of the concrete 'pan'. since then, each night's production has been on the pan, and easy to scrape up:

At the beginning of December, I built the first part of a new shelter, and after Christmas I took the opportunity of recruiting one of our sons who hadn't returned to his home, to help me start phase two of a new shelter -

 this will be referred to, as the Yin Yang shelter, because it has two over-lapping parts, for a very good reason: this paddock is near the top of a south-facing slope, and the prevailing south-westerly wind hurtles across the Levels before accelerating up the hill - this means, that the open face had to be facing up hill away from the other paddocks - we've noticed over the years, that the differing groups of alpacas like to be able to see the other groups, and so would be less likely to use a shelter facing the 'wrong' way - so phase two of this shelter is to build the other half facing downhill, but set on the leeward side of the first one, and so less vulnerable to the wind - this way, some of the alpacas will be able to see their compatriots in the paddocks beyond and hopefully the others will be happy to sit in the more protected one...a great theory, yet to be proven - but it keeps me off the streets and out of pubs! This shelter uses reclaimed floor panels from our village hall for the walls.

Looking to the year ahead, we hope our pregnant females are growing some fabulous cria, from the carefully selected stud males, and the National Show is peeping over the horizon. Regardless of what the weather does, we know that the days will start to lengthen now, and the grass will long as it isn't submerged in water or mud!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Midlands Halter Show

When the Midlands Halter Show was announced, it occurred to me that Apple Vale Jupiter, our first cria this year, born on May 2nd, would be over 12 months old when our three local shows take place next year, which means that he would be in the Intermediate age class, and would miss competition to be judged as a Junior with his contemporaries, unless we ventured further afield in the early spring shows. So, we entered and made the trip up to the Three Counties Showground at Malvern in Worcestershire on a dark November evening - the journey was good, and it was interesting to find that breeders had travelled from all points of the compass, even from Cumbria, a five-and-a-half hour journey!

We took Apple Vale Harvey as companion, and had entered him into the Intermediate brown male class. His fleece has developed to be very dark, and the judge decided he should be shown in the black class which was one of the early classes in the morning. He came 4th in a class of 5, which contained the eventual Champion and Reserve Champion, both from the mighty Patou herd.

Later in the afternoon came Jupiter's class, in which he was awarded first in a small class - however, this gave him  (and us!) the excitement of being in the Championship line-up. The white male classes contained around twenty alpacas, making for a keen competition, and so there were eight alpacas in the Championship line-up. Champion White Male was awarded to Beck Brow Explorer, a four-year old Senior, and then came a period of weighing-up the options for Reserve Champion - Jupiter's fleece was looked at four times, and so I allowed myself to consider that he was in with a chance, however the judges selected eight-year old Hanley Hall Polaris of Alpha Alpacas who is Jupiter's sire! It would be very unusual for a Junior to be selected over a Senior, as the judge can see several years of development with the older animals, whereas the junior can only show the possibility of what he may become. The judge gave me some complimentary comments to give us hope for the future, so we look forward to seeing how he develops.

We said goodbye to two of our young males who have gone to live with a young family and their sheep, goats and geese - they are near-by, and we saw them last weekend for vitamin injections, and they have settled in well.

Soon we have our regional group AGM, lunch and a guest speaker which looks interesting, and before that, we have to decide on entries for the National Show next March. Plenty to think about and look forward to!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

SWAG Fleece and Craft Show

The South West Alpaca Group held their first autumn fleece and craft show on saturday. We were very chuffed to find that Apple Vale Fortune's fleece was awarded 1st place and Best Light Fleece, and Dr. Harvey was given 2nd place black fleece.

Joy was demonstrating wet felting during the day, and also was awarded 1st place for her hand-spun, hand-woven scarf, and 1st place for a felted wreath in the Christmas category, and 3rd place for a felted elf boot in the same category.

The show also included a number of stalls with crafters and breeders selling their products made from alpaca fleece, showing the huge variety of possible uses for fleece, and the many techniques, whether hand-crafted or machine-made.

The show organizers got a nasty surprise when they arrived, as overnight, a car had ploughed into the rear of the hall, and for the duration of the show was embedded in the wall, completely filling the cleaners cupboard!

It was good to catch-up with fellow breeders so long after the main showing season, and we get another chance in a couple of weeks when we head up to the Midlands Halter Championship at Malvern. To that end, Apple Vale Jupiter has been weaned, and I have been halter-training him. Here he is with his male cohorts:

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Jazz' story, and introducing Jester.

We were in the middle of a heatwave, a Tuesday - it was to be the third day in succession with temperatures of at least 30 degrees. Blossom's due date was three days earlier, and Elstar's due date was on the coming Friday - both had raised cria last year.
When I fed the nursery group in the morning, they all came to the troughs, there was no unusual behaviour which might have suggested a birth to come. But at 8.00am after feeding the rest of the herd over the hill, and on my way back to the house to answer a call of nature, I saw two feet coming out of Blossom, and ran to tell Joy who was cooking breakfast for B & B guests. By the time I got back, a brown male cria was on the ground, the rest of the herd had gathered around, Blossom was standing by, and Elstar was sniffing and licking him.

I stayed and watched and the rest of the herd drifted away. He was a bit raspy, so we cleared mucus and membranes, but it didn't clear completely, so I gave him a 'swing'. He was slow to sit and we helped him to stand up, he was down on his pasterns, and didn't stay up for long. The placenta was delivered swiftly, and appeared normal. Elstar remained intrusive, and I told her that she had to wait, as hers wasn't due until Friday (!), so we moved Blossom and her newborn into a pen in the shade of some trees. It was as if Elstar thought he was hers.

The temperature was rising to the upper 20's, and as he wasn't showing the usual urgency or energy to sit up, stand, and then walk, I didn't go to work, but watched, and waited. After around three hours he hadn't managed to feed - Joy checked Blossom's teats for milk, and noticed that they were particularly large - she is a large-framed girl - there was milk, so we put him under mum, but he didn't suck. So we started thawing plasma and called the vet to check on his chest and also administer the plasma. The vet was fairly happy that his chest would clear with exercise, and gave the plasma by tube, orally into his stomach. After allowing an hour and a half for that to absorb, we gave him about 100ml of goats milk, and he was getting more active, and searched under mum for her milk.

We named him Jazz - we name all cria after an apple variety, and this year we are on the letter 'J' - already having used Jupiter and Jester - I went to work at 2.00.
After a while, Joy allowed them out of the pen, and allowed the rest of the group back into the paddock. Elstar went straight to him, and he went straight to her, and went under her, so Joy separated them all again. After separation, Elstar's behaviour indicated that she clearly would have preferred to be with them in the next paddock.
He became more active, and Blossom was attentive, he was less interested in the goat's milk, so we were happy that progress was being made.

In the evening, they had moved to the top of the hill, and I went to take some photographs of Jazz - he was sitting in the long grass, and I moved around him, taking pictures from different angles - as I crouched for the fourth photo from a different angle, my heart sank as, looking through the viewfinder, in the background beyond him I saw, what I immediately knew was a dead cria..............and things immediately fell into place - Elstar had given birth to a stillborn during the night, and was grieving, and maybe thought Jazz was, or could be, hers! It all started to make sense - she must have had it very early during the night, we searched the long grass but didn't find a placenta, and there was no blood staining her legs - because our attention that morning was closer to home, and the shade of the glade with the temperature reaching 32deg, we had no need to go up there. Elstar came to feed with the others at breakfast time, so there was no odd behaviour....except for her interest in Jazz after his birth. There was nothing to suggest that she might have given birth.
We were naturally very disappointed - it was a solid brown male, a good size, and would have been the first offspring of our stud male, Fortune (since then, some lovely cria sired by him have been born to females at other breeders).
We immediately let them all get together, Elstar went to Jazz, Blossom didn't mind, and when checked after dark, the three were sitting together.

The following morning, I went up the hill at 7.00am, and amazingly, Elstar was feeding Jazz! It seemed like Elstar was using him to get over her loss, and it appeared that Blossom understood and accepted it! We offered him milk that night, but he wasn't interested. Our neighbour baled our hay that night, so the following evening, with the help of friends, we got the hay into the barn.
He naturally lost weight in the first 24 hours, but the following day he had gained a little, and he continued to gain 200-300 grams per day. In the following days, we only saw him feeding from Elstar, though we may have missed him feeding from Blossom, because on the 16th, 18th and 19th days, I saw him feeding from Blossom. Blossom is a much larger animal than Elstar, and we have wondered whether he found her teats too large.

Generally, all three moved around the paddock together, and would sit close. When Elstar is feeding Jazz, Blossom's ears are back, as all breeders will recognize, a sign of dissatisfaction with a situation, and the sight was a little bit heart-wrenching as you wondered what she was thinking - there have been times when Blossom would try to direct Jazz to feed from her, using her nose, but he would wander away - nevertheless, we have not seen any animosity between Elstar and Blossom. At almost six weeks old, the threesome are still often closer together than the rest of the herd, though not always, but Jazz will always be near Elstar unless he is playing with the other boys.

A fascinating arrangement unfolded before us - on reflection, we felt we handled the situation satisfactorily - had we known about the still-birth earlier, we would have recognized what was happening, and perhaps dealt with it differently, but we did separate them twice on that first day - however, the choice was made as much by Jazz, as it was by Elstar, and he has thrived. Elstar and Blossom have been re-mated and we look forward to next year.
Apple Vale Jazz - dam: Apple Vale Elstar (sire: Van Diemen Qjori of Patou) sire: Wimmera Skies Class Act of Reddingvale
 With all this attention to Jazz, the birth of Jester to first-time mum Florina three days earlier became somewhat over-shadowed. Florina wasn't due to birth for three weeks, and when our son shouted', "there's a cria in the paddock!", we were surprised to see Florina proudly standing behind a wet black male cria.

Florina (sire: Van Diemen Qjori of Patou) has generally shown herself not to be the sharpest tool in the box, always the one to get stuck in the corner of a paddock on the wrong side of the fence from the rest of the herd, but she took to him immediately, and hasn't let him go astray once.
As the temperature headed to 31 degrees, we erected the gaazebo, and carried him back when we wandered away into the sun for too long. Jester was sired by Urcichillay Avalon.
Jester ('Whiskers' or 'Catweazle', as I sometimes call him)

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A newly fenced paddock.

After three months of hard graft, interrupted by shows, births, hay-making etc., we have created a new paddock for the breeding herd, surrounded by Tornado badger-proof close-wire mesh, trenched into the ground.
First I had to remove all of the old fence, a mix of stock fence and barbed wire, and all of the old posts, over several evenings and weekends.
I then dug the trench, 18" deep, using my neighbour's antique wheeled digger (JCB type). Then we drove extra-long posts (7 feet) using his tractor-mounted post tapper.
Gateways have two lengths of 9" x 3" on edge buried between the gate posts, which are 8 feet long.
Because of the closely-spaced wires and the height of the mesh to allow for burying, each roll is massively heavy, and impossible to lift - it has to be rolled across the paddock! Once rolled into position, we rolled it out, cut it to length (generally up to 30m between strainers in this case), plus a bit for tensioning -  then we folded the apron, and could pull it into the trench.
Next we stapled it to the straining-post at one end, and loosely stapled it in the vertical position, before  fixng a length of timber to the other end, where we fixed a winch and haulage ratchet strap top and bottom, wrapped around the digger arm, and tensioned it up, whereupon we could staple it to all of the posts, and finally staple to the straining post next to the digger arm. The final job for the fence is to open out the apron in the bottom of the trench and backfill the soil - this has been done by hand (!!) as the digger (being old) would be too clumsy and likely to damage the fence.
Joy and I have done this, one 3m bay each evening, and we still have fifteen to go, but last weekend took a big step forward, when my sons, and sons-in-law came for my birthday party, and I enlisted them for a morning to backfill a whole 30m side of the paddock.

The gates were then hung and meshed, and hinged panels made, and fitted to suit the sloping profile of the field.
With our other paddocks, we had made them badger-proof, either by doubling-up standard stock fence, and/or adding 2" x 2" mesh to stock fence - all methods are effective, but this was an opportunity to start afresh. Now we have gained a paddock only previously used for our neighbours sheep, and hay-making, and which gives us more scope for paddock-resting and rotation.