Sunday, 8 July 2018

Transformation


It's been a busy five weeks since the Bath and West Show.
On 4th June at 4.20, Apple Vale Florina delivered a fawn male, Kiku, sired by our stud male, Apple Vale Fortune. Florina often seems to be the dimmest of the herd, but she is a perfect mother - all went smoothly, and he has gained weight steadily - he has a lovely fleece, that is developing nicely, solid colour in the blanket and neck, with a white sock and 'face paint'.
Apple Vale Kiku
Next came the hay-making - our brilliant neighbour, Bas', does this for us, but we have to manually load it and unload it, so a team of young and not-so-young village friends and our son-in-law are assembled to load the trailer, then I drive it over the hill where we unload it into our small barn. With such a large crop this year, we filled the barn completely with no walk-through, and have left stacks in two field shelters.
While we have more hay than we would normally use in a year, with the parched grass, we are having to feed much more hay than usual during the summer. As some of the boys' shelter was occupied with hay, we had to erect the gazebo to provide additional shade.

Our friends, Mark and Sue Steele have made the bold and exciting move of their home and the Patou herd, to a new farm in Somerset, and I helped move a few of their herd - we wish them all the best in settling in to their fabulous new facilities for them all.
Apple Vale Katy
A week ago, we welcomed with some relief, our first female cria for three years, Apple Vale Katy, delivered by our fawn dam, Blossom (Reddingvale Valentina), and sired by Apple Vale Fortune. Joy had allowed the females into the garden where there was some reasonable grass to graze, and although the birth was due, there had been no signs during the morning, and while Joy's back was turned, at 2.40, out she popped!
Minutes after delivery, Blossom shades Katy from the sun..
The placenta came swiftly after, but Katy wasn't showing interest in suckling - although seven days over her due date, and a good weight at 9.3kg, she was down on her pasterns, and didn't appear to have the strength to stand to suckle - we tried holding her under, and expressed milk from mum's teats, but she still didn't latch on. We thought it may have been the heat (29deg.) sapping her energy - after four hours we decided we had to step in, and de-frosted some plasma, which we intubated directly to her stomach, and got some goat's milk, which we fed her through the night. With this weather, there was no need for a coat, or housing, so we fed her in the paddock at midnight, 3.00am and 6.00am, and continued through the day, resisting feeding too much so that she would have enough hunger to want to suckle, and eventually she suckled un-assisted late in the afternoon, and continued in the evening - we didn't feed overnight, but gave her some milk first thing to make sure she wasn't dehydrating - her legs strengthened and she has continued to make good weight gains daily.
Katy and Kiku
Finally, to relief all round, on friday afternoon our shearer arrived, and together with alpacas from two of our clients, the transformation was made from wooly 'bears' to elegant alpacas. The next trnasformation, will be converting the fleece into desirable, luxurious garments. We have a coouple of weeks respite before more births are due, and we have some re-matings to get on with for those that (frustratingly) didn't carry their pregnancies.
Apple Vale Jester
Apple Vale Jazz



Sunday, 3 June 2018

Reserve Champion x 2

Three shows to report on:
North Somerset Show - this usually brings sunshine and showers, sometimes showers that all meet up, however this year, we had a sweltering day. A sun hat for shade was a must. I was Ring Steward for the day, assisting Judge Rob Bettinson and Apprentice Judge Roger Clarke. This meant that Joy would be our handler for our entries, and she did very well, escorting Jupiter to 1st placed Intermediate White Male, and then Reserve Champion in a championship with all age classes represented. Her face in the pictures say it all.
1st Intermediate White Male
Reserve Champion White Male

Devon County Show - this is a 3-day country show where the organizers make the alpaca exhibitors very welcome, with a large marquee, breakfast vouchers, prize money, and this year, our own loos! Again, usually a showery show, but this year the weather was fine throughout. Judge Nick Harrington-Smith placed Jupiter 4th out of  5, though 1st and 2nd were selected as Champion and Reserve champion, which was some consolation.

As Jupiter was born at the beginning of May, he is a 13-month old Intermediate, when all others in his class at these three shows have been at least 21-months old, so some interesting comparisons regarding size and fleece maturity have to be made by the judges.
Devon County Show
Captain Jack Sparrow took an interest in our boys!
Royal Bath and West Show (South-West Alpaca Group) with the dry and warm May, the herd was starting to look clean after the wet winter, however, some wet days and thunderstorms changed things dramatically, and as we have a herd that is free to graze and use open field shelters as they choose rather than be cooped-up in straw-filled sheds, Jupiter had become clagged in mud from his belly downwards - this was very dis-heartening with the show only days away, even though we all know that 'paddock condition' is the guideline. So we did what we could by putting mats on the earth floor of the shelter, and hosing down his legs during the hot days leading up to the show.

This is a four-day show, and our group arrange demonstrations of the fleece production during the first two days, with shearing, carding, spinning, felting and weaving demonstrations, with commentary by BAS judge, Val Fullerlove. Joy was demonstrating the felting process by making felted scarves. Though there were showers and cloud during these two days, the weather improved so that days three and four when the halter show took place, we had fine weather, with the exception of a downpour during the final class of day three. This had cleared away in time for our Chairman, Mark Steele to fire up his barbeque for the group social, where we had a chance to relax and have a conversation without having to check whether we had to get an animal ready for the show ring - apparently we got through 100 burgers and sausages

On day four, it became very warm, the marquee which served as collecting ring became like a sauna, jackets were discarded, hats and sunglasses came out. Our Judge was Liz Barlow, with Apprentice Julia Corrigan-Stuart.

We had a great moment when Pharo's Babu sired by our stud male Apple Vale Fortune (dam Apple Vale Flamenco) owned by our clients Jeff and Caroline Cox, took second place in a class of nine Junior White Males - I then took Jupiter into the ring, and with high hopes but realistically cautious expectations in a strong class of five, I was delighted that he was placed first! Next I took Apple Vale Fortune into the Adult White Male class, and he was placed second behind the successful Houghton Kaleidoscope, owned by Diane and Jodie Lane.
Apple Vale Jupiter receives Reserve Champion

To the Championship: of the six in the line-up we had Jupiter and Fortune bred on-farm, plus Pharo's Babu from sire and dam bred on our farm! As I was handling Fortune who is a big fella', Joy was handling Jupiter, and had the plesaure of receiving the Reserve Champion sash!
Finally, we entered our best female, Helena's Diana (known simply as 'Apples' to us - sire: Dovecote Jaquinto) into the Dam's Progeny class, as she is dam to both Fortune and Jupiter, and the 'icing on the cake' to the show came when she was awarded first place!.

Now, as I write this around 10 o'clock in the evening, wrapped in two Reserve Championship sashes (well, what else are they for?), I can see the planet Jupiter bright in the southern sky...go on, step outside and take a look.

Back soon, as we have some births due imminently.

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 trousers...now 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 grow...as long as it isn't submerged in water or mud!