Sunday, 21 July 2019

Harvesting all summer long

Early June brought 9 days of rain, including a thunderstorm during our village Open Gardens, for which we were invited to participate, with the added attraction of our alpacas. For a sculpture trail, we made Woodie, an alpaca out of branches:
With persistent rain due the day before our shearer was booked, I had to erect a tarpaulin to extend the field shelter where shearing could take place, and we put all 8 females into our gazebo 24 hours earlier, and shut the males into their field shelters, and we waited anxiously to see whether they would be dry enought to shear, and whether the shearer had enough space in the dry to operate. All was well, and shearing went ahead, we had harvested our fleece.
Rain continued for another 9 days, so we then had to take measures to keep them warm enough, to avoid hypothermic shock, by penning with hay bales for draught-proofing.
As the weather finally improved, our neighbour gave us notice that he would cut one of our paddocks for hay. The temperature rose to 28 degrees over five days, and, assisted by friends and grand-children, we got the bales in, filling our small barn. We had harvested our hay.
With our birthing period not due to start until mid-July, and having used our previous supplies of blood plasma, we now had time to invite our vet to take blood from a donor alpaca, who has been on farm all of her six years, and wasn't pregnant. This went very smoothly, and we set off to have it spun down to extract the plasma, at Classical Milend Alpacas. We had harvested some plasma, incase of difficulties nursing after birthing.

Finally, as we wait to 'harvest' this year's cria, some pictures of the boys: Fortune, Jupoter, and Kit:

Spring shows

The North Somerset Show took place on 6th May - an unusually late frost, gave way to sunshine and cloud, for a fine day for a show. Jupiter took second place in the Adult White Male class, while Kitageskee took 3rd in the Junior White Male class.

Two weeks later, the Devon County Show took place, dry with occasional light rain. The boys took the same placings, this time in larger classes of 7 and 6 respectively, so we were pleased with those results.
Now we look forward to the Somerset County Show in September...

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Blue Peter and Ju-piter - Spring 2019

Writing this 3 weeks after the BAS National Show, where we had successful results for two of our white males: in the Junior class, Apple Vale Kitageskee was awarded 3rd out of a group of 11, and Apple Vale Jupiter was awarded 2nd out of a group of 9, and we noticed the judge gave him serious consideration for Reserve Champion. They are hopefully folowing in the footsteps of their half-brother Fortune who was a show Champion. It was very rewarding to see the alpacas placed above and below them, and to see our boys in contention with the quality genetics that these are all carrying.
Apple Vale Jupiter

I spent the weekend serving as a Ring Steward for the New Zealand judge, Molly Gardner, judging the female classes, which was an enjoyable experience - the show ran very well, due to the efforts of many stewards inspecting, recording and collecting, plus those who helped with setting-up before we arrived, and with just a few hiccups along the way.
Photograph courtesy of Abbey Kite

The Blue Peter film crew were filming one of their presenters, Lyndsey, as part of a feature on breeding alpacas that the show broadcast. Lyndsey was handling a black female alpaca which was awarded Champion, and so I managed an incidental appearance on the programme - as a fan of the show in my childhood, I have made a big thing of telling (boring!) anyone who would listen!
Photograph courtesy of Abbey Kite

The winter has been quite 'kind' to us here - plenty of frosts, occasional rain, dry periods and a dusting of snow. Still recovering from last years 'drought', the paddocks have required careful nurturing with fertilizer, seeding of bare patches, and rotation of the herd.

The herd have been topped up with injectable supplementary Vitamin D, and have just been given their spring Lambivac vaccinations - in December we said goodbye to three young males who went to new homes in South Wales - we carried out spit-offs on the pregnant females last weekend, and all of them spat-off, although several had scanned negative in the autumn, so we will be watching keenly  to see what develops.

Now a topic for discusssion: there have been several incidents cropping-up on social media, where single alpacas are being kept as pets, although I've not seen any in the UK (seems to be U.S and Australia, where there are many more alpacas than in the UK). Any owner or breeder of alpacas knows that they are a herd animal and should be kept in groups of three or more - I believe that part of the problem is that castrated males are often advertised as 'pet males', and so this is spreading the idea that they can be kept as pets. Perhaps the industry should start to encourage owners to use a different term for these to try and correct the image, and perhaps reduce the incidence. Grazers and flock guards are common alternatives - does anyone have other suggestions?
Apple Vale Kitageskee

In my previous post, I alluded to interesting developments regarding this years summer shows - well, the Royal Bath & West Show decided they could manage without an alpaca feature, which I find extraordinary, so we won't be holding a show there, however there will be a Somerset County Show on the 21st and 22nd September  at Taunton Racecourse, and so plans are underway for this new event, which is exciting.
Apple Vale Jupiter (Fortune behind)

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to the North Somerset Show, followed by the Devon County Show, both in May.

Apple Vale Fortune

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Autumn musings

After the long hot summer, Autumn has brought occasional wet days, but until this week, no regular rainfall. The paddocks are struggling to re-establish - we have over-seeded and fertilized the worst-affected, and new grass has sprouted - however, latrines that were particularly scorched by urine, were killed off by the drought, and remain pretty-much dead, and well-worn areas where groups sit at night, or where groups gather to see the other groups, are very bare. I had a look on the satellite image of the farm recently, and there were no alpacas visible! It was taken just after our hay was made, during the heatwave, so the 'pacas are all in shade - and our gazebo is visible where we had to extend the shade adjacent to one of the shelters. - from the shadows, I can tell it was taken around 10 in the morning.

In October, our local group, SWAG (South West Alpaca Group), held the second Craft and Fleece show - demonstrations of fibre crafts, stands with products for sale, a competition of crafted products, and some pens with alpacas and llamas for comparison, were all on show to educate and inspire breeders and members of the public, along with a well-supported fleece show. We were pleased that Apple Vale Jupiter came 3rd in a class of 9 with entries from across the country, with a great points score.

Joy, at our village craft sale.
Early in November, I went to Buckinghamshire to attend the Intermediate Alpaca Assessment course, run by The British Alpaca Society. It was an opportunity to improve and refresh my experience of fleece and conformation assessment - with a small herd, you have fewer opportunities of hands-on experience- under expert guidance from BAS judges Liz Barlow and Nick Harrington-Smith, we spent a day discussing comformation and assessing fleece in the classroom, followed by a day at Alpaca Evolution farm, inspecting and assessing groups of alpacas - it was a weekend well worth the cost and time away from home and my own herd. 

We had our pregnant females scanned recently, and those confirmed pregnant are all due to birth around the weekend of our son's wedding!

With the eldest cria reaching nearly six months old and well over 25kg, we have begun weaning, by taking them as far away from their mums, and for the first few days, out of sight of them, they are chaperoned by a couple of mums with their own cria, too young to be weaned.

Last week our local group held it's AGM, followed by a fascinating and amusing talk by ecologist and Africa safari tour guide Jenny Bowen - some interesting developments were revealed regarding next year's shows, which will be finalised in due course.

Finally, for some amusement, a selection of poo samples showing the variety you come across!!!:

Coffee beans

Dumplings, or grenades.

Mother and baby.
Elephant? !

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Kerry Pippin

Kerry Pippin
The final member of the 'K-club' arrived last week: Kerry Pippin, a lovely female sired by our Apple Vale Fortune, was delivered by Apple Vale Elstar (sire: Qjori of Patou). She has a lovely fleece, and appears to be wearing a cria coat, or saddle, with her fawn blanket, however, with grey ears, skin , and toes we are wondering if she will become more rose-grey with time - her markings are unusually, almost symmetrical.
Weighing a wholesome 9.1kg, she was lively from touch-down, standing within 10 minutes, and feeding after 45 minutes, before the placenta had finished arriving.
She joins Kiku, Katy and Kitageskee in a 2-2 draw between the sexes. This years matings are just being completed and fingers-crossed that these hold as there have been a couple of re-matings.
Shade on a warm day
Moving paddock, "...the boys watch the girls go by..."
Apple Vale Jester

Saturday, 18 August 2018

10 years on.

18th August 2008: "Alpacas due at 5.00! I am beside myself with anticipation..."

 - this is the opening sentence in my first 'alpaca diary', the log book of our herd, the record of husbandry, health, shows, matings, births, paddock development, maintenance, shelter construction, fleece development, yarn and product creation. So today is the tenth anniversary of an extraordinary period that began, like so many breeders, with wondering what to do with an acre that was too much for growing vegetables - our son suggested buying a sit-and-ride mower, but I couldn't see the point of burning petrol to cut grass, so three female alpacas were purchased to do that job, and to produce cria, to earn their keep. While being introduced to the potential of alpacas by Chas and Rachel at Classical Mile End, Joy declared, 'well you won't catch me spinning at a wheel' didn't take long before she was spinning, felting, weaving and tutoring, and we built a 'fibre studio', where she creates amazing garments, which completes the 'field to fashion' circle.

After a few months, I started writing a blog, and in the days before Facebook (what?) a merry little group of bloggers including Mark (Patou), Barbara (Beck Brow), Debbie (Barnacre), Rosemary (Westhill), Jayne (Zanzibah) and Shirley (Tigh Mohr) shared their experiences via. their blogs.

Inevitably, we needed to expand, and managed to purchase a couple of acres adjoining our property, divided up the paddocks, installed 'bio-secure' fencing, and built shelters, as our numbers increased depending on sales and births, and we have male groups, weaning groups, nursing female groups and older female groups.

We've particpated in the 'show circuit', and enjoyed winning a Championship, a couple of Reserve Champions and a 2nd place at the BAS National, all from our own breeding.
Apple Vale Fortune

As we've progressed, we've enjoyed introducing new owners to alpaca ownership and breeding, and breeding our own stud male, whose offspring have had success in the show ring this year.

Having named the herd Apple Vale (as we live in a vale, in an apple-growing village), our source for all new cria names is the apple-growers list of apple varieties, and it's proved to be a rich source, working through the alphabet annually - depending whether we have males or females, some names are more appropriate than others, and fortunately we haven't needed to use names such as, Dog's Snout, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Catshead or Goof! Unless we have a large birth numbers in the coming relevant years, we're not likely to use Nonnetip Bastard, Swiss Limbertwig, Westfield Seek-no-Further, Rusty Coat, or Reverend W Wilks as names.

With all of this we have also made new friends, some we see frequently, while others may be only annually at the shows, but it's always good to catch up on developments.
Apple Vale Jupiter

This week our later batch of cria started arriving, with a near-identical brother for Jupiter, again sired by Alpha Polaris, and this time one leg was turned back, which Joy turned around while I held screeching mum 'Apples', at the front. Kitageskee (Kit) is named after an apple variety cultivated by Cherokee Indians.
Apple Vale Kitageskee