Sunday, 1 August 2021

Nutmeg and Norman

 


Two births so far this summer, with more to come.

At the end of June, our star dam, 'Apples' (Helenia Diana), produced Nutmeg, sired by Beck Brow Gee Whiz of Angersleigh - a beautiful fawn female - she has thrived, although mum had a prolapsed uterus around five hours after birth, which the vet came and dealt with expertly, and mum has been fine since. 

 

 

 

 

Then on the second day of the recent heatwave at 7.30a.m Apple Vale Alice, a maiden, gave birth to Apple Vale Norada (Norman to his friends), sired by Apple Vale Jupiter who is now working for Tinryland Alpacas in the Republic of Ireland. Born at 323 days, Norman was down on his pasterns, and his teeth hadn't erupted. With the fierce 29 degree heat and being dismature, he wasn't progressing to suckle, so we gave him Immucol colustrum replacer which we had got in stock to trial as an alternative to plasma, as we had other cria due, and limited plasma.


 This, importantly in the heat, gave him fluids in addition to the colostrum - after 8 hours he began nursing from mum, and we continued to give him occasional Immucol imcluding the next day. With 29 degrees reached on his first five days, we kept a constant eye to see he was spending enough time in the shade, and after the third day his weight began gaining at a rate of around 300g per day, which has continued, and he now enjoys chasing and playing with Nutmeg. 

 

We were very pleased with results from the Cornish Fleece Show: Apple Vale Libby was awarded 1st place in the Light class with 82.5 points, and Reserve Champion Light, while our stud male, Popham Augustus of Apple Vale was awarded 1st place in the White class with 84.5 points. 

Norman

 

Nutmeg




 

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Are they easy to look after?

 

Popham Augustus of Apple Vale, our stud male

One of the most common questions people ask me about alpacas is, 'are they easy to look after?'. To which I reply that the basic requirements are similar to most livestock or even dogs and cats, but like all animals they have some unique characteristics. The similarities are, that feeding is straight-forward, you need to look at them at least twice a day, so that you learn what is normal behaviour and can spot when something isn't right, and they need water and free access to shelter from hot sun and cold rain. What also has to be borne in mind, is that in the longer term, paddocks, fences, gates and shelters will need maintenance, and that is  arguably where there is as much commitment required as you give your animals.

The vibrant green patches of grass, are the latrines, which can amount to a large area, and the alpacas won't eat unless desperate

Spring is the time when there is a little less animal contact required, with the exception of halter-training the weanlings, as shearing, birthing and mating is usually a couple of months away, but the paddocks will usually be at their worst, with growth having stopped over winter, and excess rainfall will have contributed to the paddocks getting easily churned up. If you are stocked up to the maximum number of animals for your acreage, you need to work hard to keep it in good condition.

Apple Vale Marianne

One of the difficulties will be, that you can't improve all of the paddocks at the same time, because of your animals, and as the weather every year is slightly different, you can't have a rigid plan but just have to react to the circumstances. So what have we been doing?

In early March, once the ground surface had dried, I dragged the chain harrow around a couple of paddocks, and then towed a 'spiker' over them to open up our clayey soil.

Fertilizer spreading with the 'shopping trolley'

Then we put some fertilizer down using the trusty 'shopping trolley', which doesn't take as long as you might think. We found that there have been shortages of fertilizer, and also our usual 20:10:10 mix is no longer available in 25kg bags.

I extended the canopy for one of the field shelters to make sure all of the females could get cover from rain and sun.

Joy mows an outbreak of buttercups

Then recently, we noticed considerable amounts of Buttercup in some areas, so we either spot-sprayed or mowed them to reduce the number of seeds likely.

Apple Vale Liberty (Libby)

Like most places, we had an exceptionally dry period, with just 3 days of light showers in a 46-day period from mid-March to the end of April, and the grass growth was virtually non-existant.

Once we could see some extended rainfall, we scattered some grass see over bare areas.

This bucket can easily be kicked off and spilt

Since we began breeding alpacas 13 years ago, we have provided drinking water in buckets set on an up-turned bucket or plant pot, and tied to the wire mesh - the flaw with this, is that in hot weather, one of the alpacas will try to get their feet in the bucket, and knock it off the 'plinth' - for years I have tried to think of a suitable simple stand that I could make...and then last autumn I had a eureka moment....

I buy three buckets, cut a square piece of 12mm or 18mm plywood to fit under the bucket, then screw two of the buckets to the plywood, base to base and remove the handles....'doesn't the bucket leak with screws through the base?', I hear you ask...yes it would, but you take your third bucket and set it inside the upper bucket, the base can't be kicked away, and the bucket doesn't fall off! Now, as a structural engineer I have assisted architects in designing many fine buildings including hospitals, schools and houses, but this may be one of my most satisfying creations! :-)

Marianne poses beside a bucket set inside another bucket which is screwed to an up-turned bucket.


Apple Vale Emily

Meanwhile, these characters have joined us, meet Bob and Penny:


 Finally, Fiesta loves to inspect the paddock hoovering:




Sunday, 21 February 2021

There's a new kid in town


 Four weeks ago, we separated the weanlings with their chaperones, and also started halter training. After the usual slow but steady progress, and struggles with trying to walk on saturated, slippery ground, they have settled down, and are walking steadily.

 Having sold our stud males at the end of last year, our thoughts turned to this year's mating plans, and after looking at the For Sale ads, and making some discrete specific enquiries, we found Popham Augustus, an excellent male ready to start work this year.


Sired by 2015 BAS National Show, Supereme Champion, Popham Havengore, and with the dam of 2019 BAS National Show Supreme Champion (Popham Gabine) as his grand-dam on his dam's side, he has distinction in his immediate ancestry, while his pedigree as great grand-sires or great-great grand-sires includes Accoyo Remarque, ILR Alpine Fibre's Brutus, Peruvian Spartacus, Cambridge Navigator, Perumbete Inti, and Jolimont Warrior.

Naturally he has a fabulous fleece and conformation, and a gentle temperament.


 We gave him a welcome of warm Somerset rain, served horizontally, and he came wearing a 'grey Cornish coat', understandably given the recent weather - in the coming week(s) he will lose that  and become his natural white, (probablywith a tint of pink Somerset soil!).

He has settled-in well with his paddock mate, and has shown a keen eye for the ladies - we have a few open females for him, and once this years cria have landed, we will have more selections to make to keep him busy.

Our thanks to Gary and Felicia of Popham Alpacas for entrusting us with this lovely boy.


Tuesday, 29 December 2020

My bonnie lies over the ocean...

Apple Vale Jupiter

 

As I write this (Dec 29th) I have the mixed feelings of someone who has just sold two of their best and favourite alpacas - a lump in the throat beckons with the thought of missing two familiar characters each morning, but happiness that they are moving on to become part of a bigger herd across the Irish Sea, where they can find more 'work' and hopefully pass on the best of their genetic traits.

Apple Vale Fortune

I'll return to that subject later, but back to where I left off in April: exceptional warmth and sunshine during April and May helped the grass to recover from the wet winter and early spring, although it actually baked the saturated clay too quickly, so that re-seeding was wasted as the ground hardened.

At the beginning of June the brilliant Colin Ottery sheared the herd plus some for clients, and though the preceeding days had brought showers, the improvements I had made to the main field shelter meant we could go ahead with dry animals, and then house them overnight to prevent chilling.

Two days later Apple Vale Florina gave birth at mid-day, to a black male with pretty white face markings - although quick to sit up and stand, he was down on his pasterns and unable to stand to suckle, so in the early evening we intubated plasma to ensure that he got sufficient anti-bodies to protect against infections, and at 9 in the evening we saw him suckling and could relax.

Marble with Apple Vale Florina behind

Due to the dry spring, by now the paddocks were thin on grass, the ground cracked and prairie-like, but a showery June followed by a burst of heat at the end of month ensured a recovery, though not enough to produce our own hay this year, so we traded hay in return for labour, helping to load 360 bales from our brilliant neighbour Bas' who also helped me to knock-in replacements for a large number of rotten fence posts.

Later in the summer, Florina, her cria Marble, and Kit (potential stud male) were sold to Foxhole Alpacas to help them build and develop their new herd.

At the beginning of August, Apple Vale Gala gave birth to Marianne (sire: Patou Goose), a fabulous-looking 7.4kg white female, just as 'ordered'. Despite a good start with feeding, weight-gain was slow - this was due to feeding from just two teats, and even though I expressed the other two teats on several occasions, she never really used them, and her weight-gain has been half the norm, although always upwards, and she is now over 25kg.

Marianne and Madeleine

Later that week, Blossom of Redingvale Alpacas gave birth to Madeleine (Maddy), a lovely white female sired by our own Apple Vale Jupiter. A strapping 9.45kg, Maddy has thrived.

We've carried out some interesting new matings this summer, and all scanned positive in the autumn, so, fingers are crossed for healthy births next June/July.

Given the absence of halter shows, we entered a couple of fleece shows: at the Cornish Camelid Fleece Show, Apple Vale Jupiter was placed 3rd white huacaya 24-48 months in a class of 9, beaten by the eventual Supreme Champion in 1st place and Best of British Bred in 2nd place, with half a point separation in each case, scoring 84.5 points, and then at the South West Alpaca Group fleece show he came second with 84 points.

Meanwhile, the hens have been locked-down in the polytunnel due to the Avian flu' outbreak - not at all nice for them, being used to free-ranging the paddocks.

It's been a funny old year, though I'm sure you will have your own description of it - the usual calendar markers of agricultural or alpaca shows went missing, but at least as farmers we had the seasonal activities of shearing, hay-making, birthing, mating etc. to keep us slightly in tune, albeit they are all variable.

Finally, we had a sales enquiry at the beginning of December, following-up a previous enquiry, regarding our stud males - could they be delivered to the Republic of Ireland before the UK left the EU on December 31st? As a fellow exporter said to me, "we can, but we'll have to get a shimmy on"! First we had to register as an Exporter with APHA, only then could we make an application to export - meanwhile, we booked the vet for TB and Brucellosis tests - the normal turnaround for the Enferplex test was quoted as 14-21 days, so with a 4-day Christmas break looming, it was going to be tight - and the transport was booked for tuesday 29th. The skin tests and brucella results were negative, and the Enferplex test results came back negative on the 21st - almost there, but you have to have a vet health check within 48 hours of their intended journey on a certificate issued by APHA, and this hadn't arrived by Christmas Eve! At 2.00 I 'phoned APHA and was told it was waiting on a 'SAM' results check - at 4.00 I 'phoned and was told by a different officer that she would do it straight away...the office was due to close at 5.00 for Christmas...so I 'phoned again at 4.45, and was told it would be done...at 5.55 we received an e-mail to say it had been sent to the vet! Credit to the civil servant who was true to her word on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, Covid 19 had played another trick with it's variants, and the possibility of travel to the EU became doubtful...but the ban only applied to visitors not freight. So the vet carried out her pre-travel check on Bank Holiday monday (yes another 'twist') and so it was that at 7.30 this morning the boys were collected, and at 6.30 this evening I heard that they were grazing on Irish pasture, although I did hear that they (and their fellow travellers) had re-decorated the inside of the van green during the journey!

Well, it's weaning and halter-training next, while tackling the winter and hopefully avoiding the virus - Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Brotherly love.

Jupiter and Kit
 With no opportunities for alpaca shows in the next few months, a round-up of progress in the herd, to give a glimpse of some of the show team as they come into their prime, with well-established fleece and growth of the weanlings before shearing begins.

I started the previous post in mid-December with, "... the paddocks becoming muddier...", and as we all now know, they became wetter and muddier for another three months. As we got closer to the date of the National Show at the end of March, it became touch-and-go whether we would have animals clean enough to present at such a prestigious event - but as February ended, occasional dry days occurred, interspersed with wet days, such that the animals began to clean up, and even though the saturated ground became water-logged again and again, we had hopes of the show team being presentable...and then Coronavirus loomed. At first, it seemed possible that it could go ahead with certain safety measures and limitations in place - after all, the industry has well-established protocols for bio-security of our animals at such events, so we could have developed measures for the attendees, but the riska associated with the wider aspects, such as accommodating and feeding the humans became insurmountable.

Saturation of the ground, with water and mud oozing up between the alpacas toes, spoiled the already over-grazed grass, and we found we had to rotate the groups between paddocks much more frequently than before, to try and avoid any paddock becoming beyond easy recovery.


Apple Vale Jupiter 
This had a knock-on effect for weaning and halter training, as the weanlings weren't in the usual paddock which is handy for late-afternoon training as the days lengthened - this, coupled with the constant rain made for haphazard sessions, such that progress with the group is slow.

As a small effort to contribute something interesting for those in our village who are unable to get out and about the countryside at the moment, I started issuing a daily 60-second video from the paddock, on our local Facebook page, usually at morning feed time - they won't be issued on 'general' release, after all, who has a voice good for radio at 7.30 in the morning? !  :-)


Jupiter's fleece
Apple Vale Kitageskee (Kit)
Apple Vale Liberty (Libby)
Libby's fleece
Apple Vale Little Emily
Emily's fleece
Jupiter, Kit and Libby were all sired by Hanley Hall Polaris of Alpha Alpacas, from our dam Apples Helen's Diana (sire: Jaquinton of Alpaca Stud);
Kit, Jupiter and Fortune
Emily was sired by Appledene Commander-in-Chief of CME, dam  Apple Vale Gala grand dam: Apples, as above;


Sunday, 15 December 2019

End of term report.


With short, wet days, and the paddocks becoming muddier, it's time to look back on the last six months or so.



The show team of our white males, Apple Vale Kit (Kitageskee) and Apple Vale Jupiter attended five halter shows from Spring to Autumn, coming away with a very pleasing set of results, being placed either 2nd or 3rd in all classes but one, and generally in classes of between 6 and 11 entries - the sashes proved elusive this year, but they were snapping at the heels of champions.

In the Spring and Summer, I built the 'bandstand', somewhere to sit and watch the cria on a summer's evening:

We are looking forward to next year's shows, and the show team have been enhanced with this year's crop of four female cria.

At the end of July, Blossom gave birth to Lady Alice, sired by CME Florestan (S: Ntherough of CME GS: Dovecote Jaquinto), a light fawn female.

In August, Apples gave birth to Liberty (Libby) sired by Hanley Hall RA Polaris of Alpha Alpacas, a white, full sister to Kit and Jupiter.

The following day, Gala gave birth to Little Emily, sired by Appledene Commander-in-Chief of CME, a dark fawn female.

Finally, early September, Elstar gave birth to Longworth Bryony, sired by Apple Vale Fortune, a fawn and white female.
This abundance of female births balanced previous years of male-dominated births.
All the births went smoothly, although Blossom went into several days of isolation and 'quiet contemplation' in preparation, just before our son's wedding, which kept us on tenterhooks. Two of the mums had some difficulty feeding, with a swollen teat or two, and I was quite chuffed to learn the skill of expressing milk to relieve the pressure, and help the milk to start flowing.

In July, we attended Middlezoy village show with two of the yearling females, and Joy took a table full of products, which generated some sales and interest in felting classes.

Joy has continued processing our fleeces, and making fabulous knitted, felted and woven garments, which have sold well to B and B guests, and recently at local craft fayres.
Finally, we have said goodbye to a few females recently, who we have sold to an established breeder - this has helped to ease the pressure on the paddocks, which is welcome after these continuous wet months.
Not long until the days start lengthening...