Sunday, 29 March 2009

Cracking weekend

This start to Spring has been lovely, but here the ground (which is stiff clay) is now cracked as we've had so little rain (just a few showers this week), and we need the grass to grow for the alpacas - at least when it does rain, it will go down the cracks rather than run off the surface down the hill. Not that I'm complaining, as it's been a good weekend for painting odds and ends. On both days I coralled the girls and got up close and personal, to get them more used to being handled - to finish, I put the halter on Pela, and let them out into the field with me holding on to the lead - she wasn't too happy with it, but at least she didn't career off with me hanging onto the lead -I let her follow the other two, and then released her, hopefully next time I try she'll remember that it wasn't an unpleasant experience, and be more willing.

I've set up the web-cam so that we can keep tabs on our Pest Control Officer (Peaches, the feral cat), as we don't see her now that she works on night duty, and we haven't worked out where she sleeps in the day time.

In the picture, the alpacas are at the end of our field, which is the brow of a small hill, enjoying the early morning sun with the Aylesbury ducks - beyond, across the moor, you can see the outline of the church at Middlezoy(?).

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Slap and tickle

On friday I had some training in the basics of Camelidynamics, a method of managing alpacas whereby they do not feel threatened, and they allow you to handle them to carry out husbandry necessaties. Jay Holland came and taught me, the key message being that it was me being trained, and not the alpacas. It was a very productive day as he is a good tutor. So today I spent some time with a certain three ladies in the alpaca pen getting familiar with them, and with the methods I had learnt. Unlike when I was being taught, they seemed to have collectively decided to make it difficult for me, and all huddled together, blocking me out as much as they could - but it was practice and practice makes perfect, though it was frustrating.

Earlier, I continued limewashing the gable wall - one of the fascinating aspects of traditional skills, is the particular tools and methods that get passed on -lime wash is applied using a particular brush with very long bristles - it immediately looks as if it is going to be awkward and messy, and it is. I suppose that as the liquid carries lime particles, its purpose is to carry a good dollop of the mix - and since it is being applied to a wall, you have to slap it on, then tickle it into the uneven stones and joints - at least, that's my method and description.

I was amused to discover that Mole Valley Farmers, our agricultural merchants, sell 'gripples' - what a lovely word - apparently, gripples are used for joining fence wire. That reminds me of a great book, The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams, where unusual place names are given meanings for 'things' that don't have words - for example: Nempnett Thrubwell (in Somerset) was given the meaning as, the feeling you get when you ride off on a brand new motorbike!

I woke up this morning with a song in my head - one of the new songs by U2 - I haven't listened to the album for several days, so it's fascinating where that comes from when you are not conciously thinking about it first thing, and haven't even got familiar with it in the same way as hearing hit songs over several years. It's great when a melody or chord sequence from a new song is so likeable that it has soaked into your being so that you recall it without trying.

One of the benefits of the changing length of sunlight as the seasons change, is that everybody gets a chance to see the sun rise - in the summer, it's only when you have to get to the airport at 'silly o'clock' to go on holiday, that you get a chance to see the sunrise, but during the winter, sunrise is helpfully arranged to allow people to see the sunrise on their way, or getting ready to go to work.

There are some men of who it is often said, "oh he loves the sound of his own voice" - men who talk loudly regardless of whether anyone is interested or listening - writing a blog is a way that naturally quiet people can 'speak' out and perhaps be heard, without having to be un-naturally loud...

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Silly string

Early morning, Mary the hen is supervising the five ducklings in the paddling pool, while the other chickens scratch around and Pela' is feeding in the alpaca shelter - sorry she is in the dark - if you hover over the picture and double click, you can enlarge it.

Silly string: No, not the stuff you get in an aerosol can - the string the animal feed bags are tied with. There's a special way for opening it, but they don't tell you on the bag - it's so fiddly, and I can't imagine a farmer with his work-hardened stubby fingers on a dark, frosty morning trying to pull the thread through the first few loops until it runs free - so does anyone know the secret?

It was the first tee-shirt day of the year, although if you went up the hill and caught the wind it was cool. I saw a Yellow Brimstone butterfly as well - first of the year and proof that it was warm. There are hundreds of Dock leaves in the field so we have sprayed them with Round-Up (keeping the alpacas in the other paddock while it dried) so we'll try and maximise the grass with some seeding soon. Yesterday I cut down by half its height, a conifer that had outgrown its welcome - hanging on with one arm, while sawing with the other, with all my weight on one foot on a branch swaying in the wind for an hour and a half, I felt like I'd played in the rugby international.

Looking forward to an introduction to Camelidynamics training later this week.

Just listening to the new U2 album - the songs are typical U2 - their fans will love it but they won't win any new ones - I like it. By way of contrast, I am also enjoying the Fleet Foxes.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Harvesting in March?

At last I got around to fitting guttering and a water butt to the shelter - "rainwater harvesting" in the current techno-speak - it will be much easier and less wasteful to top up the ducks and chickens water, and for watering the vegetables. In spite of the drilling and sawing, the hen in the photograph hopped up into the 'witches hut' nest, and laid her egg - you can't hold back a force of nature. Talking of which, arent' oil rigs incredible? - just watching Richard Hammonds Engineering Connections, a really good programme. I took a step forward with setting up the web-cam outdoors, but it needs a much stronger battery than the one supplied.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Alpaca yarn

I discovered this weekend, that alpaca yarn is not a story about alpacas, but the basic product which fleece is made into and used for knitting or weaving into garments. I've been to the British Alpaca Futurity at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire - there were show classes divided into Suri/Huacaya (the two types of alpaca) male/female, all the colours, and age groups; there were seminars about breeding, health and fleece production; exhibition stands with all things related to alpacas, and a fashion show - all very well organized. It was a chance to meet lots of other breeders and people connected with the industry, who were all glad to offer advice. It finished with a dinner/dance with raffle, and I won a prize of a days training in Camelidynamics - a particular way of handling alpacas -fantastic!

Sorry there's another snow photo, but I didn't take any of the alpacas today - as the snow thawed, I noticed that the snow on the roof of the shelter was very slowly sliding off, but retained the corrugated shape of the roof sheets, and curled over. In the distance you can see snow on the Quantock Hills.