Friday 23 December 2011

Greetings all!

Not a bauble in the barn, nor paper-chain on a 'paca, but all is prepared for Christmas at Apple Vale HQ.
The herd aren't perfectly coifferred for a photograph, but we are all suffering from rain and mud at the moment, and at least they are getting out for exercise, 'sun'light and air. Camelot is performing like all cria do at this stage, and being the mobile hay-rick - he's sitting back left next to mum, Minnie. Pelachuta (fawn) and Moira(black), as elders watch the open entrance on the right, while Bramley, Ambrosia and Autumn Gold fill the space in the middle - a fairly regular arrangement of herd hierarchy.
Weekends have been spent slithering around in the mud, spreading gravel around the over-trodden areas around gate and shelter, and eeking out the thinning grass, by allowing them into the tiny orchard and keeping them off the alotment with some chestnut pale fence. We've been offerred a temporary paddock in the village needing some grazing, so we'll be taking a few of them up there soon. Due to the construction of the workshop and studio, we kept the trailer in the field just a bit too long, and won't get it out without borrowing a tractor and creating a lot of mess, so it will have to wait for the ground to firm up - we'll lead the halter-trained girls through the village to the new paddock.

Joys' website offering spinning and felting workshops has been launched and can be found at - spread the word.

So here's wishing all readers best wishes for Christmas, and thanks for joining in with your comments, quips, advice, and encouragement.

Sunday 27 November 2011

In a spin.

No doubt about this being a tasty bit of grass!
On tuesday, I attended a Defra-funded 'Camelids and TB bio-security' workshop, with three speakers, who specialise in different aspects of the subject - it's vital to take note of the available knowledge and advice on a subject such as this, in order to minimise the risks to ones herd. It took place at a farm just past 'the middle of no-where', almost at 'the back of beyond'.
With the increasing herd comes the increasing poo hoovering, and that means the original manure heap fills quite quickly, so I built another today, located at the top of the veg patch so that it's easier for emptying the hoover. Talking of the 'poover', I know there are many people who are interested in how I'm getting on with it (no, really!), and it certainly has its quirks, can sometimes be cantankerous, and I'm sure deserves a blog dedicated to it one rainy weekend when there's nothing else to write about - "like now", I hear you say. I'll spare you that for now.

Mrs. Smallholder has been working on her web-site with her designer, and is spinning like mad to meet the demand for her products - more news on that soon.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Slap and tickle!

There I was, poovering away in the warm sun, in a tee shirt, when a Red Admiral fluttered around and settled on my head- I wondered if Wimbledon had begun, but then, hang  on, IT'S NOVEMBER!
Minnie in the crush, after her pedicure.

Minnies mite-affected legs have been getting some Udder Salve 'slapped' on this week - while she is concentrating on her feed bucket in the morning, I have crept around with a handful of goo and rubbed it up her legs.
"I'm next!" - "no, it's my turn!"

Her toe-nails needed trimming and she's never enjoyed having her legs touched, so today we made a crush out of hurdles, gave her some Hazel leaves and Alfalfa for distraction, and I clipped them on the ground - it worked a treat.
Moira - enjoying her new-found treat.

Moira has always been timid and never eaten from the hand, but yesterday, I wanted to give Minnie extra feed in the afternoon as she is nursing and pregnant, so I took just two buckets of feed, which Minnie guarded well, and I distracted the others with carrot strips, and Moira joined in, and I repeated the exercise today.
Camelot - learning a new taste.
And the tickle? - for lunch we had 'Tickler' cheese - sorry to disapppoint!

Sunday 13 November 2011

Fibre studio opens.

Bubbly flowed, scones were scoffed, and sandwiches were swallowed, as we held an open afternoon

to mark the completion of our Studio & Workshop. On wednesday the vinyl floor was laid, and late on thursday afternoon the mains electric was connected - we had started imagining a candle-lit opening if there had been any major power interruption to delay the connection, but there was no hiccup.
Mrs. Smallholder, two of her sisters (Hilda the Chief knitter, and Gaye) and our daughter (Kerry) worked tirelessly to make all of the sandwiches, scones and other nibbles, serving drinks and selling products, and demonstrating spinning and weaving, while I was in charge of livestock...
We were supported by good friends from the village, and the alpaca world, with some travelling from as far away as Ilfracombe in North Devon and Salisbury in Wiltshire, which was greatly appreciated.

My one reservation about events like this, is not being able to spend proper time in conversation with people without having to break off to welcome new arrivals or wish farewell to departees, and worrying that someone has decided to leave after hanging around too long for a chat. The weather was warm and sunny after heavy showers, so although the ground was soggy, it was a perfect day for November, and the numbers of feet didn't destroy the garden or paddock. I've not posted any photographs with people here, as they filled the room, and it's just the backs of heads, so you'll have to trust me - or maybe some will crop up on other blogs in due course.

I had lured the herd onto the lawn for un-grazed grass and the Eucalyptus tree to browse over, so that they were close for visitors to view - I picked some Hazel stems and wedged them in the hurdles, as they love the leaves, and soon the leaves will have turned and fallen in any case.

Today, as I had noticed Minnies rear legs showing signs of rawness due to mite itching, I gave a topical treatment of Eprinex in pig-oil courtesy of a plant sprayer. I then spread two barrow-loads of sand and small rubble in the paddock to firm-up the deteriorating gateways.
So it's great to finish six months of building, and start a new phase of fibre processing, product development and craft training, and hopefully we'll make progress on pasture and livestock development.

Sunday 30 October 2011


Our three pregnant girls all scanned positive on friday - we were sure about Autumn Gold in any case, as she has become a lot more 'feisty' since mating. Camelot had his ear-tag and microchip fitted.
Workshop side - flooring and more tables awaited.
 Today we gave ADE injections to each, and a few toe-nails were clipped. Bramley has a bit of a crusty skin on her legs so had a 'shampoo' and  'oil' treatment, made all the more difficult as she chose to kush throughout - she is as good as gold, but it was hard work rolling her around,and lifting her to open her legs up to get into the joints.
Clothes are models own...

Otherwise, it's been all-go in the Workshop & Studio - both the external doors had two coats of stain this weekend, thanks to mild and mainly dry weather, though I rigged up some protective polythene so we could leave the doors open and keep the slight drizzle off.
Studio side - each side has a mezzanine store - in this picture, supported by the roof truss in the background.

No time for alpaca pictures this weekend, so here are some sneak previews of the studio looking a little bare.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Hoovering acorns.

Heads down for afternoon tea - no time for posing for cameras.

I put a lot of effort into the title of my blogs, trying to make them true to the content, witty  and worthy of a quality newspaper or magazine (no, really, I do!). You may be thinking, 'ooh is that the title of the latest novel by Diana Gabaldon, or the title of the latest hit 'chic flic', or perhaps the title of the latest album by Mumford and Sons'? but no, I literally decided to hoover the acorns from under our Oak tree, as we will eventually allow the girls some grazing on the lawn. Now, the 'poover was quite happy to suck the individual acorns up, but eventually would have too many in its 'trunk' to swallow, and I would have to deftly lift the trunk above my head to aid digestion into the storage tank - if I did too quickly, I had a shower of acorns flung into the air!

The impending heavy rain brought by (unusually) south-easterly winds concentrated the efforts this weekend: yesterday I put up the guttering and down-pipe on the hay shed, and today I put the primer coat on the Studio and Workshop doors as they will get a direct hit from the rain - checking the weather forecast tonight it seems we may not get much rain tomorrow, as it is forecast mainly for Devon and Cornwall - this week should see the 'completion' of the Studio and workshop, with final fitting from electrician, plumber and carpenters. Mrs. Smallholder completed the emulsion today, so it is all looking wholesome. She's also been carding, spinning and plying, to build up stocks for our opening and Christmas.

Poovering the lower latrine had been difficult yesterday due to the length of the grass (like combing Play-Doh through a toddlers hair!), so this afternoon, I mowed it twice.

Camelot is showing interest in feed supplement  now - the girls all get a bucket each, and this week he has been cleaning up their buckets when they have finished. It's comical how despite having a bucket each, the girls have to bother each other so it ends up like musical chairs but with buckets, even though there are enough for one each!

Sunday 16 October 2011

Buff and sweep.

Mrs. Smallholder asked me to feel her biceps tonight - after emulsioning the ceilings and walls in the studio/workshop for two weeks, this weekend she's been rubbing wax into the exposed roof trusses, supporting posts, beams, and braces, and then buffing them - and it is all looking great - (and yes she does have some definition in the biceps). Meanwhile I've shifted even more rubble arising from the path and flight of steps that have been laid, and swept tons (alright, half a bag but it was a large area) of sand, dust and grit off the drive, patio and paths. Now that the building work is just about complete and tidy, the leaves are starting to replace the dust! hey ho.

"Bramley, what do you think this is?"

I've also laid slabs between the 'non-grazeable dry matter storage facility' (hay shed), and the 'livestock extreme weather defence shield' (open shelter).

"I've looked on 'PacaPedia', and I think it's an elephant"
Since buying the 'poover' in the spring, I'm occasionally asked how I'm getting on with it, and I mutter, 'yeah, fine' - not very helpful. When the herd was three in number, hand-collecting was easy, as it grew to five, it was manageable, then once the five were all adults, plus a sixth, it was time for an alternative, or quit the day-job and become a full-time pooper-scooper. So I bought the 'poover'. It's been very reliable - I've learnt not to walk too fast with it, or it (literally) throws a wobbler - our field is one side of a hill, so it makes sense to start at the top, and work down so I'm not pulling the increasing weight up hill - it's very obedient and follows me down the hill, without asking, if there's a south-westerly blowing - when the field is dry, the 'beans' make a satisfying rattle as they scuttle up the hose
 - occasionally, a dumpling will resist and keep dropping out of the tube, and then I have to wave it in the air, and ask gravity to help - emptying the bin requires a knack (doesn't everything in life), as the machine will fall forwards unless you have something to lean it against - and if the bin is full it's difficult to lift and empy into a four-sided manure heap, so it's best to try not to be too optimistic - we have around 14 hens, but Mary, the light coloured, is always there in a flash, up onto the heap to start raking over the new manure, like the men at the re-cycling centre!

All the herd were given Lambivac injections yesterday, which went smoothly. The most notable aspect was Autumn Golds reaction - she has been the most amiable of the herd until Bramley came along, but clearly some pregnancy hormones have kicked-in, as she was very reluctant to be held, and spat at us for the first time ever.

Sunday 9 October 2011

"Show me emulsion, tra, la--la, la-la..."

Camelot enjoying a weed.

 We've had a weekend of concerted effort decorating the studio and workshop, though Mrs. S has spent most of the week up ladders and towers with roller and brush - here is a view out of one of the rooflights:

Bramley had some rawness between her front toes a couple of weeks ago -I gave a shampoo with Seleen, followed by a locally sprayed solution of Eprinex in pigoil - I've been monitoring visually daily, but a hands-on check today showed it has cleared-up - she is the friendliest alpaca, but when giving treatment she will kush, which makes foot and leg treatment awkward - of course we partially rolled and lifted her, but does anyone have any tips for preventing them from kushing in such circumstances?

Sunday 2 October 2011

Fibre workshop progress.

Camelot in the evening sun.
 Progress on the studio and workshop has picked up in the last fortnight - the external cladding is complete, inside is fully plastered, floors down, skirtings and architraves on, and Mrs. Smallholder has sprung into action with the paintbrush and roller.

The fibre workshop & studio.

On friday, the two carpenters working here this week asked if they could meet the alpacas before they left - now these guys come with fully-tattooed arms, and work the tough life of a building site, so I hadn't expected to find there was a 'soft centre'. So on saturday afternoon, when they had finished at 4 o'clock, having expected to finish at 1, we asked them if they wanted to see them - "cor yeah", they said, so off we marched, a few nibbles andd some tasty leaves in hand. With the full attention of the herd, one of them said, "I've waited all week for this - I told my girlfriend I was working at a zoo, I must get a picture" - they each had pictures taken, asked lots of questions, and were so besotted, that despite their late working, they were in no rush to leave.

Another large skip full of waste was collected on friday, and this weekend I've spent much of the time bagging-up more off-cuts, sweeping dust, picking up screw and nails, stacking firewood, and sorting anything that can be collected by the re-cycling  truck - it's surprising how many cans of energy drinks have fuelled the building effort!

Our fibre workshop and studio, cottage in the background.

Sunday 18 September 2011

P is for 'paca - or not.

Who can resist a rainbow?

No specific alpaca news this week, but I've transferred the hay from the shelter into the shed - the hens have followed suit and begun laying in the bales - Pixie, our Shi-Tzu finds them, and then runs around the garden, her mouth filled to stretching, with an egg in it! I need to fix doors next, to try and keep them all out, and transfer Ting Ting our rat catcher.

We've been to Manchester for our son Phil's birthday - he had a fancy dress theme of the letter 'P' - a great idea as the options are limitless - Mrs. Smallholder and I went as  'Party Poppers' - you can use your imagination as I don't 'do' Facebook, though Mrs. Smallholder does - there was a Pharoh, Primark, Policeman, Puzzle, Peacock, Pilot, Punks, Pop Princess (Kylie) and Poker Face (Lady Gaga). it was great fun, and I was able to 'dad dance' all night!

'nuff of that - the Studio is progressing well, I'm holding off photo's now until it's presentably finished - the external cladding is going on, and inside is being plastered.

Off to Plymouth for younger sons graduation on wednesday.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Ta daa!!

hay shed - garden entrance
With a small fanfare (to be honest, it was just a bit of blood, sweat and tears), yesterday I cut through the fence, and so linked the hay shed with the alpaca shelter and paddock, and in the next few days can transfer the hay, making the shelter available to the alpacas for the harsher weather. The roof was completed last weekend, and I've just got a few odds and ends to finish, including making provision for our barn cat who we'll try and transfer over from her luxury accommodation in the summer house. The roof tiling wasn't entirely without hitch, as I collected another 60 second-hand roof tiles from the reclamation yard on thursday, only to find they were half an inch smaller tha the first lot, and had to take them back on monday but fortunately found suitable replacements, as I'd already fixed the battens and laid the first 88 - it was a long weekend with humble pie being eaten and severe bruising from kicking myself for not checking - more haste, less speed!

hay shed - paddock entrance

I attended the 2-day Camelidynamics course with eleven other breeders, which was presented by the excellent Julie Taylor--Browne, and hosted by Classical Mile end Alpacas. Julie is a brilliant tutor in all respects, we had plenty of live models to practice on, and Rachels now-legendary catering was excellent, as usual.

Camelot, with Bramley beyond

On tuesday the South-West Alpaca Group held a social outing which did not involve showing alpacas or their fleeces - a chance to rub shoulders with other breeders without the usual time pressures of shows. We had a trip around Devonia Sheepskins at Buckfastleigh in Devon, followed by a pub lunch, and trip around Buckfast Abbey. While some people may find the thought difficult, there will inevitably be casualties on the farm, and it is clearly one way of extending the economic (or sentimental) value of an animal. They already have experience of tanning alpaca pelts.

This photograph was not taken with the CountryFile calender in's been a busy day.

Today I made another trip out with the trailer and two girls for a spit-off for Autumn Gold which proved to be successful, so now that's three pregnant - now I can moth-ball the trailer for a while and concentrate on some training, Camelidynamic-style.

Sunday 28 August 2011


Phase 8 and the hay shed has got the roof carcass on, and the first strip of felt.

Following on from 'scarfed' joints, I had a go at 'bird-mouth' joints (so that the rafters sit flat on the 'wall-plate'. Mrs. Smallholder suggested the collective noun for a group off bird-mouth joints might be, a 'tweet' or 'twitter'.

A 'tweet' of birdmouth joints.
The hens are always after a vantage point.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Hay shed - Phase 7B

Since I'd started the walls under Phase 7, I thought this should be Phase 7B, the completion of the walls. This phase also included adding posts and lintels to support the roof, which will be higher than the original. The photograph shows the view from the paddock side, just inside the shelter pen - once complete, I'll cut through the fence, and the hay shed doors will open into the pen - I hope...

I'm very pleased as I cut some very neat scarf joints,  a skill that's eluded me previously. No progress yesterday, as I woke up and discovered I was a year older than when I'd gone to bed, so a celebratory barbeque was held (yes we did need the water-proof gazebo). Bramley too was one year old yesterday, and settled for a celebratory neck rub, while the others enjoyed pieces of carrot.

{musical aside: currently listening to REM's New Adventures in Hi-Fi, one of their best - I fancy The Strokes new album, never been that keen on them, but their recent singles have been brilliant};

Work on the studio progresses slowly - Mrs. Smallholder stained the facias and barge boards today, and last weekend the floor was screeded. I'm currently taking car-loads of insulation off-cuts to the tip to save on skip costs.

Last weekend, I dragged Mrs. Smallholder screaming and kicking to Fibrefest 2011 which was held near Exeter, and she actually said she was glad I'd persuaded her - it was very good if you like that sort of thing- lots of stallholders of fibre/livestock/yarn/accessories to interest felters/knitters/weavers/spinners and breeders. The site was Bicton College, a lovely setting, with some good food stalls to round it off, just over an hour away from us, so we were back early afternoon for more grafting...

Thursday 18 August 2011

3-years on...

A quick mid-week blog as it's three years today that our first alpacas arrived! Cheers! Looking at the first entry in my journal/diary, I was, "beside myself with anticipation...". We're developing the herd gradually, working within our land constraints (trying to find more), not to mention day-job and finance - we're also embracing the fleece to fibre to garment production, and through attendance at shows, seminars, courses and the 'blogosphere' we've met many people all willing to give support and advice and made many friends in the industry. But above all of that, it's love and caring for the alpacas that drives me to get out in all weathers, spending hours improving and maintaining the facilities, and tolerating some of their less pleasant habits, knowing that there are many fantastic moments to enjoy.

This evening I was out dating with Minnie, who sat again for Ashill Grenadier, looks like her maternal priorities are in charge.

Meanwhile here is another phase (7) in the hay shed construction, which has slowed for the day job - I have erected some walls:

Friday 12 August 2011

Hay shed ( did someone sneeze?)

Refreshed by a one-day holiday in Cornwall with the sunniest two-days this week, it's great to be back - we stayed at a camp-site near Sennen Cove, Lands End and had a great barbequed meal at the beach restaurant Sennen Cove - highly recommended. Last night a load of hay was delivered here at 9 o'clock! - so the urgency for the hay shed was increased.

By popular request (thank you Jayne), here is a summary (in phases) of the hay shed so far:
Phase 1 - remove the hedge - no pictures;
Phase 2 - build foundation pad boxes - this is to raise the floor up to the same level as the alpaca shelter and pen:
Phase 3 - fill foundation boxes with rubble (left over from the studio construction), add a cement slurry to bind it together, and top off with some decent concrete. Add handprints for posterity - in the picture you can see mine with 4-year old Oscar's:

not wanting to miss a trick, one of the chickens joined in while I was a way for lunch - it makes a change from paw prints:
Phase 4 -  fix floor joists and trimmer support frame:
Phase 5 - lay floor panels (previously the walls of the former cattery building):
Phase 6 - fix perimeter beams for the wall panels (same photo); rain stopped play, off to buy a new guitar for up-coming birthday.

To be continued... meanwhile here are the alpacas:

"Mum, I want my supper!"

Sunday 7 August 2011

Hay girls, hay boy.

This week we've managed to cut and bale our hay, just squeezing in between showers - we baled last night, and while another day in the sun would have been useful, the weather forecast for today wasn't good, and was accurate, with showers from lunchtime and a thunderstorm mid-afternoon bringing well over an inch of rain in an hour.
Excitement spreads, as newly cut paddocks are available!

Bindweed climbing the fence proved the main attraction.
I missed the storm, having taken a trip west, for spit-offs - Pelachuta showed complete disinterest as soon as she saw the male  - her tail went up, stayed up, and she made half an attempt at jumping the gate. Minnie however, saw the opportunity for another lunch with a suitor, started grazing, and sat for him for a good twenty minutes or so.

Camelot now has a fleece two inches long at five weeks old, nicely organized into locks.

While the studio work progresses steadily, I'm building a hay shed (barn would be too grand a word, especially after seeing Jaynes wonderful creation), re-using the walls from the cattery building which are in good condition. I've got this week off the day job so hope to get that task by the scruff of the neck, as we have other hay on order.  We have a quick one-night stay in Cornwall while I visit a project for a site inspection, and that's our summer holiday.

When I was out with the females for mating the other week (insert witty comment here), I was passing through a village and passed a pub with tables outside filled with people enjoying a summer sunday lunch. Lots of heads looked my way (yes the trailer does rattle a lot) and we have our herd name and logo on the front and sides, and I couldn't have felt better even if I'd been riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, such is the pride you get from owning, breeding and caring for alpacas.

Later the same week, I was pulling the paddock cleaner around the field, and I realised that in the past, in a simlar way, I've dragged a golf trolley around a golf course, only to find I was rubbish at the game
- I know what I'd rather be doing.

Sunday 24 July 2011

Butter wouldn't melt in his mouth...or would it?

When I saw this scene, my camera was in the house and I thought that by the time I'd ran down and back and changed lenses, the moment would be lost, but I still couldn't resist it, and he even snoozed on, giving me time to cross the paddock to get close up.

So a few days later we were surprised to see him (how can I put this in a way not to offend innocent readers), making amorous advances to Pelachuta, who, after a little playing hard-to-get, willingly dropped down - hopefully, todays trip will have satisfied Pela's urge to procreate.

As it happened, I had made arrangements for Minnie and Pelachuta to be mated today, and so we took a trip to Ashill Alpacas, which appeared to go very well - we need to sell them to give us scope for developing the herd within tight land restrictions - they've both given us two good cria, and proven to be good mums, and will be ideal for someone else starting a herd.

Meanwhile, we have the studio watertight, so at least we won't need to sweep out the  pool again, that was ever-filling with  the constant heavy showers recently.

Felt, battens and rooflights in place - tiles stacked for lying - cladding and internal fit-out next...

Sunday 17 July 2011

Alan!-Alan! - Shearer

At last, we had the girls shorn yesterday - after post-ponements to the original shearer due to rain, Ian Horner fitted us in, and even then the last one was shorn as more rain came in.
Bramley - "I feel like a new woman".

We all say it each year, but it's fascinating to see them shorn of fleece, especially the yearlings having their first shear, as you've grown to know them only as a deveolping fleeced animal, and then you get the big reveal of the, near fully-grown alpaca, without it's fleece - and so from 'cuddly' and fluffy, the only word I come up with each time is, elegant, from a neck apparently the size of a tree trunk, you are faced with a neck that your hands will fit around -  a slender and sleek animal.
Moira - during shearing, not only did she let herself down, she let the herd down, and she let her school down -but she does have a very fine fleece - she is 10 years old today!

During the shearing, Minnie complained a bit, and Autumn Gold too moaned a lot, but it was Moira, our black maiden matriarch, who stole the show - and as I write this, I discover that she is 10 years old today. Moira discharged extensively from all orifices, and shrieked so loud, that a neighbour 100 metres away thought her cat was in distress, and came to look for it! Since then, worryingly, she has taken herself away from the herd, and wasn't too interested in breakfast - we didn't have her shorn last year, as her fleece is very short with no crimp, BUT, it is very fine, and Mrs. Smallholder can't wait to start spinning it - I shall be watching her (Moira) very carefully to see that she is o.k.
Autumn Gold

Ambrosia has a lovely dense fleece, whereas Autumn Gold has an open fleece, and has appeared a little over-weight, but their fleeces were exactly the same weight, which illustrated how so many factors must be taken into account when considerng fleece characteristics. Post-shearing, they appear similar in stature.

Alpacas aside, the Studio construction has progressed steadily, and every day yields another driveway covering of sawdust! We are having a 'cut' roof construction, which (for anyone who isn't familiar with buiding construction), means it is 'cut' on site, as opposed to the modern trussed rafters which are made at a factory. This week should see the felt and battens protecting it from the rain.

Camelot - on your marks, get set, go!!!