Monday 21 December 2015

All done and dusted.

The herd have been 'over the hill' during the autumn, on a south-facing slope, as we try to maximise the withering grazing, and we bring them over 'this' side of the hill near the house, a north-facing slope, where the permanent shelter stands, for the darkest, shortest days of winter.

The hens have got used to having the shelter to themselves for months, and now have to accommodate the alpacas! So I swept out the floor of the shelter and in view of the mild weather, gave a dusting of Diatomaceous Earth, as the herd had dried during overnight wind, and went to collect the females:
Here they come, running up the 'avenue'.
Around the bend...
Exploring the new paddock...
"ooh, icing sugar, left over from icing the Christmas Cake! move over hens"
First one down...and the hens are departing...
"c'mon girls, room for more!"
A ittle shake...
You know that the dark ones have rolled properly!

job done!
Have a good Christmas everyone!

Saturday 28 November 2015

Suspens(tion) over.

Five weeks ago, I wrote about a clandestine mission to take a photograph for a competition being run by our regional group, the South West Alpaca Group, and of course couldn't say where we'd been. Well, today at the AGM the results were announced, and above, you'll see my entry. As you can see, it is a public place, but adjacent to a built-up part of Bristol, frequented by dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists. There is no on-road parking close-by. We wouldn't take our pregnant or nursing females, or our older un-halter-trained females, and so it was the two young males, who have been to a few shows, but I wasn't going to risk spooking them with dogs off-lead in such an open area, with a cliff near-by! So I took a look at Google Earth and Street-View, and reckoned I could pull onto the grassed area with the trailer - if we went early on a sunday morning, there would be few dog-walkers or traffic wardens, and hopefully we'd be out of sight of the bridge security cameras, and so we planned to leave home at 7.00 to arrive at sunrise, around 7.45. As usual, it took longer to round-up and get away, so we arrived at 8.00, on a calm but dull morning. With the clocks about to go back, and the weather about to turn, we had to get on with it - the boys are too muddy for photograph modelling at the moment.
Knowing the area reasonably well, I had a vision for the photograph that I was after, and so we pulled up the grass bank, which was steeper than it looked on Street-View! There was no-one around except a few cyclists, so we dropped the ramp, Joy got into an uncharacteristically professional photographer pose, and I led the boys to my chosen site.
We tried a few positions, as it's a long bridge, and we needed to be close enough to gain full impact - we also needed the boys to be looking the right way, after all, it was about alpacas, more than the bridge.
Eventually Joy declared that she had enough 'in the can', and we headed back to the trailer as the first dog-walkers were arriving.
I had considered Glastonbury Tor (difficult access, plus too many people), the Pyramid Stage at the Festival site, Wells Cathedral, and Cheddar Gorge. If there is another competition next year, they are up for grabs. I had half-expected to see Durdle Door, Stonehenge, the Tamar Bridge, or the Cerne Abbas Giant.

I can reveal now, that the picture that I entered (top) was runner-up to a picture by Mark Steele at Salisbury Cathedral - well done Mark, and I did like the pictures that Mark took with everyday icons, like the post box, 'phone box, front door and road crossing. It was a good challenge, and carried out carefully, you can show the public how 'versatie' alpacas can be - and get yourselves some good promotional photographs (or Christmas card material).

Sunday 18 October 2015

Cloak and dagger.

The South West Alpaca Group (SWAG) set a challenge to produce a photograph of a breeder with some alpacas infront of a high-profile interesting public place for use on the cover of the Royal Bath and West show programme.

Well I had an idea, but then had to assess the logistical and other issues - safety, security, bio-security - the public, dog-walkers, stress on the alpacas, which alpacas could we take: non-pregnant, not nursing etc., time of day for sunlight - parking near the chosen 'icon' - permission from land/building etc. owner (or not).

After all that, would it be worth it? Well, when I join an organization, I try to be an active participant - committee members work hard to involve their community, and it's often a thankless task, so I try to take part in most events.

Then I had to consider that I couldn't do it on my own, I'd need a photographer if I was to be in the photo. Discussing it with Joy, she thought my suggested 'target' was a good one, and she particularly liked the 'naughty' side of what we would try (she reads too many crime thrillers).

I then had the bright iidea of looking at Google Earth to check the location, access and parking possibilities, as it was too far away to visit on a 'whim' - this gave the perfect view and answered all the questions. But then, what if there was some other activity going on, such as building work, road-works, a fun run, boat race, fair etc.etc. - a search of various web-sites clarified this.

So the plan was we would arrive at the location at sunrise, so there would be few dog-walkers about, and the sun direction woud be right (if it shone) - we would do it on a sunday for the same reasons, and not a work day (for me) - we'd pull up onto a grassed area, so no street parking issues (apart from not actually being allowed on the grass with a vehicle!), drop the ramp, lead the chosen year-old males out, Joy would start 'snapping', a few poses, then before anyone could ask questions we'd be on our way back to the trailer.

I woke up in the night worrying about the possibiity of one breaking away, accidentally releasing a lead clip, spooking by a dog etc. - it wasn't an 'enclosed' location like a show ground, and with no other owners/handlers etc. around capturing might have been difficult - we decided we could use a piece of cord to tie the lead to the halter as a fail-safe, and I would wind the leads around my wrists, so if they 'went', I went with them!

So we left at 7.30, arrived in good time, no-one around, parked as planned, 'click-click-click', back to the trailer, just as some dog-walkers were arriving, and set off home. We are still awaiting a knock at the door to say we were caught on cctv, after all you can't go anywhere discretely, to be told we'd broken a local bye-law - and then I'll end up with egg on my face! but then perhaps there is a bye-law that says you can do what we did on the third sunday of the month, provided you take an alpaca with you. It was rather overcast, but hopefully the camera has adjusted for that (I couldn't possibly say yet)

Oh, we didn't need the cloak and dagger, or balaclavas. Where did we go? I couldn't tell you that either - the competition has a few weeks left to run...

Sunday 4 October 2015

Radio Gaga

Apple Vale Fortune s: CCNF Talon of CME

BBC Radio Bristol & Somerset's Steve Yabsley drove down from Bristol after his lunch-time show on a lovely sunny afternoon, and after a brief introduction, we set off up the hill to show him the herd and our farm. Talking into a single hand-held microphone, Steve interviewed me about all things alpaca for the best part of an hour,  finishing with an interview with Joy in the fibre studio. It went surprisingly smoothly, we were pleased with the broadcasts, and I've received favourable comments (but do I really sound like that?) - I've always thought that getting involved with the media is like putting your head into the mouth of a lion, so I had reservations.
Apple Vale Freedom of Caton s: Dovecote Jaquinton CME/Alpaca Stud

We were on holiday in Florence when the broadcasts went out, so I was glad to be able to hear it on i-Player, while we took a lunchtime break from the 28degree heat!
Apple Vale Florina s: Van Diemen Qjori of Patou

You're not likely to learn anything unless you don't have alpacas, but if you are interested for the sake of considering inviting your local broadcaster for an interview, it may be worth a listen. The first one is available for another 9 days - they were broadcast from monday to friday, in 4 to 5 minute pieces, and can be found at about 1 hour 34 minutes into the show at the following locations:

monday 14th Sept.:
tuesday 15thSept.:
wednesday 16th Sept.:
thursday 17th Sept.:
friday 18th Sept.:
Fiesta and Fortune in the evening glow.

There were a few minor 'bloopers' - for example, with an alpaca in front of us, Steve said 'now talk me through the alpaca from one end to the other' - I didn't follow what he was after, bearing in mind it was for radio, and so I said "well that's the back end, and this is the front end"!
Apple Vale Gala s:CCNF Talon of CME

Sunday 6 September 2015

Letting go.

What a fabulous day it has been today!
As I said in the last post, we have sold a group of three females to start a new herd for a lovely couple, who chose Apple Vale Bramley, Golden Delicious and Flamenco, a brown and two fawns. These three have fabulous temperaments, and Bramley has been the queen of the 'selfie' for most visitors. Sired by CME Centurion, and born on my birthday five years ago, she was our third cria, and became a real favourite. 'Delicious was our first cria born to a female that had been born on the farm, and had to be bottle fed due to lack of mothers milk, so became easy to handle - she gave birth to Flamenco last year, sired by our herdsire, EPC columbus of Patou, and her second fleece is starting to look very good. The mating has been repeated for the new owners, and Delicious' temperament has changed in days! Bramley gave us two fabulous females, courtesy of sire Van Diemen Qjori of Patou, who will take forward her characteristics. So when Joy told me she'd sold them, I had to get used to the idea of 'letting go' - and yesterday we delivered them to their new home, where they have some lovely paddocks laid out, and we wish Caroline and Jeff every success, and look forward to hearing their progress, as they are only around 12 miles away.
Meanwhile, we heard last year that three males we had sold, had moved to a new owner, who had a small-holding in the next village, and they were helping to clear bramble scrub from a hillside - so last weekend we went for a cycle, and managed to find them, and a grand job they are doing - the funny thing is, that although they are in the next village, they are at the end of a long track, which is almost back in our village, albeit several fields away, and from our morning dog-walk, we can occasionally see the boys as specks on the hillside! We were welcomed in, and climbed up the hill to see the boys - very quickly, we reallised that they remembered us, and to the astonishment of the owner, without corralling them, I was able to put my arm around them while we rummaged in their fleeces!
We are going away for a holiday soon (our daughter and family will be house sitters), and so I have been trying to get the herd organized into easily-looked-after paddocks, and again getting used to the idea of 'letting go' for a while. Tomorrow, I have an interview for a small radio feature, more on that when it comes to fruition.

Monday 24 August 2015

Comings and goings.

On a warm day, 'Apples' cuts out the middleman to fetch her own water.

It's been a few weeks since the last post, but plenty has been happening involving the alpacas. We were invited to Cossington Village Flower Show, and took Golden Delicious and her cria, Flamenco, plus some of Joys creations to demonstrate what we do. We were fortunate with a warm sunny day, and took commissions for wrist-warmers and scarves.
This was followed by an invitation to attend a company fun day, and the following weekend we took Autumn Gold in addition to the other two, making three generations. There was lots of interest from the employees, their families and other stall-holders, and we got another sunny day.
Yesterday, we had a birthday Alpaca Experience visit from Kate and her family - our luck with the weather had run out, and it rained all morning, so we tidied the shelter and brought the 14 very wet females over the hill, but fortunately we had an hour of respite, the girls dried a little and we could walk them back over the hill, and see the males, before the rain closed in again, driving us back to the Studio to show the fibre processing, with a cup of tea and Joys Victoria sponge.
Joy is tough, and doesn't need water-proofs or long trousers!
In between these events, we have had a few matings on-farm with a visiting stud male, and off-farm where we have taken a female to the home of the stud, and also with Scrumpy our own stud male. Fingers crossed that they all hold, for an exciting summer of arrivals next year.
'Keeper of the fleece' - Pixie lies in the sun, with some of Joys dyed fleece.

Gala continues to gain weight steadily, and is now over 20kg, currently gaining around 200g per day.

The major event however, is to announce that we have sold a package of three breeding females to a nice local couple, who are entering the fantastic world of alpaca ownership and breeding - more on which alpacas later, but there was a time when selling any of these was un-thinkable, but it is the reality of breeding, and, like your children, they grow up and 'want' to broaden their horizons - this gives them, and us, new opportunities for breeding, and we know that their new owners have fallen for them, and will give them a good home.

To close for this posting, I spotted this grasshopper on the back of Golden Delicious:

Sunday 19 July 2015

Droning on - Gala progress.

Gala has been progressing well - she is now eleven days old, and has averaged over 300grams per day weight gain. With alternating showers and warm sunshine, she has cleaned her fleece from the mud that stuck through being born into the rolling pit, and is now a lustrous bright white.
She shows the fabulous comformation of her dam, Apples, sire CCNF Talon and grand-sire, Dovecote Jaquinto.
We had a bit of fun this week, when a friend brought his 'drone' over, with mounted camera, and took some aerial shots and film of the herd:
As with any photography of animals, it takes time to get the views that you want, but it also gives further fascinating insight into their behaviour as a herd, and as individuals - if you have observed your herd when a perceived threat such as a cat or dog is seen, the youngest members of the group will be surrounded by the older ones forming a protective ring. In the first aerial picture above, with the exception of the white cria, whose mother has a different agenda, and keeps her close by, the fawn at the centre is a yearling, and the others kept her at the centre while they weighed up whether this was a threat. (and for the avoidance of doubt, of course we didn't fly close enough to spook them seriously, and we have no more pregnant ones).

Monday 13 July 2015

Introducing, Apple Vale Gala

No, we are not holding a fete (gala) - last wednesday, 'Apples' gave birth to a lovely female, Gala,
sired by CCNF Talon of CME. At 12 o'clock Joy had seen her and there was no odd behaviour, then when she did a head count at 3 o'clock we had one more! She had clearly been born an hour or so before, as she was sitting up, though she was damp and covered in mud, having been 'deposited' in the rolling pit! It has taken until today, for the mud to wash out with the rain (fortunately!), as it had quickly become baked-in by the sun!
For the first time in breeding, we did not witness the placenta being discharged, which I always dispose of, nor could we find it either. It must have been punctured and quickly taken by crows or a buzzard - I eventually found the remains in the boys paddock four days later! Gala was 8.95 kg, and she is tall, just like her parents, and full siblings, Empress and Fortune. Being born takes it out of you, as the next sequence shows:

 She has put on 1.3kg in five days, which is excellent progress, and her fleece is bright and full of promise.
Meanwhile, matings have commenced, and we have a couple more arranged for next week, so the plans for next year are being put firmly in place - exciting times! We have had a steady flow of guests for B & B, who all ask to meet the alpacas, and they all comment on how calm our herd are, and want to take one with them!

Sunday 28 June 2015

Fleece and field - all baled up.

Watching the rain fall this morning, with a warm glow of satisfaction, as we got the hay in last night. A good day of hot sun yesterday, burnt off fridays' rainfall, and I mustered help from local friends to lighten the load.
We've only one alpaca left to shear now, and we'll do that before this weeks heatwave, then we can get on with a few matings. Following shearing, the herd have gone from the cuddly 'fluffy teddy-bear' look, to animals of elegance and grace.
Scrumpy, before;
Scrumpy, after;
Apple Vale Golden Delicious, with her cria, Flamenco - both just shorn;
Florina, Fiesta, Elstar and Fortune, post-shearing;