Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The Royal Bath & West Show

Since the Bath & West Show reduced it's assistance for the South West Alpaca Group Show, the local group (SWAG) has purchased marquees, and a group of volunteers collects on the tuesday to erect two 10m x 6m marquees and set out the pens - and so it was this year that we gathered, although we learned that one of our number, Andre, was out of action, and his father thankfully stepped in to ferry their merry band of clients from the farm to assist. Several hours later, we had sorted out the numbered components, bolted them together, and heaved up the fabric roof and sides. Then, an engine spluttered into life, and like Thunderbird Two from Thunderbirds, Gus majestically drove the  mower out of the Patou trailer, to mow the showring into an appropriate condition for the best alpacas in the West Country (and temporary cricket pitch).

On the first day, Apple Vale Dr. Harvey achieved another 2nd place in a class of six, underlining the same placing as the Devon County Show, which was very satisfying. The chairman's barbeque concluded the first day suitably.

On the second day we were pleased when Apple Vale Fortune secured 1st place in the Adult White Male class, but the icing on the cake came when he was awarded Champion White Male, our first sash, so a very special moment. With limited land we have had to be careful with breeding until sales allowed it, and with minimal purchasing of new females, it has taken time to create the championship-winning alpaca from our herd with the appropriate stud, but with a second place at the National , and three first places in 2016, we knew he had the potential, and this year we did it.

Devon County Show

The Devon County Show has, for a long time, supported the alpaca show and breeders, and this year some changes had been made with the intention of improving previous arrangements - a single, larger marquee enabled all of the alpacas to be housed under one roof which made for better communication and socialising, with a covered collecting area, which proved useful when the showers arrived.

Dr. Harvey was awarded 2nd place in a class of six which was very pleasing, while Fortune was also awarded 2nd place.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Jupiter, the bringer of joy...no, Joy the bringer of Jupiter!

Yesterday afternoon at 3.00, joy rang me at work to say she thought Apples was in labour, if I wanted to be there...of course I did! We were a bit concerned, as 3.00 is a bit late to start the birthing process. A little while later and the water sac appeared, followed by little white toes... then, with the head not appearing in a timely fashion and the feet disappearing back inside, we decided to have a feel as to what was going on...with Apples standing and me holding  her head, with a lubricated surgical glove, Joy found that the feet were still in the forward position, however the head was turned sideways and facing backwards. Gradually, she managed to turn the head forwards, and with steady assistance we delivered a good-sized male, although there was a moderate umbelical bleed - we quickly got a clip on that. Apples wasn't put off by the intervention (and clearly needed it), and she quickly set about sniffing and licking her amazing new possession - a boy.
He quickly shook his head and struggled to sit up, showing plenty of vigour, and although bloodied, he didn't seem at all slowed by his experience. Apples had chosen to deliver on the brow of our hill, it was dry but blowing a cool easterly wind, so we carried him down hill to a more sheltered spot and let them bond, as the rest of the females got to know their new pal.
Eventually, he found the milk (it's agonizing watching them search all around, wobbling and falling backwards), and we breathed a sigh of relief, as it was getting late. We weighed him ( A healthy 7.85kg), and put a coat on, satisfied that he had dried and that Mum would accept the coat, and called him Jupiter, an apple variety, but also astronomically appropriate, as his sire is Polaris of Alpha Alpacas.
This morning at day-break, he was sitting up brightly beside his Mum, a great sight to see. He's been drinking during the day and wandering about, with little gallops.
(yes, we've undone the loop at the back, as it can cause chafing under the tail)
We weighed him this evening, at 24 hours, and he's gained 360grammes!

North Somerset Show

After four weeks without rain, it arrived on sunday afternoon, light and steady, but during the night I heard heavy showers, so when we went out to collect the boys for the North Somerset show, they were soaking wet, but by the time we arrived at the showground, the rain had stopped and the sky was brightening - within an hour the sun was out, we got our fans blowing on Apple Vale Harvey, the junior brown male who would be in the ring within about an hour, and assisted by a breeze he was mainly dry when his class was called.

He was awarded a satisfying 2nd place, behind the eventual Reserve Champion.
The morning held fine and sunny, and Jo Bridge quickly settled into her first show as the judge - at briefing, she had asked us to let her know if she was racing too fast through the oral reasoning, as she had a tendancy to 'gabble' - not even she knew how necessary it was to become later that day.

A bank of black cloud began gathering to the north, and around four o'clock as Jo was summing-up a large class of 'lights' (I think) the rain arrived, and as it intensified so Jo became faster and faster with summing-up each placing, and it sounded like she was auctioning the animals!

Judging was temporarily suspended, and a spectacular thunderstorm passed right overhead, unfortunately taking one gazebo with it. The alpacas all cushed down in their gazebos, unconcerned by the crashing, flashing and deluge around them.

Blue skies returned, and judging recommenced - the white male classes began, and then Apple Vale Fortune was awarded first place in the adult class.
As the supreme championship got underway, another storm was looming:
It didn't come to much, but a lot of gazebos and other paraphernalia was loaded away wet, to be dried out back home -
An ex- alpaca showground;
We had a cria birth due, and I checked the 'phone regularly all day for the message that I hoped wouldn't come - fortunately no birth happened while we were away, especially seeing what was to come the following day...another post coming very soon!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Small is beautiful.

How often have you wondered what your alpacas looked like from above, so you got out the step-ladders but they weren't high enough, and then you tried to climb onto the roof of the trailer, but couldn't, and then when you were on a high ladder cleaning the house guttering you discovered the alpacas had been moved to a different paddock?  Then wonder no more, because a friend of mine has a drone, and last autumn he filmed our herd from on high, and at long last I've had it edited, so here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1qsR1ys4-I

The last big event was the BAS National Show in March, and I was serving (?) as a Ring Steward in Ring One, the female alpacas, with Judges Amanda VandenBosch and Rob Bettinson. If you're not familiar with an alpaca show, well there are several stewards to assist the event, who variously, inspect the alpacas in their pens on arrival (Pen Stewards), assemble the waiting alpacas and their handlers before going into the ring (Collecting Stewards), record the results (Recording Stewards), and organize them in the ring and assist the judges (Ring Stewards).

I discovered why the required dress code is black trousers and white shirt: it was so cold that you needed the constitution of a penguin! I had three shirts, a scarf, thermal leggings and trousers, and after a couple of hours had to pull on the knitted alpaca wrist-warmers - but it was a great experience - I was able to meet every handler with a female alpaca, and look them in the eye, but of course, couldn't speak to any of them - the two judges were great to work with, I didn't get kicked, and it was the very last alpaca on the saturday afternoon that spat at my white shirt!
The weather here in Somerset has been very dry with no measurable rain in April (though it's coming tomorrow), so the paddocks are bare and cracked  - as we've rotated the groups around the paddock I've fertilized the paddocks using what I call, 'the shopping trolley' - when Joy first suggested this years ago, and went out and did the spreading, I thought she was bonkers - but with small paddocks it is very quick and simple - small is beautiful:
I've just taken delivery of a heap of fence posts and stock netting to enclose a new paddock, so that's going to keep me busy for a while, and I've also bought a chain harrow which can be pulled by the mower - again, small is beautiful:

We have our first cria due any day, from Apples, our Dovecote Jaquinto daughter, who has given us three fabulous offspring so far. We are looking forward to it very much, but we are hoping she doesn't choose monday when we will be at the North Somerset Show, our first of three shows in May.

Back soon...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Elbow, Eucalyptus and ocean-going yachts...

Well, the 'alpaca year' is getting going already - entries are already open for the first couple of shows in the summer, so I've done those this evening. We are weaning last year's cria, and now halter training them, though that is taking time with just the weekends available. Hawkeye has taken to hard feed, but not Harvey.

We are having a few trees pruned, and that includes the Eucalyptus, which the alpacas love, so there is a great pile of branches which we are distributing slowly, to their obvious pleasure - I hang it up in the shelters, and they eat it, and rub their coats in it.
I recently assisted as a Handler and Ring Steward at the BAS judge training and certification week. For those unaware of this, the BAS re-assesses existing judges periodically to ensure consistency, and the opportunity is also taken to assess potential new judges (Apprentices) - the process involves setting up a show situation, almost exactly as in a real situation, with six sets of six alpacas in two rings running together - so at least 16 handlers and stewards were required, along with alpacas and shorn fleeces on loan -  the judges and apprentices judge  as if in a show situation, assessing and giving oral reasoning, followed by a written exam (apprentices only for the exam, I believe). This was all over-seen by two American judges and an Australian. It clearly took a tremendous amount of planning ahead, effort and organizing through the week, and it went very smoothly, with all due credit to the organizers. While the halter shows may not be a perfect, objective assessment of every characteristic of an alpaca, we can be reassured that considerable efforts are made to seek consistency in the process - ultimately a show result is purely an assessment made on the day, in those particular weather conditions, between those animals in the ring.
The senior group having 'breakfast'.
I was paddock hoovering on sunday, and over-filled the bin - I have a Muck Truck mounted hoover, and when facing downhill it tipped onto it's nose -  usually, I can climb on the platform and lean back, as if on an ocean-going racing yacht, and get it to tip back, but not this time - because the poo is wet at this time of year it is heavy and sticks to the front of the bin as it shoots in - so I had to lift from the front like an east European weight lifter - does anyone else have this problem, and have they fitted deflectors to correct it?

I'll leave you for now, listening to the new album by Elbow, where I noticed in a track titled, 'K2', the lines: "See you in Hull, in a sweater made of Atacama Llama wool"... either songwriter Guy Garvey was using poetic license and it was alpaca wool, or it wasn't as good a sweater as it might have been. I met, and shook hands with Guy Garvey at Glastonbury Festival in 2008 as we both queued up at the Cider Bus - we discussed their performance the day before, and it was just before the release of 'One Day Like This', which has become a modern classic - I'm sure I was the first person to recognize how good it was...................see you at the National Show.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Looking forward

Late autumn is a time when alpaca breeders begin to find time to draw breath - the country shows have mainly finished, no birthings are usually planned, and the hay will hopefully be in the barn. As the nights draw in, for those with a full-time job, paddock chores and husbandry have to be carried out at the weekend, so we hope for good weather at the weekends...not always assured. The late afternoon check on the herd becomes difficult when it is dark before the working day ends - as I am self-employed and my office is just 6 minutes away in a near-by village, I nip home for twenty minutes mid-afternoon for a few weeks , unless I am away on site, but it's frustrating not being able to enjoy them in the evenings like you can in the summer. Paddock hoovering becomes difficult when it is wet as the hose becomes clogged, and it is like two hours weight-lifting.

We watch the cria develop, making sure they grow steadily, becoming independant, and see how the character of their fleece develops. Joy will accelerate her fibre processing, creating woven, knitted and felted items to build-up stocks for the Chrsitmas markets. This winter she had successful open evenings in the studio and craft fayres in the village hall.

Paddock management becomes critical as the grass stops growing, and we increase supplies of hay in the mangers and hay-ricks - the paddocks become more muddy depending on the amount of rain - this autumn has been relatively dry, and the paddocks have held up well - we must be due a wet spell, but with lengthening days now, hopefully new growth will begin soon, and reduce the deterioration if we get a wet spell. We've had quite a lot of frosts and foggy or misty mornings recently - the fog and mist bring a special silence to the coutryside, with a blanket deadening all sounds.

Our herd numbers remain constant, as we sold and bought equal numbers - unfortunately we had a disappointing year last year when two females lost their pregnancies over winter and a third had a still-birth - we have two male cria, and they are developing well. On the brighter side, we have five pregnancies, and our stud male, Fortune, has begun work, with several pregnancies, some to clients and other breeders. Fortune gave us many highlights this year in the show ring, with a 2nd place at the 'National, and three Firsts at county halter shows, along with compliments from other breeders and 'off-duty' judges.

I will be helping at the judges assessment in a few weeks, and will also be stewarding at the National Show, all very exciting.

On the farm, we have more fencing lined up which I will be doing with my neighbour, and I have plans for a new shelter in my head, re-cycling timber form our village hall.

So we have plenty to look forward to in 2017....soon I will take a look at the options for cria names in the list of apple varieties under the letter 'I' - it's not urgent but fun to anticipate what might arrive, males or females, and what colours: we 'expect', a grey, a brown, and three whites....time will tell!