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:

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!