Sunday, 29 April 2018

BAS National Show

The end of March brought the BAS National Show at Telford International Centre. Around 600 alpacas were judged over two days, broken down into their various classes of Huacaya, Suri, Male, Female, and each of the colours, grey, black, brown, fawn, light and white. I had the role of Ring Steward in the female classes, assisting UK judge Liz Barlow jointly judging with international judge Karen Caldwell from Australia.

The role of Ring Steward is a combination of assisting the judges with lining-up the entrants, helping to restrain boisterous alpacas, recording the result and ensuring the judges sign the result sheet, and collecting the rosettes, sashes and trophies for the judges to present. You will start by liaising with the collecting ring stewards, and informing the judges how many animals are in each class, and with small classes, asking the judges whether they want to bring more than one class into the ring at the same time. The role of restraining differs in the National Show, as the two judges restrict the space left for the steward, whereas in the regional shows there will be one judge, and the animal has a 'free' side, and while it may appear like a lot of standing around, you have to be constantly alert to the behaviour of the animal, ready to spring into action when needed - sometimes, an alpaca will slip it's lead, or may just be very large relative to it's handler, who may need a bit of support to prevent being pushed over. Then there is the less glamorous poo shovel duties, and handing wipes to the judge to maintain bio-security standards, and collecting fleece samples that the judges no longer need! You get an opportunity to meet every handler or owner face to face, and yet there is no opportunity to chat. Sometimes you are privy to the judges discussion, and other times they will be very discrete.

If you were at the show, you may have heard the commentator referring to 'the man with the electric jacket'! Anyone who has attended the show, will know the bone-chilling cold that seeps into you during the day - being a ring steward, the dress 'code' is for a white shirt and black trousers...now there is a limit to how many layers you can wear beneath a white shirt, without buying a shirt four sizes larger than normal and looking like the Michelin Man! So, for Christmas Joy gave me a heated waistcoat, often used by motorcyclists, for example, made by Keis. This fitted under my usual shirt, with a re-chargeable battery in my trouser pocket, and worked very well!

In the ring, we had entered Apple Vale Jupiter, a junior white male, who had done well at the Midland Halter Show in November. With me doing the stewarding in the female ring, it was left to Joy to take him in. In a class of nine, we were very pleased when he was given fourth place.

Meanwhile, in the Fibre Zone, Joy had entered two scarves, and did very well with a second place, in the 'hand-spun hand-woven' category - testament to her skill and creativity, as they also included dyed colours.

I have wondered for some time, what condition the soil in our paddocks was in, with constant grazing, although we do fertilize the non-latrine areas, and so I contacted Mole Valley to have some tests carried out. In february, I took 60 (!) spoon-size samples, as instructed. The results showed that we have maintained the condition of the soil, and we are achieving the correct amount of fertilizing.

Recently we have fertilized the resting paddocks, and carried out treatment of the weeds, docks and Thistles.

We are about to enter 'show month' for us, with 3 shows, commencing on monday 7th, with the North Somerset Show, followed by the Devon County and Royal Bath & West at the end of the month.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Snow gallery

This winter, we had a good fall of snow, it lasted 48 hours, so we have to make the most of it:
Hat? What hat?

Monday, 1 January 2018

Yin and Yang, and potty training!

Wishing a happy and successful year to readers, I won't waste time looking back at the old year, that is history, and you can read the posts if you want to review our year.

We started weaning the second batch of cria two days ago, to rest their mums, and to ease the wear on the paddocks, which are now all thread-bare and squelchy, by reducing the size of groups.

Jupiter, who was weaned in the autumn, has been selected as 'Head Prefect' to look after the weanlings, Jazz and Jester.

People regularly ask how they can stop their alpacas from using their shelter as a latrine - well I can't stop them, but you can encourage them to go where you want them, and here is the method which has worked for me: years ago, after a period of sticking their bums out of the shelter when nature called in the night, ours went through a 'lazy' spell, and used the shelter - this was when we put down a good bed of straw, which we no longer do - while you can get the 'beans' and 'dumplings' out of the straw, you can't remove the smell of urine, and having a full-time job, I didn't change the straw every day, so they were always attracted by the smell of the urine, to use the same place. Without the straw, the earth floor started to get soggy and it became more difficult to clean, so I concreted a small area, where they tended to go regularly.

When I moved the weanlings in on the first night of their seperation, I went and collected some of the day's droppings, and put them in the middle of the concrete 'pan'. since then, each night's production has been on the pan, and easy to scrape up:

At the beginning of December, I built the first part of a new shelter, and after Christmas I took the opportunity of recruiting one of our sons who hadn't returned to his home, to help me start phase two of a new shelter -

 this will be referred to, as the Yin Yang shelter, because it has two over-lapping parts, for a very good reason: this paddock is near the top of a south-facing slope, and the prevailing south-westerly wind hurtles across the Levels before accelerating up the hill - this means, that the open face had to be facing up hill away from the other paddocks - we've noticed over the years, that the differing groups of alpacas like to be able to see the other groups, and so would be less likely to use a shelter facing the 'wrong' way - so phase two of this shelter is to build the other half facing downhill, but set on the leeward side of the first one, and so less vulnerable to the wind - this way, some of the alpacas will be able to see their compatriots in the paddocks beyond and hopefully the others will be happy to sit in the more protected one...a great theory, yet to be proven - but it keeps me off the streets and out of pubs! This shelter uses reclaimed floor panels from our village hall for the walls.

Looking to the year ahead, we hope our pregnant females are growing some fabulous cria, from the carefully selected stud males, and the National Show is peeping over the horizon. Regardless of what the weather does, we know that the days will start to lengthen now, and the grass will grow...as long as it isn't submerged in water or mud!