Saturday 1 December 2018

Autumn musings

After the long hot summer, Autumn has brought occasional wet days, but until this week, no regular rainfall. The paddocks are struggling to re-establish - we have over-seeded and fertilized the worst-affected, and new grass has sprouted - however, latrines that were particularly scorched by urine, were killed off by the drought, and remain pretty-much dead, and well-worn areas where groups sit at night, or where groups gather to see the other groups, are very bare. I had a look on the satellite image of the farm recently, and there were no alpacas visible! It was taken just after our hay was made, during the heatwave, so the 'pacas are all in shade - and our gazebo is visible where we had to extend the shade adjacent to one of the shelters. - from the shadows, I can tell it was taken around 10 in the morning.

In October, our local group, SWAG (South West Alpaca Group), held the second Craft and Fleece show - demonstrations of fibre crafts, stands with products for sale, a competition of crafted products, and some pens with alpacas and llamas for comparison, were all on show to educate and inspire breeders and members of the public, along with a well-supported fleece show. We were pleased that Apple Vale Jupiter came 3rd in a class of 9 with entries from across the country, with a great points score.

Joy, at our village craft sale.
Early in November, I went to Buckinghamshire to attend the Intermediate Alpaca Assessment course, run by The British Alpaca Society. It was an opportunity to improve and refresh my experience of fleece and conformation assessment - with a small herd, you have fewer opportunities of hands-on experience- under expert guidance from BAS judges Liz Barlow and Nick Harrington-Smith, we spent a day discussing comformation and assessing fleece in the classroom, followed by a day at Alpaca Evolution farm, inspecting and assessing groups of alpacas - it was a weekend well worth the cost and time away from home and my own herd. 

We had our pregnant females scanned recently, and those confirmed pregnant are all due to birth around the weekend of our son's wedding!

With the eldest cria reaching nearly six months old and well over 25kg, we have begun weaning, by taking them as far away from their mums, and for the first few days, out of sight of them, they are chaperoned by a couple of mums with their own cria, too young to be weaned.

Last week our local group held it's AGM, followed by a fascinating and amusing talk by ecologist and Africa safari tour guide Jenny Bowen - some interesting developments were revealed regarding next year's shows, which will be finalised in due course.

Finally, for some amusement, a selection of poo samples showing the variety you come across!!!:

Coffee beans

Dumplings, or grenades.

Mother and baby.
Elephant? !

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Kerry Pippin

Kerry Pippin
The final member of the 'K-club' arrived last week: Kerry Pippin, a lovely female sired by our Apple Vale Fortune, was delivered by Apple Vale Elstar (sire: Qjori of Patou). She has a lovely fleece, and appears to be wearing a cria coat, or saddle, with her fawn blanket, however, with grey ears, skin , and toes we are wondering if she will become more rose-grey with time - her markings are unusually, almost symmetrical.
Weighing a wholesome 9.1kg, she was lively from touch-down, standing within 10 minutes, and feeding after 45 minutes, before the placenta had finished arriving.
She joins Kiku, Katy and Kitageskee in a 2-2 draw between the sexes. This years matings are just being completed and fingers-crossed that these hold as there have been a couple of re-matings.
Shade on a warm day
Moving paddock, "...the boys watch the girls go by..."
Apple Vale Jester

Saturday 18 August 2018

10 years on.

18th August 2008: "Alpacas due at 5.00! I am beside myself with anticipation..."

 - this is the opening sentence in my first 'alpaca diary', the log book of our herd, the record of husbandry, health, shows, matings, births, paddock development, maintenance, shelter construction, fleece development, yarn and product creation. So today is the tenth anniversary of an extraordinary period that began, like so many breeders, with wondering what to do with an acre that was too much for growing vegetables - our son suggested buying a sit-and-ride mower, but I couldn't see the point of burning petrol to cut grass, so three female alpacas were purchased to do that job, and to produce cria, to earn their keep. While being introduced to the potential of alpacas by Chas and Rachel at Classical Mile End, Joy declared, 'well you won't catch me spinning at a wheel' didn't take long before she was spinning, felting, weaving and tutoring, and we built a 'fibre studio', where she creates amazing garments, which completes the 'field to fashion' circle.

After a few months, I started writing a blog, and in the days before Facebook (what?) a merry little group of bloggers including Mark (Patou), Barbara (Beck Brow), Debbie (Barnacre), Rosemary (Westhill), Jayne (Zanzibah) and Shirley (Tigh Mohr) shared their experiences via. their blogs.

Inevitably, we needed to expand, and managed to purchase a couple of acres adjoining our property, divided up the paddocks, installed 'bio-secure' fencing, and built shelters, as our numbers increased depending on sales and births, and we have male groups, weaning groups, nursing female groups and older female groups.

We've particpated in the 'show circuit', and enjoyed winning a Championship, a couple of Reserve Champions and a 2nd place at the BAS National, all from our own breeding.
Apple Vale Fortune

As we've progressed, we've enjoyed introducing new owners to alpaca ownership and breeding, and breeding our own stud male, whose offspring have had success in the show ring this year.

Having named the herd Apple Vale (as we live in a vale, in an apple-growing village), our source for all new cria names is the apple-growers list of apple varieties, and it's proved to be a rich source, working through the alphabet annually - depending whether we have males or females, some names are more appropriate than others, and fortunately we haven't needed to use names such as, Dog's Snout, Broxwood Foxwhelp, Catshead or Goof! Unless we have a large birth numbers in the coming relevant years, we're not likely to use Nonnetip Bastard, Swiss Limbertwig, Westfield Seek-no-Further, Rusty Coat, or Reverend W Wilks as names.

With all of this we have also made new friends, some we see frequently, while others may be only annually at the shows, but it's always good to catch up on developments.
Apple Vale Jupiter

This week our later batch of cria started arriving, with a near-identical brother for Jupiter, again sired by Alpha Polaris, and this time one leg was turned back, which Joy turned around while I held screeching mum 'Apples', at the front. Kitageskee (Kit) is named after an apple variety cultivated by Cherokee Indians.
Apple Vale Kitageskee

Sunday 8 July 2018


It's been a busy five weeks since the Bath and West Show.
On 4th June at 4.20, Apple Vale Florina delivered a fawn male, Kiku, sired by our stud male, Apple Vale Fortune. Florina often seems to be the dimmest of the herd, but she is a perfect mother - all went smoothly, and he has gained weight steadily - he has a lovely fleece, that is developing nicely, solid colour in the blanket and neck, with a white sock and 'face paint'.
Apple Vale Kiku
Next came the hay-making - our brilliant neighbour, Bas', does this for us, but we have to manually load it and unload it, so a team of young and not-so-young village friends and our son-in-law are assembled to load the trailer, then I drive it over the hill where we unload it into our small barn. With such a large crop this year, we filled the barn completely with no walk-through, and have left stacks in two field shelters.
While we have more hay than we would normally use in a year, with the parched grass, we are having to feed much more hay than usual during the summer. As some of the boys' shelter was occupied with hay, we had to erect the gazebo to provide additional shade.

Our friends, Mark and Sue Steele have made the bold and exciting move of their home and the Patou herd, to a new farm in Somerset, and I helped move a few of their herd - we wish them all the best in settling in to their fabulous new facilities for them all.
Apple Vale Katy
A week ago, we welcomed with some relief, our first female cria for three years, Apple Vale Katy, delivered by our fawn dam, Blossom (Reddingvale Valentina), and sired by Apple Vale Fortune. Joy had allowed the females into the garden where there was some reasonable grass to graze, and although the birth was due, there had been no signs during the morning, and while Joy's back was turned, at 2.40, out she popped!
Minutes after delivery, Blossom shades Katy from the sun..
The placenta came swiftly after, but Katy wasn't showing interest in suckling - although seven days over her due date, and a good weight at 9.3kg, she was down on her pasterns, and didn't appear to have the strength to stand to suckle - we tried holding her under, and expressed milk from mum's teats, but she still didn't latch on. We thought it may have been the heat (29deg.) sapping her energy - after four hours we decided we had to step in, and de-frosted some plasma, which we intubated directly to her stomach, and got some goat's milk, which we fed her through the night. With this weather, there was no need for a coat, or housing, so we fed her in the paddock at midnight, 3.00am and 6.00am, and continued through the day, resisting feeding too much so that she would have enough hunger to want to suckle, and eventually she suckled un-assisted late in the afternoon, and continued in the evening - we didn't feed overnight, but gave her some milk first thing to make sure she wasn't dehydrating - her legs strengthened and she has continued to make good weight gains daily.
Katy and Kiku
Finally, to relief all round, on friday afternoon our shearer arrived, and together with alpacas from two of our clients, the transformation was made from wooly 'bears' to elegant alpacas. The next trnasformation, will be converting the fleece into desirable, luxurious garments. We have a coouple of weeks respite before more births are due, and we have some re-matings to get on with for those that (frustratingly) didn't carry their pregnancies.
Apple Vale Jester
Apple Vale Jazz

Sunday 3 June 2018

Reserve Champion x 2

Three shows to report on:
North Somerset Show - this usually brings sunshine and showers, sometimes showers that all meet up, however this year, we had a sweltering day. A sun hat for shade was a must. I was Ring Steward for the day, assisting Judge Rob Bettinson and Apprentice Judge Roger Clarke. This meant that Joy would be our handler for our entries, and she did very well, escorting Jupiter to 1st placed Intermediate White Male, and then Reserve Champion in a championship with all age classes represented. Her face in the pictures say it all.
1st Intermediate White Male
Reserve Champion White Male

Devon County Show - this is a 3-day country show where the organizers make the alpaca exhibitors very welcome, with a large marquee, breakfast vouchers, prize money, and this year, our own loos! Again, usually a showery show, but this year the weather was fine throughout. Judge Nick Harrington-Smith placed Jupiter 4th out of  5, though 1st and 2nd were selected as Champion and Reserve champion, which was some consolation.

As Jupiter was born at the beginning of May, he is a 13-month old Intermediate, when all others in his class at these three shows have been at least 21-months old, so some interesting comparisons regarding size and fleece maturity have to be made by the judges.
Devon County Show
Captain Jack Sparrow took an interest in our boys!
Royal Bath and West Show (South-West Alpaca Group) with the dry and warm May, the herd was starting to look clean after the wet winter, however, some wet days and thunderstorms changed things dramatically, and as we have a herd that is free to graze and use open field shelters as they choose rather than be cooped-up in straw-filled sheds, Jupiter had become clagged in mud from his belly downwards - this was very dis-heartening with the show only days away, even though we all know that 'paddock condition' is the guideline. So we did what we could by putting mats on the earth floor of the shelter, and hosing down his legs during the hot days leading up to the show.

This is a four-day show, and our group arrange demonstrations of the fleece production during the first two days, with shearing, carding, spinning, felting and weaving demonstrations, with commentary by BAS judge, Val Fullerlove. Joy was demonstrating the felting process by making felted scarves. Though there were showers and cloud during these two days, the weather improved so that days three and four when the halter show took place, we had fine weather, with the exception of a downpour during the final class of day three. This had cleared away in time for our Chairman, Mark Steele to fire up his barbeque for the group social, where we had a chance to relax and have a conversation without having to check whether we had to get an animal ready for the show ring - apparently we got through 100 burgers and sausages

On day four, it became very warm, the marquee which served as collecting ring became like a sauna, jackets were discarded, hats and sunglasses came out. Our Judge was Liz Barlow, with Apprentice Julia Corrigan-Stuart.

We had a great moment when Pharo's Babu sired by our stud male Apple Vale Fortune (dam Apple Vale Flamenco) owned by our clients Jeff and Caroline Cox, took second place in a class of nine Junior White Males - I then took Jupiter into the ring, and with high hopes but realistically cautious expectations in a strong class of five, I was delighted that he was placed first! Next I took Apple Vale Fortune into the Adult White Male class, and he was placed second behind the successful Houghton Kaleidoscope, owned by Diane and Jodie Lane.
Apple Vale Jupiter receives Reserve Champion

To the Championship: of the six in the line-up we had Jupiter and Fortune bred on-farm, plus Pharo's Babu from sire and dam bred on our farm! As I was handling Fortune who is a big fella', Joy was handling Jupiter, and had the plesaure of receiving the Reserve Champion sash!
Finally, we entered our best female, Helena's Diana (known simply as 'Apples' to us - sire: Dovecote Jaquinto) into the Dam's Progeny class, as she is dam to both Fortune and Jupiter, and the 'icing on the cake' to the show came when she was awarded first place!.

Now, as I write this around 10 o'clock in the evening, wrapped in two Reserve Championship sashes (well, what else are they for?), I can see the planet Jupiter bright in the southern sky...go on, step outside and take a look.

Back soon, as we have some births due imminently.