This week I saw something I’d never seen before. I went out at 9pm to do the last check of the birthing paddock and caught some movement at the edge of the wood. First thought was rabbits – about the same size – but as I kept watching whatever it was wasn’t moving like a rabbit. As I got closer I realised there were four fox cubs playing in the late evening sunshine. The yearling boys were all standing on their fence line 20 feet away watching intently.
The cubs were completely unfazed by me walking towards them until the vixen put her head above the bank, gave one short bark, and they all disappeared under the fence.
At first you first think that was cool then you start to think should I be worried about a foxes’ den 50 yards from the birthing paddock? In reality it probably doesn’t matter if it’s 50 yards or 500 yards, the foxes will still be roaming about at night, so there is no point worrying too much about it. You have to hope the mothers do what is natural and protect their cria. Mind you – just in case – we’ll be keeping the cria closer to the house at night for a while!
On the plus side there are definitely less rabbits about this year. All they do is dig ankle breaking holes in the middle of the paddocks so I’m happy to see less of them!
I’ll let you decide if the cubs are cute or deadly by watching the video on the link below.
Video link https://youtu.be/dFBU3aGC3jU
A Tangled Tale
One of our beautiful girls, Chamonix, started labour the other day. Known for her easy births and big strong cria who are trying to stand almost immediately we were just overwhelmed with the typical birthing excitement. We quickly noticed something wasn’t right, she is normally a very quick birther from when we notice her pushing, but she simply wasn’t progressing. We decided to put our minds at ease (or start the process of getting the vet here ASAP!) and check her out. It is so important in these circumstances to know your limits and when to play it safe and call the vet immediately for advice. With experience of birthing livestock on our side we felt comfortable enough to make an assessment first, mainly so we could give the vet all the information needed so the best plan could be formed.
As soon as I didn’t feel anything in the birth canal my heart sank as I immediately assumed the worst. Low and behold, it was one of the worst situations and we had a tangled cria who stood no chance of making it’s way into the birth canal on it’s own. Our first port of call, regardless of what we feel comfortable doing, is to always get the vet en route. I would always rather pay the fees of having the vet come out and literally just had to check we have done everything right, then leave things too late.
Once the vet was on her way, we set about doing what we could. By this point Chamonix was understandably getting quite tired. A female who really doesn’t enjoy being handled couldn’t care less what I was doing with her back end. Anyone who has a strong-willed alpaca knows that the moment they start acting relatively indifferent, that you really do need to be concerned.
After what felt like hours of gently doing little movements to try and move the cria around, working between contractions, we finally got him in as good as a position as we could. At this point, we decided to literally step back out of the pen and give her space to do what she could on her own. We had reached our limits of what we could do and the vet would be here shortly to take over if anymore intervention was necessary.
To say I felt emotional when we had the amniotic sac appear is an understatement. At this point I wasn’t at all confident that this would be a complete success story, we were sure we would have a long night ahead of us trying to get this cria up and going, but I had everything ready to deal with that eventuality (including a pizza delivery on it’s way!).
To our sheer delight he appeared and like all of Chamonix’s previous cria, he was thrashing about on the ground full of life and already trying to be an over achiever. He hit all of his mile stones comfortably, cushing, standing, ‘walking’ and feeding in brilliant time. He even got in a little run around between his first few feeds! I am not sure me or Shaun said a word to each other whilst we watched him, a mixture of still feeling a bit traumatised but relieved!
The only lasting memory of him being a ‘squashed’ cria is that he is definitely a smidge wonky! He is straightening daily, but we strongly suspect Mr Squashed had been in a pickle for a while. Luckily, we seem to have healthy cria and a healthy dam, and we really do feel like we had luck on our side. Chamonix gave me a loving kick this morning for accidentally brushing against her whilst she was eating earlier, so I am confident she is back to her normal self as well.
I have explained to the rest of our ladies in waiting that we have had a drama, we have had the moment that makes us question our lifestyle choice, and that there is NO need for anyone else to have any problems. I am not quite sure they understood it, but they all gathered round and were all listening very intently (or looking at the feed bucket in my hand…).
The power of the internet amazes me!
A few weeks ago, an alpaca contact messaged me a picture she had spotted on Pinterest – an alpaca playing the bassoon. Those that know me well, will know that I have two passions in my life (family excepted of course) alpacas and playing the bassoon. A quick google search identified the artist, her website provided contact details and, as I type, a lovely painting of one of my alpacas playing my bassoon on its way to me from the USA. It turned out that the original painting was done for her bassoon playing son and she hadn’t realised he’d posted it publicly. The whole interchange, around the world, took just a few minutes.
I’ve also found that posting videos of my alpacas (I try to include a bit of education in many of them) on social media results in contact from right around the world, questions, comments and answers from the Philippines, South Africa, Latvia, Australia, USA and many more places. Usually it’s just a quick interaction, but some have resulted in long distance friendships and video chats, sharing our alpacas. Such a step forward from the old pen-pal system of communication.
I’ve never tried to run my business virtually, but I am sure it is enabling so many customers to find British Alpaca products. Such a bonus.
When I first met Liz at the Royal College of Art, I was finishing my master’s degree, which happened to involve a revolutionary hi-fi project with a ground-breaking transcription turntable unit (remember, this was 1972!) and a very unusual pair of transparent horn loaded loudspeakers. Only reason I mention this is that it may have led Liz to think that I would be able to fix her hi-fi at home, so I was invited over. I promptly accepted. I never fixed Liz’s hi-fi. I also never left….
‘You’ll never walk alone’ is the song and, sure enough, it was not only me but also my large tropical fish tank with a beautiful collection of discus. The tank somehow made it up to Liz’s fourth floor flat in Maida Vale and found it’s place over a low bookcase – the centrepiece of the small living room, and the beginning of many embarrassing episodes. I will not go into details of how syphoning the bottom of such large tank could possibly end up on the living room carpet but…. I can’t go on without sharing the curious story of the upside-down catfish.
I had purchased said fish at Selfridges Oxford Street fish department thinking that it would be a great addition to the collection, if nothing else to help keep the inside of the glass clean and hoovering leftovers on the sand.
This was not to be…. When I came back to see if the catfish was doing what he was supposed to do, he was nowhere to be seen. Days, even weeks went by without a single sighting of the famous catfish. What we did notice, however, was that some of the discus were showing frayed fins, and not looking their happy self any more. Something was clearly very wrong so, one night, I left the room dark, waited a bit, and then promptly switched the tank lights on. There was the blinking catfish, very much larger and terrorising the tank inhabitants!! He promptly disappeared, but not before I worked out what he was up to, namely spending time hiding upside down in a hollow log which was an integral part of the tank landscaping!
It was clear that Mr Catfish could not stay. I contacted Selfridges, and they confirmed they would be more than happy to take the now larger catfish back.
A very stout polybag was prepared, the log was lifted, and after much chasing, the catfish was caught and placed inside the stiff polybag. As I was about to place the bag on the floor of my Bond Bug (no comment please), the blasted thing started to pierce the bag with his sharp spines!!! I rushed back upstairs, placed the bag in the sink and emptied a large Nescafe jar to transplant the catfish. That catfish was going crazy, those spines were VERY long and VERY sharp and, as I tried to cut the bag with the kitchen scissors, the catfish fell onto the floor and slid under the kitchen units. That would have been the end of the sad story, except behind such unit was the unused back door to the flat – found the key, opened the door, catfish slid out to the landing and we somehow managed to get him into the large jar.
I did get my money back at Selfridges.
I did not learn my lesson, and would love to share more stories about the koi carp on our current ponds, but have ran out of time and space for this issue…………..!
For all of you Grockles or North Islanders I thought I would share, just a few of, the challenges of living on an Island while running an alpaca farm. The Isle of Wight is a beautiful place to live, it’s a County in its own right with around 130,000 residents which makes it the biggest parliamentary constituency in the country. Large swathes of it are an AONB and for me the chilled-out lifestyle, great food scene and slightly better weather than the rest of the UK make it pretty idyllic, not forgetting the odd bit of sailing when I am allowed. PO40, our postcode, is one of the top 10 most desirable postcodes for people to live in the UK and the Island, which once had quite depressed property prices, has become super desirable since the advent of home working and lots of people have swapped their main London address for an Isle of Wight address.
We do face a few problems, chief among them the strip of water between us and the mainland and how to get backwards and forwards particularly with our animals. The distance between us and the mainland varies between half a mile through Hurst narrows up to 6 miles. We have the choice of three car ferry routes and three passenger ferry routes owned by Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel. These vary in time taken from 10 minutes on the Hovercraft in Ryde to 1 hour on the Red Funnel Cowes car ferry.
We are based five minutes from the Yarmouth to Lymington Wightlink ferry so that is always my preferred route, although the Wightlink Portsmouth ferry runs through the night and often when transporting animals, the 4am crossing is my “go to”, meaning I can get well up the country before rush hour actually starts. If we leave from Yarmouth then it takes us five minutes to get there and we need to arrive 20 minutes before the sailing to guarantee our booked crossing, it then takes thirty minutes to cross so actually only adds an hour to our journey time.
We have an account with the ferry company, its much more expensive if you don’t. A car and passengers generally costs us about £55 return with a car and trailer costing around £100 to £150. You may well see me at shows trying to get out as soon as we are able because we are often racing for a ferry to get our animals back asap, leaving the National on Sunday at around 4pm meant we comfortably caught the 8pm home. It just means a bit more organisation when travelling than normal and while there are nice views on the Yarmouth/Lymington route, and I sometimes get a few emails answered on the ferry it tends to be a bit of a chore. The benefit versus those that live around London is that we have great roads North, and we rarely have to go around the M25 and I can regularly leave home and arrive at shows before our friends from Springfarm alpacas Chris and Vicki.
The big thing for me is that actually we are very much in touch, although people seem to think we are in the middle of nowhere, and we really are easy to get to, so if you ever happen to be anywhere near, please do drop in and see Michelle and me.
So much has happened on our farm since my last blog. I don’t even know where to start… so I will keep it short and very sweet.
I had the pleasure of travelling to the Netherlands last weekend to attend the Alpaca Association Benelux Spring Show!
It is always exciting to meet old friends and new at alpaca shows and this show was no different!
The organisation was impeccable and the atmosphere was electric after such a long break from showing.
I spent two days ring side deliberating which alpacas I wanted to have a quick look at before I left for the airport. I didn’t get a chance to get hands on with everything I would have liked, but what I did see, definitely didn’t disappoint.
The weekend has got me even more excited to visit the BAS National Show, where I look forward to catching up with more old friends… and new ones!
It takes a huge effort to get shows organised. All volunteers should get well deserved gratitude. The hard work they put in, allows show goers to have a thoroughly enjoyable time.
Talking of exciting things the BAS National Show is almost upon us and what a celebration that is going to be after a three-year absence. Good luck to everyone who has entered and to all those of you who are visiting the show have a great time and make the most of the opportunity to have a look at some of the best alpacas in the world. Once exhibitors have finished showing an alpaca, they are often very happy to let you have a closer look at them so don’t be afraid to ask.
We are sad that we are unable to attend the National Show this year but will be watching the livestream with enormous interest.
The Farm Manager and I are sat at my desk, actually it’s our dining table, in my office, which is our dining room, in Somerset, surrounded by heaps of alpaca related paperwork looking out at the heavy rain falling on our paddocks that were drying out nicely but are now getting very wet again. We are doing my annual performance review and I’m sad to report that it is not going well.
On the positive side, the days are getting longer, the grass is growing and its only 7 weeks until our first cria of the year is due. We are almost there and things are getting exciting!
We have been busy getting a number of halter trained males castrated and ready to move to their new homes. This includes testing their poo for any parasites and treating if required, making sure they are bang up to date with their vitamins, toe nails nicely clipped, facial fur removed where needed for clear vision and last, but very importantly and not least, bTB tested using Enferplex with our usual zero antigen results. We like our prospective new owners to come and spend some time with us covering all the husbandry aspects of taking care of their alpacas, feed and shelter, recognising when your alpaca may be poorly, body condition scoring, etc. They are then delivered to their new homes complete with a full handover report, shearers details, and ongoing free husbandry support. The new owners can then relax and get to know their alpacas without having to do anything invasive until such time as they are all comfortable with each other.
There are times when I impress my wife – at least I think there was once – and times when she just shakes her head. This was a head shaking moment:
The wheel bearing collapsed on my muck trailer. What should I do? Search eBay for a replacement, get confused by the choice and probably order the wrong size, scrap the trailer, or make my own. Being an engineer, I chose to make my own – out of wood! This cost nothing and took about 5 minutes – quicker than searching eBay.
Buoyed on by my success in bearing manufacture I moved on to making wooden wheels for my compressor! For some reason Barbara didn’t seem impressed by my achievements!
The birthing season has started for us this year – not here in cold wet Cumbria but in Victoria where, without really intending to, we seem to be building an Australian herd. The girl we bought there four years ago has just produced her second cria – a fawn male. The ‘herd’ is stuck in Australia because the normal import route via New Zealand is closed due to issues validating health checks for animals entering New Zealand. There is no agreement in place for direct import from Australia, maybe something the government should be working on?
Birthing in Cumbria is due to start in mid-April although the early girls tend to hang on a bit longer than expected.
Spring is just around the corner and there is ‘something in the grass’ as they say round here. The alpacas are keen to spend more time outside and less inside devouring haylage. Over winter we were going through a big round bale every two days but that has dropped now to one every four days. This, and the fact that less time inside means three less barrows of muck to pick up every day, has nicely reduced my workload. More time to catch up with all the neglected jobs.
Anticipation is building towards the National Show on 25th March. The show team has been picked and entered – too late for any changes of mind. All we have to do now is keep them clean! After a nice dry January, the ground has been saturated for the whole of February, even when it looks like it is drying up one small rain shower turns everything to mud.
All the cria have now been out on the halter four times, next step is to practice loading the show team into the trailer………..
Wooden wheels – they worked for the Romans.
What happens when you leave a trailer full of haylage unattended for 30 seconds
As some of you know, I have bred and shown my Golden Retrievers for many years, and I love it. It is fantastic being part of a network of like-minded people, many of whom I now call friends, being able to walk into a venue and say “Hi” to everyone and genuinely feel “at home” amongst them. I honestly can’t remember it ever being any different. Just recently, my friend Jane, has decided to start showing her puppy (that I bred) and has been entering shows and coming with me, suddenly I am starting to remember how tough it is to get into any new activity.
In her everyday life, Jane is a headmistress, she is very confident and used to meeting different people every day. She hasn’t won anything with her puppy, in fact she’s not even been placed and she accepts that, she knows she has to do her time, learn how to handle the puppy to its best advantage and sometimes be placed behind lesser specimens whose owners are better known, she knows it would probably win if I took it in, it goes with the territory. However, what she is really finding difficult is being a “non-person.”
On our last trip out I was saying to her that it must be nice that people are starting to talk to her and it was great she was being included and I have to admit to being taken aback when she said, “They don’t talk to me Sue, they talk to you and smile at me but no one actually talks TO me, if you didn’t introduce me, no one would even know my name”.
It got me thinking back to when I started, I remember standing by the ringside when the Top Winners were in the line-up, wondering how I would ever feel part of it all, how I would know everyone and looking back I wonder why I carried on. I remember, a few years later, when I was better known, standing with one of my friends who was Top Breeder at the time and another exhibitor coming up to talk to her and turning her back on me because she didn’t recognise me, when my friend introduced me and she realised she knew my name, all of a sudden this exhibitor wanted to talk to me too, but I’ve never forgotten being treated like the Kennel Maid by her.
We have a big problem in the world of dogs with falling entries and lack of new, enthusiastic young exhibitors and I guess its maybe that we aren’t actually very welcoming, if a middle-aged headmistress is struggling to find her feet, then it’s hardly surprising that youngsters aren’t continuing to show.
With the Alpaca show season coming up and the excitement of the long-awaited National Show, I wonder how many Alpaca newbies will be feeling the same as my friend? Wouldn’t it be nice for them to have someone to chat to and help them?
I have decided I’m as guilty as everyone else of being “too busy” sometimes, and I’m vowing to try and be a bit more welcoming, it may take some practice but I’m going to give it a go
Last winter we woke up too what can only be described as a ‘post apocalyptic’ sight after one of the worst storms we had had for years. We knew from our cameras that at least one field shelter had flipped carefully over onto the other side of the fence. I couldn’t spot the other field shelter in the neighbouring paddock; which transpired to be because it had been lifted up over the fence, and brought back down onto the ground with such force that it was completely shattered. Touch wood, several other field shelters managed to survive, but what really finished the day off was our wooden barn roof had been lifted off and ever so carefully placed down next to it. Unfortunately it wasn’t salvageable but it was kind of the wind to make clean up duty slightly easier than if it had been smashed into lots of smaller pieces.
We are so lucky to have a brilliant joiner who is also a good friend who was able to be with us within an hour or two to get everything measured up for rebuilding and go through what wood we could save and salvage and what we could just get rid of… I will say, we’ve got one hell of a bonfire ready for November!
What was frustrating from the start is that all of our buildings were secured by ground anchors, ratchet straps, you name it! So we took the opportunity to go back to basics and really look at how the shelters and barn ended up in pieces. Initially they were at the bottom of a slope, as we live in very flat open West Lancashire you don’t have many natural wind breaks, so for us (and the original builders) a slight dip seemed the most logical place. But the wind must have gained momentum coming down the slope which meant when it was able to get inside the field shelter it was able to push it upwards. Hence how the field shelters have managed to go up and over the fences without causing any damage! Saying that, I cannot emphasise how lucky we are that two huge field shelters and a barn roof managed to blow over fence lines and somehow leave them intact.
We have now gone for a slightly different approach and rebuilt the shelters in a different place, they are further up the slope, back facing and once again, a ridiculous amount of ground anchors and weather proofing. So watch this space!
Since reinstalling our shelters and barn roof we have had a number of windy days. But we appear to be ok! However it is safe to say we don’t get much sleep now whenever it is windy at night. The small bonus was that the alpacas seemed to enjoy the entertainment of watching the shelters and barn be repaired and rebuilt. It’s a shame that we did not get the same enjoyment out of watching the money leave our bank account!
When you are asked to prepare an alpaca blog for Valentine’s Day what else could it cover than love!
Just over a year ago I spent some time planning the alpaca matings – who would be mated to who; what qualities would the male and female bring to the partnership; how likely was I to be able to get my favourite appaloosa patterning gene passing on to the offspring and so many other things.
In May and June 2021 those matings took place and it is now only around 4 weeks until the first cria start to arrive, well maybe three weeks or maybe nine, we all know how flexible alpaca gestations are! It’s felt like forever, and it still seems like there is a huge amount of time until the cria are actually out and running around. But already it’s back to planning the matings for 2023 cria. Some plans will wait to see what a particular mating has produced, others I already have decided. I thought it would be easier with more stud males, but actually I think it makes the decisions harder as each male brings its own characteristics to the offspring and there are so many variables to consider. There’s definitely nothing simple or quick about breeding alpacas!
Anyway, that’s enough love from me I’m sure! I wish you all a happy cria season, with plenty of cute photos for those that aren’t breeding themselves, and easy birthing for those that are.
It always amazes me how we all develop different approaches to best look after our alpacas…….. Question is, is there such a thing as an obviously best way?
Clearly not, as different farms are bringing up healthy, happy and well trained alpacas using techniques to suit their unique situation, resources, help, farm size, number of alpacas and, of course, their own preferences regarding how best to achieve a great result…..
I do not know of any breeders that started looking after alpacas thinking they would have more than just a few…… A nice field near the house, a cute small shelter – all very straightforward! However, alpacas are very addictive, and if someone is seriously thinking of breeding a special line, showing, trekking, or embarking on fibre related activities, the numbers seem to increase at an alarming rate! At that stage, decisions are required: single large barn or several accessible shelters, small groups with access to a number of fields or larger groups enjoying more handsome paddocks, poo picking or harrowing after relocating the little darlings to an adjacent rested field?
For us, the decisions were dictated by our preference to give our alpacas a free choice by strategically placing shelters such that every paddock retains open access to a shelter or section thereof. To achieve this, we had to design each shelter with maximum flexibility, such that we could easily allocate larger or smaller sections to each sharing group. The decision was not only driven by our wish to ‘devolve power’ to the dominant critters, but also by a strong feeling of self-preservation – if it suddenly started to rain heavily, or during periods of intense sun and heat, the lovelies have the option to run for shelter without depending on us being immediately available to drive them in to a major barn structure group by group – particularly useful in the winter, when otherwise we would have to be available on site to bring alpacas into shelters by mid-afternoon! We have found that our alpacas are quite capable of deciding what is best for them, quite often staying out and, indeed, at the top of the hill on cold crispy evenings, but delighted to rush to shelter in the event of a downpour or hot sun. A further, and quite welcome benefit is that all the trough feeders are kept permanently under cover in the shelters or handsome overhangs.
Quite apart from being able to flexibly divide the somewhat larger shelters to suit two or three different groups, we also found it useful to plan for ‘special occasions’, namely sickness, special care and matings. For the former situations, perhaps a youngster with a sore foot or a mum with her cria which need to bond together, we had to plan an area within the shelter which allowed us to keep them such that they retained maximum visual contact with their friends whilst retaining access to a small external area. As for matings, we found it most helpful to have a similar subdivided area within the shelter with access to a small external paddock, with an adjacent barn door to a gated ‘runway’ area where we could stack three or four males on short leads. This arrangement made if very easy to invite two or three of the selected ladies in from the adjacent paddock, and the same number of lucky boys able to access each section of the shelter from the runway area. By carefully planning such shelter divisions, we were able to plan the gates such that the alpacas could transit from one section to another via a weighing scale or foot bath when required, and we also installed a ‘Paca Trapper’ device, which allows us to very safely and easily hold an alpaca that requires vet treatment or even single handed toe trimming!
As for the many strongly held views about poo picking, we have opted to religiously poo pick every single morning. The shelters get disinfected with dissolved green gloop, the concrete hardstanding is pressure washed and poo in the paddocks is manually picked in the immediate vicinity of the shelters, and using a paddock sweeper for the more distant areas. By doing this, and regularly sending samples for faecal testing, we have not found the need to blanket worm the herd – needless to say, we also end up with a nicer environment! Over the years, we have planted clusters of shade giving trees on each paddock which are much appreciated in the summer, quite apart from looking like a park rather than a livestock farm.
It will soon be Christmas followed quickly in its footsteps by the New Year 2022. I find that when you look after livestock you are constantly looking forward and as you get older time passes so quickly that the future is never far from today. It seems only a brief time ago that we were waiting for this year’s cria to be born and yet here we are looking forward to next year’s.
Weaning is imminent here and our 9 cria are doing well and I think that their mothers will be glad to have a rest from them. Once weaned they do still get to see other as each group have their own space in the barn when the weather is bad and can also see each other out in the fields. We usually find that the cria take it all in their stride, as do most of the mothers, but we do get a couple of mothers each year who take a day or two before settling down properly. We have a couple of cria who have mothers that are not pregnant for 2022 and these mothers will stay with the weanlings for a while to help them adjust and they are also useful during halter training in leading the youngsters out until they gain confidence enough to do it on their own.
Gary and I went to watch the 2021 Midlands Championships in October and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with people and seeing all the beautiful alpacas on display. It was interesting to see the progress breeders had made in the two years we had been without any halter shows. We have missed the Shows and look forward to getting back into competition next year.
In early December I was a volunteer handler for the BAS Advanced Alpaca Assessment course held at CS Alpacas in Oxfordshire. It was a very enjoyable experience, and I learnt a lot through listening to the Tutors and the attendees as they assessed alpacas and shared their thoughts with the Tutors leading to a discussion on the points raised. I definitely recommend stepping forward as a volunteer as there is a huge amount to be gained from it and without volunteers there can be no courses.
I am now into my second year as a Board Member. It has been a largely enjoyable experience and the positives far outweigh the negatives. Working with a great set of colleagues on initiatives designed to help our members meet the challenges ahead and endeavouring to continue to meet the founding principles of the society is a privilege and to have been elected by fellow members is an honour.
Much like any one of you I have a busy life looking after and developing my herd of alpacas in addition to making time to spend with family and doing all the usual household tasks. COVID has presented all of us with challenges and my own have included the death of my father at a time when I was unable to visit him in hospital and he had to have an unattended cremation. Nearly two years later we are still waiting for my brother to be able to travel from overseas so that we can get together and spread Dad’s ashes and celebrate his life. Through all of this I have found the friendship of members of the alpaca community to be a source of light with their funny stories and willingness to share experience and learning. My mother always told me that if I had nothing nice to say then say nothing at all, and I always try to do this but obviously no one is perfect and we all slip from time to time, and very occasionally I can still feel that clip around the ear from Mum! I believe that if we can all try to be kind to each other and offer positive feedback rather than negative then all our lives will be richer for it.
Happy Christmas to you all and wishing you the best, and kindest, of New Years!
There seems to be a recurring theme developing at Beck Brow……. Snow
We sheared in April and it snowed the day after, we weaned in November and it snowed the day after!
We have tried several scenarios for weaning over the years from putting mothers and cria at opposite ends of the farm – out of sight and hearing – to putting them in adjacent paddocks and splitting the barn in two with gates. This year, with two barns to use, we moved the weaned cria into the new barn and left their mothers in the old barn. The un-weaned cria and their mothers are also in the new barn so the newly weaned cria have some company and someone to follow in at feed time. Outside there is an empty paddock between them so the mothers can see and hear the cria but not go nose to nose. None of the mums have been running in and out of the sheds looking for their ‘lost’ babies and no-one is pacing up and down the fence line. This looks like being the least stressful weaning yet. The cria haven’t made any fuss at all although it might help that we weaned 36 in one go!
After almost two years without being able to show our alpacas it was great that the halter shows started to run again in September. Showing is an enjoyable and important part of our business, a good way of promoting the herd. It was great to get back in the ring, not just to show the alpacas but to catch up with everyone, see how their breeding is coming along, and check out the competition
The show scene in the north was very busy this autumn with four shows to choose from. As well as Westmorland and Yorkshire there were two new shows, the Northern Halter Show at Penrith and the NEBAG show at Hexham. Both ran smoothly but there was a moment of panic during the organizing of the Northern Show. The colour of the champion sashes was being discussed and green was suggested. An un-named board member rang up in a panic – being a lifelong Rangers supporter (blue) he was worried that, if he won a sash, he would have to display his alpaca in Celtic colours (green). Not wanting to risk this potential embarrassment the sashes were ordered in purple.
The show season is over for this year but roll on the National Show next March.
One of the important yearly management jobs was completed in November – scanning the mated females. It’s always good to know where you are with pregnancy so you can sort out birthing groups and tailor feeding appropriately. We try and avoid ‘feeding up’ non pregnant girls and it also means we can start mating them early rather than waiting for a cria that is never going to arrive.
About 50% of the late birthers from this year who were only mated once were pregnant which is a bonus but disappointingly a couple who had spat off earlier in the year turned out not to be.
The day after weaning
Happy smiling Suri enjoying the snow
Weaned cria fitting in
Westmorland Show in the sunshine
What is a Stockmans eye?
When I started keeping Alpacas 16 years ago, having had horses for most of my life, I was under the assumption (wrongly) that being a farmer was going to be much easier than keeping horses. I assumed (wrongly again!) that farmers were there to feed and water their animals, walk around their fields doing a quick check that their stock were ok and tend their land. How Easy was that going to be compared to the labour intensive hobby of horses?
Wrong again Sue !!
Actually farming any livestock including Alpacas (yes I know they aren’t classified as livestock) is pretty tricky and massively time consuming. Alpacas, by nature of what they are in the wild (prey animals), are so adept at hiding when they aren’t well that it becomes imperative to develop your “Stockman’s eye” as fast as you can. So what is a “Stockman’s eye” ??
For me, it is that instinctive part of us that can just tell when something isn’t right. An animal just looks “off” maybe a bit tucked up in the loin, its fleece looks poor, it may have lost a bit of weight, the animal has that look in its eye and you know something is wrong.
Sometimes the signs are more to do with their behaviour, one of your least compliant animals suddenly becomes easy to handle, one animal is isolating itself, sitting down more regularly or your greediest animal suddenly isn’t coming to the trough as quickly as usual. All these, almost imperceptible, changes that only you, as someone who spends time with their animals, can see are your “Stockmans eye” and each and everyone of us should trust it especially now going in to winter, with the mild weather making parasites rife.
Watch your herd , spend 10 minutes a day just observing behaviour and using your Stockman’s eye, if things don’t seem right, then they probably aren’t, so many times I’ve called the vet to an animal and seen that look in their eyes that means they can’t see anything wrong, then when they get the bloods back it becomes all systems go! Each and everyone of us should use that eye, it can and does save lives.
With Autumn well and truly upon us & winter looming, we have now closed our Experiences for the winter. We did not open at all during 2020 but have had the busiest year to date culminating in seven nominations for an East of England Tourism award from happy visitors I assume! Participation rather than winning is the value to us but as the saying goes ‘you have to be in it to win it’ so we humbly wait for the results with everything crossed.
Aside for usual alpaca chores & management, I have now finally had time to get back to knitting – not with two, three or even four needles but rather, up to 360 needles! I have in total 9 different knitting machines which take different weights of yarn & work differently. The Passap E6000 is said to be the Rolls Royce of machines but is by far the hardest to master & will accommodate singles up to a 4-ply yarn. I am far from an expert but each day is a learning day & I try to set some time aside to try and translate the creations in my mind into something recognisable on one of the machines, spurred on by the rapidly growing fleeces on our alpacas and culmination of our best fleeces yet to be processed but safely stored in vacuum bags away from moths, flies & rodents.
All the yarns we produce, and use are 100% alpaca and with climate change being front and centre it is an ideal opportunity to promote the many positive features of alpaca -sustainable, strong, eco-friendly, hypoallergenic, flame resistant, anti-bacterial – clever alpacas! Are you wearing something alpaca as you read this? Do you have an alpaca rug on your floor? Perhaps some alpaca yarn on your needles, hooks, or loom? Are you making the best use of the fibre your alpacas are growing for you? There is a use for all fibre – I have recently been told that a very clever person is even using the second cuts (a mill owners’ nightmare!) for cat nip. Did you know that BAS has its very own pair of fibre marques which you can use? One for 100% pure British alpaca and the other for blended alpaca to promote the ‘Buy British theme?
We are often asked about end products. Each process ‘adds value’ to raw fibre BUT you do need to have an end goal in mind for your fibre, whether that is simply selling as is, processing into yarn for retail sales or own use, or for a knitting/weaving mill to make garments or cloth for you. Each element takes a bit of time and effort in researching not only the process, costs, and credibility of both manufacturer & your market/customer base.
With that all said, I am off to the herd or mill or shop or knitting machines!
Wishing you all a healthy & happy Christmas & hope to catch up at the National!
As I’m sure you know different people do things different ways. Usually they are not totally right or totally wrong. One way to divide people up is by those who like to work hard and those who prefer to take an easy route. You can also divide by those who like to do things the way they’ve always been done and by those who keep coming up with new ideas.
I’ve been told that the best people to have around are the ones who take it easy and have lots of ideas. That’s because their ideas invariably save time and work.
So what had this to do with alpacas I hear you ask? I don’t know what sort of person I am, but think it’s always good to share those ideas you have, especially if you find they save you time or effort, so here’s one of mine.
I have magnet fixed in places where metal gates need to stay open (but it’s not critical if they close.) Big magnets and small ones. Magnets come in kg strength and I have found 10-12kg one is just enough to hold a gate open, so it needs a slight tug to release it. I have a 75kg one on a gate I want to keep closed while I work in a pen. It’s great on a round bar, but too strong on a flat one. It’s still one handed to release it and easy in gloves. I wouldn’t use them to stop groups mixing, but perfect for quick husbandry work in the barn.
They also hold dosing charts on the metal barn wall on vitamin days (fix an old steel baking tray to a wooden wall, for magnetic surface) And feeding amounts inside feed bin lids. I’m sure you’ll come up with other uses.
November is by far the most (for the wrong reasons) predictable month for weather, in my opinion, and after just a few days of it I feel like we have entered what I dub ‘monsoon season in West Lancashire’. Which is flooded roads, pictures of cars floating and sodden boggy fields (or towards the marshland, the fields just turn into lakes, literally you could stick a boat on them!).
For a while now we have been trying to find a way to substitute the lost income during the seasons where West Lancashire challenges the Lake District for the amount of standing water, as we like to stop our alpaca treks really from November onwards for a few months. We do the odd weekend walk, weather dependent, but that is it, and we ideally would like to see some sort of profit from the business all year round. So I had the fabulous idea that we WILL process the pile of beautiful saddles that I keep in the garage. Not only will we process them, we will do it in our home… This did make Shaun, my partner, turn a funny colour, especially as currently the only hours I have ‘free’ are between the hours of 9pm until whenever we decide is a reasonable bed time, ready for the early start the next day (sensibly 9.30pm, realistically 11pm). So I cracked on with skirting fleeces between treks whilst waiting for customers over October, and now I have a fabulous system that involves fleece drying from most radiators in the house and most sinks having some amount of fleece washing in them in the evenings. With regards to carding, I recruited Shaun as my main carder (after insisting we don’t need to invest in a drum carder just yet, he will be just fine with the hand carders). However, I did insist that I absolutely needed to invest in an electric spinning wheel. We have 4 dogs; two working border collies, a 13 month old chaotic Dobermann and a very stubborn Tibetan Terrier who likes to rearrange the house when we aren’t looking. A wheel going around would be invitation to cause destruction (or in their eyes, ‘fun’). The e-spinner is small and boring looking enough to not peak their interest.
In the two weeks we have had our little system going, I can honestly say it has been really, really challenging and actually quite tiring (less so when I found I could make my spinning wheel go quite fast!). However, I am already devastated we didn’t start it sooner. We have a great local ‘crafting’ community which has meant we have had a huge amount of interest in simply buying the skirted, washed and carded fibre. Our hand spun yarn has been a huge hit with our loyal customer base, and we even knitted some little keyrings which we sold for a really tidy profit, and we are only a few fleeces in!
All in, I really think that if you aren’t doing anything with your fibre, particularly if you run a trekking business and probably have a great local following, why not? I would really recommend being a sensible person and sending it to a mill for processing, if however like us you like the idea of a bit of DIY (and in my case I now find the spinning itself hugely therapeutic and relaxing after a long day on my feet, now we are in a routine with it) have a look into joining a local spinning group. Not only will it be a great environment to learn how to spin, it will be a great way to gently start advertising your own beautiful alpaca fibre.
Liz’s dad fell in love with border terriers and in 1952 bought Huskie from Wattie Irving, station master at Musselburgh, followed some years later by Jester, sent down to Sussex by train. Wattie’s son was Ronnie Irving, who bred the famous Dandyhow border terriers, later Chairman of the Kennel Club.
We had to continue the tradition, and border terrier Roofus joined our lives, followed by Shanty, then Tinker, who loved coming to work with me, sharing space with Friday, the senior partner’s black cat at our architectural studio in Hampstead.
But, I digress…. What developed was a deep interest in breeding the border terrier type we preferred. We started to attend shows and given our design work, set up the Artwork Affix. We bred a fabulous litter from Kelgram Kashmir at Artwork (Tizzy), a Crufts winner. We kept Sketch and Doodle, and Sketch (Artwork Fine Line JW) went on to win Best of Breed at LKA Championship Show, and fathered Clipstone Blue Belle by Artwork (Jingle), 1st Special yearling Bitch at Crufts and 1st Novice Bitch. We eventually went back to Scotland for new blood of the type we loved and came back with Dugaden Dilemma at Artwork JW (Sassy), who did amazingly well in the show ring.
I will be reminded that this blog is meant to be about alpacas, and indeed we eventually did buy our first few and, yes, we fell in love with them, and our interest in breeding took a new direction! We kept the Artwork name and, for the past 12 years, have been trying our best to breed alpacas that not only have wonderful fleeces, but also the phenotype and conformation we prefer. I have returned to Peru, where I lived for 20 years, and our search eventually took us to the US, where we fell in love with the alpacas bred at Snowmass, in Idaho. We now enjoy breeding such Snowmass lines to the Peruvian and Australian lines already in UK.
Looking back, the last six years have been a period of quite significant change for BAS and I have had the privilege, and challenge, of leading the board through it. During this time we have seen much greater member participation in the society through the introduction of online voting and BAS Chat on Facebook, the introduction of the current bTB testing protocol, the appointment of a Chief Executive to manage the society, online webinars using Zoom and Zoom enabled board meetings. Membership has grown by almost 30% from 1276 to 1628 members and there is a growing interest in alpacas thought the country.
I was elected at the March 2015 AGM but could not attend the May board because of a pre-arranged holiday and attended my first board meeting in July 2015 to discover that the then Chair Susan Myerscough had decided to resign due to increased responsibility following promotion at work. Here I was, the new guy on the block, without a clue about how BAS worked (although I had just been asked to take on responsibility for producing the Magazine which I have enjoyed doing until Elaine Clark took over that responsibility in August this year). On arrival at that meeting in a dingy room at a hotel in Stoneleigh I introduced myself to the other directors to discover that they all shared a determination not to become the next Chair of BAS. Hours of discussion followed as each director explained why they could not become the Chair. Having only been a BAS member for 6 years I did not feel I had enough BAS experience, although having chaired 6 companies in the business world, the others were convinced I had the skills to do the job, and I ended up leaving that meeting as the new Chair of BAS. The first thing I discovered was that there was no one around to do any BAS work as it was all down to the volunteer board members who were busy with their own lives and businesses. The second thing I discovered was that the BAS board were distrusted by the membership and that it did not matter who served on the board, the board was simply not to be trusted. When I got home my wife, Linda, said why on earth did you agree to do that job and so began a six-year journey where I and my board colleagues continued on the journey of trying to rebuild confidence in the BAS board. In the following weeks I had numerous phone calls to tell me I had taken on an impossible job and BAS could not be fixed.
Fortunately, the other board members all knew change and democratisation of the society was essential with Susan Chitty leading an initiative to introduce online voting so that all members could easily vote at the society’s AGM. Online voting was approved in the March 2016 AGM and members began to cast their votes online at the 2017 AGM. Later we introduced the BAS Chat page on Facebook which has provided members with a forum to discuss areas on interest and create greater engagement in the society. This was put in place by Sue Loach and Emma Taylor.
One of the first encouraging emails I received was from the late Richard Beale. Richard had been an influential figure in the early years of the society and had been responsible for the transport of many alpacas from South America. Richard told me that I needed to appoint a Chief Executive for BAS and that appointment would be the defining thing of my chairmanship. Richard was also very encouraging and predicted a period of strong growth in membership of the society. It was great to hear these encouraging words and I knew Richard was right and that we needed to appoint a chief executive as soon as we could. We were not able to do so immediately but after we employed an outside consultant, Catherine Broomfield, with in depth experience of livestock societies to do a review of the workings of the society the board were convinced that such an appointment was essential. The Broomfield report provided a template for how to improve the workings of the board and set us on a rigorous path to select a CEO. It was a process that took many months with quite a few interviews and the shortlisted candidates required to present their views on the future of BAS. The selection process involved all the board and I was delighted when we all agreed to appoint Duncan Pullar as CEO in 2018.
bTB was a disease that spread fear throughout the society and for many years there had been a significant effort by various board members, vets and the Llama society working with DEFRA and APHA to find a better testing protocol than the feared STATPAC system. When I joined the board Tim Hey and this small working group were just completing the agreement to introduce a new bTB testing protocol that came into force in December 2015. This protocol introduced Enferplex, Idexx and VetDPP as approved testing methods and agreed a voluntary testing protocol as well as a way of handling a bTB breakdown. Tim put in a huge amount of work to get this agreed and produced the scenario documents and flow charts that are on the BAS website, for that effort we should all be very grateful. Back in 2015 bTB was not only feared but also hidden and members who unfortunately got the disease in their herds did not talk about it and there was no shared learning on how to handle and manage a bTB breakdown. Since then, we have moved a long way and while there is still a great fear of this terrible disease, we are all much more open about it and despite all the press about Geronimo I am convinced that Enferplex is the best test available to us and that we should be confident that it can help us find and manage a bTB breakdown. I have personal experience of this having purchased alpacas that brought bTB into my herd and I have used Enferplex to clear the disease from my alpacas and have tested my animals with Enferplex at least 10 times and am thus confident in its use. Looking to the future I feel we must move from a focus on testing for the disease to a focus on preventing the disease through bio security and vaccination and believe the society should make every effort to get a vaccine approved and in use for alpacas.
Looking back, it is encouraging to see the 30% growth in the membership over the past six years and the ever-increasing interest in owning alpacas. Our National Show and all the regional shows are a great statement of the health of the alpaca community, and we have seen alpacas expand and diversify into many new areas such as trekking becoming popular in the media and on TV. It is wonderful to note that recent alpaca farm day saw more than 30,000 visitors to alpaca farms throughout the UK an initiative developed by Sue Loach and Duncan Pullar. Our board has worked hard to increase the engagement with our members and Zoom has provided us with an excellent tool to provide online education and discussion. We had a great series of webinars in the spring of this year and have an exciting programme planned for the Autumn. COVID presented a great challenge to us all yet enabled the board to move to Zoom board meetings. I believe this has been fabulous and enabled a much greater participation on the board making it much easier for directors to attend board meetings. It used to take me at least 7 hours to travel to and from board meetings and for other directors it was often much longer. With Zoom we are able to work really effectively no matter where a director lives in the UK.
I have enjoyed producing the magazine over these last six years and together with our excellent editor Liz Mason I have been actively involved in seeing the magazine develop into what it is today. Nigel Beckwith brilliantly created the current arrangement with our publisher where the magazine no longer costs BAS any money to produce with this being funded by advertising. In the past the magazine was a significant drain on BAS resources and today we have a magazine that has expanded from four to six editions per year and a Year Book that is a great statement of the health of out society. The great thing about the magazine is all the stories about alpacas that Liz is able to source from our members and we all look forward to receiving our copy every two months.
I know there are still complaints about the board, but I feel we have come a long way and are gradually ending the infighting and politics that have plagued the society. It has always struck me as strange – the notion of the board being BAS – in reality The British Alpaca Society is the members of the Society and the board are just members who have been elected to serve for a few years to further the aims of the society. The board members all come from different parts of the country and have different interests and yet share a common desire to improve what the society does for its members, so board members are no different from any other member and as a group there are no vested interests or hidden agendas just people trying to do a good job for us all. We still have our issues, and a member is currently taking court action against the British Alpaca Society seeking compensation for what they believe was ill-treatment. Naturally, the board and our insurance company are determined to fight this and not use members money in this way. At the moment this case is with the courts, and we cannot say any more about it, but it illustrates that there is still a way to go to create a more supportive and inclusive society.
So, six years have passed and while I am sure there are things we could have done better, I feel the society is in a much better position than when I took the role of Chair. There has been quite some change in board membership with only Emma Taylor being there longer than I. We have an excellent group of directors to take us forward and I am confident that Sue Loach will do a great job as Chair. I am looking froward to spending more time with our own alpacas and seeing you all as we get back to showing and if I can help the society progress a bTB vaccine I will be delighted to assist.
It seems like it was only yesterday that we were welcoming new life onto the farm and so, it is hard to believe that October is upon us and that we are in full flow with our Autumn regimes.
As with all owners, maintaining a healthy herd, is central to everything we do and as we greet every month on the farm, we plan and move along with our herds’ health and management regime. Early autumn not only sees the start of our vitamin A, D & E supplementation but it is also the time that we give all alpacas their quarterly nutri-vit, vitamin/mineral drench. Whilst all farms will have their own routine, as owners, you’ll all know how good it feels to be able to help support and optimise the alpacas’ health and wellbeing and to set them up for the harsher months ahead.
As well as supplementation, this is also the time of year that we begin one of my favourite practices on the farm…SCANNING! With Roger in tow as the handler, nothing gives me greater pleasure than to tentatively position the ultrasound probe under each of our mated females, navigate my way towards the image of a foetus and announce “Pregnant!” This is genuinely something that I never tire of doing.
Whilst over my 16 years of alpaca ownership I have learnt not to ‘count my chickens, it’s hard not to get excited when you see that positive result.
As well as the routines directly affecting the alpacas, there are lots of other things that take my focus at this time of year. Those of you who know me, will appreciate my passion for alpaca fibre and the creative opportunities that its versatility can present. With that in mind, I was delighted to organise and host a recent product based photo shoot on behalf of the BAS, in order to showcase the depth of variety and opportunity that alpaca fibre can represent. This will form part of the BAS’ new campaign for the promotion of the British alpaca industry as a whole. Watch this space…
Time seems to fly by these days with little time to think and plan as we try to get all the autumn jobs done before winter sets in. A final topping of the fields to lie unused over the winter exposed to the frosts and ready to provide the best grass for our pregnant girls in early spring and for their cria as they are born in late spring/early summer. Grandchildren make great helpers but can be a little ambitious at times 😊 Winter paddocks inspected and a final top if too long, water troughs cleaned and checked and the shelters all checked to ensure they are ready to protect the alpacas from whatever winter throws at us. The barns are always ready with pens set up to enable us to house any alpacas that we feel need the extra level of protection that it provides and also to make our lives easier in the worst of the weather. Gary has put in some extra automatic drinkers around the barns so that every pen has at least one, so no more filling buckets, and gate hangers which is a great time saver. In the depths of a freeze even they will not work and water will have to be carried from the house but we live in the South West and up until now we have only had to do that on rare occasions. Our barn is well stocked with homemade hay which the alpacas are already enjoying and eating more of as the shorter days and wet weather makes the grazing less attractive.
It is also the time for dosing the herd with fluke medication as living on the Somerset Levels its about the only thing that we routinely dose for rather than testing first. Our vets advise this as the likelihood of fluke is high on the levels. Vitamin injections have started and will continue as appropriate throughout the winter and spring. Routine faecal testing continues, and we treat as indicated, which is actually very seldom here.
Our hopefully pregnant females will be scanned later this month to confirm if they are pregnant which is always exciting and allows us to separate them into suitable groups with similar nutritional requirements.
I organise the annual South West Alpaca Group Fleece Show which takes place in September every year. Starting with creating a budget from planned income and expenditure which has to at least break even as the group cannot afford to subsidise it. Thankfully our show is well supported and we are always grateful to everyone who enters a fleece or fleeces as without exhibitors there would be no show and that would be a missed opportunity for people to have their fleeces evaluated by a BAS Judge and to receive feedback.
I am very lucky to have a great team of volunteers who come along on the day and help make the show actually happen. We have been working together for a few years now and that is a great help as everyone knows their job and although it is enjoyable it is hard work with the occasional stressful moment thrown in.
Our Judges do a great job and in my experience are always helpful and flexible enough to know that things don’t always go according to plan and that when they don’t you just have to crack on and get the job done.
My least favourite part of organising a show is all the packing of fleeces back into boxes and organising couriers to pick them up and deliver them back to their owners. It’s a bit like the morning after a party when you come downstairs and everyone has gone home and you are left to clear up.
Thank you to all the volunteers all over the country who help to make alpaca shows happen, without you no one could exhibit their alpacas or their fleece.
Since my last blog life has become even more exciting than it was before. I’ve been introduced to the world of noodling.
This all came about when Barbara was asked to judge a fleece show in Germany. As this journey involved getting on planes and trains, I was taken along to ensure Barbara didn’t end up in Poland by mistake!
The fleece show was in Thuringia, a province in the former East Germany. The terrain was fairly flat which in some way accounted for the fact that the temperature dropped to minus 26 degrees last winter and rose to 45 degrees this summer. Cumbrian weather doesn’t seem so bad after all! The architecture was interesting with lots of wood framed buildings built around courtyards – very medieval.
Life seemed more traditional and relaxed than in the UK. Our hosts lived in a house built in the 1930’s where all the surrounding houses had enough land for a vegetable plot and a few chickens. They made their own jam but more importantly had a few grape vines and made their own wine! Their small herd of alpacas could access the neighbour’s gardens through a network of gates to offer a free lawn mower and fertiliser service.
Anyway, back to the noodling. This is the process where the fleece to be judged is rolled up by the exhibiter in a sheet or similar. The fleece is put cut side up and once unrolled it is ready for judging without the show organiser needing to spend any time organising it.
The idea is that all the exhibiters use the same type of sheet so all the fleeces can be weighed still wrapped up and be comparable. After judging the fleece is rolled back up in the sheet and is ready to be presented again at its next show.
Apparently, the best bit of all is that none of the dirt from the fleece falls on the judge’s shoes!
This does seem like a good way of managing and presenting fleece – what do you think?
We, like others, have had a prolonged birthing season which is finally over.
Our first dam, a well grown maiden, had clearly read the instructions & started labouring shortly before 5am & first check of the day. By 1pm she was in established labour & we watched from a distance, eagerly awaiting her first cria. By 3pm not much progress so I had a quiet word in her ear & said that I would give her an hour else she needed to pop herself into the catch pen so I could see what was, or was not in her case, happening. At 3.50pm she wandered into the catch pen of her own accord & looked at me as if saying ‘please can you do something’.
A quick internal found a fully closed cervix – known as ring womb – which was gently manipulated & opened without too much persuasion. We then left mum to continue. Sadly, progress was not made despite mum’s vigorous attempts & much ‘hokey cokey’ with either or both forelimbs, so we reinvestigated to find the crown of the cria’s head presenting with the nose firmly stuck behind the pelvis. At this point & wishing to avoid an out of hours call out, I balanced my phone on the dam & called the vet! Our vet arrived swiftly & thankfully delivered a bright, strong mid fawn female who we have aptly called Kerfuffle. The dam bonded with her immediately & has been a natural super mum.
Our next cria needed the shoulders ‘displacing’ by gently easing one or other foreleg further forward than the other to reduce the overall size of the combined shoulders, to aid delivery & again another bouncing female who is super charged! Kiss Chase, known as KC on the farm, is the friendliest cria who is a very sweet fawn with definite tuxedo. Both KC & Kerfuffle will join our grey breeding programme in due course. Both sired by AEA Avante (light fawn).
The next cria had the least ‘interested to feed’ mother of all! Another maiden who took one look at her cria & said – no thanks! The dam was clearly not willing to feed her cria voluntarily, so we spent several days catching the dam & holding her while her cria fed. Thank fully after several days Holly got to grips with motherhood & has continued to be a very good mum with an abundance of milk. Her cria, Kwizzical, has caught up in size with the other two & today, stands tall, chunky & proud. We wonder if mum is as surprised as us of the colour of her cria given her daughter is a rich brown – dam is grey, sire is rose grey (who usually produces grey or rose grey to a grey female) – oh the fun of alpaca genetics! That all said Kwizzicle is stunning, huge & beautiful.
As breeders, we first glimpse a nose with a possible indication of colour; then thoughts turn to hopes for a healthy cria, swiftly followed by ‘girl or boy’ which for us, adds to the pleasure & excitement of breeding these extraordinary creatures who join the herd to add to our fibre producers. We are now waiting on the arrival of the remaining few girls who are at 380 days plus! On checking one dam’s records I noted she held on until day 400 for her last cria (off one mating) so we will just be patiently impatient!
On a final note, we recently held a clue for BBC Norfolk Treasure Quest – the ‘runner’ Jules is live on the radio in a car & listeners have to solve the most cryptic clues. Clues are placed around particular areas of the county, usually at events or businesses, & they have to be recovered by Jules to access the next clue which requires further solving. They got to us in the end but neither Jules nor Deb (who have only a paper map) are not familiar with this part of Norfolk.
Thoughts now turn to the impending winter chores with advanced preparation being key.
Last weekend saw the first National Alpaca Farm Day for us all. I have to say I agreed to take part with some degree of trepidation, and I spent as much time worrying about whether anyone would turn up as I did about being overrun.
We decided that we would offer mini walks , just around our fields , opportunities to hand feed and to offer refreshments, coffee, cake and cold drinks. I must confess to being hopeful that we didn’t sell too much cake so I had an excuse to eat it myself, after all it’s a shame to waste it! I also had some hand knitted hats and headbands on sale that I had knitted last winter which virtually sold out.
Well, the Sunday of Farm Day dawned (we only did 1 day) and we were all up, organised and ready for our 11am start , when at 10-30, all these cars appeared, literally 20 in a row, accompanied by my anguished wails of “ You can’t arrive yet, I’m not ready”.
Once we had overcome the shock of how many people flooded in, I have to say we had a brilliant day, I don’t think I realised how much people love Alpacas and how much joy being with them gives. One lady told me that walking an Alpaca was on her top 10 list of things she really wanted to do and that we had made her day.
In all we had around 600 visitors, so many saying they hadn’t a clue we were here and that they thought they would have to travel miles to spend time with Alpacas. Until Farm Day I had always been amazed at how many farms opened up to the public for walks, picnics, yoga etc, but having seen the pleasure on people’s faces last weekend I can understand why they do. I’m having lots of enquiries from people wanting to visit again and from those who didn’t know it was on, so we are already planning for next year’s Farm Day. From the feedback I have seen it seems other farms have had similar success and over 11,000 people attended the event countrywide so a big well done to everyone who participated.
What amazing animals Alpacas are, they produce us all this lovely fibre we can use, they promote themselves via shows all over the country and the general public love spending time with them, I wonder how many other species can say the same?
As I write this I am preparing for a large Camelid Dynamics course to be run on my farm, with a trainer coming from the USA and learning is at the forefront of my mind. It is exciting to feel we can get back to face to face learning. Useful as Zoom has been, for me it does not replace the benefits gained from interacting with others, getting hands on with alpacas and practicing skills for real.
I have always been keen on learning, but I have realised over the years, that after my initial steep learning curve when I first got alpacas in the 1990s, I had more or less drifted along, picking up an extra bit here and there, for years. About eight years ago I decided it was time to learn more and, of course, the more I learn the more I realise how little I know. I have also realised that many things I initially learnt are no longer appropriate (we started with a ‘breeding pair’, common and acceptable at the time). I now realise that my alpacas are probably healthier, calmer, in better body condition and the cria are growing better than ever before, by applying what I am learning.
Recently I read the newly published Alpaca Teeth book by Alison Quagliani, I’d definitely recommend it; Several articles on nutrition and trace elements (I am a real beginner here!); and Vicunas: Survival of the Finest, with its breathtaking pictures and lots of history, another book I’m pleased I own.
The new BAS webinars are starting again in the autumn, the topics sound exciting and I’m already looking forward to learning something else new. Don’t forget to send in requests if there is a topic you really want covered, it may not be this year, but could be next. Every day is a school day!
It has been a lovely Summer down at the farm, with our small group of cria. I dare say we have had a relatively easy year.
However, our biggest success hasn’t been related to one of our own cria, it has been helping a special little alpaca called Prince! Prince’s mum wasn’t producing much, if any, milk, and bottles desperately weren’t agreeing with him. We are very very fortunate to have a wet nurse, who produces milk on seeing the first cria of the season, and will happily be a top up bar for any nosey cria!
When our friends told us about Prince, we decided to make use of the asset that (thank goodness) we weren’t using. It was a risk, uprooting a cria, placing them in our concrete barn and hoping they would bond. But things weren’t looking good for Prince, through no fault of his own or his owners. We had never attempted to bond Lucy to a cria, so there was no guarantee she would go beyond allowing cria to top up.
It is safe to say it is one of the best decisions we have ever made. As soon as lovely Lucy heard the sound of a humming cria she immediately rushed to him and the bond was instant. We left them to it and went for a walk around the farm and watched them on the camera that covers the barn. Within minutes he was feeding, and the rest is history!
After quarantine Prince was let out into a paddock with Lucy and some friends. This was the next milestone! Would the bond continue with the other cria about, who would happily steal a snack? Would he be distracted by other lactating dams? Would going from being kept calm and indoors to outside with lots to see and do sap his energy? Would that bond hold?
Luckily, it couldn’t have gone better! Our cheeky cria still do steal the odd snack, as shown here by naughty Dollar. But Lucy is happy to oblige!
Prince is now back on track, and is a totally normal (naughty) cria. He will return to his home farm after weaning, we will be very sad to see him go but we are just delighted that we have been able to help.
A few days in the life of an alpaca farmer………
As we neared the end of our birthing season and after ten days of 30°C degree heat, when thankfully we had no births and the mums-to- be seemed to be holding on, the weather broke. Temperatures were much more pleasant and with a few girls around 350 days the births were bound to come, first was Fire Cracker a 10.5 kg girl to Miss Strez having her 6th birth. All her previous births had been easy but Fire Cracker was stuck with a leg back and Miss Strez pushing strongly. It must have taken 45 minutes or so until Fire Cracker was freed and this strong girl was on the ground, after a challenging birth there was no sitting around to rest for Fire Cracker and she was up and trying to suckle within 15 minutes.
Now we are approaching 250 births we have had quite a few challenging presentations and while Fire Cracker was not particularly difficult her size made it more difficult so it was quite a relief to see her safely on the ground and so determined to thrive.
Next came Fudge with a textbook normal birth, but he was only 223 days and really premature. Again, Pearl is an experienced mother and an early birth is unusual for her. We immediately knew Fudge was going to be a challenge as he lay quite still after birthing with none of the normal wriggling around. It seemed ages before he started breathing as we rubbed his body and tried to get him going. Sometimes they pick up after an hour or so but Fudge had no energy even after we gave him quick start and B1.
After a couple of hours we managed to milk Pearl of some lovely colostrum and managed to get Fudge to take 50mls from a 5ml syringe. Pearl did not like being handled and it need two of us to hold and milk her. By four to five hours after birth it was clear that Fudge was going to be very slow and we moved them into the barn so we could give as much support as possible over what turned out to be a long night.
Pearl could see Fudge was not doing well and realised we were trying to keep him going so she stood quietly while one of us milked her and fed it by syringe to Fudge. We wrapped up Fudge as warmly as possible and leaving the lights on in the barn prepared for a long night.
Milking mum was not giving us as much as Fudge needed so at 10pm we manged to get him to drink 80ml of goats milk. Coming back to the barn every two hours we got him drinking either goats milk or mums colostrum but, while he was still holding on it was not going well, and we wondered if he would make it through the night.
After the 4am feed we were worried that he was not warm enough and brought him into the house and I slept with him beside out AGA cooker. By 8am he had perked up a bit and we took him back to the barn where mum was delighted to see him, and we called the vet to arrange a plasma transfer for later that morning.
When the vet examined Fudge she felt he was strong enough to accept plasma with a strong heartbeat and good breathing although very flat. He wriggled a bit as the plasma was given but remained very flat and we took him into our lab with the heater on and after an hour or so he lifted his head and we began to feel he could make it. For the next 24 hours he gradually grew stronger sitting with his head up and taking a bottle every two to three hours.
By the time he was 48 hours old he was able to stand on his wobbly legs and try and suckle from mum. Amazingly he was able to get up on his own after 72 hours and suckle from mum. We continued to supplement with goats milk for the next 24 hours and at 4 days old he was able to walk around and he no longer needed a bottle, so we let Fudge and mum out in the paddock with the others. We brought Fudge and mum into the barn over the next few nights and put a coat on him while in the barn. Fudge is now 10 days old having put on over a kilo and weighing about 7kg and he is playing with the other cria and proving he can be one of the fastest in the cria races.
Luckily, we have had two more normal births both 9kg black girls and are left with just three to complete our birthing season.
The last few weeks have been wall to wall sunshine…a very welcome treat and something that we don’t frequently experience in Northern Ireland!
That being said, it has caused a shift in the day-to-day happenings on the farm. With midday temperatures soaring, we’ve been splitting the daily chores between the very early morning and late evening, in order to avoid the hottest part of the day.
Matings in particular have had to be scheduled for the very coolest part of the day as has my ‘daily dance’ with the poover! Although, with the drying heat of the sun, the paddocks are proving much easier to clean.
Whilst the persistent sunny weather receives no complaints from me, it does give us a timely reminder of the importance of making sure we make adequate provisions for the alpacas. Whether it be natural, or man-made, access to shade is imperative during periods of prolonged heat and sun, as is access to fresh, cool water. In many cases people also provide a sprinkler or shallow pool for their animals to cool their extremities in, I know our alpacas thoroughly enjoy the opportunity of a good cooling down.
With last year’s hay resources pretty much depleted, this spell of good weather has also allowed us to get plenty of hay in the barn. As a farmer’s daughter, I must confess that we are never short of a good bale or two, but it is always a relief to get it cut, baled and housed without it seeing as much as a drop of rain.
As we wait for the remainder of our cria to arrive and progress with our matings, we begin the annual process of ‘looking forward’ in anticipation to next year’s births, whilst continuing to appreciate and enjoy this year’s crop, as they continue to develop and grow.
Like me, I hope that you’ve enjoyed the good weather and that you’ve all, “made hay whilst the sun shines!”
Hi everyone, I hope that all is well with you and your alpacas and that those of you who breed are getting some beautiful healthy cria on the ground. We are expecting nine cria this year with, as I write, two having been delivered and seven left to go. We have had two lovely fawn females one of which was birthed by the Dam while we were still in bed in the morning and a lovely surprise when I looked out of the window at 6 am. The other was a breech delivery undertaken by our vet with both Dam and cria in good shape afterwards with the cria up and feeding within the hour and Mum passing the placenta soon after. Rather stressful at the time but a great relief to have them both healthy and bonded to each other.
I find that waiting for cria to be born can be both exciting and frustrating at the same time. We currently have one girl 3 weeks overdue, one two weeks overdue and two more that were due a few days ago. My family often ask me if it’s a problem when they are very overdue and can’t the vet do something about it. Every year I tell them the same that the cria will come when its ready and you cannot interfere with nature. There is of course an exception if you have a female at any stage of her pregnancy that is behaving out of character, looking very uncomfortable, maybe rolling and showing signs of labour that then stop. Unless you are sufficiently competent and have the experience to investigate what is going on you have to get a vet to come and check them over to make sure there isn’t a problem such as torsion or an incorrectly positioned cria that can’t be birthed naturally by the female. I am fine dealing with the more straightforward things but a breech baby was beyond my capability and we would have lost her if the vet hadn’t been called. Hopefully the next seven cria will be of the, “look out of the window and there it is”, variety!
Hay making is another waiting game as we have yet to see sufficient consecutive dry sunny days for it to happen here in Somerset. The earliest we have made hay is May and the latest is September and the early hay is definitely the best although the September hay was good and our animals all munched on it quite happily. It’s looking promising from the end of this week and so hopefully all will be gathered in by the end of July – wish us luck and good luck to you if you have yet to make your hay!
Now that most of us have completed shearing for 2021 some of you may be wondering what to do with your lovely fleeces. One option is to pick out your best fleeces skirt them really well and enter them into a fleece show. It’s a great way to get an independent assessment by a qualified BAS Judge of the range of qualities that we should all be aiming for with our breeding/buying programmes. Below is a copy of the Huacaya scorecard and below that Suri scorecard.
The Fleece Judging manual can be found in the Members Area of the BAS Website in the Shows section and provides lots of information underpinning the way that points are awarded under each heading of the scorecard. All of the fleeces entered into a show are anonymised and the Judge has no knowledge of which herd or alpaca the fleece comes from and you can be assured of an objective assessment of your fleece(s). The BAS Newsletter carries details of forthcoming fleece shows so have a look and dip your toe in the water.
Paul Hetherington – 5th July 2021
Birthing is slowing down now after the boom in May and June – we have 57 cria on the ground already with only 10 left to birth. Gestation times were overall a bit longer than expected this year perhaps due to the winter weather? We also broke our own record with one female going 386 days and producing a perfectly healthy 7kg cria. Girls outnumber boys this year which is always a bonus.
We’ve already cria sheared the first batch. We haven’t had many mothers rejecting their cria after shearing (and have always managed to reunite them) but this year we decided to try something different. We put a coat on each cria the night before shearing, and then the same coat was put back on right after shearing, with the hope that the mother would recognise the smell of the cria on the coat. No rejections this time!
However, early cria shearing has meant that we’ve ear tagged the cria sooner than normal this year as it was getting difficult to work out who was who, especially when split from their mothers for weighing. The cria get weighed daily for the first two weeks then twice a week as a minimum after that. Weight loss or even lack of weight gain is a good early indicator of an impending problem.
My 45-year-old Massey Ferguson was getting difficult to start, and I was getting tired of being cold and wet and breathing in exhaust fumes, so I decided an upgrade was in order. Having looked at second-hand tractors it turned out that a 2-year-old Zetor with 120 hours was only marginally more expensive than a 30 year old Massey with 6000 hours. No brainer – I went for the Zetor.
Out with the old
In with the new.
The weather gods have been kind to Cumbria this year and we managed to make some hay at the end of June – the earliest ever and the first time for years the crop wasn’t rained on between cutting and baling. I like to have a couple of backup hay fields just in case I get the decision to mow wrong – which tends to happen when the weather forecast changes from a sunny week ahead to a rainy week ahead as soon as the grass is cut! The backup hay fields will go to make round bale haylage for winter feeding. Last year we were getting through 2½ big bales a week so it’s almost a full-time job keeping the hay racks full.
A wonderful sight!
We’ve been trying to train the alpacas in the new barn to poo in a controlled area. Sometimes they get confused and put their noses over the poo area but leave their bottoms outside and miss the target. So far though they haven’t started pooing anywhere else in the barn so I guess the system is working. For anyone interested in the technicalities we use biomass boiler wood pellets with a sprinkling of dry powder disinfectant inside the frame and top up with both when necessary.
Kate Brookes – 22 June 2021
Embers, the cria with a kink
One Sunday tea time I went to feed my mums and cria and noticed that Embers, a 5 week old cria, had a very obvious kink in her neck. When the vet took x- rays it was clear that this was a significant subluxation. It was not causing any neurological signs at all, but needed action to be taken as, in a growing cria, it was likely to cause issues as she grew. Although my vet has plenty of alpaca expertise this was not something she had come across before. She sought advice from others with more experience. It is at times like this that I realise how fantastic our alpaca experts are. Advice was freely given to her from those with experience in the UK and beyond.
Our first plan of sedation and traction with manipulation has not improved the neck. Next we are getting advice from a specialist chiropractic, with experience of similar injuries in alpaca necks. I so hope it works. Embers is a very special girl and becoming more so as she stays calmly in the barn with her mum and a friend.
Whatever the outcome I just want to offer thanks to all those who offer their time and expertise to help us do the best for our alpacas. I don’t have the names or details of all who help me, but they all played their part, thank you! We are part of a wonderful community. And here’s hoping Embers makes a full recovery.
Crikey I can’t believe how quickly this year is passing, Summer seemed so far away last time I wrote my blog. Most of us are in the midst of the busiest time of year, birthing and doing matings for next year’s cria and I’m sure we have had our fair share of ups and downs. I’ve waited 375 days for my most recent arrival, yet had another arrive after 320 days both fit and well, just different sizes!!
Yet it is the arrival of Patience, born at textbook 340 days, in the middle of the day, to an experienced mother that has caused me the most issues. She was called Patience because she certainly tried my patience for the first few days of her life. She had no idea how to feed from her mum, kept getting stuck behind the hedges, and found the wall more appealing to feed from than her mum who tried everything to persuade her to feed. She was given over a litre of Bovine colostrum, then powdered Colostrum replacer which she took readily from the bottle, yet bang on 24 hours after she was born, she crashed, flat out and unresponsive. I strongly suspected she had sepsis, her membranes were turning purple and her temperature was low.
Off we trotted (well actually raced!!) to the vets clutching Patience and a freezer bag of Plasma. Her IgG levels were very low and her bloods indicated an infection, so plasma was administered. Halfway through her transfusion Patience decided she felt better and tried to run out of the surgery and, with the help of antibiotics and plenty of TLC she is now a normal 3-week-old cria who feeds off her mum (and poaches off anyone who will let her).
Plasma saved her life. When a cria is born it only has a few hours to absorb the antibodies from its mothers milk which is what helps the cria to develop an immune system, protecting it from infection. When that doesn’t happen, as with Patience, we can boost the immune system by giving plasma and in many cases it saves the cria’s life.
It is important that breeders know that powdered colostrum supplements do not contain antibodies, they are designed to give the cria energy to feed, colostrum replacers do contain antibodies and can certainly improve a cria’s chances. Fresh goat colostrum is also helpful as long as you know where it has come from but in an emergency life threatening situation, a bag of Plasma can, and does, save lives.
Most experienced breeders keep a supply of plasma for these circumstances, in my opinion it should be part of every breeder’s birthing kit. Once collected it keeps for up to 5 years in the freezer. My own vets, and several other practices, have offered plasma drives so that breeders can collect plasma from their own herd at a discounted rate for the impending breeding season, yet most have been cancelled because of low uptakes. How can we tell more breeders what a potential life saver Plasma can be?
Breeders spend large sums of money on stud fees and spend almost a year waiting for their cria to arrive only to lose them because they have failed to get sufficient antibodies from their mothers. Time after time we see people on social media asking for plasma for a vulnerable cria. The irony of Patience is that I had no plasma in my freezer, my vets Plasma Drive having had to be cancelled because of low numbers and having last year given away my last 2 bags to owners whose animals needed it. It was only the kindness of a friend who had given up breeding and given me her supply that saved Patience’s life. That kindness has also saved the life of a friends cria.
Legally you cannot offer for sale, or purchase plasma, as it is a blood product. We need to collect plasma from our own herd and we can’t depend on others to give it to us and risk losing one of their animals because they have run out. For me, plasma should be collected in the same way we harvest hay, we would never go into winter without having arranged food for our animals, why do we go into the breeding season without Plasma??
Here’s hoping for a successful breeding season for us all and lots of cute cria pics for Alpaca magazine’s photo competition.
Duncan Pullar – 8 June 2021
What next when the phone rings?
You never know quite what the next phone call will bring to the BAS office. This is both a joy and a terror, depending on how things go. A recent example illustrates how some events develop in unexpected ways……
I took a call from the Latin TV production office along the lines of, “We are making a documentary to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the declaration of independence in Peru and want to feature the influence of Peru around the world, can you help us find some alpacas in the UK?” (28th July 2021 if you are interested).
There were some fairly narrow dates of availability and some fairly tight geography for the venue, along with a plea to meet a “typical” UK alpaca owner. After some phoning around I found a willing host on the route of the camera crew and a date and time was fixed.
The farm host, for the filming, then asked if it would be OK to see if the local news team would be interested in reporting on the Peruvians filming alpacas in sunny Bedfordshire. Two takers appeared in the form of BBC TV South Today and BBC Three Counties Radio.
The radio interview turned out to be a preview of the event and a general chat about alpacas – which went well. You can find the interview here if you are interested.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p09k1jgc start at 2:16:55 runs to 2:23:
On the day of filming the BBC chap turned up at the appointed time and explained that his “story” was the Peruvian team coming to the UK to film alpacas. So, when the Peruvian team turned up (a little late but not too bad) we had the slightly surreal scene of the BBC reporter filming Latin TV filming me and the farm host talking about alpacas in the UK. I am not sure when this will be used but I can update when I know.
Just when we thought we had seen everything one of the Peruvian production team appeared in Peruvian National Costume to pose for pictures with everyone and the resident alpacas too……
Clara Boulton -1 June 2021
Like most, our favourite ‘alpaca seasons’ are in full swing, shearing and birthing! I adore looking at the fleeces as they come off, and we are already starting to plan all the crafty things we can get up to with them.
My other favourite thing about this time of year is looking at my paddocks. We have our normal grazing paddocks, but we also graze approximately 12 acres of stewardship scheme land which is kept with ground nesting birds in mind. Something we are very happy to accommodate! But this does mean we do have to allow some natural growth in those fields.
Some of my favourite regular plant finds are meadowsweet, pineapple weed, willowherb, yarrow and cow parsley.
I know the alpacas will love having a good graze! My older girls regularly spend more time in those paddocks, reaping all the natural benefits of the multitude of amazing plants in there. Having a sit on the grass in the sun (what a hardship) is also a good excuse to start looking for the ‘scary plants’, plants like horsetail can easily sneak up on you if you have lush grazing where it can blend in. Not to mention our old friend mr ragwort. It doesn’t hurt to just spend a moment checking out what is going on in your paddocks. We try to manage all of our paddocks, stewardship scheme or not, as naturally as possibly. Which usually involves me going ‘whose idea was this!’ a few weeks into charging into my paddocks armed with a ragfork and a wheel barrow with aching arms every evening in spring and summer. However it is always nice to have an excuse to spend some more time in the paddocks with the alpacas, even if there is always one who insists on standing in the way.
I have also been reminded these past few weeks why I am not allowed lovely nice things! I was so excited to receive one of the BAS caps, so I decided to wear it on one of the hottest days we have had so far to try it out. It was certainly ‘alpaca approved’, however I forgot to take it off to go and milk the cows…. Oops! The hat is now clean and my lesson has firmly been learnt. I think the cows were just jealous.
Ron Mackintosh – 14th May 2021
As I write this blog the 86th edition of the Alpaca Magazine is going to print to be mailed out to you shortly. This is the 24th edition of the magazine I have been responsible for since joining the BAS board in 2015.
It has been both fascinating, challenging and only possible through the brilliant work of our editor Liz Mason who does all the hard work in sourcing and writing articles. Liz is the third editor I have worked with and I think she has made a great contribution in getting the magazine to where it is with a broad range of articles that reflect the breadth and depth of the alpaca community in the UK today.
Liz and I, along with Duncan and now Elaine, work together to plan the current year’s magazine editions and the features we would like to see in the various issues. Then as we get to a couple of months before publication we have an in-depth call or Zoom meeting to go through all the content Liz has managed to source and articles that still need writing. It is always a challenge to work out where we can source interesting articles and after a lot of discussion, by the end of that meeting, we usually have a plan and know where we think they will come from. We are so grateful to all the alpaca owners and other contributors who send Liz the articles, or are willing to do interviews etc, so Liz can work on writing and editing the magazine to get it ready to go to the studio where Jo Legg does the design and turns the articles, pictures and adverts into the edition you all see. I proofread the edition and share it with my board colleagues before we finally approve it to go to print. It is a great team effort and I am really proud of what we produce for you every two months.
The way the magazine is produced went through a major change about 6 years ago when Nigel Beckwith of Herts Alpacas and a then board member rethought the whole way the magazine was funded and after a lot of work and negotiation brought in Evegate, now Kelsey, to produce and publish the magazine. Nigel agreed a new concept for BAS where the publisher would produce and edit the magazine at no charge to the society in return for receiving the advertising revenue from selling advertising space in the magazine. Previously BAS paid quite a bit of money each year to get the magazine to you. This change has resulted in the magazine we have today and want to say a big thank you to Nigel conceiving and negotiating that deal with Evegate.
Apart from my BAS activities of working on the Magazine, a board meeting, and a TB meeting with DEFRA/APHA, my time over the last couple of months has been spent on the normal activities for our alpaca herd. I have been preparing the fields for Spring, getting ready to shear 130 alpacas, doing pre-birthing husbandry, planning this year’s matings and helping Linda with alpaca sales and supporting our customers with any health or husbandry issues, as well as trying to understand our EBV data and thinking or how to use it in our breeding programme.
My biggest worry has been grass, or lack of it, caused by the unusual cold and dry spring so I was not able to get fertiliser on the ground when it was too wet, and then not spreading it until I could see rain on the way! Eventually I was able to fertilize and spread 3 tonnes of fertilizer pellets a couple of weeks ago just before we got some rain and at last our fields have greened up and the grass is growing strongly.
Can’t wait for birthing to begin and new life to start while feeling optimistic now we have been vaccinated and it looks like life is beginning to return to a new normal with alpaca shows this Autumn.
Elaine Clarke – 10th may 2021
At this time of year, our focus is usually centred around the seasonal triad of shearing, births and matings. With our shearing all complete, we have now been fortunate enough to welcome the first of our cria into the world.
To date, three of our females have unpacked but to say the weather has been less than favourable is quite the understatement. With Roger away at the BAS Judges’ Calibration and despite usually preferring to work behind the scenes, you may have spotted me on BBC’s Countryfile a couple of weeks ago.
As part of the feature, the programme showed the first of our cria, a little premature and dysmature female who was quite wobbly on her feet.
This little female was born three weeks early and arrived out in the pasture, in the midst of a snow flurry. As a consequence, the little one was quite hypothermic and needed both veterinary intervention and a lot of tender loving care to get her on her feet and feeding.
It took 48 hours of round the clock care, before the little one was able to stand and feed independently. Despite her shaky start, I could tell she was a fighter and with lots of intervention, including a plasma transfusion under her belt, I could see her growing stronger by the day.
I’m delighted to report that little Subzero as we decided she should be called, is now not so little and is thriving well, in fact, she has never looked back. All signs of dysmaturity have gone and she has blossomed into an elegant, upstanding young cria, full of both fun and mischief alike.
Having not had to intervene so greatly in years, this experience really brought home; the importance of being ‘birthing ready’. By this, I don’t just mean having the birthing kit stocked up, but also being prepared for the unforeseen and the unexpected by having all of your interventions in place. I’m incredibly thankful that we were able to act without delay and had everything ready and at hand.
As we move into the summer season, we look forward to the arrival of better weather and of course, more precious cria. I absolutely love seeing everyone’s posts on social media and sharing in people’s excitement as the new batch ‘hit the deck’. Keep sharing!
No sooner have the cria arrived, than planning begins for the next stage; the matings! I don’t know about you but this usually causes a lot of ‘spirited debate’ in our house and regardless of who’s choice comes out on top, we immediately begin to look forward in expectation of the outcome. Please tell me that I’m not the only one to wish their life away like this!?!
In the meantime, I hope you all have a safe and prosperous birthing season and I look forward to seeing all of your new arrivals as you post online.
(birthing webinar is available here https://youtu.be/WcTeACCBsZI )
Judith Newman – 26th April 2021
In my previous blog I complained about the rain and now I’m complaining about the lack of it! The weather has been glorious and we have been able to get a lot of outside work done but now I would like some rain please. Not floods of it, but enough to keep the grass growing and to ensure we get a good cut of hay in June. Well, I wouldn’t be British if I didn’t moan about the weather 😊
It’s the most exciting time of the year when shearing takes place, the cria start to appear and the matings for next year’s cria happen. So much to look forward to and so much to be happy about. Of course, the planning for the pairings can take place years ahead of the births as we strive for continuous improvement and the future plan for each cria starts as soon as it hits the ground. Of course, we all experience setbacks and some of these can be heart breaking but thankfully they are few and far between and the successes make it all worth while and keep us moving forwards.
I have a cria birthing kit that is checked and prepared well in advance of our first due date. Here is a photo of what’s in my bag in addition to which I place a clean towel and a cria coat in case it is needed.
My little ABC book is always close by in birthing season. It’s a great source of information and reassurance. Most of the time births are wonderful and straightforward but occasionally there can be a problem. I have been on 2 birthing courses plus a couple of webinars and the most useful thing I have learned is to only attempt something I am absolutely confident that I can finish otherwise call the vet. Better to call the vet and then cancel them if the cria comes before they arrive or if they arrive and the cria is safe on the ground they will be as happy as you are. Good luck to us all for a great cria season.
Choosing the stud to cover your females is one of the most important decisions you will make. He contributes 50% of the potential genetic gain from the pairing and is critical to improving your herd. We made mistakes in the early years with our stud choices and it slowed us down considerably in our efforts to breed quality alpacas. On reflection we just didn’t know enough to make the right choices and had to learn from our mistakes and educate ourselves through literature research and talking to other people.
The help of knowledgeable breeders who were happy to let us look at their alpacas and share their knowledge with us has been invaluable and we are very grateful to them. In more recent years we have made better choices and the payback in terms of the quality of our herd has been wonderful. Our primary motivation is the desire to breed healthy happy alpacas that others will love and want to own and also that we love to see in our fields and which give us great pleasure. Using good studs on your females is essential for this and it is a serious decision requiring research and education.
Just a quick note about feed costs. I have always used Camelibra as my primary source of nutrition for my alpacas as do my neighbouring breeders. Last year when reviewing our outgoings, I contacted my local breeder colleagues and asked if they would be interested in bulk purchasing from the manufacturer. The proposal was that I would order and store the feed and they would come and collect as many bags as they needed when they needed it. Everyone joined in and we all now make a saving of 40% on every bag. The feed is freshly made and bagged on order and therefore also has an excellent shelf life so there is no risk of wastage on out-of-date bags. The feed is delivered 35 bags at a time on a pallet and they have a pallet truck to place it where you want it. Definitely worth considering.
Paul Hetherington – 19th April 2021
It’s been a busy couple of weeks.
Back in January we put in a planning application for a new shed after coming to the conclusion that, with around 70 births due this year, we wouldn’t have enough indoor space to comfortably fit in all the mothers and cria. Then we agreed to host a judges calibration in the new shed before any of the work had actually started. Nerves were getting tested as the date of the calibration loomed and the shed wasn’t finished. Thankfully everything came together in the end, the electrics were finished two days before and our shed builder was here at 7am on the morning of the calibration tidying up so everyone had somewhere to park their cars!
Calibration is an event where the judges get together to judge the same animals or fleeces then compare their results with each other. It’s not a pass or fail test – the purpose is to try and ensure judging is consistent whoever judges a show. If there is a difference in the placings between judges then they can discuss their reasoning. There will always be some variation between judges but the results should be generally in the right order with the better animals coming at the top of the order and the lesser towards the bottom.
A lot of work went on before the event to choose classes that would test the judges a little bit. We used a mixture of our own animals, and some from other herds, to put together classes that were representative of those likely to be seen at a show. Both Huacaya and Suri classes were put forward. Most of the classes were juniors or intermediates as the highest proportion of animals entered in halter shows come from these two age groups. Some single animal classes were put forward, the question being whether that animal should be awarded a first place or not and, if deemed worthy of a first place, whether a champion or not. Shorn fleeces were also judged and the scores compared. Any differences in the scores for each trait were discussed.
The calibration went well with some good discussion between the judges about the classes and individual animals and fleeces.
After the calibration we had a ‘day off’ and then we spent two days shearing. We used to shear around the end of May, just after the Northumberland show. Last year however, due the uncertainties of getting a shearer, we took an opportunity to shear in April and decided that was actually a much better time. Getting sheared before the birthing and mating season makes life so much easier. How many times previously did we have to crawl around trying to see if a cria was actually suckling on a fully fleeced dam or trying to see if the male had hit the target when mating – never mind the heat stress on the male when mating in full fleece.
When we booked the shearing date a few months ago we didn’t anticipate half an inch of snow and night time temperatures of minus three degrees on shearing day! Luckily we have enough field shelter space so everyone was locked in overnight with plenty of straw bedding and extra feed rations.
After a couple of days everyone had acclimatised. It’s quite amazing really to adjust from fully fleeced to shorn in such a short time.
So, it’s on to the birthing season, with 70 cria due over the summer, and 40 due in May alone, there’s going to be some busy days ahead!
Emma Taylor – 15 April 2021
Shearing time is upon us!
I am no doubt preaching to the converted and now is hardly early, but please ensure you book or ideally re-book your shearer early. Many a time I see posts on both the BAS Chat Forum & Alpaca Chat UK asking for shearers in June, July or even later.
Think ahead – what are you planning to do with your fleeces? Sell, show, stash, process…? Answering this question for each fleece -if only in your head, will help you after shearing.
For new owners, I hope those breeders/owners who have sold to you have furnished you with shearers details or indeed helped you book. If not, Duncan (BAS CEO) has a list of shearers (none endorsed by BAS) who you may like to contact. If this will be your first experience of shearing then it may be prudent to contact a breeder locally to you and ask to attend their shearing so you know what to expect on your shearing day. Most breeders will accommodate but will have limited time on the day to answer questions – shearing day is hard work for all involved. Get stuck in if you are willing & able!
How to prepare.
Diatomaceous Earth in dust baths should be stopped 4 weeks ahead of shearing. DE is drying so blunts shears and can neutralise scouring agents (when processing.)
Remove as much vegetation from your fleeces in the weeks ahead of shearing. If you have topped or sprayed paddocks then keep the alpacas out – they will manage to find the dead weeds and cuttings and you will create work for yourselves. Ideal time to pick the detritus out is during monthly herd health but do not disturb the organisation of the fleece if you intend to show it.
Also, an ideal time to take your fleece samples; yes, ahead of shearing. Far easier to be taking samples from mid-sides consistently rather than just plucking a sample from a shorn fleece. Fibre sampling will give you important information not only for future breeding decisions but also for the best use of your fibre. There is no point in spending valuable time either at shearing time or after, skirting a 40-micron fleece. Fibre results might to offer up surprises – we have an older brown girl who is very much nothing to write home about in fleece style but she does have a very low SD which she has maintained for over 10 years.
Plan your shearing day layout & risk assess.
Start to gather your shearing day equipment early enough to source replacements if needed – we have a laminated check list which we use year after year to make sure we don’t forget anything on the day. Being prepared in advance will keep your stress levels low on the day and in turn ensure a smooth-running event.
Bags, pens (biro & permanent marker for bags), paper, paper towels, vaccine, needles and syringes, antiseptic spray, clean t-shirt (in case!), skirting table, bonnet/hand shears, toe nail clippers, knee pads, basic first aid for humans (plasters & steri-strips etc), mobile phone with vet number handy, know your exact location (what3words) for emergency services, ruler (staple length measurement), fleece sample bags (if not already taken or for your own records), fresh drinking water, light refreshments for during shearing, check & prepare any alpaca coats in case you need to use them, scissors, broom, waste bin or bag, power ( generator / mains) etc etc ps don’t forget to rally troops to help!
Shearing damp or even wet alpacas is not ideal – keep them in the night before if you possibly can. Then move them to a holding pen close to the shearing station in time for the shearer’s arrival. Once shorn return to their group.
Ensure everything is in working order & clean; vitally important to ensure you clean the bristles of your broom between animals – so easy to contaminate the shearing mat with ‘invisible to the eye’ fibres; have you got sufficient bags for blanket fibre and decided what to do with the rest? We bag all leg fibre of the same colour together; we bag neck fibre with more than 3” of growth in a separate bag to the blanket but leave it with the blanket for weighing in. We do still vaccinate on shearing day because of the ease and time factor but do your research and do what works for you. All toenails and bonnets are trimmed and teeth inspected – especially fighting teeth for the boys. Teeth should not be trimmed for cosmetic purposes. Do ask your shearer to point out any issues with your alpacas – note them for treatment at a later date. A full MOT for alpacas! Note anything which requires addressing after shearing.
Best practice is to skirt fleeces at the time of shearing; keep your shearing area clean & free of fibre & debris to avoid cross contamination; if you are not able to skirt at shearing time then place fleeces carefully into named bags cut side out or noodle them (google ‘noodling fleeces’) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7xErmSrRt8. Short neck & leg fibre should be bagged separately. Let damp fleeces dry naturally where possible. As soon as you can, skirt those fleeces!
Be vigilant post shearing for chilly alpacas and be prepared to house &/or coat the most vulnerable if the weather is poor. Remember to weigh and record your fleece information.
Every farm will have a slightly different way of doing things and you just need to find ‘your’ way. Don’t be afraid to ask your shearer for help but remember they are there to shear not skirt nor chase your alpacas round a 10-acre field to get them in. Shearing is a team effort between shearer and owners, do what you can to make your experience as relaxed and stress free as possible for alpacas and humas alike.
More detailed info on skirting fleeces post shearing is available via the BAS Webinar series – free to BAS members & a small charge for non-BAS members – on Tuesday 27th April at 7.30pm. Please contact Duncan (firstname.lastname@example.org) for details of how to join the zoom presentation.
A freshly sheared fleece, cut side up ready to be turned over & skirted.
All weighed, recorded & ready for processing.
Kate Brookes – 29 March 2021
As I sit here writing this, with the sun streaming in the window, I’m wishing my life away, well about two weeks of it anyway. That’s how long it is until the first cria is due on the farm. We mate from the start of May until early July, meaning our cria are expected from Mid April until the end of June.
My knowledge says this is the best thing to do, so that the richest, fastest growing grass is available for the heavily pregnant mums-to-be and then for the early weeks of lactation. I know that cria arriving in mid or late march are likely to need much more owner support and the risks are higher if bad weather arrives in late March. But my cria envy is there, as the first UK cria start being born and the willpower it takes, not to start matings before May, is really considerable.
My other problem is also one of patience. Every slight sign of possible labour (from around 320 days gestation onwards) I am sure is the real thing. That girl lying on her side must be in labour. My cries of “ooh look she’s got some udder, it must be coming soon” go on for weeks and weeks. Am I the only one?
I hope you all have a happy, healthy, fulfilling cria birthing season.
Crikey I can’t believe how quickly this year is passing, Summer seemed so far away last time I wrote my last blog Most of us are in the midst of the busiest time of year, birthing and doing matings for next years cria and Im sure we have had a our fair share of ups and downs I’ve waited 375 days for my most recent arrival, yet had another arrive after 320 days both fit and well, just different sizes !!
Yet it is the arrival of Patience , born at text book 340 days, in the middle of the day, to an experienced mother that has caused me the most issues She was called Patience because she certainly tried my Patience for the first few days of her life She had no idea how to feed from her mum, kept getting stuck behind the hedges and found the wall more appealing to feed from than her mum who tried everything to persuade her to feed She was given over a litre of Bovine colostrum , then powdered Colostrum replacer which she took readily from the bottle, yet, bang on 24 hours after she was born, she crashed, flat out and unresponsive I strongly suspected she had sepsis, her membranes were turning purple and her temperature was low Off we trotted (well actually raced !!) to the vets clutching Patience and a freezer bag of Plasma Her igg levels were very low and her bloods indicated an infection, so plasma was administered, halfway through her transfusion, Patience decided she felt better and tried to run out of the surgery and , with the help of antibiotics and plenty of TLC she is now a normal 3 week old cria who feeds off her mum (and poaches off anyone who will let her) Plasma saved her life When a cria is born it only has a few hours to absorb the antibodies from its mothers milk which is what helps the cria to develop an immune system, protecting it from infection , when that doesn’t happen, as it did with Patience, we can boost the immune system by giving plasma and in many cases it saves the crias life It is important that breeders know that powdered colostrum supplements do not contain antibodies, they are designed to give the cria energy to feed, colostrum replacers do contain antibodies and can certainly improve a crias chances, fresh goats colostrum is also helpful as long as you know where it has come from but in an emergency life threatening situation , a bag of Plasma can and does save lives Most experienced breeders keep a supply of plasma for these circumstances, in my opinion it should be part of every breeders birthing kit Once collected it keeps for up to 5 years in the freezer My own vets and several other practices have offered plasma drives so that breeders can collect plasma from their own herd at a discounted rate for the impending breeding season, yet most have been cancelled because of low uptakes How can we tell breeders what a potential life saver Plasma can be?
Breeders spend large sums of money on stud fees and spend almost a year waiting for their cria to arrive only to lose them because they have failed to get sufficient antibodies from their mothers, time after time we see people on social media asking for Plasma for a vulnerable cria The irony of Patience is that I had no Plasma in my freezer, my vets Plasma Drive having had to be cancelled because of low numbers and having last year given away my last 2 bags to owners whose animals needed it, it was only the kindness of a friend who had given up breeding and given me her supply that saved Patiences life , that kindness has also saved the life of a friends cria. We cannot purchase Plasma as it is a blood product so can’t be sold so we need to collect from our own herd and we can’t depend on others to give it to us and risk losing one of their animals because they have run out For me Plasma should be collected in the same way we harvest hay, we would never go in to winter without having arranged food for our animals, why do we go into the breeding season without Plasma ??
Heres hoping for a successful breeding season for us all and lots of cute cria pics for Duncans photo competition
Crikey when I wrote my last blog it seemed to be ages before Spring, when it was time for my next contribution, but time has flown by and here we are. Lighter evenings, sunny days, and the promise of new life everywhere.
Those of you who attended the AGM at my house will know, from the veterinary talk, that I have a habit of having weird and wonderful issues with my animals. So, I thought I’d share with you the story of Ganache. Now, Ganache is a relatively young female who has always been robust and healthy. One day I noticed her doing a very good impression of Wurzel Gummidge, hay stuck in her mouth, that she appeared to be struggling to chew.
Over the next few days this continued in much the same vein, hay getting stuck and me pulling it out, to the extent that she would stand and wait for me to do it! She was still eating hard food but then she started to get grass stuck in her teeth, so I called the vet. She had her back teeth rasped as they were a bit sharp, and her gums looked sore. After a day or two normality resumed.
Then it started again so vet was called, and teeth checked with a tiny sharp bit being removed.
The third time it happened the vet could find no sharpness to her teeth and it was decided to x-ray her before referring her to Liverpool as she was now losing weight and struggling to feed her cria who was also losing weight.
On every occasion the vet visited she had a full clinical exam. It was arranged for 2 vets to come to x-ray so that she could be safely sedated and monitored throughout the process, however during the clinical exam the vet noticed her third eyelid was very pale, in fact it was white, 3 days previously it had been pink, so the vet immediately took blood, and I ran a faecal. Imagine our horror when she had a pcv of 8 and a Strongyle count of over 3000 epg. She was dangerously anaemic.
This animal had never been ill, stopped eating or been at all slow, she was to all intents and purposes normal except for the (non) chewing hay issue. She was immediately wormed and given weekly doses of iron and within days was chewing her hay properly and has never looked back.
Incidentally, her previous egg count 6 weeks earlier had been clear. I thank my lucky stars that we decided to x-ray that day otherwise the chances are she would have died.
The vet thinks the inability to chew was purely weakness from the parasite burden.
Nothing is ever as it seems in my world.
Duncan Pullar – 15 March 2021
Very few new technologies are revolutionary in that they do not wipe away everything that went before. They tend to be rather more gentle in the way they “take over”. Motor cars overlapped with horses for 50 years, petrol cars will overlap with electric models for 30 years, and so on.
In society there are “early adopters” and “laggards” when it comes to new technology and it is not always clear who is making the right decision in the short term or the long term. If you look at mainstream agriculture early adopters of high input systems using fertilizer and sprays gained an early advantage but now the age of “fossil fuel” is coming to an end there is a resurgence in interest in organic practices remarkably like the ones that were abandoned.
Essentially there is no such thing as good or bad technology. It is really about the way we apply it and manage it and crucially whether it makes a difference in a positive and sustainable way. Very often new technologies that work with existing knowledge and systems make the most sense and the take over is gradual. Mobile phones are an example of the take over that has grown. Early mobiles were huge, but they tapped into an existing system – the phone network – and added the freedom to roam. Thirty years on the mobile has developed so much it means many homes do not have a land line and phoning people on a mobile is almost a minor use when you think of texting, tweeting and games!!
Good examples of technologies applied to animal breeding clearly include genetic evaluations and most recently the adoption of genomics. These technologies are now widely used in cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry breeding. The technologies of estimated breeding values evaluation and DNA analysis have allowed more rapid and accurate assessments of breeding stock to be made which allows the animals to be bred which function best.
The introduction of Estimated Breeding Values to alpacas is an opportunity to adopt a proven technology that will make a significant difference to the breeding progress for objectively measurable traits. The BAS EBV project is now in a development stage and is open to all members if they are interested. The EBV project will not replace any of the skills that alpaca breeders have accumulated over the years, but it will add an extra layer of information that should help alpaca breeders make better breeding decisions.
A webinar is on this week, 15 March 2021 at 7.30pm. If you want to lean more email for link email@example.com or get the YouTube link later
Since joining the board, it has somehow seemed extremely busy ‘at home’ despite the lockdown. From being elected, I really enjoyed the first meeting, which was on my 25th birthday. It was so exciting to have an excuse to properly have to think and brainstorm for a good while.
Over the various lockdowns from March 2020 onwards, I took to hand spinning and processing my own alpaca’s fleeces. I started off with a cheap spindle and some spare dog slicker brushes to card it (I have learnt NOT to invest in relatively sporadic hobbies the hard way!). After getting hooked I quickly convinced myself it’s worth splashing out on a few bits and bobs. I will tell you that is took me about 5 hours to ‘splash out’, but at least I attempted to practice self restraint. My main purchase was a lovely pair of hand carders which made my spinning adventures all the more pleasant. It is so incredibly rewarding and relaxing.
I had never been more grateful for my exploration into the world of spinning as when myself and Shaun tested positive for coronavirus just days after my birthday (a birthday with no celebrations I hastened to add). Unfortunately I became very unwell, and it was several weeks before I could do much more than drive down to the field gates to try and catch a glimpse of the alpacas. My poor partner Shaun had to battle the horrible West Lancashire weather on his own. His sympathy for me moaning about ‘being stuck in the house’ (with my camomile tea, blankets, and chocolate I might add. But it was torture really, as I couldn’t taste anything!) quickly diminished as he returned shivering and soaking one time too many.
By the New Year, I was able to just about able to go off to milk the cows in the afternoon, and maybe do a few of the alpaca jobs on top. I have pretty much plateaued and I am still suffering from long-Covid. However, on a slightly comedic note, my hair started falling out last week (not the funny bit, although not uncommon 2-3 months after being poorly with coronavirus). So I reached out to the GP who said the best thing I can do is “keep calm, as that could make it a lot worse, and try not to look at the hairbrush/comb”. Have you ever tried telling someone who’s hair is falling out to keep calm, otherwise more will fall out? Funnily enough- it doesn’t work, but it did still tickle me at least.
I think I speak for most of us, when I say how relieved I am to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We have slowly started tidying things up ready to reopen in April; there are rumblings of shows; and I think we can all safely be optimistic about the National Alpaca Farm Day going ahead the first weekend of September. I have been filling my calendar with all the alpaca related things I can. Now let’s hope for some lovely weather to get that grass growing!
Ken Freivokh – 1 March 2021
Some 12 years ago, Liz and I were offered the opportunity to purchase land adjoining our cottage. With an offer accepted, we looked at each other, and the question was – what would be the best use of such fields? We both love animals, it clearly was an opportunity to look after some, yet my comment to Liz was: ‘I would prefer not to have to eat them, ride them or milk them!’……… Having lived in Peru for over 20 years, alpacas won the day!
Whilst familiar with the look of them, we certainly were not feeling up to speed with how to look after them! We visited our nearest breeder, and returned having bought a grey, a white, a brown, a fawn, a black and a full day one-to-one course………. We had no idea what we had started! It did not take long before we developed more definite ideas regarding what we liked. Jude Anderson, a highly experienced International Judge, invited me two years running to join her in checking all entries for the top US Show, the Kansas Futurity. An amazing experience and, of course, the opportunity to see the top US alpacas and to crystalise our preferences.
We eventually joined a syndicate bringing nine Snowmass alpacas from Idaho and, some years later, we set about importing a further 9 Snowmass champions. It took us well over a year to bring them over via New Zealand. I flew down under for two days, and managed to mate two of the males to a pair of females in the group– the two female offspring took part in their first UK show at barely 6 months, and each won their respective colour championship! They went on to win championships, including two Supremes and a Judge’s Choice.
Over the years, we have formed our own opinion regarding how we prefer to look after our alpacas. Rather than closed barns, they all have unhindered access to handsome shelters, very popular when the sun is beating down or during long spells of heavy rain. We can feed them under cover with dry troughs, yet they can go out to graze at will.
After ten very rewarding years with alpacas, I was pleased to join the BAS Board. A task of particular interest was to help put together a Breed Standard which could guide breeding goals, screening imports, etc. I am pleased that this process is now nearing completion following careful research and extensive exchanges with judges and other Board members. The expectation is for such document to undergo regular reviews as breeding techniques reach higher levels of sophistication with the help of EBVs alongside fleece improvements year-on-year.
In my experience alpacas are addictive, Linda and I started our breeding with four Black female alpacas in 2009 and now have around 150. I am fascinated by genetics and trying to improve the quality of our black alpacas and am very pleased with the progress we have made. To improve we have invested in some good black males and females and have taken a few risks by introducing fawn genetics into the herd and must say I am rather pleased with where we have got to.
Of course, having this number of alpacas has become a full-time job and means I am doing all sorts of work around the farm from mucking out the barn to all the regular husbandry and caring for sick animals. Trying to understand how to keep alpacas healthy and being ready to treat the inevitable illnesses that come along, often discussing and agreeing treatments with our vets is both fascinating and worrying..
Having retired from full time work I have had the time to get involved with our alpacas much more than I ever expected and find the lifestyle we have created very absorbing. Alpacas have become much more than a hobby and have made this last year of COVID and lockdowns bearable.
After 6 years as Chair of the BAS Board I am planning to retire from the chair’s role at this year’s AGM (2021) and may stay on for a while to ensure there is an effective handover if fellow Board members feel it useful. It has been an interesting and challenging few years working with the other board members and seeing the changes to the society over that time, where our membership has grown from 1276 to 1576 members.
I have found my board colleagues to have worked hard on behalf of the membership even though there seems to be some level of mistrust in the board from a few members no matter who the board members are. I do find this strange, as all I have seen is board members working in the best interests of the society and not themselves.
COVID has meant the Board has had to use Zoom for its meeting and in the course of the last year I feel we have become more focussed and efficient in part because of that medium. Zoom has been a wonderful innovation and has led to new thinking of how BAS can deliver more value to its members through Zoom education, improved participation with online voting and the of course the BAS Chat forum on Facebook. In my view Zoom and Chat have enabled us to become much more of an inclusive society reaching our members across the UK.
Linda and I are looking forward to meeting our friends again as we return to showing and hopefully lockdown becomes a distant memory.
Thanks to covid regulations my hair is as grey and dull as the weekend just passed! 🙈 Due to the heavy snowfall we abandoned the halter training this weekend and instead, concentrated on our alpacas’ ‘top-knots’…Covid doesn’t affect our alpacas’ hair dos, just mine!
On the farm we have been lucky enough to finally get the builder in to start our new barn! We had strong winds throughout the week which slowed progress, but we will get there in the end! When asked “what is the purpose of this barn?”, I have a long list of answers: storage for a tractor and trailer; a new ‘weighing in room’ for alpacas (not humans); an area for bespoke mating pens; a shearing shed…the list goes on, it sounds like it will be a busy spot!!! 🤣
All in all, the best thing about snow days is the opportunity for me to work with yarn, guilt free. Thankfully we have some loyal outlets for our alpaca products and the arctic weather has given me the time to get some stock boxed up and ready for delivery. I also couldn’t resist a different kind of artistic outlet when I had the chance…. do you think he deserves a first place?!?! 😉
Judith Newman – 1st February 2021
There has been no let-up in the weather and the rain seems to go on and on. I live on the Somerset Levels and we don’t generally see a lot of snow here but we even had some of that this past week. Waterproofs from head to foot and a good pair of wellies are essential in this weather.
The levels are often linked to serious flooding but we are lucky in that we live to the north of the A39 which forms a high ridge where on one side it can flood badly and the other, where we live, it doesn’t. The rain can sit for a while but thanks to a very good drainage system that was first built in the 17th century the ditches around every field take the water away to the rhynes leaving the fields once again dry if a little soggy.
Land that is subject to lying wet in the winter creates a great environment for the tiny mud snails Galba (Lymnaea) truncatula that carry liver fluke eggs to thrive and pass those eggs on to the alpacas when they graze. One snail can produce 100,000 offspring in 3 to 4 months and so the parasite load on the ground can be huge and risk liver damage to infected livestock. On the levels we are advised by our vets to treat our herd with Fasinex in the Autumn and again in the Spring to ensure that they are not carrying harmful fluke. We have never had a sick alpaca due to liver fluke. You can send off a faecal sample to a suitably qualified lab where they will carry out a sediment test to look for fluke.
Of course, all the other intestinal parasites can be present all year and particularly love damp warm places to lay their eggs just waiting for a host to come along and munch them up with a mouthful of grass. I did a course some years back on the various parasites that affect Camelids and the best anthelmintics to dose an infected alpaca with and that has been invaluable. A few years ago I added to this by doing a one-day hands on course on how to carry out faecal testing on my alpacas. I came away with a shopping list of required equipment and an enthusiasm to get stuck in. I introduced a rolling testing programme across the herd that enables me to keep track of each alpacas parasite status and to only treat when evidence based and necessary. Anthelmintic resistance is a huge problem in livestock mainly caused by overuse and underdosing and so it is very important to only treat when you need to and give the correct dose. It also saves a lot of money on drugs! Time in the lab was also a respite from the rain 😊
We currently have our females in the barns as the wet and ensuing mud is not a lot of fun for them or me when I have to get up to feed them etc and I’m sliding around all over the place. We can’t get the big or even the little tractor out on the grass as it would churn it into mud in an instant so everything has to be carried. All of our paddocks have very good spacious shelters in them and our alpacas run for their shelter at the first drop of rain but given the chance they still gallop down to the big barns. We muck out twice a day and use cardboard for their toilet area which rots down really quickly and doesn’t introduce any mites to the barns. First thing in the morning is my favourite part of the day when we go out and put up the Camelibra for the alpacas and then we sit on a bench in the barn having a lovely hot mug of tea discussing the relative merits of each alpaca and get excited about this years birthing season and the mating plan for next years cria.
Despite the difficult times that all of us and our loved ones are going through at the moment there is much to be happy about. Sitting in a barn surrounded by alpacas discussing the future over a mug of tea is high on that list 😊
Paul Hetherington – 25 January 2021
So how do you go about halter training 51 cria – that was the big question at Beck Brow this week. Turns out the answer is 3 at a time.
Training starts in the barn where we put a head collar on the cria and let them wear it for a little while. This lets them get used to the feel of the collar and the process of putting it on.
When we first started halter training many years ago we used to take one cria per handler, but after some good advice from more experienced breeders, we now take them in groups. The cria definitely walk better with friends.
We see all sorts of personalities during training. There are cria that take to walking straight away, there are the ones that sit down and refuse to get up, and there are the ones that throw themselves down and play dead. The cria that are most friendly in the barn, and get the most attention, are often the most challenging to train – I guess they have a high opinion of themselves. It’s also interesting that the cria from a particular sire will often have the same personality and hence be leaders or followers.
Once we’ve worked out which cria like walking they become the trainers and get to team up with the reluctant walkers. The trainers are often the first in the queue when the head collar box comes out. Despite their progress on the first attempt, or otherwise, invariably all of the cria will walk to the lane end by their third outing.
In previous years we have always had plenty of willing volunteers to help with the training but Covid has put a spanner in the works – thankfully we don’t have too many reluctant walkers this year and hopefully the Cumbrian winter won’t be too inhibiting.
We’ve got 4 more cria to wean then it’s time to start thinking about this year’s birthing. The pregnant females will be split into two or three groups depending on their due date. Females in the last trimester get an increased food ration to help with the unborn cria’s development.
As well as training the cria we’re also training the next generation of alpaca lovers and farm workers! We are fortunate that our grandchildren are in our Covid bubble.
Emma Taylor – 18 January 2021
2020 has been an extraordinary year in many ways for us in terms of mill, herd & shop as well as personal & social lives not just with C-19 but Brexit too!!
Lots of changes have had to be implemented not just in daily life but in our working life too. But with that came positives – fresh appraisal of the work/life balance, time to catch up on the never-ending list of jobs which have previously had a low priority but are now completed albeit with more jobs added to the list as a result! Sadly, no time to machine knit & be creative – designs will have to remain in the grey matter for a bit longer! Meanwhile the alpacas graze on oblivious to the troubles of the world & continue to be my calming influence & escape place to go for de-stressing. Thankful to have the alpacas & sufficient space to wander with the dogs without actually having to leave home.
Part of my daily life is dog rescue, specifically spaniels but when a plea for help came in for two German Shepherds during the initial lockdown, our fantastic team could not refuse. So, we have acquired an honorary ‘Second Chance’ golden oldie girlie who is living out her days with us. Zeena (13) has rekindled my love for GSD’s. Her younger fur brother acquired a fab home with a fellow alpaca breeder too.
Another task that we have needed to be very aware of is that of a visiting fox – I keep birds of prey & said fox has been a damn nuisance trying to dig into flights & aviaries. Work in progress!
As for other aspects of daily life, COVID-19 has kept me away from my children, grandchildren & mother for more than a year now & is causing ongoing anxiety for their welfare & what the future will hold longer term for them; the Board has discovered the value of Zoom meetings (so much easier & more productive & at no cost to the membership) as have some regional groups; I’ve not missed the freedom to go out at will (yet) – probably serves as a reminder that working 80+ hours a week is what keeps me er, sane!
The strain of maintaining C-19 compliance for our staff is onerous yet necessary (actually fed up of cleaning multiple times a day!) but latest regulations mean that 2 of 3 income sources remain closed though the online shop sales continue to grow but has allowed me more time in the mill than prior to C-19. Never thought I would be doing virtual shopping with customers to the shop! Meanwhile the initial lockdown also allowed for time to plan upgrades to the mill one of which is at the point of completion as I type. We have a fully automated scouring system at long last!
Paddock breeding became a necessity for us in 2020 to ensure the absolute safety of our stock hand, with one slipped pregnancy to date which was revealed on Alpaca Chat UK with photos of a tiny yet formed foetus being the low point but added to our understanding of alpacas further.
I am hugely grateful that we live in the middle of nowhere in Norfolk, that we are fit(ish) & healthy, that we have a fantastic team here with great friends to keep us connected to outside life. Here is hoping that the Beast from the East 2 does not materialise! Hoping you all stay safe & can appreciate the positive aspects that this awful pandemic has brought – they are there!
Kate Brookes – 11 January 2020.
Last autumn I tuned in to a webinar by nutritionist Jane Vaughan in Australia and amongst much other useful information, she was suggesting weaning cria at 4 months of age. I have always weaned at 6 months of age, unless there was a specific reason for a cria to be separated from its mum earlier. At the time of the webinar my 21 cria were between 4 and 6 months of age. There was just one under 25kg, two between 25 – 33kg and the others all heavier, the heaviest being nearly 50kg at 5.5 months. The three smallest were all just over 4 months of age.
The cria were all used to entering a creep feeder and eating ‘hard feed’ consisting of GWF Hembre and Cria concentrate, dried flaked peas, young stock creep pellets and speedibeet. I kept daily weights as I weaned the cria, ready to return them to their mums if I felt concerned at the impact of such early weaning. The mothers were always within sight of the cria, in an adjacent pasture, neither mums or cria seemed stressed at the separation, with only two cria still grazing close to the fence line by day 3 of weaning.
I found that the three smallest cria all did better, in terms of growth rate, without their mums. The ones over 5 months had almost no slowing in growth. There were several at under 5 months who had a noticeable flat line for around a week at the start of the weaning period.
So, would I wean cria at 4 months again? For those cria where growth has slowed significantly, yes. For most cria I think I would wean at 5 months onwards if possible. Weaning the whole group together did seem to minimise the stress on them, so I would wait until I had a group that were ready to wean together. The return to condition of some of the mums feeding greedy youngsters was very quick, and for already pregnant females this is probably good.
Sue Loach – 4 January 2021
Well as one year ends and another begins, I find myself reflecting on what a strange year 2020 has been, more ins and outs and ups and downs than doing the Hokey Cokey on a rollercoaster!!
It started off so well and I had the privilege of judging one of the few dog-shows that went ahead last year, we all had plans made, shows and holidays arranged and then Covid struck. Little did any of us know the massive impact it would have on all our lives, anyone who enjoys showing their animals whether Alpacas, dogs or other livestock will have missed meeting up with like-minded folk, admiring their animals and sharing a laugh, a cup of tea or something stronger.
The Covid Fairy visited my whole family, me and my daughters only showing mild symptoms, but my partner ended up in hospital with Covid related pneumonia, scary times, and we feel very fortunate to have all recovered, so many lives will have been changed forever.
We have all learnt how socially distance, wear masks and to chat via zoom (and yes Duncan, rain does affect the signal, I have it on good authority), so our Board Meetings have gone ahead, together with the noise of barking dogs, postman’s visits and gate-crashing children and I have discovered Amazon Prime!! What a revelation.
I think I had the most stressful and disastrous birthing season ever (more of that another day) but I was very glad when it was all over. We finally moved into our long-awaited barn conversion which is still work in progress but feeling more like home every day, how stupid of us to decide to have a new driveway dug out just before a “Noah’s Arks” amount of rain decided to come down. Wouldn’t you just guess that I managed to fall over into one of the tracks whilst going to bottle feed my cria one night, to cap it off she refused to take her bottle off someone resembling a scary bog monster, ungrateful animal.
The year has ended with plenty of snow for us and I suddenly realised that somehow, I have become a farmer, instead of admiring the views, planning snowball fights, and building snowmen, I have become excited that the frost and cold will kill off parasite eggs and my dogs won’t get muddy!!!
Here’s hoping that 2021 will eventually show us the good times we all want, let’s hope we can get out and about and do the things we all enjoy, whatever they may be and above all let us all be healthy and happy.
Duncan Pullar – 23 December 2020
To start this Blog I thought I would look back at 2020. The whole year has been rather difficult. It started for me with lots of preparation for the National Show that never was. Having spent a couple of months getting ready for the Show I spent the next month undoing what I had done. It is worth say that everyone associated with the Show, BAS member, Supplier or trade stand holder were very accommodating and the “undoing” was all done in a good spirit. At that stage no one new the whole showing season would be lost.
Its surprising what you have to learn about when a national crisis beckons. I invested a fair amount of time discovering if shearers would be allowed to work this year and what travel they could undertake. Having got the rules clear BAS issued a letter for shearers to use as confirmation that they were on legitimate business. Despite the problems shearing was completed albeit over an extended season. Well done shearers!
As the year progressed we all got more used to the restriction and the BAS Board became familiar with the joys of Zoom calling. I think we have had the full range of Zoom errors, from trying to talk while on mute through to freezing in mid-sentence and then disappearance. One Board member is convinced the presence or absence of rain in their area makes a huge difference to the quality of connection. Talking of Zoom, many regional groups embraced its use to stay connected, and it was great for me to have a little chat with organisers around the country to see what they were up to, and how they felt about the world.
Thanks BAS members for making my job, in a difficult year, do-able. Your generosity in time and effort is appreciated,
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