Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Hi, I'm Shadow....

Shadow is now 2 weeks and 4 days old and utterly bonkers. She races around the field tossing her head this way and that, kicking her ridiculously long legs sideways, swerving as she passes the adults as if she's a F1 car in a Grand Prix. She's funny. She taken a real liking to nibbling ears and hair and the sproglets receive this attention as much as Annabel and Bracken!

No sign of Bracken's baby yet but we're all very chilled about this as those that know assure me it could still be on the way. The 8yo has really bonded with his mother-to-be and can often be found lying in the long cool grass, leaning on her back, both half asleep.


Sunday, 18 August 2013

Birds for sale....

This week we were finally able to organise the diary in order to take the 10yo's Salmon Faverolle, 14 week old, pullets and cock to the poultry auction. If you've read the blog regularly over the last 4 years you may be aware that I've had some interesting times there in the past, more relating to the clientele than the process. There was the time I bought a huge Bantam family for an extortionate amount of money and another time when I nearly scored myself a 'lovely' Welsh boyfriend!

So, emotionally prepared, I made plans for our upcoming sale. I decided that another recent hatchling would be sold too; a bantam cock, and that we would make a trio of birds by selling two of our bantam girls with him (these girls from the original bantam family I bought in 2011.)

The children were thrilled when I woke them at 5.45am on the morning of the sale...Not! We live an hour from the auction and really needed to be there and commandeer a cage by 6.30am. We were so early that the Hubby wasn't even awake and so I crept about the bedroom, putting a pant in a leg, a boob in a bra, a toe in a sock as quietly as I could, gathering up bits I needed from the nightstand. All was going well until I fumbled for one item too many and managed to drop everything in my arms onto my full coffee cup which exploded an earthy colour over Kindles, notebooks and carpet! I swore, Hubby sat up, confused. #Disaster1.

Promising to clean up later, I escaped to Task 2: ushering sproglets downstairs. This was fairly easy and so I was lulled into a false security for Task 3: Loading the birds.

The previous night I had segregated the birds we were taking to the auction so that it would be easy to box them and go. Ha! Within the first 5 minutes I had lost a hold on the young Bantam cock... (steady!) and he was free. The 10yo and I briefly tried to catch him but he was wise to us and we were forced to give up. #Disaster2. By now we were running late.

With Salmon Faverolles safely in a box, we arrived at the auction at 7am, just 30 minutes late. Bearing in mind that the sale didn't start till 10am I was sure we would be in good time to cage up. I was almost wrong. There was just one cage available in our section of birds. We quickly disgorged our cardboard box, settling our girls and boy with water and corn housed in makeshift feeders made from plastic 1 pint milk containers, (v. Blue Peter) their handles cut to make them easier to hang on the bars of the cage. Finally I could breathe.

Between 7am and 10am we fed ourselves on meat market bacon butties and tea and even had time to dash the couple of miles into the centre of the city for home supplies.

I'm pleased to say our birds sold well (though Rockefellers we are not) and it was gratifying to note that #Disaster3 never really occurred, unless you count the monsoon-like weather that ensued for the rest of the day and I don't.

The 10yo is considering investing her 'millions' in an egg incubator so that she can turn out chicks to order, now that she's had a taste of earning.... Lordy help us!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

15 Days: A lifetime so far...

Shadow, our baby alpaca born on 2nd August, is now 12 days old and doing well.

The last time I posted, she had just been born and we were smug in the knowledge that our paddock was lush, our stocks of food for mum Annabel and mum-to-be Bracken were plentiful and that our field shelter was clean and fresh with good matting and a deep bed of straw. We couldn't have predicted the hideous weather about to hit us that Friday night or that it would return with a vengeance all Sunday too.

Those first few days set us Archers on a steep learning curve and I'm grateful to the help I received over the phone from Unique Alpacas Ludlow, Westcroft Alpacas and BAS. Fortunately, thanks in part to our own prep and to the bits and bobs in the alpaca birthing box we were advised to buy, we were able to gather up our brood and contain them in the field shelter when we noticed that Shadow was shivering in the field. We towelled her dry and, dividing the shelter in two, mum and baby one side, aunt the other, we were able to keep them all fed, dry and warm for almost 24 hours until the mad storms finally wore themselves out.

It seems our time in close proximity to these animals has since paid off: Annabel, Shadow's mum, has decided we are to be tolerated. In the weeks after her arrival to The Larches she would have nothing to do with us. This may have been linked to the discomfort she felt with her imminent birthing or the fact that we were total strangers but she was definitely unfriendly. Now she feeds from our hands and if we call to her she will, casually walk to us and allow us to fuss her. Often she enjoys the fuss so much that she drops to her knees and lies down beside us in order that we might continue our adoration of her in the cool grass.

During these bonding sessions I have told the sproglets to completely ignore baby Shadow. I want Annabel to know that this is not an excuse to grab her baby in order to spay her umbilical cord or weigh her as we do at other times, this is purely a pampering session for mum and aunt. Unfortunately no one has mentioned these rules to Shadow who bounds about playing her own made up game of 'you can't catch me.' When she becomes bored of this game because we won't join in, she will nibble her mum's ear, aunt's nose or, her new favourite tid-bit, the 10yo's soft blonde hair!

We are so fortunate. Our three alpaca girls are happy, healthy and trusting in us. Here's hoping Bracken too has a cria to join our herd.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Rock and a hard place....

Yesterday we grafted. We mended fences, contained lambs and sheep. Emptied an old field shelter of its floor boarding and sheep droppings, lined it with straw and set down some equestrian matting. At the back of the shelter Hubby put up a grid system with various heights to hang the heavy feeding troughs for the alpaca. All this work is prep for winter; a place where the alpaca family can shelter if the weather turns really bad. By all accounts, alpaca would rarely be taken into a stable, always preferring to be out in the elements so the field shelter is a half-way house.

We praised our morning's work over a lunch of tuna and olive bread followed by juicy peaches but it was soon time to see what other jobs needed doing.

I deigned we should move a hefty mountain of Shropshire stone that was sat in the alpaca field, fearing the ladies might hurt their legs on it. Hubby suggested I might actually be 'inventing' work and went off to find a real job while the sproglets and I began to fill the trailer with the cumbersome pieces. Close to the end of this real job I managed to put one heavy stone down, dislodging another. The second stone then rolled onto my ring finger. The pain under my nail is now amazing. I presume I'll have one of those revolting blood blisters, though as yet there is no sign thanks to my Barbie pink nail varnish! (Well, it is summer!)

One thing we have learnt over our past 4 years here is that gates need to be shut. Yesterday we managed to add to our workload by forgetting this. As Hubby and daughter drove Dizzy Discovery down to a lower paddock, they passed through our largest field housing more than 100 borrowed lawnmowers. Unfortunately they left the gate open. The ewes and lambs figured this was surely an invitation to follow and duly poured through the gate. I was in the alpaca field which has free access to this lower field and, fearful that these sheep might stampede Shadow, our baby cria, I ran like Mo Farah to close the gate. The 10yo had the same thought and we met at the gate, heading the sheep off just in time. Phew!

That, it seems was the easy bit. We then spent the next 20 minutes dashing about like sheep dogs, trying to drive the flock back to their big field. Hilariously, once we had completed this task we realised that our cade lambs were among the throng. In truth this didn't really matter, they could easily graze together but the 10yo called their names and from a sea of faces Coco, Bino and Oreo appeared. They happily followed us back to their patch where their was less competition for grass.

If I look back at our move to The Larches on the 28th August 2009, I had no real expectation for learning and yet in 4 years we have learnt so much. When we arrived at The Larches with a 6yo and a 4yo, we'd never even owned a pet as a family, had only gardened on a micro scale and had no clue how to mend a gate or fence. Look at us now, we've moved from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.

On the 28th of this month will will have completed our 4th year at The Larches. If it wasn't for our lovely neighbours we'd still be in the dark ages regarding sheep, land and horticulture. Bless them for being patient with us and bring it on year 5!

Friday, 2 August 2013

And now we are three.....

Home from swimming and I wondered why Annabel had a crow beneath her...... ! Glasses on Lou, sheesh!

Oh, not a crow, a beautiful baby girl. She has been named Shadow by the 10yo. Great name.

A marvelous picture by the 8yo

I had asked several experienced alpaca breeders what the term for an alpaca birth was. With sheep it's lambing (obviously) and I wondered if there was a special term for alpacas. Rob Bettinson of Toft Alpacas told me that he's heard it called creation, (ha ha) but best of all he's heard it described as unpacking. Lovely.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Taming lambs and other fairy tales.....

If you have ever taken part in an agricultural show; showing sheep, cattle, goats, pigs or any other headstrong creature, I take my tweedy cloth cap off to you. Boy, oh boy, oh boy is there a lot of work behind the scenes.

Burwarton Show is a one day show in Shropshire. Its scale is impressive with a footfall of 20,000 and it arguably attracts the best livestock from at least six counties and Wales.

We girded our loins this year and decided to show two of our cade lambs under the pet lamb category.

For the past three weeks we have walked these lambs around our fields..... well, we walked, they bucked and broncoed... sheesh!

Today came the culmination of our hard work... We loaded the girls from the stables at 8:00am, they'd been housed overnight in the stables in an effort to keep their washed fleces clean - it didn't work. They'd managed to lie in their own doings and their fleeces had a yellow glow! Anyhoo, we drove to the showground a mere 30 minutes away, unpacked the girls and waited for our time in the arena. While we waited, the sproglets teased, tweaked, brushed and sprayed in an effort to make our mongrels look like the pedigree lambs surrounding us. Oops!

It would be fair to say that the 10yo was almost beaten by her lamb Coco, who really wasn't in the mood to walk nicely and with searing temperatures of 27° daughter was v. close to throwing the proverbial towel in. But she didn't. The judging of the Pet Lamb category was made slightly more tricky when our judges couldn't be located and the children, ranging in age from 3 to 10, had to stand in the ring for almost 30 minutes in bonkers temperatures, wearing junior doctors' coats.... but on that we shall not dwell.

When the judges were finally located it was wonderful to see our children competent and confident, able to talk about their lambs and handle them, even when their animals began playing up.

Sproglets, we commend you. You came first in our eyes. Daddy and I are very proud and when you said you'd 'NEVER DO THAT AGAIN...' did you mean until next year????

The rules and regulations...

Still waiting....

The judgement

Awaiting the verdict...

The Archers at The Larches

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Lou - Chicken whisperer....

Snowy and Moon

Snowy and Moon