Friday, 30 December 2011

Return to Sender

As usual its been a feast of food here at Lane House Barn.  Christmas comes around and I am itching to cater for the masses.  This year we managed to get through various mountains of delicacies and local produce. But as we tucked into Goose (raised on a farm across the valley), Pheasant, home cured Salmon, and a fantastic array of smelly cheeses I began to have pangs of guilt about not providing a treat for the boys. 

Its hard to know what treat the boys would like, and anyway we have been oscillating between thinking that they are little fatties and too thin for their own good. (Actually I think this means that they are about right).  Apple was settled upon.  After only the occasional treat they now come to expect a little something when we turn up in the paddock and get over excited at the mearest hint of a plastic bag, leading to spitty mouth more often than not.

As the winter has progressed we have been being a little more generous with the supplemental feeds.  Rather than the half a scoop between three in the evening we have moved to more like a just short of a full scoop twice a day.  They are eating copious amounts of hay too (not quite a bale a week). The weather has been atrocious.  It has done nothing but blow a gale of wind and rain for weeks on end.  The paddock is decidedly soggy and the boys are muddy up to their knees half the time, and have a definite grey tinge to their fleeces.  The BAS magazine carried a timely article from Karin Mueller this month about energy needs in the winter and I was not surprised to see that she went into detail about wind-chill.  It has been mild this year but when we say it is windy here we mean it.  None stop gales with gusts over 80 mph on some days.  It even blew the neigbours stone built garage away!  This kind of wind with rain leads to high wind chill so I think we are doing the right thing keeping the food provided.  They still graze the paddock but the grass is looking decidedly poor and they are always nipping back to the shed for a munch of hay, and because it is warm dry and well sheltered in there.

Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.  We rarely see the boys drink. But we do see them wee for England, so have not been too concerned.   Last time I took a look in the tanks where we store water harvested from the shed roof it was quite slimey and there was a whiff of sulfor not to my liking.  I have pressure washed the tanks and changed the routine to filling them only when  empty so as to keep them cycling with fresh.  I have also stopped adding cider apple vinger to the tanks, I did this in the belief that this would naturally kill off any microbes (old wifes tale).  Maybe this was the cause of the problem?  Worried that the dry food would increase their water need we have started to carry tap water down to them and we think that they may drink this more often than the water from the tanks, but its hard to tell really.

The lighting system has been working a treat.  I did have to charge the battery once in the deepest darkest mid-winter when we were using the lights a lot and there wasn't much daylight. Perhaps my calculations were a bit out but I think it more to do with temperature, I don't think the panel works well when cold and it was frosty when we ran low.

So time for some pictures.  The boys love to see visitors. Rachel and Billy were amongst the guests for boxing day and they brought with them Jamie, Andrew and Gemma. 

Note the absence of Katie, normally not known to be camera shy.  Whilst our backs were turned she had decided to try out her new scooter on the drive.  Alas the brakes were not applied and minutes after this photo was taken we were off to A&E with a broken leg!  Poor Katie!

Less dramatic was a visit from Chris and Heather.  Chris left a very fine hat for Fin to wear but Fin thought it did not suit him and refused to put it on.

'It wont go over my ears !'

But then Noah had a good idea, its a great way to feed treats ! 

 'Yum Yum Peas and Beans !'

Father Christmas didn't pass us by.  He dropped off a few things in the paddock for Earl the tractor to play with over the comming months. 

'Dont worry Boss , we will stand guard while you go and get Earl'

'Whats all this about then ?'

Alas I didn't have the camera to hand when Noah actually got into the link-box !

So whats with the blog title ?  Well that is about our Fleeces.  We sent them off t't mill to be processed but a few weeks later, they came back.  One cone from Fin (100M, 4ply) but two bags of rovings (1.583Kg + 1.445Kg) from Noah and Kenzie .  The rovings were too fine to spin!  So it was either have it mixed with someone else's adult fibre, or have it back to add to next years.  Not sure what Titus Salt would have made of this situation.  I may go and ask him at lunch next week.

Despite getting all worked up about having a 'Noah' jumper  we will have to wait another year and be content with a hat of finest Fin.  Just as well really, I think that much of Kenzies fleece will have to be discarded this year.  Last years skin problems are resolved but he really did have extensive scabbing and this has come away with the new fleece. I am not sure that will be easy to separate.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Where to start ?

Its been a while.  I don't know how that happened.  One minute it was summer, the next the nights have drawn in, there is a chill in the air and not a blog in sight ! Happily there have been no dramas to report.  Just good fun with the boys who are happy and healthy. 

In preparation for the dark nights.  We devised a lighting system for the shed.  As usual there was a bit of engineering analysis to be done.  I really wanted to avoid carting a car battery around in a barrow and know that whenever you need light then the battery will be run low.  The solution, a solar panel and LED lights.  I'll save you from the calculations on panel output, hours of daylight in these northern climbs, the relative luminosity of different bulbs etc.  It's a success and we can illuminate the shed at the flick of a switch.  Leading to some interesting shots of the boys with 'moody lighting'. Other than a minor addition of lagging to the water pipes- the shed is the shed and performing well.

Noah steps into the spotlight

We had been overly lax with the nice new season hay and we still have to divide the paddock so the boys got a score of 'maximum ideal' on the scale in the book.  'Piggy barrels' in my book but they will use it over the winter.

We are members of the local Alpacas Anonymous group - YAG the Yorkshire Alpaca Group.  This has turned out to be a good thing.  YAG hosted a days seminar led by Karin Mueller (See Barbara's blog for more details).  This was great information and great to see our vet Chris there too.  This lead to a couple of plans.  Firstly the dental abscesses that Karin showed were something we would want to avoid.  No reason we have any greater chance than anyone else but the boys do browse a Holly tree so we decided it had to go.  Earl the tractor was called into action and a suitable work party assembled.

 Kenzie stands back - He is the biggest Holly muncher and sorry to see his snack tree go
The boys retire to the shed leaving Earl to drag the Holly tree off to the bonfire

The other thing that came out of the YAG was a solution to our problem for treating for  Liver Fluke.  This is a problem for a small heard.  The treatment, Fasinex, has a short shelf life and we would use a tiny fraction of the smallest bottle.  The Solution -  A plea to the YAG members where we found someone in the same boat who was able to share their bottle.  Buying a drenching gun comes next.

With winter coming in our schedule has had a change.  We have had to switch from evening feeds as the boys are settled down in the shed and not too interested in Camelibra by the time we get in from work.  Vitamin paste is on the menu too.  We follow the instructions to the letter.

 'Make sure you Alpaca reads the instructions carefully'

'Ensure that your Alpaca does not suck out too much paste in one go'

 'Make sure that they take turns & Share'

We had a great week-end with KT and Ed.

 Fin shows an interest in KT's plaits.

 KT shows an interest in Fin's pile.

 My lovely Fin and Bev together.

The 3 graces?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Noah is in love

  Noah is in love ...

With a tractor !

 The rear wheel needs a kiss

 Who loves you baby ?

Kenzie joins in the Earl love fest

Of course, Fin takes the driving seat
mean while ...

Bloody hell ! where did THEY come from !

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Midges, Wind and Westmorland

I Hate Midges!  Really, what is the point of midges?  I'm sure the bats would find something else to eat if midges were eliminated. I hate them but they love me and take a jawful at every opportunity.  They've spoilt my evening (post work) visits with the boys all summer, they drive me mad, I have to wear a hood in the heat and I still get big itchy lumps on my face and neck that last days and days.

And I hate that they bother the boys so much, fortunately for them we get a lot of wind here during the day and that drives the midges away.  Mostly the wind drops by the evening but when it doesn't - I Hate the Wind! What's the point of wind?  it whips your hair across your face and you have to wear your stupid hoody...

Well if the secret of good blogging is little and often then that was the little.  The other thing I like in blogs is lots of photos, as I don't want any photos of midges or me in my hoody on the blog here are some of the Westmorland County Show where Andy and I were both novice stewards on Thursday.  Andy was ring steward and I was recording steward and it was a great day.

Andy practicing his alpaca mind control technique,
I can't say that out staring any of our boys has ever worked as well as this.

The ring steward caught in the act trying to steal a very nice white boy?
The public gallery was well attended throughout. In the middle of the ring Judges Liz Barlow and Shirley Bettinson

Commentator Robin Sandys-Clarke kept the public informed and entertained thoughout, and kept the recording steward giggling at the table with his anecdotes and asides.
This is the exciting line up of colour champions, the mud pools are indoors, the rain outside was torrential.

 The Judges don their wellies and find the deepest puddle in order to cogitate on their final decision, the Supreme Champion..

And the sash goes to the gorgeous Beck Brow Explorer, the Reserve Champion is Fallowfield Houghton King and about to receive a Judges Special Award is Brown Champion Barnacre Maketaten.  If she had been a he the ring steward would have stolen Maketaten like a shot.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

It's unnecessary, it's extravagant, its Earl !

I saw an Alpaca breeder somewhere called 'Why Not'.  Indeed, why not?  We need no justification, we owe no explanation to anyone and anyway we can do as we please in a free country.  Besides, we have the land to maintain and the grass needs to be eaten.  That's it, the land.  We have a responsibility as stewards of the countryside to keep the grass eaten. In fact it would be downright irresponsible not to have Alpacas as without them, the grass would grow and grow and the countryside would disappear.

So goes the theory.  We were worried that we may not have enough grass and we would have to improve the pasture to keep the boys fueled.  In fact the converse is true.  We need to employ the services of either (a) More Alpacas (b) A suitable mowing solution (c) Some combination of both (a) and (b) !

This summer we have asked on several occasions for the farmer down the road to top the paddock.  He does a grand job, and does it willingly, and his topper is a tip-top topper.  But there are those other little jobs, and it would be nice to be able to top a little more often to chop off the buttercup and stop it speading further.

I was lent a small ride-on last summer and managed to leave it gasping with the length of the grass and my weight.  After that I decided that really they were not up to the job as the paddock is a large area and has quite a slope on it.

The solution .. Let me introduce Earl.

Whatcha think boys ? 

Earl is a 1950 Ferguson TE-A 20.  AKA a little Grey Fergy and so named as we are both Earl Grey Te-a addicts.
Small enough to get round the paddock and not be too much in the way when parked, Powerful enough to run a small topper, possible to borrow other implements for a proper tractor (Harrow, Roller etc). Possible, with some minor form filling, to make road-legal.

Let me let you into a secret.  If you want a new tractor, buy a vintage one.  Earl cost a lot less than a 'modern' 2nd hand tractor, or even a beat-up ride-on come to that, but has just about new everything.  New paint, new engine bits, new tyres, new oil.  Not that I was around 60 years ago, but I imagine he drives better than when he came out of the factory. The guy who restored him put in a lot of hours - I mean a lot - that simply are not reflected in the going rate.

Not only that - but as a design classic, and not too big, Earl is fun for the whole family.

Get Off !

Are we redundant boss ? - Nargh.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Shed Shenanagins

Post two in our rapid fire catch up series.  Remember a past post where I put up a picture of the shed while still at the concept stage ? No ? Just to remind you here it is.

At the time such planning gave us something to do while the boys grew up but mostly was intended to amuse Barbara and Paul, who humoured us and entertained our fussing very patiently.

Things progressed and the sketch turned, more or less, into reality.  We thought we had covered everything until the planning man knocked on our door.  It turns out we should have sought permission.  Apparently the concrete base wasn't the problem, and the mobile field shelter on its own wasn't an issue per se.  It would seem however that the sum of the parts demanded some bureaucratic attention. 

Two choices.  rage against the machine or play the game. We decided to play the game and take the job on ourselves rather than engage an agent.  Out with the CAD package, read up on the regulations, visit the planners, buy large scale OS maps. Measure and re-measure.  Fill out the forms.  Make the statements, fill out the form again, adjust the plans.  Pay the fee and hope.

So more reasons to keep quiet.  Worry, and not wishing to upset the apple cart.  Failure really was not an option.  The boys have to have a shed for their welfare. It can get wet and its always windy here as we are on the top of the Pennines at just under 1000ft. and the wind accelerates as it comes over the top.  

So the sketch turned into a drawing (actually 2 drawings, a plan, a map, a form, a document or two .. )

But I am happy to announce that all is well ! Planning permission granted !  If anyone wants a copy and some advice - let me know.

Work on the shed was on hold while the decision process was in-work so the first thing was to finish up some elements and the time to do it was while Timmy was at hand to wield a rake.

Hang on, Who is holding the rake here ?

After all that hard work it was time for a 'bit of a do' to celebrate.  The shed was decorated inside and out.
Note the raffia, gold banjo - one of a pair.  A collectors item if ever there was one.  Sadly now removed from public display to our secure storage facility.

 The interior design team

Suitable provisions were made available in the feed-store area (aka 'The Camel Bar').

The guests of honour were seated.

"I tell you boys, you are better off this side of the fence.  A couple of drinks and it will all kick off"
The VIPs were gathered

 "Unaccustomed as I am to Public Speaking" (and sharp pointed scissors)

 " It gives me great pleasure"

 "Without more ado, to declare the Camel Bar ..."

Open !

Phew ! ... Tune in soon for the shed illumination episode - That's all folks.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

New Arrivals

We have been keeping our heads down, and keeping busy.  Hopefully I can cover a lot of ground in a few catch up posts.

To start with we didn't post because when seen beside all the posts of cute little cria and exciting birthings and dramatic events our blog really didn't have much to say. There was just steady progress and we were enjoying the routine of looking after the boys.  Satisfying and enjoyable? Yes.  News worthy? Maybe not.

So perhaps we have not has as many new arrivals as some, and the choice of an all boy herd has been openly discussed but on reflection we are sure we made the right choices and we have had enough to keep us on out toes.

So the first new arrival was our summer herd hand.  Timmy visited us from Texas.  Timmy has always been an 'animal' man enjoying photographs of wild animals and keeping a range of critters, including running an underground Hamster breeding programme.

Timmy got stuck in an had introduced himself to the boys within minutes of arrival.

Within a day or two Timmy had taken over our duties.  No nipping out to see how the boys are doing, just ask Timmy, he will have been out there.  Feeding - No problem , Water Bucket - Already done , Hay Bag filling - He even invented a new and improved tieing up regime ! Poo picking however was not really the top of Timmy's list though apparently this is because we never let him do it !

The concrete got pressure washed within an inch of its life.

The weather was hot and the boys liked the pressure washing, standing down wind and enjoying the 'mist'.

This was so much fun that they asked for more, moving closer and closer.  I know that the advice is that you should not hose down Alpacas and should try to keep their fleece dry but this really was not as dramatic as it looks, they got a lot less moisture than a normal day when the mist rolls in.

Fun as this was, its not something we intended to make a habit of.  But the weather got hotter, and the boys enjoyment could not be curtailed, so an Alpaca fountain was arranged.

Whats going to happen next Fin ?

Whooa ! Leg it !

You may remember the bizarre emergency when Kenzie managed to thread his head though the wire of the fence and then back on himself.  The immediate action was to shore up the fence with some 'euro-mesh' -  Thick plastic netting stuff, and boy were we glad we had it to hand when we needed it.  I was in two minds about what to do, after all the fence had been fine up to the incident and I am sure that the combination of Kenzie being thin after his infection, having just been sheared and there being some juicy 'rose-bay willow herb' on the other side of the fence was not likely to be repeated.

But you cant ignore lessons like this and anyway an over enthusiastic observer had managed to break a fence post.  No, really - I was watching ! This guy was so keen to get a look at the boys he crossed the verge , jumped the 3' the ditch, scaled the rubble remains of an old dry stone wall and levered himself up using my fence post !  Snap !  So after considerable research on wire and hole size and stuff like 'high-tensile'  I got 100 meters of the right stuff.  Timmy was press ganged again into being a 'wire-wrangler' and a 'post-wacker'.  The result ..

re-secured fence with a more aesthetic finish than 'euro-mesh'.

Note the length of the grass.. more on that to follow.