Thursday, 31 March 2011

Pumping Station Update + Beet Question

I know that most visitors to the site are actually more interested in the details of the water collection system than the one or two pictures of cute kids and fluffy Alpacas !

I am very pleased to let you 'aqua-engineers' know that the model we developed that is at the heart of the system design is standing true.  Just as predicted, its been rather dry since we installed the tanks.  Not sure we have been drawing our full allocation of 15l a day but the level was dropping until last night when the smallest amount of drizzle has replenished, renewed and re-filled the tanks !  It works !

The farmer down the road has just taken delivery of a lorry load of suger-beet to feed his ewes.  I have developed an irrational desire to have away with a barrow load and prepare something fancy for the boys supper. I dont think I am about to do this , but if I were -  I hear one has to 'steep the beet' what exactly is involved with this recipe ?

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sunny Sunday Smiles

Sunday was a lovely calm and sunny day, and we had a visit from friends Stuart and Frances, with my goddaughter Katie and her little brother Edward.  It was a great day for introductions, fears overcome and smiles all round.

Finian fascinated with the small person with alpaca hair (med fawn, good crimp)

Edward smells ok, but he's not an alpaca

Katie not too sure, but resisting the urge to retreat

Peek a boo

Gaining confidence, first touch soft and warm, not so scary.
Noah takes a look at the little strangers

Even more confident now

"Hey, where's everybody gone?" asks Fin
"Is that muddy hole in the ground really more interesting than us?" asks Noah
"No" says Kenzie "small people obviously just have the attention span of a gnat"

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Boys make a friend or two

This is our first week-end since the boys arrived.  And already they have made a stir.  It was a lovely day today, but I have never seen quite so many walkers ambling past the end of the paddock.

My mother (already known as Fins Granny !) drove all the way from North Cumbria in her little smart car and made a hit with the boys. She even turned her hand to poo picking with some relish !

Some of our bestest friends came round today.  Katie and Edward.  Katie left us with a picture that I just had to share straight away.

Fin - (c) KT 2011

We have to go and listen to a Wurlitzer now .. but that's another story.  More later.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Establishing New Routines, and Potential Territory Disputes

When we first got together Andy and I had completely opposite morning routines.  I would leap out of bed at the first chime of the alarm and be off.  Andy would set his alarm an hour early and hit the snooze button repeatedly for about an hour and a half before he could raise his head from the pillow.   Over the years we've met somewhere in the middle, and the purchase of a radio alarm has saved my sanity.  However, for many years our morning routine has been that I get up, make two mugs of tea and two bowls of meusli and bring them back to bed.  Stand over a snoozing man with a full bowl and a spoon and he just has to sit up.

I'm really liking the new routine.. Andy leaps out of bed before the alarm even goes off, he does the morning alpaca feed, inspections, chat and cuddles.  I still make breakfast, but we can now eat at the kitchen table.

It's my job to see to the boys at the end of the working day, because I'm always home first.  This week I've been very naughty and I've been closing my shop an hour early to get home and spend that hour with the boys in the glorious sunshine.  That can't possibly become a new routine of course, but this is their first week and it's the quiet season at the shop...

Also, I've been worrying too much, worrying about people opening gates, about people feeding the boys the wrong thing, about them getting their legs caught in gates (happened at Beck Brow), about them being spooked by unfamiliar noises or dogs. etc. etc.  Most ridiculous of all, I told Andy I was worried about them being bored, you can just imagine his reaction.   However, I'm gradually realising that they are the least spookable most contented bunch, that everyone around us is keeping an eye on them for us, and when I get home tonight with a padlock for the lane gate they will be absolutely safe.

The boys are also establishing new routines.  They seem to be waiting at the shelter just in time for every morning and evening feed. 

They no longer spend the whole evening in front of the house at the point where we cross the fence to go home, although it's still a popular spot.  They've given up hanging around the gate to the sheep pasture, they've realised I think that a) sheep are not weird alpacas b) you cannot protect sheep through a gate c) sheep are too boring.   Actually these sheep are all just about to give birth, late here because of the high elevation.  So this is the quiet before the storm, the noise when the lambs are small is deafening and constant.

The last few nights the boys have established a new sleeping spot, right in the middle of my archery terrace, having already established their poo pile on there.  I can forsee future territory disputes.  What is an archery terrace?  Well when you move into a rural location if you want all your new neighbours to think that you are daft "offcumduns" get someone to level a strip of your sloping paddock, about 30m long and 5m wide.  This will leave a brown strip visible from all the surrounding hills and farms leading to rumours of swimming pools, tennis courts, huge agricultural developments, blocked views, blights on the landscape etc.  Then put down grass seed and wait. 

Then on the remaining two or three good weekends of the year you can get out your archery target and bow and spend an hour doing archery practice, and three hours with a metal detector trying to find the arrows that have embedded themselves in the overgrown pasture.  Having established that you are indeed daft offcumduns no further damage to your reputation can be caused by starting a new stock enterprise where the stock can be cuddled, but not eaten.  At least the overgrown pasture is being dealt with, whose daft now eh?
Checking out the poo picking tools

While it is true that most sheep are boring sometimes one can surprise you.  Click on this image to see a very pregnant sheep on top of a 4-5ft wall on top of the knoll behind the house.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011


It may be just that they are low on confidence in their new surroundings but our three new boys are completely inseparable.  It's very sweet and lovely to see them grazing a strip of grass all in row, like conjoined triplets.  Most of the time you couldn't get a cigarette paper between Fin and Noah, they like to touch noses, kiss ears and hang on each others necks, my favourite image of Noah ..
Pushmepullyou - Fin and Noah

Fin and Noah are already very friendly with us, Kenzie is more wary, but he seems willing to give us chance to earn his trust.  Andy thinks he's a deep thinker and philosopher, and proposes to get him a Kindle.  I said don't be silly, where would he charge it up, he'd have to manage with a shelf of books.

Beautiful Kenzie - Patience Please

The boys are beginning to have favourite spots in the paddock, although strangely they haven't explored the whole site yet.  They haven't explored the bottom 1/3 at all (low lying and nearest the lane and occasional passing cars and horse riders), and they won't go within 10 feet of the stone perimeter walls, although they probably could see over the top of them if they tried.

Favourite spots include- right in front of the house where they can see us through the windows, right in front of the gate to the neighbouring field where there are sheep, and on top of the buried septic tank, can't see the attraction myself.  The concrete platform in front of the shelter is the absolute favourite.  At the first three locations they all sit defensively facing different directions, but yesterday afternoon they were sat on the concrete for 3 hours side by side looking out on their new world like three noble guardians. 

Alpacas at dawn waiting for breakfast

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Welcome to Yorkshire Boys

B-Day - Boys Day has arrived.  Ready or not - Here they come ! 

The least stressed by the whole experience were the boys.  They took it all in their stride, they seem to have enjoyed the ride south and took to their halters with no grumbles.  Leading them straight into the shelter we gave them a little treat - a few peas and beans. (so few ! not even enough for a decent peas-pudding).  Then we had a few muddles each and Barbara had a few quiet words.

Kenzie and Finian shared a word (mew ?) and it was decided that, in general the most expensive shed in the world - with the best fresh water system since the Romans invented the aqueduct - was OK and should be christened by a wee. 

Then it was time to take a look at the concrete.

There is still a bit of a step up (9" at worst) - we need to do a little more landscaping - and the boys are working out how to deal with this.  The first few attempts amounted to a kind of controlled falling / tripping motion.  Later in the day this has been honed to be a 'dive and run' technique when dismounting and a cute two legged 'hop' when mounting.

And then .. An explore of the Paddock proper

First spot to try was the archery pitch, that is nice and high and maybe a god place for a poo pile (the exact plan for combining this past-time with the care of Alpaca still needs a little work !).  Then a mooch over to spy out the sheep in the next field - But best of all seems to be the area right in front of our kitchen and lounge window.  I swear that they keep an eye on us and can tell when we are at a window.

We had a lovely bit of crack with Paul and Barbara over lunch (A bottle of bubbly was felt necessary).  We have been so impressed by the caring approach that is the philosophy at Beck Brow as we have watched the boys grow up.  The right mix of animal husbandry, customer care, common sense and an obvious passion for and love of the animals.  We know it can't have been easy to put so much into raising the boys - only to let them go - Thanks Barbara & Paul !  We will take good care of them.

As we sign off, we have just nipped out to see if all is well in the Paddock - It is but alas the boys have chosen not to bed down in the shed - but right in front of the house.  Sleep well boys.

Water Works - We aint done yet !

After Bev's premature announcement of completion  -  Followers of the 'pumping station ' development will pleased to hear this was only Part One - 'baseline functionality'.  

Part Two , including 'full automation' will commence some time in the near future.  Probably after the construction of the poo composting facility but before the solar panel and LED lighting scheme. 
Water Works - Part II

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Final Preparations and Hay or Haylage Debate

The following was written mid week, but I forgot to publish it...

After skiving off down to the Futurity on Saturday we made enough progress with our final preparations on Sunday to confirm that the delivery of our three boys will be next Sunday afternoon.  It's exciting, we're both looking forward enormously to seeing alpacas in our field and getting to know them.  So why are we both a bit trepidatious?  I think it's because despite the reading, the research, the preparation and loads of help from Barbara and Paul, and all the lovely alpaca people we've met, there is still so much we don't know.

For example there's the hay or haylage debate.  We know from various blogs that both are used, but which, and why?  We can get both from neighbouring farmers, and we've arranged a couple of bales of hay to start with.  But we would be interested to know peoples experience and opinions.

The other question in my mind is how do we stop the boys eating too much grass?  We've planned for strip grazing by buying electric fence posts and tape (not electrified) so that we can divide the field with moveable fencing - but how good is our grass, there are a lot of buttercups in there in the summer.  Hopefully on Sunday Barbara and Paul will be able to advise on how big a grazing strip should be, but it may be that only a couple of seasons experience will tell.  I know we will be monitoring the boys carefully.

Other final preparations include - finishing shelter partitioning and finishing water collection and pumping station (no really, Andy's background is engineering and if a technical drawing can be introduced ... I'm intrigued by the self filling drinking trough, planned but not yet acquired).

Waterworks Plan

One of the most important preparations will be a nice lunch for Paul and Barbara on Sunday.  It's a two hour drive from Beck Brow, half of that is on A roads through the Dales and the tourist traffic is already building.  They will deserve something refreshing when they arrive, and maybe something sparkling for a special day.


It's now Saturday evening and after a satisfying day of ticking jobs off the list the waterworks now look like this

There is hay on a pallet, and in nets, feed storage bins, buckets and poo picking tools. The whole place has been tidied and swept and the only thing we have to do tomorrow is put down the bedding.  Just as we were admiring our work two wild ducks landed in the field a short distance away.  As we walked back to the house we spied them sneaking towards the shelter.  Ten minutes later when we got back with the camera they had actually moved in.

Mr and Mrs Mallard having inspected the internal accommodations settle down on the nice warm concrete to watch the sun set.  You can't blame them, such a nice little empty nest, but not for long guys.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The futures bright .. with promising density (apparently)

We should have spent the day putting the finishing touches to shelter and field.  But we skived off down south to cheer on Explorer and see what knowledge we could divine by rubbing shoulders with the elite crowd at something called the 'futurity' - A gathering of the Alpaca 'A' crowd setting out their wares.

Explorer and Paul stand ready to Enter the ring

Conclusions :  (1) He waz robbed ! (2) Its a game of more than one half (3) Bev is too short of leg for a standard poo scoop and apparently needs one custom made (4) Coventry is a long way from Yorkshire when there are shed partitions to build (5) Alpaca people are a lovely crowd (6) I don't think it too healthy to to have issues about testicular size (6) Our shelter is big enough for at least another 8 alpacas before they get cramped (7) Maybe, just maybe, a little brown boy would complete the set ?

The count down to B-Day begins.  Serious list attention tomorrow.  They will be here next week !

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Ponderings on Poo Picking

According to the last edition of Alpaca Magazine the largest group of BAS members have herds of less than 5 Alpacas. (260 out of 943).  Which suggests that many owners are like ourselves, not really in the market for a mechanical poo picker. Until we win the lottery of course.

Over the last few weeks, with our boys arrival imminent, I've been trying to find out what people have found to be the best solution to manual poo picking.

The only active forum I could find is AlpacaNation, a US forum with some references to manual poo picking, but of course referring to US suppliers and brands - and no photos. 

I liked the sound of a bamboo rake that is light and gathers the "beans" and doesn't wear out like the plastic rakes.  However, I can't find said bamboo rakes in the UK, nor even the plastic version. 

There is an equestrian manure rake and scoop, like this

I think the scoop may be a good solution, no bending down with a shovel, but the rake/scraper looks as though the beans would fall through.

Then I found this rake, which adjusts to be wider or narrower, and the handle extends or retracts for short like me

Any advice much appreciated, Andy is threatening me with shovel.


We've been quiet for a couple of days because we've been on a fantastic long weekend trip to Baiona in Spain.  We went to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and treated ourselves to a stay in a fabulous medieval castle, one of the Parador hotels of Spain.

Fortunately our visit coincided with the local medieval festival of Arribada, meaning arrival.  The arrival being celebrated was that of the first galleon to arrive back in Spain after discovering America. The Caravel Pinta landed in Baiona in 1497, giving generations of locals a brilliant excuse to dress up in medieval costume every anniversary, to eat and drink in high style, and even have jousting competitions on the beach.

The sun shone, we ate too much and we had a great time.  There was a lot of alpaca natter, and time for planning of the jobs list.  We arribadad home last night to -4 degrees and I took a hot water bottle to bed.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Water Water Everywhere ..

So the boys will want a drink.  What boys don't when they get together?
Simple eh?  Well, there is no stand pipe in the paddock so perhaps not so simple.

Solution 1 : Get Alan the digger man back again.  He already thinks we're daft, so I am sure he would come round for the entertainment and I am sure he appreciates the income.  He can dig a hole near where the water main runs though the paddock, we can intercept it, fit a stand pipe and bob is your well watered uncle.

Sounds expensive - and they are Camels right? They can go for months in the high Peruvian plains on a thimble full of dew.  Better check the facts.  Turns out, as usual, the advice is conflicting. Some say they dont need water - just the moisture in the grass is enough.  Others recommend an en-suite sprinkler.  I consult my one and only reference book.  5l a day seems a good compromise

Solution 2 : Bucket.  Looks like a nice fresh bucket of Yorkshire tap twice a day will be enough.  But a bit of a hassle, another job and never any spare for extra jobs.  Lets keep this solution as a back-up

Solution 3 : Water 'harvesting'.  Its all the rage. Its one thing we are not short of in the Pennines. But how much storage ?  Too much and the water may go a little stale.  Too little and we are back to Solution 2.  A few hours on the web yields detailed statistics on our expected rainfall.  I write a software model and factor in the area of the shelter roof, and loss by evaporation.

The answer is .. [Bev insists I add pictures to the blog]

The answer is 2 of the biggest B&Q water butts should see us through.

It's all about gates

This weekend has been all about gates, for the small handling and holding area in front of the shelter.  Gates.  Doesn't sound complicated.  Until you discover, as we did a couple of weeks ago, that there is a conspiracy of dour Yorkshire gate suppliers to withhold any useful information.

"We need some gates" we say
"We've got gates" they say "what gates do you want?"
"We're not sure, what kind of gates do you do?"
"We do 5 foot, 6 foot 7 foot, whatever you want"  a note of challenge discernible at this point.
"We are thinking galvanised ?" hint of sweat on the brow, and crack in the voice.
"Galvanised eh.."  long pause while gate man thinks "I saw you townies coming"

Eventually we settle on two 7 foot and two 8 foot galvanised gates.  We are relieved, ready to retreat when halted in our tracks,
"Want posts?".  A whole new chasm of withheld information opens before us, and leads us to the inevitable, gleefully proffered
"Want hardware?..."

This weekend after considerable research in catalogues and on line, having given up on local advice, Andy went to order gates, posts and hardware.  Job done.  Next job water butt.  Water butt, doesn't sound complicated...