Sunday, 15 June 2014

Cocky b'stards

There was a long list of things stacking up for a blog.  I was going to write about the boys of course, I was going to write about their antics and report on the various routines.  One of the more important aspects of Alpaca ownership isn't the direct husbandry though, it is that you have to become a acquainted with the basics of pasture management.  I was going to talk about efforts towards drainage, weed control, re-seeding needs, and the rest.  I may still get round to some of that but I am going to tell the tale backwards.

So, in reverse order.

Dougal is on the mend. He wasn't a happy chap a few days ago.  We had noticed he had gone off his hard food.  This isn't all that much of a concern with him.  For starters he just isn't that bothered really. To tempt him a merest sprinkle of 'Carrs dust' on his Camelibra can make the difference.  Don't try to Google 'Carrs dust' - it's the scrapings out of the bottom of the bag of Carrs coarse camelid mix we use over winter.  We feed the 'little' boys separately from Fin and the gang as there is a chance Fin would gobble everyone's food.  However, Hamish, who can't really be described as a 'little' boy anymore now often tries to muscle in on Dougal's breakfast.  Dougie, not being all that bothered anyway will sometimes just defer and go and munch a bit of hay.  Not to worry - missing a bit of hard food isn't the worst thing when the grass is growing. 

But then we noticed him laying down a lot more than normal.  Over a few days this got worse.

Dougal - laid low in masses of buttercups

The classic signs of a off colour Alpaca were obvious.  Isolating from the heard, lethargy, increased humming.  We checked on the routine medications, fluke - check , Worms - check , AD&E - coming up , but not overdue. Lambivac - not yet,  Mineral supplement - perhaps a week or so late.  We dosed the whole heard with 5ml of 'Maxigrow'.  This worked like a magic tonic last time Dougal was like this - We fully expected him to react the same.  But no, progressively getting worse.

He has had a few stressful episodes of late.  Keeping up the with the reverse order of this blog.  We had Hamish and Dougal castrated a few months back.  But recovery was rapid and healing unproblematic.  Shearing came next, just before we noticed Dougal change.  He did spit and wriggle and wee himself but there was nothing we could pin down as unusual and he was right as rain straight after, sniffing Hamish's arm pit to make sure who was who.

Post shearing recognition

Soon after shearing we had turned the boys out onto the big paddock. They had been kept out of this for some time while we had been 'improving'.  This has started with muck spreading.  An event that provided amusement and disgust in equal measure from our city-slicker house guests at the time!  Muck spreading was followed by harrowing, seeding and fertilizer spreading. Ted the Fergie has been in much use !

When all that had settled down I tackled the buttercups that have started to take over. I suspect our regime of topping and leaving the cuttings on the field may not help this.  Last year I tried to cover over an acre with a knapsack sprayer.  This resulted in some slightly under the weather buttercups and some impressive shoulder bruises from lugging 20 liters of the stuff around.  This year war was declared.  I rigged up a boom sprayer out of found and borrowed items (The farmers quadbike sprayer, a bit of angle iron, a car battery, a suitably industrial grade, over specified control box of my own design and manufacture.

This sounds simple enough but like all things agricultural, scratch the surface and you are in a world of complexity.  Dilution, coverage, droplet size, boom height , spray angle, flow rate, tank pressure, drift rate and last but not least. the speed of travel.  I could work out all the above but getting the Fergie to traverse the field at a constant speed and remember to switch off the boom pump before slowing down for a turn was another matter.  This had ended up with me putting a heaver dose of the stuff (Headland Relay-P) down than I had planned.  

Oh no! Could this be the cause of Dougal's malady?  Had he got worse since being on the new paddock? This should not have been an issue as we waited for over the two weeks advisory, we had had some exceptionally heavy rain  and  I was sure to keep away from the fences for obvious reasons.  But it was a possibility and one I would not want to live with.

The grass is always greener

When we went down to see him next day.  He was flaked out in the shed.  He would struggle to get his head up and when he did he would be shaky. First stop was a call to the ever patient Barbara at Beckbrow. Her suggested approach was to follow an evidence based and logical process.  Often the temptation is to reach for treatment, but unless obvious and benign this isn't always the best course of action.  His temperature was normal but the inside of his eye-lids were pale, indicating possible anaemia. Poo observations (oh the joy of Alpaca ownership!) were not perfect 'beans', rather more 'turd' but with some structure.  Time to get serious and call the Vet.
Thorough examination revealed, as well as the obvious behaviours, Dougal's stomach was harder than expected and sensitive, he was holding his legs in a way that indicated he was in discomfort / pain.  This isn't easy to describe but basically his back legs were positioned further forward and closer together than normal  (Hamish was used as a model of 'normal').  Pain relief and antibiotics were the immediate treatment while poo and blood samples were taken.

The Vet was able to do initial tests in house straight away. In-fact we had some results back within hours.  Blood confirmed he was slightly anaemic and poo tests showed no worm load.  There was however coccidia.  The Vet doesn't have specific Alpaca experience but has joined the Camilid veterinary society and was able to call round and was told that even though a similar load would be acceptable in Sheep, this isn't the case with Alpacas.

Oh dear - it must be time for a picture to cheer me up.

Little b'stards from wikipedia

Nope - that's not cheering me up much.  But the treatment (Vecoxan 1l , 24ml for est weight 60kg) did, it seemed to have a good effect within 48 hours.  Up and about, and hanging with the boys.

 First up for 'water play'

I was observing the herd closely. 72 hours after his treatment I noticed Dougal was flat out in the middle of the paddock.  Neck out, feet to the side, little movement.  It was a hot sunny day and normally I would have just smiled and thought nothing of a sunbathing Alpaca.  After 10 minutes, no change. After what I thought was 20 minutes I thought.  Oh no ! and approached him.  Little movement.  So I sat close to him.  He moved his head and put it across my legs.  This isn't right Dougal doesn't do that.  The occasional deep breath, head across my lap and tolerating a neck stroke.  Very unusual for Dougie. There was no sight of the shakiness we had seen previously, and no vocalisation.  My thoughts turned dark. If he is going down this far this fast then there must be something serious and I need to do something now ! The Vet is on holiday, the detailed results were not back from the lab yet.  What to do? All the information I have read was spinning round in my head.  Then Bev shouted across - 'You know that one is Hamish don't you !'  Dougal was actually running about behind me, and Hamish stirred from his slumber, yawned, thanked me for my services and got up to join the rest after a nice few zzzz's with a massage from the boss thrown in !

Thanks Boss !

A week after treatment he is almost his old self, running alongside the tractor as it passes on the lane, grazing like there is no tomorrow, playing with Hamish, chewing the cud with big brother Noah.  He has even been seen taking a turn 'on guard' at the shed door.

Part of the Gang

Researching the topic I have come across the usual array of advice. What comes across in the 'literature' is that it seem s normal for Alpacas to carry some coccidia but in weaker animals they tolerate this less and in the presence of other stress the animal's immune system can't keep them in check.

Dougal has been subjected to a few 'out of the ordinary' stresses; castration , shearing , moving paddock etc. But so have the others.  So we are not counting our chickens yet.  I suspect that there may be an underlying cause so we are waiting for more detailed blood work.  We will take further samples to check for effectiveness and workout a regime with the Vet this week.

In my searching I found this link from Wellground useful as it is straightforward and puts forward some of the conditions that can contribute.   We have had all these conditions this winter - So we come full circle - better get on with that drainage project!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pay Back

I made a new year resolution to blog more and moan less. So here we are with March halfway done and no blog to be seen, probably because there isn't much chance of writing one without moaning about the weather!  The boys (and the humans) have spent a lot of time in the shed. 

Bev and the boys taking shelter

It certainly has been a wet winter.  So wet that the field drains, put in who knows when, are showing signs of age, and are in need for some repair and maintenance.  At some points there were fountains of water raising up a good few inches from the turf and a number of mini sink holes have appeared that are just waiting to swallow a tractor wheel or worse, an alpaca leg.  This brings up the exciting prospect of a mini digger hire later on in the year.  With the drains backed up and the ground saturated we needed to construct a 'bridge' over the quagmire on the entrance to the shed.

   Fin leads the boys across the 'mud bridge' in an orderly fashion.

A spot of good news is that we have taken delivery of one form of 'pay-back'.  Since getting the boys we have been saving up fleece to make it worthwhile to process their fleece into something we can use.  Three years production soon mounts up and from a total weight of  13kg sorted fleece we have got back 11.62kg of  double knit yarn from the border mill.  

We chose to combine Noah (white but not the finest) and Kenzie (v light fawn but fine, structured and very very dense) to  make a 'cream' yarn. Finian is kept on his own as a light 'caramel'.  

'Fruit of the Paddock'
So what to do with all this yarn?  First up, we will have something made for ourselves.  I am fancying a jumper and Bev wants a hat and a scarf but neither of us are knitters and we don't want to waste their first production so we are on the look-out for a skilled person to do this for us.

We are already saving up our next batch.  Noah already has one in the bank, he produces a heavy fleece but not the finest and we didn't want to dilute Kenzie's super-good fibre so held his last cut back for the next batch.  We have high expectations for the little boys.  These two are really in a class above the others, testament to Beck Brow's ever improving genetics.  They both have mountains of fibre that is as fine as can be that will be added to their baby fleeces for more strength. 

Of course a couple of  garments won't make much of a dent in nearly 12kg so we have hatched some other plans.  This has necessitated some additional promotional shots that I though I would share with you  (Thanks to Fran for these)

Finian and Noah - Almost always play nice together !

Great shot of Kenzie

Another form of 'pay-back' was less expected and is a little less tangible than balls of fibre.  Little did I expect that when getting a few animals I would also gain so many human friends.  This weekend was the BAS national show and we took a trip to see 'what was what' and to lend a hand to Barbara from Beck Brow who was a show organiser.  Barbara, in addition to providing us with great animals, is always on hand for Alpaca related support second to none.  If that wasn't enough, Barbara and Paul also provide us with laughs and friendship that of course are valued above all else.

A few years ago we turned up at a similar event.  It was early in our interest in Alpacas and was probably only just a day out.  We spoke with a couple who patiently explained some of the basic needs and commitments and answered what must have been some pretty daft questions from some random punters with patience and enthusiasm. It turns out that these people were Jenny and Graham from Fowberry Alpacas. Three years on it was an honor to be trusted to handle their superb animals at a prestigious national event. 

 Andy in the ring. 
This chap was 'Shogun', a bit of a handful at times 

 It was great to meet up with so many like minded people, too many to mention, some of whom we knew only through blogging, until this weekend.  So the pay-back ? I can tell you the Alpaca community is filled with people who are 'good people'.  They are from all walks of life and doing it for all sorts of reasons - But to a man (and woman) they are passionate about what they do and never hold back with help and advice.  If you are thinking about making the first steps - come on in , the water is warm.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Helping Hands and Routines

Normally our Alpaca routine is a twice a day affair. Around 7:30 am and again before 7:00 pm to fit in with our other commitments.  This isn't really a chore.  Of course there is the company of the boys with their special welcomes, but if kisses from Dougal don't please,  then the shed is fitted with Radio 4 and the boys like to catch up with world events in the morning and the Archers in the evening.

It may not be a chore, but it isn't ideal either.  The boys take themselves to bed at dusk and in deep mid winter its dark for both the morning and evening feeds. This means that sometimes they are settled down in the shed so we may have to rouse them and that can lead to moaning from Noah who had become 'grumpy uncle Noah' now the little ones have pushed him down the hierarchy.

The Christmas break means for a couple of weeks we are able to tend to the boys in daylight

The break also means that we have a few more able helpers from time to time. Edward came to stay with his sister and was straight down the shed to grab a rake.  I am not exactly sure what Dougal was whispering in his ear !

 "Listen Do-dah-Do , do you want to know a secret ..."

Whatever it was , it was hilarious ! (Probably a poo joke -Edward and Dougal both seem to think this is a funny subject matter).  Fin was keeping out of it.

He He He - Poo !

It would seem Dougal was not the only one to whisper sweet nothings to the Kids.  Here Noah is having a quite word with Katie, Edward's big sis. 

"Little brothers Eh ?  Pesky things"

While recognizing it is not always possible to be at one's best in in these muddy times, we do feel that the boys have rather let themselves go a little lately.

Time for action, so with no expense spared we called in .. the 'Style Councilors'.   Heather and Clara. 

Clara gives Fin advice on the importance of a clean fleece while Heather tempts with a little 'Amuse' from the kitchen  


Clara didn't shy away from the yuckiest of chores and managed to keep herself spotless throughout . Helping Hamish eat breakfast isn't exactly onerous - but I thought best avoid the detailed pictures of the mucking out !

In the next blog we shall be examining the likes and dislikes of the herd with respect to the Radio 4 schedule. Bet you cant wait !