Thursday, 27 March 2008

Bonjour! Tummy ache? It's show time!

After a very pleasant break in the Pyrenees we are back in good old blightly and enjoying the lovely sunshine. I know it's going to lash it down all weekend and I haven't said spring is here or anything daft so it's ok. Today is warm and sunny, tomorrow rain and hail, c'est la vie.

We rounded up the herd today for another thorough going over. The end of March signals Lambivac and Eprinex time for us so the whole herd was medicated and on the whole was very well behaved.

I had noticed that one of our females, Deedee, a lovely medium fawn female (pictured above) was a bit lethargic this morning. She seemed to be lying down every time I looked out and wasn't ruminating, (chewing to townie readers). She got up when approached but was soon lying down again. Occasionally her back legs were out to one side, a sure sign of trouble, abdominal pain or discomfort. Poor old Deedee had a similar upset stomach in January which was sorted out by a course of antibiotics and some Vetrumex which puts the guts back on the right road if they are a bit awry.
A quick visit to Tim of Inca with a fresh poo sample.........Deedee's not mine I hasten to add, for a quick look (or an 'optic nerve' as they say down under) under the microscope. Normal poo, no worm eggs, we'll see what happens.

We will try the same treatment and hope she recovers like she did last time. Close observations required and she is up in the top paddock where we can keep an eye on her.

It's showtime at the Bristol Sales Centre this weekend, Poppy and Lola will be representing us once again and I'm looking forward to a good weekend of alpaca stuff, meeting up with other breeders and perhaps even partaking of a glass of beer. Should be good, looking forward to it.

Maybe, just maybe, a reader of this blog will identify themselves..........go on.................. I'll burst!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Wooden House here we come!

Today we are off to France. Our little wooden house in the Hautes Pyrenees is calling and we must answer that call. We haven't been over since October when I took some chums over to immerse ourselves in a Rugby World cup weekend and it is always a relief to find the place still standing..............if it is that is! They get some serious weather down there, serious serious!
We usually fly over to Toulouse but we need to take a few bits and bobs over so its the long drive tomorrow after the overnight ferry.
Yesterday we were visited by Charlie, Louise and Olivia Maidment who had come over for a bit of halter training and a chat. Young Apollo who had been a 'whirling dervish' the day before calmed down considerably under Charlie's Camelidynamics approach, all very interesting. We'll be taking Apollo to the spring show with our little show team at the end of the month. I'm looking forward to that, total immersion again! Thanks for coming over guys, see you at the show.
The Wooden House is where we intend to settle with the Patou Alpacas herd in a few years time. There is plenty of work to do and nearer the time we will have to expand our 4 acres to quite a bit more but we have a beautiful spot. Facing directly south we have wonderful views of the Pyrenees mountains and are surrounded by the most wonderful countryside. The locals are all extremely friendly and helpful and we are looking forward to our adventure tremendously.
Today I will be doing a final herd check, we are only going for 6 days and we do have Pete and Elvie moving in to monitor the herd but I will worry and a final going over today will ease that worry, slightly.
It will make them feel better too an opportunity to have a quick word with me and say goodbye themselves...............sorry slipped into my surreal world again there, more like a quick chance to throw some spit my way!
Anyay Steele signing off, au revoir.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Eartags, jaw abscess and Bonjour Monsieur!!

Today was a frustrating day.
The herd was rounded up for a complete health check as on Wednesday Le famille Steele heads off to the south of France for our Easter break. We are not leaving the animals on their own, no sirrreee, each species has been taken into account and the appropriate care organised.

Bryn and Josh our chocolate labs are going to my parents who live nearby, they will be looked after very well, Mum and Dad have had labs for years and I can't actually think of anywhere better for them to go. It's going to be a bit of a shock for mum though, Josh is as mad as a box of frogs and hasn't been to stay before, well that's what parents are for isn't it? I can't bring myself to tell her about his destructive powers, ah well she'll find out soon enough.

Bob the cat, Betty, Cindy and Lulu the chickens and all the alpacas will of course remain at home and a highly trained team will move in to look after them. Pete and Elvie, good friends, and animal lovers are once again taking the reins and will be here to feed, stroke, collect and gaze at the motley crew left behind, thanks guys.

Anyway, checking the herd today taught me a lesson that is relevant to all alpaca owners.

Not only was I condition scoring, I was checking and cleaning this years eartags (well all of them in fact). All the eartags looked good, a few scabs cleared away but nothing to worry about. I also checked jaws for any signs of abscesses and discovered an absolute whopper on a whether called Bob. It was the size of a golf ball and shocked the doodahs off me. How could I have missed that before???

We check the herd physically every two weeks at least, and that is a real hands on grope, looking for anything unusual. Poor old Bob seems to have slipped through the net and that is annoying, frustrating and in my book unforgiveable. In fact if I could have done so I would have taken myself to one side this afternoon and hoofed myself up the arse with maximum power several times.

Anyway as ever when we have a problem the first port of call is Saint Tim of Inca. I took Bob over, he's actually Tim's anyway, and Tim set about him with the customary australian enthusiasm, puss was removed, boy there was a lot of puss, I gave him an intramuscular shot of Nuflor (a very effective treatment aginst abscesses) and he was left with Tim to sort out. No better place in my book, might even book myself in there next time I'm feeling under the weather! Joking of course, might catch something.

Anyhow, animals sorted, I shall be packing the car tomorrow and hoping for a flat calm as we are taking the night ferry from Pompey to St Malo. We haven't been to the house since October and desperately hope its still standing.

Lesson learned for the day CHECK JAWLINES for anything lumpy, abscesses are relatively common and the sooner you detect them the easier they are to sort out.

Quick blog tomorrow and then it's Au revoir.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Rugby, Half time and Yes you beauty!!!!

Right I am going to say this straight up front, I am Welsh. I have always been Welsh. I was born in Wales and as a result I am Welsh. I know this may alienate a few blog readers but I don't care, I only have 4 confessed readers anyway so what the hell.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game of real men, rugby, scroll down or switch off.


As a result I have done the basics today, the alpacas have been checked up close and personal three times, half time is a very useful thing in rugby. They have been fed, incidentally they were all very well behaved, not a spit in the air, I think they knew what was going on.......maybe one of them has a welsh grandmother or would be totally ridiculous...........anyway their hay racks have been topped up and I had a word with each and every one of them..........well apart from Jake as I could tell he just wasn't listening..............I think he might be french.

Once they were settled I immersed myself in an afternoon of rugby.................well , ok, I first had to play 'avocados' with Angus our five year old son (he watched a documentary on Anacondas, the worlds largest snake last week and has slightly confused the name) so for about 30 minutes I was subjected to a huge amount of 'being squeezed by a small boy'.
After that was lego airport building, is there anyone else out there who thinks every lego kit should come with a tube of superglue? Bits were one of the dogs?........we went off plan and it is tremendous, terminal five has a minature of course.

The dogs then had to be walked and fed, chickens rounded up and fed, eggs collected and I had to cook a nutritionally balanced yet delicious evening meal for the aforementioned Angus (Sue was at work in case you are thinking 'what the hell was she doing?')

So in summary...........Wales have won the Grand Slam, how they did it, I have no idea, but I do know the animals were looked after and Angus is asleep after gorging himself on Cottage pie with broccoli and cauliflower. Me? .........................................I'm just knackered!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Readers!! Yes readers, plural, I have readers!!!

Its official I have readers. Oh yes, not just Mrs S who sometimes has to be paid in chocolate to read this blog. No, real, proper readers!

I can't tell you how excited that makes me feel but I might just strip off and do a high speed circuit of the alpaca field in the rain....................well maybe not but you get the picture.

High speed, who am I kidding?

Not only have people identified themselves as readers I have had a comment. The comment as you can see is from The Blogmeister himself, the inspiration for this blog, honoured indeed. Thanks Bob.

It was also nice to hear from the Daktari people, yes more blog readers! Karen and Chris are also planning a move to France with alpacas and are researching the hell out of it.....Come on guys get some fluffy ones!!!
I look forward to seeing Daktari Alpacas on the show circuit!!

My other reader, well I didn't say I had hundreds just some, which is more than a couple.

Anyway the other reader is the Patou alpacas official photographer, Gordon Ladyman (I have changed his name for legal reasons) and to be fair he only reads it because I told him to and he's my chum. And if he doesn't get some more alpaca photographs on his website I am going to pull the plug!

So, to the alpacas, not much to write today, they are wet, again, but it's only light drizzle. I will be out amongst them before lunch having already done a head count and had a long distance watch for anything unusual. I have some halter training to do in readiness for the BAS Spring Show, if we can repeat last years success we will be more than happy...........might reconsider that circuit of the field!

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Moonsbrook, Suris and Richie Benaud

Today I was transported in the Incawagon by Tim Hey down to the lovely village of Wisborough Green in sunny (and blowy) Sussex to have a look round the Moonsbrook Suri herd.

What a splendid alpaca farm, I am extremely jealous of the large barn they have down there, kitted out with alpacas in mind. There has been some seriously hard work going on down there and it shows. It was good to catch up with Ben and James and to meet Imo.

I don't know much about Suris and today I was able to have a really good look and feel of some pretty good looking (as I now know) suris. I had to earn a lovely lunch in The Cricketers by helping out with some eartagging and as ever was attentive as Tim gave a lesson in how to evaluate a suri. Completely different but exactly the same as Huacayas, I'm sure thats what he said, it was fascinating.

The return journey, which was undertaken with a slight but unmistakable whiff of alpaca spit in the air, was highlighted by an australian comedy CD featuring someone impersonating the all time worlds best cricket commentator, Richie Benaud. Hilarious stuff as 'Mr Benaud' gently, actually quite brutally in places, took the wet stuff out of all and sundry involved in the cricket commentating world, tremendous.

I don't know of anyone who reads this drivel, except Mrs S of course who I force to read it, but thanks to all concerned today, alpaca submersion for the day...............brilliant.

Monday, 10 March 2008

What a night!

Well the forecasters got it right, last night was a rough one. We live halfway up a hill and there is nothing to stop the wind and rain so we were well and truly clobbered last night. It woke me up at 3.30am and I peered out of the window to see if I could get a glimpse of the alpacas, no chance though they were tucked away somewhere. At first light I was up and out to see what the damage was.

We seemed to have got away with it, the only casualty being the alpaca feed bin, the lid had blown off and we had half a bucket of porridge........nice.

The alpacas were all up grazing as if nothing had happened, albeit looking as if they had been dunked in the village pond. They seem to find the most sheltered area and then hunker down en masse to ride out anything mother nature can throw at them, once again no signs that any of them had been into the field shelter...they know best I suppose.

The herd saw me emptying out the porridge bucket and refilling and were soon leaning over the garden fence humming inquisitively so I decided to feed them early as it had stoppped raining.

Bearing in mind the double head shot I had received a few days ago I went into the feeding paddock and emptied the water out of all the buckets and troughs. My every move was followed by a hungry mob and I returned to the garden to fetch the bucket of dry food.

Mobbed is how I would best describe what happened next, much jostling, nosing, humming, scrambling surrounded me as I made my way to the trough, great fun, I love it when they get all up close and personal..........could the alpaca/human bonding continue. No chance.

As I bent over to fill the trough I smiled at the faces around me as they too bent forward to start breakfasting, humming impatiently, suddenly a hair trigger was pulled and a direct hit was achieved. Priscilla again, head, neck and arm shot, green smelly and wet.......yuk........and I had just had a shower. What can you do?

I continued filling the troughs and as I stood up was kicked on the inner thigh by Bob a whether who does that every now and again. I have to say certain threats were then made which I couldn't possibly share with you.

Thanks guys, it wasn't my fault you got rained on all night.

Friday, 7 March 2008

I have got some cows, honestly!

March is here and that means vaccination and worming time. We use Lambivac and Eprinex pour-on wormer, on the advice of our vet.

However, as you will know these medicines are not for alpacas they are for sheep and cattle respectively. No problem as there are no alpaca medicines we have to improvise and they seem to be effective. We get our Lambivac by mail order and there are no questions asked. Eprinex we buy from a local country store again no questions asked........or so I thought.

The last time I bought Eprinex was in November for the final worming of the year, it was a new member of staff serving and I was there in body but my mind was away thinking fluffy thoughts. I had been doing alpaca stuff all morning and was wearing my 'Patou Alpacas' jacket. I ordered the Eprinex and reached for my wallet.................that is when things started to go wrong.

The new keen eyed member of staff had spotted my alpaca logo and was now looking at me with great suspicion, she fixed me with a steely stare and after a pause where she seemed to gird her loins (what does that mean?) she asked "Is this for alpacas?"

Now at this point I must stress I was still away with the fairies thinking about the perfect alpaca, my answer, with hindsight should have been "Don't be ridiculous this is a wormer for cattle, I have some cattle and I would like to worm them, I am a cattle farmer, I have cows, I am a beef eater"
Sadly the old brain being in go slow mode I dopily said yes.

The store fell silent and there was a collective sharp intake of breath from customers and staff alike, I swear I heard someone at the back issue a short sharp tut.

I immediately felt like I was guilty of some serious wrongdoing, I was told that she couldn't sell the Eprinex to me as it was for cattle and not for alpacas. I explained that as there were no medicines licensed for alpacas we had to use medicines recommended by our vets which were designed for other breeds of animal. A conversation ensued and the futility of my argument was cemented when the reason for not letting me have the Eprinex was given, "If something happens to your alpacas because of this medicine you will sue us"

Ahh........... the litigation and compensation culture that is sweeping across the ocean from the land of plenty has reached a countryside store in rural Wiltshire, there was no point arguing any further.

The most ridiculous thing about the whole episode was that she told me that if I hadn't been wearing a jacket with an alpaca on it she wouldn't have questioned me and would have sold the Eprinex to me. She also told me that I could go to another branch of the store and try again without my jacket it just me or is this all sounding mad?

Anyway as the vets surgery was just around the corner I was able to nip round and get a prescription, Eprinex purchased with no problems from a very smiley girl who acted as if she was meeting me for the first time................all very weird.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Excited, moody or get out of the way!!!

We have 21 alpacas here at the moment and we like to think of them as part of the family, we love them all in varying degrees, I have my favourite, as we all may have. Lily, actually, if you're interested.

It would be nice to think that they would love us back but that is of course nonsense, they are animals, they don't love anything other than food, rolling in dry dust bowls and being able to wander freely. In fact they don't even have the capacity to love, only we do, that's one of the things that make us unique.

They do seem to have emotion though, they seem to get excited, they seem to get stressed they seem to relax.

We feed our herd daily with a mix of Fibregest and Camelibra and this seems to get all the alpaca emotions flowing but I'm not sure which. Take today for instance. We have a small 'feeding' paddock that they herd visits daily, it's ten yards from our house, they all charge or wander up when they hear me open the feed bin or pour the feed into the bucket..........and then the bun fight begins!!

We have two troughs and eleven buckets, enough space for 21 portions of food. The trouble is I can't put food into every bucket simultaneously, they have to wait, which obviously they don't understand. Today when I was bent over pouring food into one of the troughs, head down, surrounded by the fluffy ones I was hit by a double head shot of spit. The culprits were Priscilla and Bobby, mother and daughter, two of our foundation herd members, luckily it was only two 'air shots' and no green stuff but it got me thinking.............were they excited, moody or just saying 'get out of the way'??

Either way I still love them.

Now if that isn't rambling drivel I don't know what is!

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Eartags, snow and website!

Ok my fault shouldn't have mentioned Spring yesterday, late morning and it was snowing!
Decided to change the plan slightly and took a trip to Meon Valley Mill to collect our wool, or yarn as I'm lead to believe is what it is technically called.

Our fleeces had gone off late last year and the returning wool looks and feels great. We had a return of 60% processed and the rest has been washed and is ready for hand spinning. We contacted Sue (team knitter) last night and we will have to decide what we will make from it. We have 11 kgs this year so a lot more than last year and I am still looking for my perfect alpaca hat. I might even take up the needles myself, not being frightened to maintain contact with my feminine side!

The herd was checked over in the afternoon when the sun returned briefly and is in good shape, a couple of minor eartag infections withstanding. They were cleaned and creamed and we will monitor them over the next few days.

It is just over 14 months since the Patou alpacas website was launched and as my chum who designed it initially had the foresight to put a website 'hit' counter on it we know how many times the site has been visited. We have had over 12,000 hits to date. But of all those 'hits' not one has resulted in leading to the sale of an alpaca.................not one! We sold more alpacas last year than we ever thought we would but all of those sales can be attributed to some other reason than the website. Magazine articles, Alpacaseller, word of mouth and advertising seem to have done the trick. Perhaps the website forms part of the process, I would certainly hope so. Maybe it's just a load of old rubbish and I'm wasting my time! Well it's my time so no harm done.

I have a theory that a huge amount of 'hits' on alpaca websites are from other alpaca breeders. I know I am regularly checking other sites to see what's going on, immersing myself in the alpaca world at every opportunity. Sue thinks a huge amount of the 'hits' are mine, just logging on gazing at the screen and smiling thinking what a clever boy I have been and what a nice green website I have made. As if I could be that simple.

We had Bob Hey (father of Tim) round for lunch on Sunday, he is over from Tasmania for a while. It was good to catch up with him and show him how we have progressed over the past year. He told us about a female he has down under, she is 20 yrs old..........and pregnant!

They truly are amazing animals.

Sun's out pooper scooper calling.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Ok Patou Alpacas now have a blog. Other alpaca blogs seem popular and I certainly read them so why not? Good ideas are worth copying.

So here we go, my first post. The latest alpaca news here is that the mums are back!

We are fortunate that come weaning time we are able to take our mums away from their cria to another village. We have friends in Chilmark who kindly let us use a 3 acre paddock right behind their house for a couple of months. We visit them twice a day and our friends keep an eye on them. They have caused quite a stir in Chilmark and have become a local attraction. The Mums who are all pregnant again (bar one) can regain some condition and the cria can become 'weaners'.

The fact that mums and cria are completely separated means that neither group mopes around, neither group shows any sign of distress and they just seem to accept the situation and get on with it.

Whilst the mums were away the herd settled down into a very calm, well behaved, friendly bunch, no quarrelling at feeding time, no screeching at each other and very little spit flying. Well now the mums are back the situation has returned to normal! It is, however, nice to have them back. 2 months away seems to have been long enough away for the mums to dry up and the cria to become independent. They have all said hello but no sign of any suckling going on.

That was yesterday, today its round up the herd day for condition scoring and a general check over. We chipped and tagged the weaners recently so they need checking regularly for any signs of infection . After that its pooper scooping, my favourite!
There's always something to do here spring seems to have arrived and the sun is shining, excellent.

Thats it first blog over!