Thursday, 28 August 2008

An update.

I haven't done a blog for a while. I made a decision to write a blog when something had happened or I had something to say about life amongst the mighty Patou.

However, 6 days have now passed, 4 of which I was at hiss, so I am here now having been woken up again by the most impatient labrador in the world.

I was going to write a blog yesterday but it just never happened.

I had arranged to meet the heads of the Inca tribe at their old home to help them move out. I had forgotten that Inca time is an hour behind the rest of us so was hideously early. Silly me, must remember next time.

Anyway, we were joined by the warriors from Amiryck and much heavy lifting accompanied by a fair modicum of grunting ensued.

I had to leave early to go and lie down............. I mean because we had friends coming over for afternoon tea, don't you know. Oh very lah-dee-dah.

I arrived home in time for a quick once round the field with the dogs and the kettle was on.

Our friends arrived at 4 and we had a nice time on the patio catching up with each others news. Tea and biscuits somehow morphed into beer and chips which subsequently changed into rather a lot of wine and putting the world to rights. Before we knew it, it was dark. No blog last night then.

So what of the world of Patou so far this year? This is our third year in the wonderful world of alpacas and we are way ahead of where we thought we would be when we started.

There are 28 alpacas out in the field now, over half of them run with patou blood in their veins. We have one girl yet to give birth. Avon Water Veronique. 'Ronnie' is due at the end of September and is a lovely looking light fawn girl sired by Wessex Fernando. She is pregnant to the impressive Cambridge In The Groove, who resides north of the border in the kingdom of Coire. I know Gerry and Lucy are keen to see what Groove produces and so we are all waiting eagerly. Ronnie still has a way to go but clearly has a little pot bellie and I'm sure she will produce something gorgeous.

Of the rest, we have had ups and downs this year. Sadly we still have the memories of the two boys who were stillborn, it is little comfort that there was nothing we could have done in either case.

On a more positive note there are eight healthy cria outside, four boys and four girls. Four of them will have the prefix Patou and we are very pleased with our new additions. Particularly Patou Amelie, the daughter of my most favourite alpaca in the whole wide world, Lily. She kept us waiting but produced a beautiful cria.

'Millie' is a sort of smoky brown colour with an even more sort of smokey brown coloured head. We think she looks fabulous but then we would.

Patou Jonah sired by Witness is a huge lump and is almost as big as his mother, and he's only two months old. Priscilla must have some seriously good stuff in there. Jonah was 10 kilos when he was born and we stopped weighing him a while ago when he hit 25 kgs!

Patou Alacazam, a Centurion boy, Al for short, is quite simply the sparkliest alpaca we have ever seen. He looks wet all the time and we think he could be special, hence the name. We will see.

The baby of the herd is our little Killawasi lad, Patou Barney, a handsome little fellow who always looks ready to enter a show ring. We have called him Barney but will probably register him as Patou Peruvian Killawasi's Perfect Prince King Royal Man about town, or something, just in case.

So there you are readers the latest drivel from the faraway fairytale land of patou.

Friday, 22 August 2008

A great three days off.

I have been off for the last three days and have been able to throw myself into all things alpaca again. I just love it.

On Wednesday we were at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. We went two years ago but missed last year because of foot and mouth so it was nice to go to what is our local show.
It is always very well attended and luckily the weather was good for most of the day.

There was lots of interest from the public as usual and we were busy all day talking about alpacas. Oh no, what a shame, how dreadful. It was great.

The heavens opened as we were packing up. Fantastic. Everything that went into the car and trailer went in soaked. Splendid I understand that is the way to leave it. Wet. No?

Yesterday I set up the trade stand (minus the alpacas of course) in the back garden so that everything could dry. As it was sunny I tried and succeeded in managing to rustle up a shearing team. We still had the lardy girls to do who had recently unpacked. Two and a half hours later and they were done. The whole herd now looks like it has been through some sort of huge plucking defleecing machine. An old one. One that doesn't work properly.

Still, this year was all about getting the fleece off. Next year I will concentrate on appearance and fleece removal. I will also be able to start earlier and get the late pregnant ones done before they are 10 months.

Today was all about aching back, aching hamstrings, sunburned head and lounging around.

This afternoon I wandered into the field and lay in the sun near the grazing herd. Before too long inquisitive alpacas started to move in closer and after about 20 minutes I was surrounded.

I was astounded when Lily brought her new cria, Millie, over to me. Lily flounced down onto the grass right next to me, so close that when she rolled over onto her back she actually bumped into me. She then went to sleep in the sun right next to me. So did Millie! How is that for trust. I just couldn't believe it. They were both asleep and Lily was so close I could touch her. Actually I couldn't resist giving her a stroke on her neck and she just lay there. Luckily I had the camera in my pocket and managed to take some snaps. Not too many of Lily and Millie as they were too close. That's alpacas for you either too close or too far away.

On the other side of me was our lovely fawn girl, Dee. She had brought the newest member of the herd over, little Barnaby. They were also very sleepy in the sun. Bless.

The rest of the herd had been picked off one by one by the silent sniper.

Only one word for an experience like that. Splendid.

Thursday, 21 August 2008


Great day at the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show yesterday. We were next to Team Inca who were next to Alpacas of Wessex who were next to Concepts of Peru. A show of force indeed.

A very well attended show, the weather was good until packing up time when we all got soaked.

Today I was drying everything out and shearing the last 6 girls. As a result this is a short blog as I am knackered. Absolutely knackered.

Thanks to Ivan and Geoff, who came over at short notice to help.

Hopefully a full report will follow tomorrow.

Monday, 18 August 2008

A wise alpaca knows best

I had to return to the day job today so from half past seven this morning until seven o'clock this evening I was absent from the confines of the mighty Patou herd. Sue and Angus were here for most of the day and I knew the alpacas would be looked after well.

I don't know if I'm old fashioned or a bit of a prat but I feel that I am the protector of the mighty Patou herd, when I say herd I am including Sue and Angus.........and the mad labs, and Bob the cat and the chickens, Betty, Cindy and Lulu. I just feel that I am the man of the family/herd. I am the biggest, the strongest, I feel it is my duty to protect, watch over, basically be the hit man for the herd.

If Angus falls over and hurts himself I feel that I should have been there to catch him, if he is hurt by another child at school, accidental or not, I feel that I should be there to prevent it. If Sue is out and for whatever reason gets upset, annoyed, feels threatened or distressed I should be there to sort it out. It is my job, I am there to protect and look after. Old fashioned? Maybe, but that is how it is in my tiny mind.

So what is the point I here you clamour? Well we were lucky enough to have three healthy cria born this week, all new additions to the Patou herd. First was the arrival of the cria we had been most anticipating, Lily's cria.

She has been named Patou Amelie and is, in our humble biased opinion, beautiful.

The second to be born was our little black boy Patou Alacazam. Sparkly, handsome, strong and as black as a black thing at the bottom of a very deep black hole in a very dark place.

And lastly, born yesterday was our little Killawasi boy Patou Barney, pictured here with the future herdmaster. As you can see his mother , Dee, is the calmest most gentle of alpacas and was quite happy for us to have a good look at the little fellow, even accepting a stroke from Angus.

Angus gives all the new arrivals a cuddle and he was quite taken by Barney who seemed to have inherited his mothers tolerance!

Which brings me to the reason for the title of this blog entry. I arrived home as I have said at 7pm. I sat in the living room with Sue and Angus chatting about our days, all the time watching the wind thrashing the trees and shrubs around outside. It was blowing a gale, I was worried about Barney. Yes he had a coat on but should I bring him up into the field shelter? After half an hour I was out to assess the situation. The wind was strong but it was a cool westerly wind and not a cold one. Nevertheless I was worried that even with his coat on it might be a bit chilly for him. I found Dee and Barney half way down the maternity paddock. Dee lying down with Barney skipping round her. As I stood next to her the wind tugged at my hair, alright I'm an egghead but you know what I mean! However when I crouched down to say hello to Barney I realised that Dee had them situated in a little hollow. From my waist down there was no wind. Dee had her little boy completely sheltered. I knew then that he was just going to be fine. Dee, at eleven years old is a wise old alpaca.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Cria photos

Sheeting down outside as I write, luckily I was out yesterday taking a few snaps of some of this years cria.

The latest addition to the Patou herd, a spankingly good looking Cambridge Centurion boy out of Bannock. We thought long and hard about his name and decided on Patou Alacazam. Al for short. He just looks so shiny and curly and sparkly it just seemed to fit.
Avon Water Minna, Milarka's cria by Accoyo Killawasi and Avon Water Nonni no name (still waiting) who is out of Avon Water Monique sired by Cambridge Centurion.

Nonni no name is in my opinion absolutely gorgeous. A seriously good looking fawn girl with a very dense crimpy fleece.

The bruiser boys, Orchard Blackjack (Wellground Joy and Cambridge Centurion) and the great lump that is Patou Jonah (Patou Priscilla and Canchones Witness of Inca)

Notice that in the pictures of the girls they are all in profile ready to run away. Joe and Jack just stand there daring me to come closer. There is also proof in the background that Joy does spend most of her time standing in a bucket of water.

Tomorrow more writing and less pictures, maybe!

Thursday, 14 August 2008

All smiles here today

Well I have just got back from the day job, I know what sort of time do you call this?

Anyway we had a much happier day here at Patou so I thought a quick blog was due.

After the doldrums of yesterday we were delighted when Bannock one of our founding ladies gave birth in her usual 'Excuse me I think I'm about to have a cria...........oops looks like it's out already' style.

Excellent news, it put a smile back on our faces. A big healthy 10 kg jet black boy.

He's another of our Centurion cria and I can't wait to have a good look at him tomorrow. He was all wet and wobbly when I had to leave for work so it will be good to see him fluffed up and happy tomorrow.

I now have three days off and am picking up the big man Jack tomorrow for some action here with the ladies of the Patou herd.

A grey day at Patou

I always try to make this blog as amusing as possible, I am a pretty silly bloke and I can usually find something to laugh at in most situations.

Today, however, in this short blog there will be no laughs, we have lost another cria and we are pretty bloody miserable.

Orchard Ruby, a lovely brown girl who belongs to friends of ours Charlie and Louise Maidment was 11 months and 5 days pregnant yesterday. She is a first timer and things were going along well.

She started behaving as if something was going to happen in the morning then rejoined the rest around midday and was grazing as normal. Another false alarm we suspected.

However, later on she looked to be in some discomfort and after observing for a short while our vet was called. He was very quick and got on with finding out what was wrong. Sadly there were two problems.

Firstly Ruby was suffering from ringwomb. Ringwomb is something I had never heard of but apparently it is a characterized by failure of the cervix to relax so that there is no evidence of impending parturition. Not good.

Because the cervix doesn't dilate second stage labour can not begin. As a result the mum doesn't start pushing. There are no outward signs that she is contracting.

Secondly the cria was malpresented. The head and neck were twisted round and back along its side. One of the front legs was back. In short he was wedged.

The vet delivered a good looking solid brown boy but he had been dead for some time.

He assured us that there was nothing we could have done, that there was no way of knowing what was going on. He even said that if we had rung him earlier he would have told us to wait for a couple of hours to see how things developed. It was nice of him.

We still have that awful feeling that we are responsible, that we should have noticed something, that we should have done something different, that in some way we could have saved the cria.

It makes us feel pretty crap.

Still life goes on and we must now look forward to our own Bannock and Deedee giving birth soon.

Once again apologies for the lack of laughs, I'll be back to normal tomorrow.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

New arrival.

I couldn't wait to get up this morning as I had hardly seen Lily's cria yesterday, when I left she was all wet and wearing a coat. It was difficult to tell accurately what colour she was.

This morning once it had stopped raining I was out and took her coat off to let her have some sun.

We had pretty confidently expected that Lily's cria would be black. Lily has two black parents and she was pregnant to ATA Cambridge Centurion. However, as you can see she is not black. It was a bit of a surprise but a very pleasant one. We are breeding for a black, brown and fawn herd so she fits the bill perfectly. She has a lovely head (which does at this early stage seem to be a slightly different colour to the rest of her), is strong and has a lot of fleece. We are delighted with her and there is much discussion as to what to call her.

We now have three lardies over eleven months pregnant so are expecting more soon. Love it, just love it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

She's done it!!!

Firstly may I just make it clear that I did not let the alpacas into the house.

Anyway to more fantastic news! Lily has produced a cria!! She's done it!! We are ecstatic!

I was on my way to work for a 1 O'clock start when the lovely Mrs S phoned to say that a nose had appeared. Cue handbrake turn and a bit of gunning of an old landrover engine back to Patou HQ. Nothing was going to make me miss this one.

As I arrived I was able to see Lily push out a whole head and then some feet. Ten minutes later and it was all done and dusted. A beautiful, healthy, strong female weighing in at a very respectable 9 kilos.

She was up on her feet within 5 minutes and quickly suckling within half an hour. What a star Lily was, she was great and instantly took to being a new Mum.

Sadly I really did have to go to work then and reluctantly dragged myself off leaving the lovely Mrs S and Angus in charge.

I am still at work but am compiling the blog in my 'refreshment break'. I can't wait to have a good look at her in the morning. Photos will no doubt appear here tomorrow.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

It all got too much for me.

What a terrible day it has been, rain, rain, rain and more rain. Not only rain but wind, wind and yet more wind.

I was up early as usual and checked the alpacas whilst exercising the looney labradors. It didn't look too bad at that stage. A nice breakfast was had and Angus and I settled in to watch some Olympic games activity after Sue headed off on the maternity/midwife/homebirth trail.

Angus was only 1 and a half when the Athens games were on and although I explained the significance of it all to him at the time I don't think it really sank in.

Whilst watching the mens rowing I could see the weather was turning for the worse. The rain was pretty steady and it was a bit dark. In fact so dark we had to put the lights on when we started building the "bestest ever airport in the world ever" out of lego.

Soon the wind was picking up and the rain was now getting heavier. I kept looking out and checking on the alpacas. The main herd was out in the big field and had found a sheltered spot under a large Ash tree. The four 'lardies' were just lounging around. Being fully fleeced still it didn't seem to bother them much. It bothered me though, after a while I could see the cria out in the field charging around and the adults soon followed. They weren't enjoying the weather. One minute charging around the next minute flat down in a cush heads on the floor.

After about an hour I just couldn't take it anymore. I quickly 'wellied up' and after briefing Angus to man the front door I was out amongst them in the pouring rain. I managed to round most of them up on the first go and corralled them in the handling area whilst I ran like a madman around the field getting the remaining 6 up. They were not playing ball but after about 40 minutes altogether I had them all in the large handling pen. I needed a break I was exhausted.
Another 40 minutes had passed before I had managed to rearrange the hurdles together with some rope to make an alleyway from the holding area into our front garden and to the front door. By this time it was really sheeting down and although I knew I was going to be in serious trouble when Sue got home I just couldn't help myself. The rescue mission was on. I was not going to waiver it was job done or bust.

The herd didn't know what was expected of them, they had never been in the garden before but slowly I managed to cajole them into the hastily constructed alleyway. The cria were getting out under the rope sections but luckily returned to be with their mothers and rest of the herd before wandering off. There was a real sense of a collective mission here.

I then closed off their escape at the rear of the alleyway and had a chat with Angus. Once I had explained the plan to him he was all for it and, for a 5 and a half year old, threw himself with great maturity into the task.

We then started the process of getting them into the house. The interior doors were all closed apart from the lounge door. One by one they entered the house and gathered in a slightly surprised looking group in the lounge. Once they were all in the humming was quite loud but I managed to move amongst them drying them with the dogs towels. After 20 minutes or so they were pretty dry but the humming was intense. I had to try something to calm them down but just couldn't think. Then it hit me...the Discovery Channel!! I quickly fumbled with the television controls and within seconds had found, unbeliveably a programme entitled 'The Peruvian Andes, the forgotten land of the Inca's.'

Slowly but surely they all turned and looked at the screen. One by one they all cushed as I stood motionless, the controls shaking in my hands. I could not believe my own eyes.

Then Bobby, our spittiest and most stressy alpaca turned to look at me and said, "Any chance of turning it up and getting the drinks in old boy? I believe it's Pimms O'Clock'

Well what sort of blog entry do you expect on a wet and windy day?

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Three weeks of bliss over.

Today was the day that my three weeks of annual leave came to a resounding halt.

I have been up every morning before 6am over the past three weeks so that I could let the mad labs out and check on the alpacas. Our first two births this summer were at 6 and 6.30am, they're not catching me out again. This morning I was again up before 6 but this time there were other things to do. Of course the first thing I did was the same, let woolly woofs out, check alpacas and release the chickens.

However, instead of putting the kettle on and taking a cuppa up to the lovely Mrs S I had other jobs to do. Polish my boots, make my lunch, mix up a flask of coffee, shower, shave and select crisply ironed shirt and immaculately creased trousers from my dressing room (the wardrobe) and make myself some breakfast.
Then at 6.40am I was out of the door and on my way to the great metropolis for a day dealing with criminals. At this point folks lets just weigh that up; criminals v alpacas, mmmm ................................ let me think, that's a toughie.

Anyway for the next 5 years it is a necessity and that's that so I will be quiet now.

When I got to work I was greeted throughout the day by good people asking me how my holiday was (fantastic), saying how nicely tanned I looked (cross between Greek God and Buddah) and where had I gone.
That was the one that stumped most of them. Home? What, you spent three weeks holiday at home?
The thing is most of them live in the city or in towns or on housing estates. They are pretty much mostly what I call 'townies'. Most of the population are and there's nothing wrong with that if you are happy. I have always lived in the countryside, always. I love it out here.

It was when I was travelling home this evening that I realised once again just how lucky I am. How lucky Sue and Angus are. How lucky we are as a family to live where we do and to have the 'second job' that we have. We love it, just love it.

I spent most of the last three weeks at home playing with Angus, teaching him things, basically having a great time together, father and son strengthening the bond that we have. When Sue wasn't working we enjoyed things as a family. Mostly Sue splitting up her boys, 'He started it' being a well used phrase by both of us. Well he did! Mostly.

There was also a lot of time spent with the alpacas, sorry, with the mighty Patou herd. We did all the things we were supposed to do and sheared all but the heavily pregnant girls and walked amongst them and just watched them a lot from near and from far. They are magnificent.

In five years, in the south west of France that will be what we do.

So folks, I have seen the future and the future, for the Steele family and the mighty Patou herd is going to be just fine.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Milk thief caught on camera!

I mentioned in the blog that the little Killawasi cria, Minna, had been seen stealing (there is no other word for it folks, she is a thief) milk from a mother that was not her own.

Sue was out in the field whilst I was up at Baydon on Saturday and captured the little miscreant in the act. The brown mum in the picture is Avon Water Monique and her cria is the little fawn girl, her owner hasn't come up with a name for her yet so we call her Nonni (as in Nonni no name) The white cria is the little Killawasi girl, Minna and is caught bang to rights.
From the front.
And from the back.

No further questions, the prosecution rests m'lud.
Both cria are doing well and Minna is also feeding from her own mother who has plenty of milk (not surprising) so we will just let them get on with it for now.
I have just been reading through Ian Watt's presentation on the SRS fibre follicle testing thingammyjig. It's a good job I can remember some of his explanations as reading it quietly to myself gave me a headache. It really is very interesting in a sort of anorakish way. It makes sense in that the people who take note of it are going to be ahead of those who ignore it, in my opinion. However, I have been trying to work out what it means in real terms to someone like me.
We have so far chosen to go down the coloured alpaca route. Initially our decision was because we liked the colours. We still do. Not only that but we believe there is a bright future for coloured alpaca fleece.
In our first year we chose the stud males to breed from based entirely on colour.
In our second year we again chose based on colour but were now also looking at fleece density and crimp. We were learning stuff you see.
This year we are giving it more thought and are basing decisions not only on colour but also on conformation, fleece density, crimp, fineness and coverage. I certainly have a vision about what I want the mighty Patou herd to look like in ten years time. Yes, good people I am a visionary! Well you must know what I mean.
Anyway the talk by Ian Watt has given me even more to think about now. So much so that I think my brain is dusting itself down after years of humming quietly to itself and is warming up.
I think my brain might actually start to become useful once more. If my brain was called Gordon I would be able to hear the booming voice of Brian Blessed shouting incredulously 'GORDON'S ALIVE!!!!' Cue Queen soundtrack, air guitars, big hair, and space rockets.
Perhaps I should just encourage it to humm quietly after all. I had better go and lie down for a while.
Thanks for those who have asked about Lily and her unborn cria. She is still unborn (it will be a she as Lily can do no wrong) and Lily is looking very wide and very bored. However, we now have a new game here. We are no longer playing 'waiting for Lily to have her cria' no, no that is far to depressing. No, we are now playing 'watching Lily not having a cria'. It is so much better as there is no expectation of anything happening so we are not disappointed on a daily basis. When we eventually see a nose and some feet we will quickly revert to playing 'waiting for Lily to have her cria' and oh it will be so much fun.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

A day at EPC HQ.

Yesterday was a very interesting day.
Like many other alpaca owners I went to the EPC 'soiree' at Baydon.
What a place.
Matt and Cathy have bought a superb house with absolutely tremendous facilities for an alpaca business. I am very jealous..............I want one and I want it now.
It had obviously been used as a home for racehorses (it's not far from Lambourne) and has plush stables, exhibition paddocks, and enough acres for a lot of alpacas.

Driving the battered old 'Patouwagon' through the archway into the parking area I felt slightly conspicuous. I hadn't washed the old girl and perhaps I should of. I almost spoiled the setting.
Thankfully I was as smart as I could possibly be, suited and tied.

Having been brought up in a military family, resided for 10 years at boarding school and been a uniformed Policeman for the past 20 years I am very aware of dress codes etc. The invitation said 'smart'. As a result I went as smart as I could. Actually I only really have two dress settings, scruffy and smart.

At this point I would like to make a plea for the humble tie. Where have they all gone? I think I counted 3 in total out of about 80 guests. Have I missed something? Are ties no longer worn? Am I hopelessly out of touch with todays fashion? Actually I have been hopelessly out of touch for my entire life so maybe that is it. Anyway a small observation I thought I would share.

The talks were very interesting Jane Vaughan on nutrition and ET (yeah I thought it was strange to be talking about the funny little Spielberg creation at an alpaca event but was prepared to go with it. Embryo transfer actually, fascinating stuff).

We all moan about how long it takes for things to happen in the alpaca world, gestation lengths then waiting to see how the cria is going to turn out, shows, then matings etc etc. Well ET is a massive corner cutter. It's not for us yet but jeepers I can see how it could really improve a herd very quickly. I shall be keeping an eye on that subject.

The other talk, by an amiable Ian Watt, was equally fascinating. It was all about fleece and fibre, in particular the SRS method of measuring the qualities and characteristics of fibre. It was very interesting to hear his views on how we should be doing 10 or 20 years down the line and how we should approach getting there. A lot of food for thought.

The champagne reception and lunch were good and it was great to catch up with friends and meet new people, hear different views and talk about a subject we are all passionate about.

I see Baydon becoming the centre of all things alpaca in the UK. I don't know whether that is the plan but the facilities are all there, the Lloyds are so laid back and welcoming and they have some magnificent looking animals. The plan is, I think, to hold seminars there every 6 months or so and I think that would be a good thing.

I left having looked at all the stud males on show in the stable block and returned to the land of Patou to have a chat with the girls to let them know that we had some serious work ahead of us and one or two of them were going to have to pull their fingers out.

Lily, who can do no wrong, was still hanging on and looking very comfortable.

I am back to the day job next Wednesday and am not looking forward to it at all. I want more than ever now to be an alpaca breeder full time.

My brain will be working overtime from now on to find a way to make it so.