Kate Brookes – 29 March 2021
As I sit here writing this, with the sun streaming in the window, I’m wishing my life away, well about two weeks of it anyway. That’s how long it is until the first cria is due on the farm. We mate from the start of May until early July, meaning our cria are expected from Mid April until the end of June.
My knowledge says this is the best thing to do, so that the richest, fastest growing grass is available for the heavily pregnant mums-to-be and then for the early weeks of lactation. I know that cria arriving in mid or late march are likely to need much more owner support and the risks are higher if bad weather arrives in late March. But my cria envy is there, as the first UK cria start being born and the willpower it takes, not to start matings before May, is really considerable.
My other problem is also one of patience. Every slight sign of possible labour (from around 320 days gestation onwards) I am sure is the real thing. That girl lying on her side must be in labour. My cries of “ooh look she’s got some udder, it must be coming soon” go on for weeks and weeks. Am I the only one?
I hope you all have a happy, healthy, fulfilling cria birthing season.
Sue Loach – 22 March 2021
Crikey when I wrote my last blog it seemed to be ages before Spring, when it was time for my next contribution, but time has flown by and here we are. Lighter evenings, sunny days, and the promise of new life everywhere.
Those of you who attended the AGM at my house will know, from the veterinary talk, that I have a habit of having weird and wonderful issues with my animals. So, I thought I’d share with you the story of Ganache. Now, Ganache is a relatively young female who has always been robust and healthy. One day I noticed her doing a very good impression of Wurzel Gummidge, hay stuck in her mouth, that she appeared to be struggling to chew.
Over the next few days this continued in much the same vein, hay getting stuck and me pulling it out, to the extent that she would stand and wait for me to do it! She was still eating hard food but then she started to get grass stuck in her teeth, so I called the vet. She had her back teeth rasped as they were a bit sharp, and her gums looked sore. After a day or two normality resumed.
Then it started again so vet was called, and teeth checked with a tiny sharp bit being removed.
The third time it happened the vet could find no sharpness to her teeth and it was decided to x-ray her before referring her to Liverpool as she was now losing weight and struggling to feed her cria who was also losing weight.
On every occasion the vet visited she had a full clinical exam. It was arranged for 2 vets to come to x-ray so that she could be safely sedated and monitored throughout the process, however during the clinical exam the vet noticed her third eyelid was very pale, in fact it was white, 3 days previously it had been pink, so the vet immediately took blood, and I ran a faecal. Imagine our horror when she had a pcv of 8 and a Strongyle count of over 3000 epg. She was dangerously anaemic.
This animal had never been ill, stopped eating or been at all slow, she was to all intents and purposes normal except for the (non) chewing hay issue. She was immediately wormed and given weekly doses of iron and within days was chewing her hay properly and has never looked back.
Incidentally, her previous egg count 6 weeks earlier had been clear. I thank my lucky stars that we decided to x-ray that day otherwise the chances are she would have died.
The vet thinks the inability to chew was purely weakness from the parasite burden.
Nothing is ever as it seems in my world.
Duncan Pullar – 15 March 2021
Very few new technologies are revolutionary in that they do not wipe away everything that went before. They tend to be rather more gentle in the way they “take over”. Motor cars overlapped with horses for 50 years, petrol cars will overlap with electric models for 30 years, and so on.
In society there are “early adopters” and “laggards” when it comes to new technology and it is not always clear who is making the right decision in the short term or the long term. If you look at mainstream agriculture early adopters of high input systems using fertilizer and sprays gained an early advantage but now the age of “fossil fuel” is coming to an end there is a resurgence in interest in organic practices remarkably like the ones that were abandoned.
Essentially there is no such thing as good or bad technology. It is really about the way we apply it and manage it and crucially whether it makes a difference in a positive and sustainable way. Very often new technologies that work with existing knowledge and systems make the most sense and the take over is gradual. Mobile phones are an example of the take over that has grown. Early mobiles were huge, but they tapped into an existing system – the phone network – and added the freedom to roam. Thirty years on the mobile has developed so much it means many homes do not have a land line and phoning people on a mobile is almost a minor use when you think of texting, tweeting and games!!
Good examples of technologies applied to animal breeding clearly include genetic evaluations and most recently the adoption of genomics. These technologies are now widely used in cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry breeding. The technologies of estimated breeding values evaluation and DNA analysis have allowed more rapid and accurate assessments of breeding stock to be made which allows the animals to be bred which function best.
The introduction of Estimated Breeding Values to alpacas is an opportunity to adopt a proven technology that will make a significant difference to the breeding progress for objectively measurable traits. The BAS EBV project is now in a development stage and is open to all members if they are interested. The EBV project will not replace any of the skills that alpaca breeders have accumulated over the years, but it will add an extra layer of information that should help alpaca breeders make better breeding decisions.
A webinar is on this week, 15 March 2021 at 7.30pm. If you want to lean more email for link firstname.lastname@example.org or get the YouTube link later
Since joining the board, it has somehow seemed extremely busy ‘at home’ despite the lockdown. From being elected, I really enjoyed the first meeting, which was on my 25th birthday. It was so exciting to have an excuse to properly have to think and brainstorm for a good while.
Over the various lockdowns from March 2020 onwards, I took to hand spinning and processing my own alpaca’s fleeces. I started off with a cheap spindle and some spare dog slicker brushes to card it (I have learnt NOT to invest in relatively sporadic hobbies the hard way!). After getting hooked I quickly convinced myself it’s worth splashing out on a few bits and bobs. I will tell you that is took me about 5 hours to ‘splash out’, but at least I attempted to practice self restraint. My main purchase was a lovely pair of hand carders which made my spinning adventures all the more pleasant. It is so incredibly rewarding and relaxing.
I had never been more grateful for my exploration into the world of spinning as when myself and Shaun tested positive for coronavirus just days after my birthday (a birthday with no celebrations I hastened to add). Unfortunately I became very unwell, and it was several weeks before I could do much more than drive down to the field gates to try and catch a glimpse of the alpacas. My poor partner Shaun had to battle the horrible West Lancashire weather on his own. His sympathy for me moaning about ‘being stuck in the house’ (with my camomile tea, blankets, and chocolate I might add. But it was torture really, as I couldn’t taste anything!) quickly diminished as he returned shivering and soaking one time too many.
By the New Year, I was able to just about able to go off to milk the cows in the afternoon, and maybe do a few of the alpaca jobs on top. I have pretty much plateaued and I am still suffering from long-Covid. However, on a slightly comedic note, my hair started falling out last week (not the funny bit, although not uncommon 2-3 months after being poorly with coronavirus). So I reached out to the GP who said the best thing I can do is “keep calm, as that could make it a lot worse, and try not to look at the hairbrush/comb”. Have you ever tried telling someone who’s hair is falling out to keep calm, otherwise more will fall out? Funnily enough- it doesn’t work, but it did still tickle me at least.
I think I speak for most of us, when I say how relieved I am to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We have slowly started tidying things up ready to reopen in April; there are rumblings of shows; and I think we can all safely be optimistic about the National Alpaca Farm Day going ahead the first weekend of September. I have been filling my calendar with all the alpaca related things I can. Now let’s hope for some lovely weather to get that grass growing!
Ken Freivokh – 1 March 2021
Some 12 years ago, Liz and I were offered the opportunity to purchase land adjoining our cottage. With an offer accepted, we looked at each other, and the question was – what would be the best use of such fields? We both love animals, it clearly was an opportunity to look after some, yet my comment to Liz was: ‘I would prefer not to have to eat them, ride them or milk them!’……… Having lived in Peru for over 20 years, alpacas won the day!
Whilst familiar with the look of them, we certainly were not feeling up to speed with how to look after them! We visited our nearest breeder, and returned having bought a grey, a white, a brown, a fawn, a black and a full day one-to-one course………. We had no idea what we had started! It did not take long before we developed more definite ideas regarding what we liked. Jude Anderson, a highly experienced International Judge, invited me two years running to join her in checking all entries for the top US Show, the Kansas Futurity. An amazing experience and, of course, the opportunity to see the top US alpacas and to crystalise our preferences.
We eventually joined a syndicate bringing nine Snowmass alpacas from Idaho and, some years later, we set about importing a further 9 Snowmass champions. It took us well over a year to bring them over via New Zealand. I flew down under for two days, and managed to mate two of the males to a pair of females in the group– the two female offspring took part in their first UK show at barely 6 months, and each won their respective colour championship! They went on to win championships, including two Supremes and a Judge’s Choice.
Over the years, we have formed our own opinion regarding how we prefer to look after our alpacas. Rather than closed barns, they all have unhindered access to handsome shelters, very popular when the sun is beating down or during long spells of heavy rain. We can feed them under cover with dry troughs, yet they can go out to graze at will.
After ten very rewarding years with alpacas, I was pleased to join the BAS Board. A task of particular interest was to help put together a Breed Standard which could guide breeding goals, screening imports, etc. I am pleased that this process is now nearing completion following careful research and extensive exchanges with judges and other Board members. The expectation is for such document to undergo regular reviews as breeding techniques reach higher levels of sophistication with the help of EBVs alongside fleece improvements year-on-year.
In my experience alpacas are addictive, Linda and I started our breeding with four Black female alpacas in 2009 and now have around 150. I am fascinated by genetics and trying to improve the quality of our black alpacas and am very pleased with the progress we have made. To improve we have invested in some good black males and females and have taken a few risks by introducing fawn genetics into the herd and must say I am rather pleased with where we have got to.
Of course, having this number of alpacas has become a full-time job and means I am doing all sorts of work around the farm from mucking out the barn to all the regular husbandry and caring for sick animals. Trying to understand how to keep alpacas healthy and being ready to treat the inevitable illnesses that come along, often discussing and agreeing treatments with our vets is both fascinating and worrying..
Having retired from full time work I have had the time to get involved with our alpacas much more than I ever expected and find the lifestyle we have created very absorbing. Alpacas have become much more than a hobby and have made this last year of COVID and lockdowns bearable.
After 6 years as Chair of the BAS Board I am planning to retire from the chair’s role at this year’s AGM (2021) and may stay on for a while to ensure there is an effective handover if fellow Board members feel it useful. It has been an interesting and challenging few years working with the other board members and seeing the changes to the society over that time, where our membership has grown from 1276 to 1576 members.
I have found my board colleagues to have worked hard on behalf of the membership even though there seems to be some level of mistrust in the board from a few members no matter who the board members are. I do find this strange, as all I have seen is board members working in the best interests of the society and not themselves.
COVID has meant the Board has had to use Zoom for its meeting and in the course of the last year I feel we have become more focussed and efficient in part because of that medium. Zoom has been a wonderful innovation and has led to new thinking of how BAS can deliver more value to its members through Zoom education, improved participation with online voting and the of course the BAS Chat forum on Facebook. In my view Zoom and Chat have enabled us to become much more of an inclusive society reaching our members across the UK.
Linda and I are looking forward to meeting our friends again as we return to showing and hopefully lockdown becomes a distant memory.
Thanks to covid regulations my hair is as grey and dull as the weekend just passed! 🙈 Due to the heavy snowfall we abandoned the halter training this weekend and instead, concentrated on our alpacas’ ‘top-knots’…Covid doesn’t affect our alpacas’ hair dos, just mine!
On the farm we have been lucky enough to finally get the builder in to start our new barn! We had strong winds throughout the week which slowed progress, but we will get there in the end! When asked “what is the purpose of this barn?”, I have a long list of answers: storage for a tractor and trailer; a new ‘weighing in room’ for alpacas (not humans); an area for bespoke mating pens; a shearing shed…the list goes on, it sounds like it will be a busy spot!!! 🤣
All in all, the best thing about snow days is the opportunity for me to work with yarn, guilt free. Thankfully we have some loyal outlets for our alpaca products and the arctic weather has given me the time to get some stock boxed up and ready for delivery. I also couldn’t resist a different kind of artistic outlet when I had the chance…. do you think he deserves a first place?!?! 😉
Judith Newman - 1st February 2021
There has been no let-up in the weather and the rain seems to go on and on. I live on the Somerset Levels and we don’t generally see a lot of snow here but we even had some of that this past week. Waterproofs from head to foot and a good pair of wellies are essential in this weather.
The levels are often linked to serious flooding but we are lucky in that we live to the north of the A39 which forms a high ridge where on one side it can flood badly and the other, where we live, it doesn’t. The rain can sit for a while but thanks to a very good drainage system that was first built in the 17th century the ditches around every field take the water away to the rhynes leaving the fields once again dry if a little soggy.
Land that is subject to lying wet in the winter creates a great environment for the tiny mud snails Galba (Lymnaea) truncatula that carry liver fluke eggs to thrive and pass those eggs on to the alpacas when they graze. One snail can produce 100,000 offspring in 3 to 4 months and so the parasite load on the ground can be huge and risk liver damage to infected livestock. On the levels we are advised by our vets to treat our herd with Fasinex in the Autumn and again in the Spring to ensure that they are not carrying harmful fluke. We have never had a sick alpaca due to liver fluke. You can send off a faecal sample to a suitably qualified lab where they will carry out a sediment test to look for fluke.
Of course, all the other intestinal parasites can be present all year and particularly love damp warm places to lay their eggs just waiting for a host to come along and munch them up with a mouthful of grass. I did a course some years back on the various parasites that affect Camelids and the best anthelmintics to dose an infected alpaca with and that has been invaluable. A few years ago I added to this by doing a one-day hands on course on how to carry out faecal testing on my alpacas. I came away with a shopping list of required equipment and an enthusiasm to get stuck in. I introduced a rolling testing programme across the herd that enables me to keep track of each alpacas parasite status and to only treat when evidence based and necessary. Anthelmintic resistance is a huge problem in livestock mainly caused by overuse and underdosing and so it is very important to only treat when you need to and give the correct dose. It also saves a lot of money on drugs! Time in the lab was also a respite from the rain 😊
We currently have our females in the barns as the wet and ensuing mud is not a lot of fun for them or me when I have to get up to feed them etc and I’m sliding around all over the place. We can’t get the big or even the little tractor out on the grass as it would churn it into mud in an instant so everything has to be carried. All of our paddocks have very good spacious shelters in them and our alpacas run for their shelter at the first drop of rain but given the chance they still gallop down to the big barns. We muck out twice a day and use cardboard for their toilet area which rots down really quickly and doesn’t introduce any mites to the barns. First thing in the morning is my favourite part of the day when we go out and put up the Camelibra for the alpacas and then we sit on a bench in the barn having a lovely hot mug of tea discussing the relative merits of each alpaca and get excited about this years birthing season and the mating plan for next years cria.
Despite the difficult times that all of us and our loved ones are going through at the moment there is much to be happy about. Sitting in a barn surrounded by alpacas discussing the future over a mug of tea is high on that list 😊
Paul Hetherington – 25 January 2021
So how do you go about halter training 51 cria – that was the big question at Beck Brow this week. Turns out the answer is 3 at a time.
Training starts in the barn where we put a head collar on the cria and let them wear it for a little while. This lets them get used to the feel of the collar and the process of putting it on.
When we first started halter training many years ago we used to take one cria per handler, but after some good advice from more experienced breeders, we now take them in groups. The cria definitely walk better with friends.
We see all sorts of personalities during training. There are cria that take to walking straight away, there are the ones that sit down and refuse to get up, and there are the ones that throw themselves down and play dead. The cria that are most friendly in the barn, and get the most attention, are often the most challenging to train – I guess they have a high opinion of themselves. It’s also interesting that the cria from a particular sire will often have the same personality and hence be leaders or followers.
Once we’ve worked out which cria like walking they become the trainers and get to team up with the reluctant walkers. The trainers are often the first in the queue when the head collar box comes out. Despite their progress on the first attempt, or otherwise, invariably all of the cria will walk to the lane end by their third outing.
In previous years we have always had plenty of willing volunteers to help with the training but Covid has put a spanner in the works – thankfully we don’t have too many reluctant walkers this year and hopefully the Cumbrian winter won’t be too inhibiting.
We’ve got 4 more cria to wean then it’s time to start thinking about this year’s birthing. The pregnant females will be split into two or three groups depending on their due date. Females in the last trimester get an increased food ration to help with the unborn cria’s development.
As well as training the cria we’re also training the next generation of alpaca lovers and farm workers! We are fortunate that our grandchildren are in our Covid bubble.
Emma Taylor – 18 January 2021
2020 has been an extraordinary year in many ways for us in terms of mill, herd & shop as well as personal & social lives not just with C-19 but Brexit too!!
Lots of changes have had to be implemented not just in daily life but in our working life too. But with that came positives – fresh appraisal of the work/life balance, time to catch up on the never-ending list of jobs which have previously had a low priority but are now completed albeit with more jobs added to the list as a result! Sadly, no time to machine knit & be creative – designs will have to remain in the grey matter for a bit longer! Meanwhile the alpacas graze on oblivious to the troubles of the world & continue to be my calming influence & escape place to go for de-stressing. Thankful to have the alpacas & sufficient space to wander with the dogs without actually having to leave home.
Part of my daily life is dog rescue, specifically spaniels but when a plea for help came in for two German Shepherds during the initial lockdown, our fantastic team could not refuse. So, we have acquired an honorary ‘Second Chance’ golden oldie girlie who is living out her days with us. Zeena (13) has rekindled my love for GSD’s. Her younger fur brother acquired a fab home with a fellow alpaca breeder too.
Another task that we have needed to be very aware of is that of a visiting fox – I keep birds of prey & said fox has been a damn nuisance trying to dig into flights & aviaries. Work in progress!
As for other aspects of daily life, COVID-19 has kept me away from my children, grandchildren & mother for more than a year now & is causing ongoing anxiety for their welfare & what the future will hold longer term for them; the Board has discovered the value of Zoom meetings (so much easier & more productive & at no cost to the membership) as have some regional groups; I’ve not missed the freedom to go out at will (yet) – probably serves as a reminder that working 80+ hours a week is what keeps me er, sane!
The strain of maintaining C-19 compliance for our staff is onerous yet necessary (actually fed up of cleaning multiple times a day!) but latest regulations mean that 2 of 3 income sources remain closed though the online shop sales continue to grow but has allowed me more time in the mill than prior to C-19. Never thought I would be doing virtual shopping with customers to the shop! Meanwhile the initial lockdown also allowed for time to plan upgrades to the mill one of which is at the point of completion as I type. We have a fully automated scouring system at long last!
Paddock breeding became a necessity for us in 2020 to ensure the absolute safety of our stock hand, with one slipped pregnancy to date which was revealed on Alpaca Chat UK with photos of a tiny yet formed foetus being the low point but added to our understanding of alpacas further.
I am hugely grateful that we live in the middle of nowhere in Norfolk, that we are fit(ish) & healthy, that we have a fantastic team here with great friends to keep us connected to outside life. Here is hoping that the Beast from the East 2 does not materialise! Hoping you all stay safe & can appreciate the positive aspects that this awful pandemic has brought – they are there!
Kate Brookes – 11 January 2020.
Last autumn I tuned in to a webinar by nutritionist Jane Vaughan in Australia and amongst much other useful information, she was suggesting weaning cria at 4 months of age. I have always weaned at 6 months of age, unless there was a specific reason for a cria to be separated from its mum earlier. At the time of the webinar my 21 cria were between 4 and 6 months of age. There was just one under 25kg, two between 25 – 33kg and the others all heavier, the heaviest being nearly 50kg at 5.5 months. The three smallest were all just over 4 months of age.
The cria were all used to entering a creep feeder and eating ‘hard feed’ consisting of GWF Hembre and Cria concentrate, dried flaked peas, young stock creep pellets and speedibeet. I kept daily weights as I weaned the cria, ready to return them to their mums if I felt concerned at the impact of such early weaning. The mothers were always within sight of the cria, in an adjacent pasture, neither mums or cria seemed stressed at the separation, with only two cria still grazing close to the fence line by day 3 of weaning.
I found that the three smallest cria all did better, in terms of growth rate, without their mums. The ones over 5 months had almost no slowing in growth. There were several at under 5 months who had a noticeable flat line for around a week at the start of the weaning period.
So, would I wean cria at 4 months again? For those cria where growth has slowed significantly, yes. For most cria I think I would wean at 5 months onwards if possible. Weaning the whole group together did seem to minimise the stress on them, so I would wait until I had a group that were ready to wean together. The return to condition of some of the mums feeding greedy youngsters was very quick, and for already pregnant females this is probably good.
Sue Loach – 4 January 2021
Well as one year ends and another begins, I find myself reflecting on what a strange year 2020 has been, more ins and outs and ups and downs than doing the Hokey Cokey on a rollercoaster!!
It started off so well and I had the privilege of judging one of the few dog-shows that went ahead last year, we all had plans made, shows and holidays arranged and then Covid struck. Little did any of us know the massive impact it would have on all our lives, anyone who enjoys showing their animals whether Alpacas, dogs or other livestock will have missed meeting up with like-minded folk, admiring their animals and sharing a laugh, a cup of tea or something stronger.
The Covid Fairy visited my whole family, me and my daughters only showing mild symptoms, but my partner ended up in hospital with Covid related pneumonia, scary times, and we feel very fortunate to have all recovered, so many lives will have been changed forever.
We have all learnt how socially distance, wear masks and to chat via zoom (and yes Duncan, rain does affect the signal, I have it on good authority), so our Board Meetings have gone ahead, together with the noise of barking dogs, postman’s visits and gate-crashing children and I have discovered Amazon Prime!! What a revelation.
I think I had the most stressful and disastrous birthing season ever (more of that another day) but I was very glad when it was all over. We finally moved into our long-awaited barn conversion which is still work in progress but feeling more like home every day, how stupid of us to decide to have a new driveway dug out just before a “Noah’s Arks” amount of rain decided to come down. Wouldn’t you just guess that I managed to fall over into one of the tracks whilst going to bottle feed my cria one night, to cap it off she refused to take her bottle off someone resembling a scary bog monster, ungrateful animal.
The year has ended with plenty of snow for us and I suddenly realised that somehow, I have become a farmer, instead of admiring the views, planning snowball fights, and building snowmen, I have become excited that the frost and cold will kill off parasite eggs and my dogs won’t get muddy!!!
Here’s hoping that 2021 will eventually show us the good times we all want, let’s hope we can get out and about and do the things we all enjoy, whatever they may be and above all let us all be healthy and happy.
Duncan Pullar – 23 December 2020
To start this Blog I thought I would look back at 2020. The whole year has been rather difficult. It started for me with lots of preparation for the National Show that never was. Having spent a couple of months getting ready for the Show I spent the next month undoing what I had done. It is worth say that everyone associated with the Show, BAS member, Supplier or trade stand holder were very accommodating and the “undoing” was all done in a good spirit. At that stage no one new the whole showing season would be lost.
Its surprising what you have to learn about when a national crisis beckons. I invested a fair amount of time discovering if shearers would be allowed to work this year and what travel they could undertake. Having got the rules clear BAS issued a letter for shearers to use as confirmation that they were on legitimate business. Despite the problems shearing was completed albeit over an extended season. Well done shearers!
As the year progressed we all got more used to the restriction and the BAS Board became familiar with the joys of Zoom calling. I think we have had the full range of Zoom errors, from trying to talk while on mute through to freezing in mid-sentence and then disappearance. One Board member is convinced the presence or absence of rain in their area makes a huge difference to the quality of connection. Talking of Zoom, many regional groups embraced its use to stay connected, and it was great for me to have a little chat with organisers around the country to see what they were up to, and how they felt about the world.
Thanks BAS members for making my job, in a difficult year, do-able. Your generosity in time and effort is appreciated,
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