Alpacapedia

Welcome to the BAS Board Blog.  The aim here is to catch up with Board members as they go about their “alpaca lives” and hear about the things that are occupying them…..

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!

Emma

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.

Sue

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,

Duncan

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