Getting Ready For Summer at Beck Brow Alpacas
Whilst it would be great to write a blog and stay away from the topic of Covid-19, it would leave rather a large elephant ignored in the room. Week four of lockdown and it feels like the world has slowed down. Slowed to a pace that many had no idea existed. This has allowed us all to focus on what we have and what really matters in our lives, and of course the joy of nature and the silence around us.
So not so much has changed for us on a day to day basis. The Eden Valley is a beautiful place to live, the birds are still singing, the sun is shining, and we have 50 acres full of alpacas, 60 of whom are looking very pregnant now. Our son Ben is now at home working on the farm whilst we are in lockdown, so life has got easier on the work front. The shows have been a big miss and I find my weekend moods a little less buoyant when I think about what we might have been doing. However, we are blessed to all be keeping safe and well and the wine deliveries are still arriving.
So we have naked alpacas already. Okay, I admit it, I panicked. I don’t care that my hair looks like it belongs to a five-year-old (well maybe not the colour) and a swishy ponytail will be good when the flies arrive. However, the alpacas are a different matter. If Nigel (Wood) couldn’t get over from New Zealand (which looked unlikely) who would take on shearing 160 alpacas in Cumbria? I know it is only April. We don’t normally shear until late May, but better early than never (I know better late than never was an option but not my preferred one) Thus we were extremely grateful when Colin (Ottery) agreed to shear for us. We were very fortunate to have dry weather during the two days of shearing and warm weather during the day post shearing. However, the nights were cold. Freezing cold. This meant 160 alpacas were kept in on straw beds at night for five nights. We also increased rations of food and the pregnant females were back on warm sugarbeet. A lot of work but we had nothing else to do. We wouldn’t ideally shear so soon in the year, but they are all happy and good to have them all shorn prior to birthing.
What I hadn’t counted on was Nigel’s tenacity and determination to get over to shear. Thankfully for everyone relying on him, Nigel arrived in the UK at the weekend.
I love seeing the hair follicles on the alpacas after shearing. Whilst having the fleece off and rummaging through the bags is exciting (well I really don’t get out much at the best of times) I also really like to see the skin and how densely packed the follicles are as well as the extent of that density. Below is the rump of a Kurrawa Legend’s Crusader daughter (Intermediate) this is typical of his progeny…
Soon after shearing we noticed that Beck Brow Flirtation was looking rather loose and swollen under her tail (I am trying to be polite here as when you have the name Flirtation to live up to you need to keep an air of seduction about yourself). It soon became apparent that she had a small vaginal prolapse. This happened just prior to birthing last year (and with hindsight was just after shearing). She birthed without problem and was fine. Unfortunately this year we are still 4 weeks from her due date and the prolapse was getting bigger. We had been cleaning the area and replacing, but it was now popping out almost immediately afterwards. Yesterday we commenced her on antibiotics and called the vet for advice. Thankfully Dan was able to come out (from home) and after an epidural was given, Flirtation was stitched (using tape) which was tied ready for cutting at the first signs of labour. We need to watch her closely for signs of infection but all looked very clean this morning. Unfortunately, this does mean that this will be Flirtation’s last pregnancy.
The weanlings and Fleece Stats
Of course, the weanlings look super cute after shearing. No surprises this year, as in spots or unexpected colours, which is no surprise when you consider how often I looked at them when choosing the redundant National Show team. We have received our fleece stats back and have some very pleasing results. You will probably have gathered that I have a favourite or two but none more so than Beck Brow Come As You Are, who didn’t disappoint with his fibre testing either:
MFD: 15.7 SD: 3.7 CV: 23.3 CF: 100% (Art of Fibre 10/04/2020)
The finest fleece tested was Beck Brow Glory Daze (Beck Brow Bedazzle x Bozedown Blaze of Glory) MFD: 14.3 SD: 3.6 CV:25.3 CF 100% (57% < 15 micron).
We can give credit to both parents with the Blaze progeny being amongst the finest tested and Beck Brow High Jinx (Beck Brow Bedazzle x Kurrawa Legend’s Crusader of Beck Brow) having second fleece results of MFD: 16.9 SD:3.3 CV: 19.4 CF: 100%. Beck Brow Bedazzle was entered in the dam’s progeny class at the National Show to be represented by High Jinx and Glory Daze.
Birthing and Breeding
Our first birth of the year is due on the 27th of April then we have a mad rush of cria due in May. Lots of females bagging up now so hopefully, they won’t keep us waiting too long. It was good to see that all bar one of our females is obviously pregnant (from those expected to be) and a couple look possible from the last chance saloon matings. We will spit them off soon. With 30 females waiting to be mated, and nothing else to do, it is difficult to resist breeding earlier than our norm. However, with unpredictable spring weather up north, we will wait until mid-May before commencing. I am going to be strict with myself this year. No changing the selected sire…it will be a first!
Photos of some of the weanlings taken today (click to enlarge) ….
Preparing for Summer
We recently had our soil tested and based on the results have had lime spread on some of the paddocks we are using to make hay and haylage this year. The hayfield has also been fertilised (20:10:10) and the rotted alpaca manure has been spread on the haylage field. Paul is harrowing as I type. All the alpacas have had their 6 weekly drench which includes selenium. We know we have low levels in our land and this can impact on fertility so it is particularly important to get the stud boys and breeding females topped up ready.
Everyone has been weighed post shearing so we have a naked baseline weight. It is interesting how much weight they lose through their fleece. I only weigh the blanket for my records but in many cases it is double that weight. Hettie has been learning about fleece (as well as lying in it above!) she now knows how to differentiate between primary and secondary fibres and remembers the correct terminology – I think this counts as science!
The birthing bag is packed and we are ready….
Stay safe everyone.