Update – Alpacas

Algy and Verdigris continue to be fairly low maintenance.  Well except for Algy and his lust for our ewes.  He’s particularly keen on the Suffolks, and they really don’t appreciate the attention.  I’ll look out and see the whole flock running, and a twenty or thirty yards is Algy running with his head down, focused on one of the Suffolk ewes.

Verdigris is either more subtle, or doesn’t fancy the sheep as I’ve never seen him do anything similar.

We had them both sheared, which is always a rather industrial process as they have to be tied down to keep them in place.  They really don’t like being man-handled!  We sold their fleece on eBay, as whole fleeces.  Unfortunately the bidding didn’t not reach the frenzy we’d anticipated, and we had underestimated the cost of postage!  This meant we actually lost money on the fleeces.  The nice lady who bought the fleece noticed and was kind enough to make a donation which at least covered the cost of postage.  We’ve never done well with selling the fleece.  I’m sure there must be a better way…

We’ve decided that the alpacas need to find a new home, as part of our animal reduction plan.  On the one hand they are relatively low maintenance, but on the other they don’t do a lot, and they do stress the sheep.  So we’re trying to sell them.  I have high hopes!

Sheep Planning

So every year we get to this time of the year and think that we need to separate out the lambs, and move the ewes and Muga around and really get things ready for him to start covering them.  And every year we continue to think about it until around October time, when it’s a little late to do anything about it.

To be fair last year we also had the added excitement of a partially castrated lamb covering the few ewes I did manage to separate out (and I have every hope that this wont recur this year!).

This year, for the first time, not only did we think about it, but we actually did it!  First we caught all the sheep together.  Now as many previous posts have asserted, this isn’t always an entirely easy thing to do.  However we have a new technique.  First of all we get the lambs used to coming into the two fenced areas next to the animal restaurant over a couple of days. Then on the day we need to catch them we close the gates on them while they’re all eating away, and shepherd them into one of the two areas.

This is where we’ve added a new technique to our arsenal.  We get a while bunch of sheep hurdles and create a line across the area, and make sure they;re all on one side.  And then we walk the line of hurdles until we have them in a nice tight area.  It takes a while, but it works brilliantly, and keeps them fairly calm while we’re doing it.

The other challenge with separating the ewes from the lambs, is that the ewes will follow us, and the feed bucket, without trouble.  The lambs however are a lot less excited about it.  So today when we separated them out, we left all the lambs (and the OAPs) in the area surrounded by the hurdles, and separated out the ewes and Muga.  We then led them into the other field by simply carrying a bucket of feed in front of them.  It was then easy to close the gate, and the separation was complete!

Muga is now in with three Mules, four Suffolks, three Soays, and Luke’s sister.

All of the lambs, both last years, and this years, and the OAPs are now in the home field, with the cows and the Alpacas.  This means I should be able to catch them when it’s time for them to go on holiday, or if I manage to sell some more.  Which is great!

Lamb Watch – 20th Feb – 5 lambs!

Today has been an awesome day for lambs.  Firstly during the morning feed I noticed that the Black faced Suffolk in with the Borerays (who is probably called ‘Lamby’, but that’s a story for a different day) seemed to have at least one lamb.  Sure enough when I got close to her she had a lamb, and then I saw that there was a second lamb about twenty feet away.  When the ewe realised she’d left the other one behind she bleated and went back to round her up, confirming that she’d given birth to twins.  This is great news, not only because every lamb is a gift, but it also shows that our Boreray ram, Haan, has what it takes to produce offspring.

And a close up of one of her lambs (you can see its umbilical cord, this will shrivel up and drop off over the next few days):

I thought that we’d had all the day’s excitement, and then when I looked out at lunchtime I saw White Face out on her own at the far end of the field.  It looked like she had lambed, and produced twins.  Algenon was sitting at guard near her, showing the alpacas aren’t entirely useless.  I went out to check on her, and give her a little food, and it turned out she’d given birth to triplets, for the fourth year in a row!  She is a truly amazing ewe, and has always been a good mother to her lambs.  I gave her some extra feed, and managed to get a good shot of the four of them:

Lamb watch:  6 lambs (1 ewe lamb, 5 less than 24hrs old)

Ex-bat egg watch:  still none.  It’s been weeks!

Alpacas and lambs

The main reason we acquired the Alpacas was to provide protection for our new born lambs.  Alpacas have a reputation for being fox killers, or at least fox scarers, as indeed do llamas.  As far as we know this has worked out well.  We don’t believe we’ve ever lost a lamb to foxes, though one did just disappear a couple of years ago, so that might have been a fox.  Still, the alpacas seem to do their job well.

Often when the first lambs are born the alpacas will go and sit near the mother, and look like they’re keeping an eye out for her.  Sometimes this freaks the ewes out and a little chasing occurs until everyone agrees what appropriate distances are.  All seems well.

We had to leave the house very early this morning, so hadn’t fed the animals at their normal time.  This usually results in much bleating, quacking, clucking and very loud mooing when we return, which is often sustained until we get out there and feed them.  This morning there was a little of that, but also the sound of a happy alpaca.  It’s hard to describe really, sort of like a high pitched squeaky fast bleating sound.  I looked up to see that Algy had managed to mount one of the Suffolk ewes.  It soon became clear that it was in fact the mummy Suffolk, as her lamb was wandering around next to her bleating in confusion.  I did shout at Algy, I mean really, she has enough problems without him adding to them!  I dumped my stuff inside and went back out to do the actual feeding time, by which point the ewe had managed to shake Algy off, and they both came to food without any problems.  Perhaps all was forgiven, or maybe I’d misunderstood the whole situation…

Poo Watch

Our Alpaca poo piles continue to provide an artistic, if scatalogical, touch to our fields.  Yesterday I noticed this particular gem.  I’m starting to wonder if they are deliberate:

Lamb watch:  Still just the one, but it’s doing fine.

Ex-bat egg watch:  Still none.  Really, I think they’ve become lazy.

Taking photos

On Sunday I decided to take some photos of the animals. The weather was lovely, and with nice sunlight it seemed a perfect time to take some photos.  The animals were relatively obliging and I got a number of nice shots.

Verdigris (who unusually does not have his ears flattened), with ducks in the background:

Whiteface looking rather stately.  She wasn’t that interested in letting me get too close.  If I don’t have food then she doesn’t trust me…

The pigs started chasing me as I was taking pictures of them.  Here’s Bernard getting a little close:

I nearly fell over a couple of times, and decided when Humphrey charged at me that it was time to get out of there.  I did manage to get a nice shot of him, from the other side of the fence:

I walked out to see the Borerays, and they were quite a bit more friendly, particularly Duchess:

All in all a pleasant little wander (and bit of a scramble) among the animals.

Alpaca Poo Continued

I’ve already mentioned Alpaca pooing habits (http://wallowinginpoo.net/?p=197).  I’ve been told that the males tend to be more tidy than the females, with the females forming a line, as opposed to taking it in turns as the males do.  Until recently this has been true, and all the poo piles have been broadly circular.  This is why this particular poo patch was a bit surprising:

It’s not just the shape, it’s also its location.  When entering this field from the gate in the corner, this is now the view:

The yellow line is the rough line of the path, and you can see the new poo pile clearly crosses it.  I think the Alpacas are trying to give our walkers a little message…

Algy the Alpaca Lies Down

It’s a true pleasure staring out over the fields, gazing at our animals as they go about their business.  Every now and again however I get a bit of a shock as I look out over the animals  One of these was the first time I saw Algy lying down.  Mostly the Alpacas sit down like the sheep, and seem to sleep in that position.  So when I saw Algy lying like this:

I panicked.  Given the totally supine position I assumed there must be a problem, and so I ran towards him to see if I could help.  As absolutely nothing was wrong and he was just having a bit of a kip this rather freaked him out.  He leapt to his feet and ran off, making sure to keep me in sight at all times.  It took him a little while to trust me again after this.

Preparation for Tupping and Winter

Somehow October has crept up on us, and instead of having our animals nicely separated into the correct fields we’re having to be a little reactive.  The challenge is which animals to have in which field.  It’s a logic problem, and here are the parameters:

With the sheep we have:

  • Two Soay OAP rams
  • Muga (Soay ram)
  • Haan (Boreray ram)
  • Four mule ewes
  • Five Suffolk ewes
  • Six Soay ewes
  • Two Boreray ewes
  • Two Boreray castrated males
  • 12 ewe lambs from this year who need to go on holiday in December
  • 3 ewe lambs from the OAPs which we plan on keeping (as they have lovely colouring and aren’t related to Muga)
  • 18 castrated (hopefully) male lambs from this year

We also have:

  • Five goats
  • Two alpacas
  • Two cows

The rules are:

  1. The rams cannot share a field (except the two Soays, but for example Muga couldn’t share with Haan – they’d fight and it would be bad)
  2. Any female in a field will be covered by the rams in that field (though the OAPs are least likely, and may not at all), therefore the ewe lambs need to be in a field free of rams
  3. The cows can’t share with Muga (he tends to ram them and it all gets a bit fraught).
  4. We prefer the ram to  be smaller than the ewe, so Haan should not cover any Soays.
  5. Castrated males are considered neutral and can share with any group.
  6. The goats need to stay in the home field so that they have access to proper shelter.

We also have these aspirations:

  1. Achieve maximum covering of our ewes.
  2. Take 12 of the ewe lambs on holiday in December (requires they get used to some handling)
  3. Try and get some Boreray crosses with a Mule and a Suffolk
  4. Keep the young Soay OAPs separate this year, to be bred with Muga next year.
  5. Keep White Face in with Muga to see if she can manage triplets four years in a row!
  6. Keep the number of animals in each field to below a reasonable limit, say thirty or so (to make Winter feeding easier).

We started work on the solution yesterday.  Part of the challenge was that the two large groups of sheep were a mixture of lambs and adults, and needed to be filtered.  At least we didn’t need to worry about the goats and the alpacas, and we could keep the cows where they are for the moment.

We really should have started moving the animals around last month, but given that Muga is still limping I suspect he hasn’t yet made much of an impression on the ewes he’s been sharing with.

Yesterday, just before lunch, we started the moving process with the help of my friend Adam (an extra human sheepdog).  We managed to catch about 60% of our sheep in two lots.  The Soays and their lambs who haven’t really been involved in feeding were not interested – I’ll need to work on them.  We marked the ewe lambs destined for a December holiday with a circle and cross, as we had before, and the male lambs with a sort of croix de lorraine.

After much running, catching, marking and ferrying we had got all the male lambs out of the home field – which now contained the goats, the alpacas, Muga, most of the mule and Suffolk ewes, and one ewe lamb who got away from us.  We also managed to introduce a mule ewe (not White Face) and two Suffolks into the Boreray area in the orchard.  The male lambs all went in with the OAPs, and we closed off the small field with the cows in it and put the four ewe lambs we managed to catch in with them.

This wasn’t a complete success, but we now at least had far less risk of Muga servicing one of his daughters this year, and we also had the potential for Boreray crosses, which should be interesting.  Obviously we need to go back and separate out the ewe lambs in the OAP field, but we have a little bit of time for that.

That was yesterday.

Around lunch time today we realised that one of the Suffolk ewes, and the Mule ewe, who we had put in with Haan had both broken through the electric fence to be in with the ewe lambs and the cows.  Not a disaster, but irritating, especially as we now need to fix the fence as well.

Still, we may have been late to get round to sorting it out, but it’s nice to have a plan, and have taken the first few steps to achieving it!

September Census

When we only had a few animals it was easy to keep track of numbers.  In the last year or so as the quantity has both increased and fluctuated – births, deaths, holidays, sales – I’ve become less attentive to absolute numbers.  Today I decided to remedy that, so I counted them all.

The official roll call as at the end of September 2011 is:

  • 2 cows (Wrath and Avarice)
  • 2 Alpacas (Verdigris and Algy)
  • 5 goats: 2 Angora (Boris and Bertie), 2 pygmy (Ishy and Moby) and 1 other (Howard)
  • 20 pigs: 1 boar (Sir Humphrey), 4 sows (Bernard, Hacker, Snowball and Hacker) and 15 others ranging from 4 week old piglets, to some near adults who are soon to go on holiday
  • 67 sheep: 12 OAPs (though technically three of them are lambs), 6 Borerays (Haan, Duchess, Leelou, Leia and the two castrated boys), 1 Soay ram (Muga), 48 others (including White Face, Mouton, Lafite, Luke, Lamby and 35 of this years lambs)
  • 3 geese
  • 7 Cayuga ducks
  • 5 chickens

For a grand total of 111 farm animals!  We once peaked at 150 animals, so really we’re doing well on our reduction plan.  By the end of the year I think this should be down to around 80, which shouldn’t be too tough over the winter.