Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Busy busy busy

Well we reorganised the birthing schedules over the past two years to ensure that the births stared in the second week of May and were all done and dusted by the beginning of July so we can't complain. The births started last week and are now coming thick and fast. 8 so far. The boys are winning 6 to 2 as we speak but that is changing on a daily basis. 
This kind of means that every so often the job stops whilst we watch with expectation the dams doing their stuff and then spend the rest of the day dipping out to the paddock to ensure the little one is feeding. You can tell when there is a birth in as we rapidly gather a crowd in the birthing paddocks. The passing walkers and cyclists also can't resist joining in the excitement. That's one of the bonuses of the alpacas instinctive  preference  for giving birth before 3.30pm on a sunny day! Sheep farmers eat your heart out.
And what cria they are. The Toft Alpaca  stud males have excelled themselves and the colours arriving on the ground are truly amazing. Here's a few rapidly taken snaps from the weekend when the sun was shining. Currently they all look like coloured damp dishcloths on sticks as it has rained here constantly for the past 24 hours.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Now you see them then you don't !

Busy  morning today castrating 5 of our pet male alpacas and Archie the Llama. All done and dusted by our vet Rebecca from Towcester vet practice. 
The alpacas were dealt with on the shearing table but Archie had to be fully sedated. He's not quite fully grown but is twice the size of the alpacas and wouldn't have fit on  the table. He was given his anaesthetic and dropped into a deep sleep within five minutes and remained blissfully unaware that we had stolen his treasure when he came around about 45 minutes later.
The alpacas weren't quite so lucky and were administered a local anaesthetic and were certainly more aware that we were stealing their jewels although they didn't feel a thing. 
Each castration takes about half an hour and we've got about another 10 pet males to do in the coming weeks. 
And what makes them eligible for castration? Well, there's not a lot in it these days. basically they've got better brothers, showing more positive traits that will go on to become stud males to see if they can reproduce themselves or better. If not then they will in time also join the ' billy no nacks' club.
It may seem harsh but we are an alpaca stud farm producing high quality pedigree alpacas. Only the best will do. We can't breed with them all.  
Out of each crop of males per season we carefully select only two to three in each colour to remain entire and become stud males either for ourselves or for sale to other alpaca farms. Sometimes we lease out these unproven males at much reduced cost to prove themselves at selected alpaca farms across the country. Once proven we sell their stud services to other alpaca breeders who wish to add the select and proven Toft bloodlines to their breeding programmes.
Because we are constantly monitoring the males for selection we never castrate the pet males until they are two or three years old. We also maintain a policy of allowing the pet males to virtually grow out to their full size before we castrate. Once castrated the alpaca live up to their registry status as non breeding males, the fleece maintains its fineness, the boys are calmer and we can safely graze them next to the females without any worries. 
These castrated males are then sold as fully halter trained pet and guardian alpacas and very often these days as fibre producers for the 'crafty' owner. They will move off farm to fulfil their chosen purpose where they will be lucky to see a female alpaca and if they do they will now only nod in recognition rather than chase and reproduce.
As for Archie the Llama he will remain on farm as the Lord of the display  paddocks in the front of the Toft Alpaca Shop to amuse the passers by and we shall sleep easy knowing that none of our female alpacas will ever be giving birth to surprising packages with big banana shaped ears!

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Alpaca contrast

A quick before and after of the Toft Alpaca Show team just to prove they really do look like the Pink Panther once they've been sheared.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Alpaca shearing: fighting teeth

When the three year old males come onto the shearing table we check their gums for fighting teeth. These grow in at around three years and are trimmed off at shearing. Archie the Llama was displaying a very fine set, having just reached his maturity. There are two in his top and one larger one below. If they are left they continue to grow and eventually enable the males to get a grip of each others ears legs and testicles and can cause damage. 
In the 16 years of breeding pedigree alpacas we have never had any of our males do any real damage to one another and we keep them all together. There again we religiously trim off any fighting teeth at shearing. 
Don't tell Archie but next week he gets 'trimmed' in another area entirely which may well have the additional side effect of turning him into a relative pussycat as his interest in females gradually recedes into a residual memory.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Alpaca shearing: 11 to go and Archie gets styled

What a week. Shearing delayed again yesterday due to bad weather. We finally kicked off about 12pm and coked right through until 8.30pm last night. At which point it was feed the dogs, Indian takeaway and bed.
The Toft team have been fantastic in this difficult week with Paul Beswick of Du Prem alpacas and our herds woman Linda did an amazing job of shuffling the dry alpacas to keep Mr Wheeler and his assistant John in dry alpacas.
Yesterday we had Claire from the Toft Alpaca Shop helping at the shearing table with Kerry and myself skirting and sorting at the sorting table. Needless to say Mrs B was clucking  around all day supervising, (what would we do without it) in between long absences whilst looking after young master Lord. My wonderful mother in law Myra did her best to keep the shed spotless and Doug, Kerry's other half , who was workings from home, did a sterling job of supplying the occasional teas coffees and biscuits to keep up morale.
We are all up at the crack of sparrows this morning to finish off the last 11 of the alpaca pets in order to get the shearer away to other alpaca owners for their turn at ' the shearing'. The sun is shining there's not a breath of wind. You would have no idea that we have just been through our most difficult shearing in the 15 years we have been shearing alpacas.
Except of course for the mess. The tent has died and has now seen its last shearing, the sorting lamps gave up the ghost, the ground is covered with muddy bits of fleece and the sorting table needs running repairs. 'Twas ever thus.
In between all the fun and games. Archie our Llama was restyled with a barrel cut. Apparently it is all the rage in the Llama world. It certainly gives young Archie a rakish air. Don't tell him he's losing his Crown Jewels in a couple of weeks time. Toft alpacas doesn't need a randy Llama on site at any time!!

Alpaca shearing: rains in and sausages out...

Rain delays alpaca shearing today and its sausage sarnies and steaming mugs of tea for the first couple of hours hoping for the rain to stop and the shredded alpacas to dry out a little. We've still got sixty alpacas to shear and hope to get going  about tennish.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Alpaca shearing: Rain stopped play

The elements finally defeated us last night at about 7pm. After a horrendous day in which we experienced several hail storms, three absolutely torrential downpours and endless gusts of freezing cold wind that burst on the scene as each alpaca hit the table. Horrendous!!
Still we managed to shear 90 alpacas and we have roughly 95 still to go. We are leaving the alpacas to dry this morning in the sun and will shed them up this afternoon ready for the return of the shearer lunchtime to mid afternoon when we shall carry on where we left off. 
Kerry and I spent. Most of the day sorting and skirting fleeces in the brick barn which was a bit like a wind tunnel. Ben Wheeler the shearer, his helper John and Harriett from the Toft Alpaca Shop worked the table holding alpaca and fleece in place throughout the gales. Linda  our herds woman was running about like a squirrel on speed shedding up and moving alpacas back and forth to keep the shearer in alpacas. She was ably assisted in this important task by Paul Beswick one of our clients who kindly volunteered to help throughout shearing. We were all serviced with tea and coffee and cake throughout by the wonderful Claire from the Toft Alpaca Shop where we also adjourned for lunch.Even young Eddie Lord made his presence felt offering 'words' of encouragement from his mothers back.
Lets hope that rain gives us a miss today as we run through the second half of the herd.

Alpaca shearing: off we go, 150 to go....

We started at the crack of sparrows and we will finish when the weather lets us,

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Alpaca Shearing: all set and ready to go

All set to start shearing the alpacas at Toft tomorrow, weather permitting. The shearing tent is up and the shearing table hauled into place. Mr B D Wheeler the Alpaca Shearer has arrived tonight and we have almost two hundred alpacas to get through I the next three days. Needless to say we start at the crack of sparrowfart.

Alpaca showing: fantastic results for Toft at the National Show.

What a weekend. Eight alpaca entries  in the British Alpaca Society National Show and a haul of medals and broad ribbons.

Toft Madysen took first and Reserve Champion in the Junior Female fawn
Toft Ikrit took first in the Intermediate Brown Male
Toft Rastaban took first in the Adult Brown Male
Toft Ison took second in the Adult Black Male
Toft Adele took second in Junior Female Brown
Toft Anaire took fourth in the Junior White Female

Then Toft Rastaban took best brown in show!

Eight entries, 6 rosettes and two broad ribbons- what a result.

The British Alpaca Society National Show is the most prestigious show in the season and the competition is fierce. Thanks to Val Fullerlove of Hanley Hall Alpacas and Liz Barlow of Livanti Alpacas for judging the 340 entries and giving such accolades and praise to the Toft Alpaca entries.

Great results for a great Toft Shown Team. 
All these animals are for sale and we have already had a lot of interest. Well done Linda our herds woman who works her cottons off over the weekend!

That's it show season is over for Team Toft. Tomorrow we start shearing.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Alpaca stud males: so where're the girls then??

It's been all move on the farm this week with the pregnant female alpacas being split into May, June and July births. The pregnant female alpacas were then moved from their winter pasture to their separate  new summer paddocks. The May births were moved into the birthing paddocks nearer the house ready for the imminent arrival of their cria. 
The boys, in similar fashion were moved onto fresh paddocks so that their winter pasture can be cleaned, fertilised and regrow. The large Draycote field the girls over wintered in has now been cleaned, harrowed and fertilised and will be left to grow and cut for hay when the time comes.
All this movement meant the stud males could be let up the hill into to graze the lane way which runs along the now empty female paddock. 
The smell of the girls must be  strong in  that empty field as these alpaca stud males spend quite some time looking for those ladies. If one raises its head they all do just in case one of these big boys  is about to  get lucky. They walk up and down collectively sniffing on the wind for the chance of a mating- a bit like rampant teenagers patrolling the streets in 'mega luff' or wherever they congregate for this ritual nowadays! ( in my day sadly it was only Scarborough)
Don't worry boys you will get to work soon enough. Once shearing is over the farm will start to echo with the glorious  sound of alpaca orgling.

Alpaca picnics

Returned home from judging the South East Alpaca Group Show on Monday night to find a list of jobs a mile and a half long to get through this week.
Spent a day in the sun yesterday, (the sun is a great yellow orb which gives off heat and gladdens the heart, for all those poor souls in the UK who have been deprived of its presence in the past nine months) erecting picnic tables for the Toft Alpaca Studio.
They look fabarooney and we are all geared up now for the days of clotted cream and strawberry jam which lie ahead.
Unfortunately woke this morning to find the yellow orb very absent. Hey, ho welcome to our green and pleasant isle - 'twas ever thus. We're expecting over 50 cria to be born in the next eight weeks. Don't the weather Gods know this?
There's a cold old breeze blowing today so the days of ice cream and jelly are still some way off methinks!

Alpaca judging shoes...

My new alpaca judging shoes had their first outing at the weekend at the South East Alpaca Group Halter Show at the South of England Spring Show. They performed beautifully.
I went all the way to Doncaster last week to try these on in a specialist shop called Shoe Healers. Unfortunately I have seriously wide feet and a trip to any shoe shop is never a short one. Last year judging in the wet I lost my favourite pair of R M Williams which literally gave up the ghost at the end of the season.
These bad boys are Alfred Sergeant brogues and are telling me that I better do a lot of alpaca judging in the coming years or I will be buried in them.
The South East Alpaca Show this weekend was a real joy with a very high standard of entries and a big crowd watching throughout. Shirley was asked to commentate on the proceedings and did a great job of keeping the general public informed. There was a great atmosphere at the show, a lot of happy exhibitors, an enthralled audience and a very relieved show organiser.
Liz Butler has run this show for the past ten years with a military precision that ensures a pleasant day for all and her experience was well rewarded this weekend by the reaction of the Show dignatories and celebrities who dropped in throughout the two days.
The Show Champion huacaya was taken by Houghton Hall alpacas with a superlative white junior female and the Reserve Champion by Herts Alpacas with a stonking Adult Brown Male. The Suri Show Champion was won by Houghton Hall white. Best of British Haucaya went to grey Male from Spring Farm Alpacas and Best of British Suri went to Pinkney Alpacas.
Thanks to the show organisers for inviting me and to the exhibitors for your patience and good humour and for allowing me the privilege of scratting through your alpacas.
I wish you all a great season with our alpacas.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Cool dude ready for the summer

A designer babe needs designer glasses and young Lordy is not short on style. Here he is all tackled up and ready for alpaca walking and talking.

A harrowing we will go...

It's that time, when we can get onto the grass job and catch up with the month we lost earlier in the year through the wet and bitterly cold weather. Everywhere you look in the countryside there are tractors buzzing around ' doing' and we are no different here.
I popped up to Whitchurch in Shropshire last week to pick up a chain harrow that I bought of a man called Roy on E Bay. This is the first big thing I have ever bought on E Bay but it won't be the last.
Sad alpaca farmer that I am I am very very pleased with my newish chain harrow. so much so I took some pictures and immediately put it through its paces raking the grass in the Draycote field. It did the job fine and will serve us well over the coming years.
The grass harrow, levels up and molehills, rakes out the dead grass 'thatch' and rakes the surface of the soil allowing air to get around the new growth coming through. You are what you eat and we like to feed our alpacas mostly on grass and hay so it's really important that we grow as much good grass as we can.
This week we are fertilising and scarifying and cleaning the paddocks behind our alpacas which are all moving this week onto fresh pasture. Hey ho and away we go - only a week until shearing and two Neil the first cria hit the ground!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Alpaca showing: a remarkable haul of Toft rosettes

Now that's what I call a lovely haul of alpaca prizes. The Heart of England Alpaca Fiesta last weekend gave us the best and most consistent results ever in our sixteen years of Alpaca breeding. We have won supreme champions before, we have taken quite a number of championships on various days, but in terms of consistency this showing recognised we have raised the bar right across the herd.
We showed 15 alpacas from five different males and 12 of our entries achieved rosettes. The total tally was one 1st, five 2nds, two 3rds, one 4th, two 6ths, and two championship ribbons.
The stud males range through the colours from mid brown, fawn, light fawn and white and their offspring certainly did them justice.
After 16 years of selective alpaca breeding we sense we are finally getting to that place where the pedigrees kick in and real strength in depth occurs,
We are expecting 50 births in the next few months and we can't wait to see what the next generation of Toft Alpacas has to offer. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Alpaca chat

It's not all hard work when showing alpacas, there's always time for leaning over the fence and catching up on the goss!
Here's Shirley and friends talking, progeny, matings and alpaca sales at the Heart of England Alpaca Fiesta.
With the birthing season rapidly approaching there is a lot of alpaca chat in the air. There are wee huddles of alpaca owners leaning over fences all over the country getting excited about their imminent births and pondering their mating selections for 2014.