Monday, 23 January 2017

Nine years down the line

The snow is still on the ground, but it is currently supposed
to be a balmy 1C. Certainly a lot warmer than a couple of
weeks ago
My first blog was on the 18th January 2008, as I started the blog before setting off from sunny Colorado on our latest adventure. So nine years down the line and our situation is very different to then. It is hard to believe all the changes, some rather scary political changes and some very amazing personal ones. I would never have thought I would be studying towards a PhD and hopefully should finish that this year sometime. We would never have thought we would have a farm and attracting visitors, even in the middle of winter. We most certainly have never of thought of alpacas and I am not sure we would have even had more than a vague sense of what an alpaca is, pretty much like most of our visitors really. Neither would we have thought we would be running felting courses for international visitors. But here we are!
We've had ice rain

Which of course coated everything
So let's start off with Aggie. After the pretty devastating news last week that she could have osteosarcoma or bone cancer, we have been thrown a lifeline by the top camelid vet in the UK who says it looks like an infection after all. Ian sent her the x-rays after contacting the alpaca farm where he went on a shearing course and they suggested sending them to her. The vet also sent us some articles to look at (along with the recommendation for her alpaca health course) and we compared the pictures and there were distinct similarities. So it looks like we will be going down the antibiotic route, but hopefully the one she suggests which is given as an intramuscular injection every other day, if we can get that particular one here in Latvia that is.
Including the trees. Some branches have come down with
the weight of the ice, but not many

Aggie looking quite perky considering
Aggie doesn't like me again after the performance of trying irrigate her mouth the week before and she only took my offerings of the medicine on some feed very grudgingly this morning while Ian was on an errand, so she is going to really hate me after this, as I will have to go and help Ian by holding her. Up until now, giving her her medicine has actually been quite easy for Ian anyway, mainly because it has come on slices of apples and then on a few pellets of feed. Ian thinks she has actually been happier this week and not in as much pain, but her lump keeps growing, so we will see what happens next week.
But that worrying lump is still growing on her cheek

The ice rain has meant a hard, crisp, shiny layer on the ice
The errand Ian was on this morning was to sort out forestry forms that have to be filled in each year and the renewal of the certificate that allows him to legally cut down trees over 12cm in diameter. He doesn't cut down many of them because he is just gradually thinning out the forest to make it healthier and so we have wood for firewood, but the law's the law and we need the certificate. The certificate has to be renewed every three years. He was planning on going to get the form and then get some help from friends to fill in, before returning it. Instead the lady at the office helped him by filling in the forms and so he doesn't have to return and she even leant him a pair of glasses so he could fill in some of the details. At least that is a journey saved.
Mr.P modelling the latest fashion once again, his food!

Herkules, not to be outdone 
I've been pretty much tied up with my studies. I just about got the first draft of a paper together now and just need to go through this again to tidy it up before it goes through to my supervisor to look at. I also got an abstract off to a conference, which starts me on the track of putting my studies into context. I have been studying development in rural areas but there was still the nagging feeling of "that's nice, but what does it matter in resource scarce days?" After all, the numbers in rural communities are dwindling and this puts an increasing strain on resources for fewer and fewer people. I finally feel I have an answer to that and it is because without healthy rural communities, food production could suffer as young families stay away and do not return to farming. And this is indeed happening. Countries cannot rely on distant markets for their food all the time, it makes them vulnerable, they need a mix of near and some further away in case of local catastrophes, such as abnormal weather events. Well that is it in a nutshell anyway. There are of course other reasons but I hope it is a compelling one.
Herkules over a year ago was causing us
some worry about his skin and he needed
regular treatment to calm his skin down
and stop it crusting. Although not perfect
at least his fleece has grown back in most
places and no where near as crusty as it
was.

Tellus demonstrating his winsome smile
I mentioned at the beginning that we never thought we would have a farm that attracted visitors and we had more visitors this weekend. For Ian it was a milestone as he sort of understood what was said even though the conversation was in Latvian. There was a bit of a mix up on time, he thought she said she would arrive about 2pm, but it turned out it was about two hours after she phoned. Still they were very happy and did lots of posing with the very well behaved and cooperative alpacas (if only they were like that every time, but animals are animals).
Enjoying the sunshine

Mari 
So that's about it this week. Making sure Aggie gets her medication, kind of curtails much activity and I've been at home for a change and not gallivanting off. We did manage to get up to see our friends again and we were chatting about animals. They lost one recently who was a favourite and had a prolapsed uterus and so they were commiserating with Ian, who is obviously finding it harder as he is the one dealing with the animals.

Chanel just loves to roll in the snow. Here she is tapping the
ground

Down she goes on the ground

Starting to roll

Onto her back

Over she goes

Done!

Monday, 16 January 2017

Not a good start to the year

Our magical forest
Winter has hung around this time and the snow has got quite deep, to the stage of making someone like me, with short legs, struggle to walk around in the fresh snow. That isn't too bad and I don't mind. In fact it can be quite fun and we had a lovely walk through a magical forest, which we almost have to pinch ourselves to think we own it. It was better than trying to get an article written for my studies anyway, which is progressing far too slowly.
Me and my short legs 😁

Aggie. Still with the mucky mark from her first course of
cream
Ian finally managed to get hold of some gunpowder in liquid this week, which a vet suggested we get and we started giving it to Aggie. This means I have to travel out with Ian to help him give her the medication. She seemed to calm down and didn't protest as much as she had with the cream. The gunpowder was to deal with any possible infection, but as we found out that doesn't appear to be the problem. On the one hand we are glad we did not go down the antibiotic route, as the problems caused to an animals system through inappropriate antibiotic use can make them worse, rather than better. I know that for myself, I really hate taking antibiotics now and they really do have to be a last resort. We think the gunpowder was actually helping the pain in her jaw though.
Remnants of raspberries

Aggie sitting in the doorway. The girls have stayed in most
of the time
The problem was that we had no idea what the issue was and so we got the vet to come from Jelgava, which is quite a distance and of course it was costly, compared to our normal vet charges. He is the only vet though in the country with a mobile x-ray machine. He is actually a horse vet normally but apparently horse vets quite often get asked to deal with alpacas. I guess it is the difference between treating an agricultural animal and one more used to being treated as a pet. The approach and handling I guess would be different, although I am quite happy for someone to put me right on that. Our vet also came on her day off to take a look at the x-rays and chat with the other vet about his thoughts on the problem.
Mari in contemplative mood

The lower bone has a section missing and the shadow
is a diffuse bone forming
One of the reasons for getting the vet to come is to try and increase our knowledge of issues with alpacas. If it had been a tooth problem we could have seen what the issue was. Also if it had been an infection, that would also have shown up. As we discovered though, it was none of those things. There was actually a gap in the jaw bone, as if she had been shot with a shotgun, was how the vet described it. The thing is though that there has never been an injury even remotely like that and we of course would have noticed something as drastic as that. Somehow the bone disintegrated and we do wonder if that explains a lot of scratching that we put down to a mite problem.
A cheery face with the obligatory straw

More of our magical forest
With the wonders of modern equipment and connectivity, the vet consulted with others and sent them the pictures of the x-rays. Unfortunately the general consensus appears to be osteosarcoma. This destroys bone and hence would explain the gap in the jaw. What is strange though is it also appears that the bone maybe repairing itself.

We stopped using one cream to tackle any possible infection, as it had the potential of irritating the skin and Aggie already has easily irritated skin, and we started using a cream I make up using comfrey and plantain. At least this is usually soothing.
The land takes on a different character in the deep snow, as
the normal vegetation is covered over in a deep soft
blanket

Ian of course has been busy cutting paths with the snow
blower
The thing is that comfrey also is called knitbone and there is a possibility it started the healing, but and it is a very big but, it would not be expected to act that fast, so we are not quite sure what the x-ray was really showing. The vet gave us some more comfrey but in liquid form and another drug, which I am not sure what it is, but is usually given for cancers in homeopathy. These are not low doses though, but all we can do is hope that as the vet put it, it whispers to the body  to start its own healing.
And keeping the area clear around the sides of the greenhouse
to reduce pressure on that increasingly fragile plastic

Our boundary walk
It is not easy for Ian at all, of course. We had already talked about not breeding from Aggie again because we were worried about genetic issues, such as a hyper-reactivity to mites. Her mother had a few issues with that herself and she died last January due to liver cancer. Aggie was also the first baby to be born on the farm. We had to bottle feed her at the beginning because her mother was not producing milk. Not the best start in the world. Whether this has had any affect on her, who knows. Bodies are both resilient and susceptible with a remarkable ability to heal and a remarkable capacity to go wrong too. We are just hoping and praying that the healing is happening already and any secondary problems do not happen.
Two cats taking advantage of the heat from the caravan

Hard to see who we are at the moment, at least in one
direction
Rather than finish on too unhappy a note, at least our car has been running again without any hitches. That could be due to the fact it hasn't been so intensely cold this week. We went to see some friends of ours early on in the week while the car was running and so it was good to be able to spend an evening chatting. The good news is that they got their car up and running too, as they also had issues with the cold affecting their car. Another good piece of news is we had our first visitors of the year, a young couple. The guy had been going past our farm on a regular basis and wondered what we were all about and so they decided to call in and see. It was nice to chat and a good job it was warmer than last week, still chilly but not as bad as it could have been. And finally our first felting course has three of the four places booked, so that is helpful. Still one more place though, so if you are thinking about joining us on this trip then please let us know soon
I love the bark on this tree, such a great texture
I needed some indoor clogs that would stop my feet getting
wet in the caravan. These were a pair of wellies that were
difficult to get on and off but I cut the tops away and they
make a rather snazzy pair of clogs - perfect
No one's visiting the outside loo, can't think why

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Worst of Weathers

It was bitterly cold this day and the animals were kept inside.
Ian could only take three photos at a time before having to
warm up the camera
We have had worst weather in terms of cold before, but the combination of damp, dreary weather followed by a sharp drop in temperature is not the best one. Unfortunately as you will know the damp gets into everything and coats it with moisture and then the sharp drop in temperatures freezes it, as you would expect at -28C. It has certainly caused us a few headaches this week.
Cold even in the greenhouse

Cold but beautiful
It all began on Wednesday when the damp weather gave way to snow followed by the precipitous drop in temperature on the Thursday. Ian came back home from the land and quickly changed into something akin to respectable so we could  go to the British Embassy in Riga for a New Year's reception. I was a little more dressed up. We went down to the car and he tried to open it with the remote, which promptly set off the alarm. He tried different things to try and stop the alarm going off, from ensuring doors were properly shut to disconnecting batteries. Nothing worked and so we ended up staying in for the night with the doors of the car left open to stop the alarm going off and annoying us an the neighbours. No one was going to be able to steal the car anyway as the immobiliser was activated. It was a bit of a shame as we were hoping to do a bit of networking for our farm business. Well that's what you do at those kind of things isn't it?
The girls have barely come out at all this last week

A winter wonderland, once again
The next morning I was picked up by one of the farmhands who also lives in the village and drives out our way each day. The plan was that I would see to the animals while Ian tried to fix the car. When I got out to the land I tried to get in the caravan but it wouldn't open, so I decided to see to the animals first. I fed the chickens and the cats and put my bag in one of the feed bins so the cats wouldn’t eat my lunch, they are rather partial to bread even in bags. I cut a quick path in the snow for the alpacas then opened the doors to let them out.
With some drifting

Did I mention the drifts?
Next I went back to the caravan There was no way I could stay out on the farm all day without access to some warmth in the caravan. After phoning Ian for some advice I ended up getting a screwdriver to lever the door open to let me in. I got inside and then promptly locked myself in. Fortunately I had the screwdriver with me.
And that wind!

There were some amazing patterns in the snow though
The next job was to make myself a cup of coffee to warm up. I let myself out of the caravan, this time by dismantling the lock and retrieved my bag containing milk and flask of water from the feed bin. Next I had to defrost the top of the flask using a fan heater to allow me to unscrew the top, as it had frozen on in the meantime, only then did I find that the kettle lid was also frozen on. The temperature in the caravan was reading -18C. I used the fan heater again and defrosted the kettle. Finally I could boil up some water for coffee. I then put the fan heater back into the little room and stood in there to warm up, since it warms up quicker than the main body of the caravan. What a performance.
Snow abstracts

With lots of sparkle
Fortunately for me the rest of the day went fine, although of course all the animals needed their feeders topping up, which meant hauling hay bales around on a sledge. Unfortunately Ian could not get the car started, but at least he managed to get the alarm to stop and the doors locked. He tried to get the garage in the next village to come and help us (we won't use the ones in our village as they are not reliable and do poor work), unfortunately they too were stuck because their transporter wouldn't work in the cold. Neither did any of the local tractors work to be able to help them out. I said it was the worst of weathers, I have not known there be so many problems with vehicles not starting, especially tractors (fortunately ours did fire up the next day but we are too far away too help with the transporter and not road legal since it isn't taxed and tested). Ian decided to go and heat our other apartment instead, just to ensure we didn't have any mishaps with burst pipes again, like we have had in previous winters.
The sheep have thick winter coats on, even if they were sheared
a bit late. They are happy as long as their feeder is full and they
can get some water. Fortunately the well had made that much
easier this year, even though the top did freeze over at one
point because the water level was only about 30cm below the
surface. At least Ian hasn't had to bring the water in each day
which would have been a nightmare with the car problems

A rather large hole
Another mishap that happened this week was that one of the sections of the greenhouse plastic burst with a spectacular bang on the coldest morning. Ian thought it was a gun shot, but no! Almost a year to the day after the last time a section of plastic burst another one went. The cold makes the plastic taut and, unlike the roof that sags a little under the weight of snow, the sides are as tight as a drum. I had to go out with Ian to the farm the next day to help him fix it, as he could only manage a temporary repair on his own. After all our caravan, chickens and cats all stop in the greenhouse over winter and could do without the wind whistling in to cool things down even further and the temporary fleece was not enough to protect them.
A chance for the wind to whistle around the caravan
New plastic attached
A frosted alpaca. Poor lad was shivering a little most
mornings this week. His fleece isn't as thick as our white
alpacas, but then he warms up fastest in the sun
I forgot to mention last week that Santa Claus was a bit late to arrive this year, he still turned up at the door but on boxing day instead, complete with big box of chocolates and two angels for the Christmas tree. He sweetly told us we had been like angels to him; it's nice to feel appreciated anyway. It is also good to have friends who support you and we have certainly felt supported this week through our car troubles. The young chap who has driven us in every day and taken us back most evenings, meant that Ian only had to walk back one evening at -13C, a walk taking an hour and ten minutes. He did look a bit like Nanook of the North with a frosted moustache but was otherwise okay. We are also grateful to the friend we turn to for advice on our car, as well as Ian's brother a car mechanic who he Skyped with and our friend who lent us their car this evening. Of course the day that Ian picks up the car the weather warms up so he decided to give our car a try and amazingly it started first thing. We thought we might have to use our friends car to jump start it at least just to be able to test the alarm. At least that should save us having to get the car transporter out. 
Turbjørn posing, or most likely having a huff with one of the
others. He is a rather mardy soul
Brencis as inquisitive as usual

Aggie with her bleary eyed morning look. She doesn't look
like this when she sees me. She stands up straight and
starts tutting before running off. She doesn't like me, but I
can take that. As long as she doesn't challenge me, that's fine
I understand that I usually mean trouble for her
Ian was talking to a vet this week about Aggie, the vet is into homeopathy - something I don't normally go along with, but I checked up on his recommendation of gunpowder - sounds dire but the important ingredient is potassium nitrate and not in the miniscule dilutions that seem pointless to me. I understand microdosing, using small amounts of something to stimulate a reaction also called an agonist that might kickstart the body, so we thought we would give it a try. Only problem has been trying to source some, but we think we should be able to get some tomorrow - which is helpful when we finally have a car that is running. The vet is also booked to come next week. I think it will be expensive but not as bad as in England where a vet with his standing in the country would require a mortgage to travel half way across the country. We don't have much  choice though as he is the only one in the country with a portable x-ray machine and we really could do with knowing what is going on in Aggie's mouth.
Veronica the old lady, rather wisely spends most of her time
indoors

Hand stitched and stuffed with waste alpaca fleece. The
beards are also alpaca as are the buttons.
People often wonder how we manage in winter. This year I mentioned I have felt the cold more and this is probably due to the weight I have lost, so I am grateful that my Mum has bought me some thermals for Christmas. One of the ways to survive in the cold is to have plenty of layers and I have been bundled up like a Michelin man. On the day I went out to see to the animals, on the bottom I had tights, my new thermals,  cotton leggings and padded trousers and on the top I had t-shirt, thin base layer, two thermal layers, thin sweatshirt, thick sweatshirt and a thick coat. All those layers mean walking nice and slow and ensuring I do not get too hot, but at least I didn't freeze.