Monday, 15 June 2015

Still hanging on

Looking enormous
We have had so many moments this week when we thought the alpacas were going to deliver that we are getting to the point where it is only their bulging bellies that keeps us believing they are pregnant. So still no news! There are signs, definite signs like Snowdrop sitting with her feet to one side and grinding her teeth; we got so excited about these signs that we were convinced she would give birth in the morning, but when Ian went to let her out the following day, she went outside and started feeding and didn't look uncomfortable at all. The weather has still been cool most of the time, with only the occasional very warm day which at least means they are not suffering too much from not being shorn, but I think Ian's nerves are wearing.
Trying to get comfy
Trouble ahead! The chickens have discovered the currant
bushes again
We did have another group of visitors, but these were folks we know well and they were returning a trailer to us. They spent a little bit of time coming to see the alpacas though and we made sure that our cockerel who has gone for our friend before was aware that I had a stick with me and he usually scuttles away when that is waved about. Unfortunately our usually placid cockerel disgraced himself and went for their little girl. I don't think it was a pre-planned thing, I think he went up close and then she ran and he ran after her, but not too sure about that. I tried to catch him, but he managed to keep out of arm's distance and so he made a retreat. Obviously it is something we will have to watch when people visit. Especially when they have little ones.

The dark round spot on Tellus' back is the offending lump
before it started disintegrating
We had a kind of medical emergency yesterday and if you are of a nervous disposition or trying to read this while eating, I would suggest you skip the next two paragraphs. Tellus our stud male had a lump on his back that the vet looked at on Saturday. With a bit of internet searching and the opinion of our vet, we think they are fat lumps from clogged sebaceous glands. We are wondering whether the extra weight he is carrying this year has anything to do with the sudden explosion of fat lumps over his body. It is not uncommon to get them, so we are not too worried, but this lump was rather large in size, so the vet suggested a biopsy, which was scheduled for this coming week so we could take it to the labs for analysis. Ian though noticed that flies seemed to be particularly drawn to it and so he wondered if we had anything that we could put on it that would keep the flies at bay. I don't use insect repellents as I hate DEET products, they make me feel ill. I use a spray with lemon grass and vanilla oil in, which is fine if I keep spraying it, but not so great for an alpaca as they don't want spraying on a regular basis. The only other solution was a soap we had with tea tree oil in it which insects do not like, so I started washing the affected area down, only to realise to our horror that the lump was starting to disintegrate. It was gross. For the next few minutes we were removing hard crystalline lumps and revealing a gaping hole. Unbelievably, Tellus, stood still for most of the time of fiddling and poking around with this lump.

The blue-bodied chasers are back again
Sundays of course are not good days to try getting hold of vets and so Ian nipped up to our neighbour who used to be a vet to see what she suggested. She suggested Brilliant Green, but all she had was iodine solution and that was out of date. Brilliant Green was used a lot in the Soviet era, especially for insect bites. Even post-Soviet era it was still used regularly and we remember lots of children during camp weeks in our early days of visiting Latvia with what looked like alarming green spots all over them. Now we know what it was. A little later on, our vet rang back and she agreed it might be a good idea. Neither our neighbour nor our vet suggested stitching it as it might just harbour infections. It was better to let it dry out naturally and heal by itself. We managed to get hold of some Brilliant Green and so Ian will try to put it on tomorrow morning. That will look weird. I have to confess we also have some of the stuff we got out of the wound in a jar in the fridge for analysis. Gross!

Mating damselflies
We had rain this week. I know it might not seem so long ago since I was complaining that we have had too much rain, but the last lot of rain was on June 1st, when we had a thunderstorm and then nothing until yesterday 14th. The ground was beginning to crack and the upper pond level was starting to fall, so Ian connected up the pump to pump water from the bottom pond to the top pond. We reckon we moved about 3000 litres of water and means we can carry on watering the greenhouse without worrying about the level of water in the top pond. The cool temperatures, lack of rain and wind has meant that germination has been rather slow for many seedlings. They are just starting to get going with the few days of sun to warm the soil followed by the good shower we had, but the temperatures have dropped back down again - good for alpacas but not for plants. It is a good job that although we have a short season, we do have long days that can bring plants on. It might just mean we have more cabbages and peas this year, which do well in cooler temperatures and less of the hot weather plants. We'll see, it could all change.

Ian spent quite a while trying to capture the swallows in
flight, a difficult thing to do, but I like this one
Since last week's blog was such a long one, I didn't mention that we gave away our third lot of chicks from incubating our own eggs. We are beginning to wonder if this is a one off venture or the start of something profitable. Hmmm! Mind you, to be profitable we would then need a larger incubator - so maybe just another of those little supplementary things that can add up over time. We still seem to be getting black and white or grey chicks and no brown ones, despite having several brown laying birds, which seems odd, but the black ones are rather pretty. Hope they are good layers too and not all male ones. We are a bit worried though about foxes as we have had more visits. Ian even found one eyeing up the chickens in the arks. When we went to the dentists today, we took the precaution of fastening up our free range ones to keep them safe. It is a good job they are so easy to entice back to their secure homes with a little food.

The pied wagtails are easier to capture though
Another thing I didn't mention was I left my phone behind when I went away for the few days to the conference last week- it was such a palaver. It wouldn't have been too bad, but I had been trying to organise a meet up with someone to discuss a development project and he had my phone number to make it easier to find each other amongst the conference delegates, since we hadn't met before. Once I realised I had left it, I headed out to find a mobile phone shop, as I had about three quarters of an hour between buses. I then bought the cheapest phone they had, which was still €54 but at least the sales assistant got me set up and running with it, complete with a new SIM card and I didn't miss the bus. I did need a new phone as I was using Ian's American phone which was now about 9 years old and buttons weren't working properly. It also didn't hold it's charge very well. Ian tried to get a new battery for it a few years back, but for some reason it didn't work, so it was still on its old battery. Now I have a dual SIM phone, so that should be good on trips to the UK as I should be able to get a new card there and not be chopping and changing SIMs.

A sunbathing Estelle
Ian got a new phone today as well. The battery doesn't last well on his old one and the connector wasn't very good, so it didn't always charge up. In fact he was using an old phone of mine to charge up his battery during the day and then swapping over at nights, but that wasn't always successful. We found a shop with used phones that still seemed in good condition and picked one of those. It was only after a while that we realised it was probably a pawn shop. Still as long as the phone works, we are not too worried.

I'm stopping here near the feeder and the water bucket, in
the shade! 
I see Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel Laureate in science has resigned over what he now describes as silly comments on the place of women in labs. It is fantastic to see so many women humorously posting pictures of themselves at work in the labs because it shows that women do have a place there and they are not really a problem in mixed labs at all. It is ironic though that there is an element of truth in what he says, after all if you are into science it is more likely that your future spouse will be too and certainly the case for Ian and I. We met at university first day, first term of the first year and and what attracted him to me? Me in my lab coat. Not so sure the lab coat will look so flattering these days, I am of a fuller figure now, but after 33 years of knowing each other and nearly 31 years of marriage, there must be an element of truth, only it didn't apply to every woman Ian met in the lab, which is fortunate as he worked in labs for over 20 years.

Buttercups are lovely to look at, but not what we want
in the grass. Fresh they are not that healthy for animals.
Fortunately they lose their toxicity in hay when dried.
So yes, love in the lab is possible but not to be expected as Sir Tim Hunt seemed to imply. His comments were not fair to men or women, it suggests that men are incapable of thinking about anything else, other than women when they are around and unable to control their urges in order to concentrate on their job. To hear him say that women cry when criticised made me wonder what kind of a lab he was running. Constructive criticism can be delivered in a way that does not reduce people to tears. I am just pleased that now he has had a chance to make a proper apology and some prominent scientists have jumped to his defence as a person, including his wife. They made no apology for his comments but at least vouched for his non-sexist character, which is good. It now opens up a whole new can of worms though, of how universities handle their staff and silly comments made by them. It also opens up that trial by social media issues. I wonder if that will have some effect too?

Tellus' brother Turbjørn. That mark on his back is coloured
fleece and helps us to tell the two brothers apart. It is not
like the lump on Tellus' back
Talking of saying stupid things I have come out with a classic this week, that perhaps beats one of my family's all time favourite, which was to switch around the "C" and the "T" in an order for Lemon Curd Tart. The waitress in that particular instance was a saint and never even twitched when I said it. This morning's offering was to manage to combine two words in an inappropriate way, so cornflakes was mixed with porridge. I am not going to tell you exactly what was said, as it could incur hits from unsavoury websites that I would like to avoid, but if you switch the "P" from porridge with the "C" in cornflakes, I think you will get the idea. Try not to snigger too much in the morning as you eat your breakfast, it makes a mess of the table.

I nearly forgot to add that I had an interesting meeting this week about the wild boar issue in the area. The government changed the law last year and I was interested to know if it had made any difference, I suspected it wouldn't and so far my hunch was correct. It was amusing to be asked if I was the lady in an article in a hunting magazine and it was also amusing that it had been noticed that we don't always do things the same way that others around us do. I explained that we are scientists by training and so we like to experiment. My interviewee even suggested that maybe I could be on a committee to do with the issue, but we both agreed that would be unlikely to happen, but you never know. At least I hopefully will be able to keep up-to-date on the issue with some insider information and maybe I can pass on information back to the committee.


  1. Your life is certainly never dull Joanna! Hope the baby alpacas arrive soon.

    1. Neither is your's Gina, what a fabulous weekend you had. I would really encourage people to pop over to your website and look at the work your students have produced, it is amazing. As for my life, there are occasions that I would welcome dull and boring, for a couple of days anyway :D. I hope those alpaca babies come soon too. It makes everything so difficult to plan for at the moment

  2. maybe your babies have arrived now??? I hope mum has an easy time....I empathise.

    1. I wish! Still no babies today either

  3. I've thought about getting an incubator too. Our hens are notoriously unreliable brooders.

    Hope you have healthy babies soon. :)

    1. I suppose it is one of the downsides of modern breeds. I know there are some that are quite broody, but we find broody hens a pain. One of the reasons is that there are usually a choice of boxes to lay in, but you can guarantee they all want to lay in one box and if that has a broody in there, all of them stop laying. A friend of ours uses turkeys to incubate eggs and that seems to work well.


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