Monday, 23 May 2016

Mystery solved?

Such a sweet little alpaca.
We went to Estonia again to shear alpacas. We managed six out of ten on the first day and Ian became more and more frustrated. The shears were just not cutting well and seem to be blunting very quickly. Not all of the alpacas were with year and a half long fleeces, which are challenging in themselves (some of that fleece was about 20cm long and tangled together) but many of them had fine fleeces. It still should not have been that hard. We ran out of combs and cutters again - something that should last many, many more animals.
The black alpaca paces up and down the
fence each and every day eyeing up the
ladies. He once broke through the fence
but made a mistake and ended up amongst
the beef cows, who are not so friendly.

Sharpening our cutters and combs
We ended up travelling to see a lovely guy who had a slightly hippie look about him with his long bushy beard. He was a shepherd who had about four hundred sheep (if we remember correctly) and despite being on the older side and living in an out of the way rural place, he spoke quite good English, which suggested another side to him that we didn't have much time to enquire about. We did find out that he had been to Wales to shear a few times. He had also taken part in competitions and taught on shearing courses. His son was a champion shearer until he came down with Lyme's disease. He sharpened our shears at a fraction of the cost that it normally costs us in Latvia and he agreed that some of the combs were quite badly scoured, suggesting that the grit in the local area was causing us problems.
While Ian was observing to pick up tips, I marked some
students work, so this was my office for the day. Amazing where
you can work these days
Wile looking very smart with his new haircut
We got to our friends who have a large alpaca farm and managed to shear all but three of their alpacas, theoretically leaving us enough combs and cutters to do ten the following day. We should have been able to do all of them, but it was all taking too long and Ian's frustrations bubbled over at one point. Added to Ian's woes the transformer broke and so we couldn't cut teeth either. Our teeth cutting machine is American and so will not run on European voltages. Despite all the problems though, we have been well looked after along the way. We have been fed well and treated kindly, with many paying Ian extra for his work in appreciation.
Our hobbit home for a few days. It also has a sauna, but we have
not really got into saunas, but it made a lovely place to stay.
The girls looking shadows of their former selves

Alpacas and ponies
The last place we went to was a farm with ten alpacas and forty horses or ponies. The guy had a look at our transformer but could not see what the problem was, so he pulled out an old Russian contraption. It looked rather alarming and I was relieved to see a modern tester also appeared before Ian plugged in the tooth cutting machine. The guy even had something that would take an American plug to attach to the contraption. There was something about the chap though that made us think he knew more than the average person and in our chats later we found out he was a retired physicist.
Back at home Estelle is getting bigger every day

Trying to keep cool during the day.
We managed two alpacas before Ian's machine was starting to struggle, but earlier the guy had said he had also bought some shears, but just didn't know how to shear with them. Ian asked to borrow his to see if it would do any better and showed him the technique along the way. It started off well but before we had finished the whole animal it started to struggle - it wasn't Ian's machine then. It must be the local environment.
The rain has encouraged the barley to germinate

Barley poking through - at least where the crows have not
been digging it up

Buckwheat too has started to show through

The left hand side is where the girls were and the right hand
side is the newly fenced off area
We didn't shear any more but we sat down to a lunch of salmon soup and discussed alpacas and life in general for the rest of the afternoon. It was a perfect way to finish a frustrating few days. He did mention that he hoped people in the UK would see "common sense" and vote to stay in the EU. He could not comprehend why the people in the UK would vote to exit the EU at all. This shearing venture has cost us more than we would like, but we have learnt a lot and also met some great people along the way. Most will have us back too because Ian is the only alpaca shearer in Estonia and there are even problems finding sheep shearers, one person we met is working her way through around 50 sheep by hand. Our friend with the large farm felt it was easier to sort out the fleece when Ian was shearing, as sheep shearers do not shear the blanket - or the best wool- first. They also shear so fast that it is hard to keep up - not one of Ian's problems yet. It will be different though when he gets a grinder to sharpen the cutters and combs on-site. It will quickly pay us back just in reducing stress and wear and tear on the car.
Spring planting of broad beans, kale, mizuna, beetroot together
with cucumber and peppers for the summer. 

Strawberries in the greenhouse
 Ian emailed the people where he took his shearing course to see what they said. They suggested that it could also have something to do with the fleece density. Our animals have quite dense fleece - apart from the crias who are notorious for collecting grass, muck anything in their fleece and so it means that the dirt does not get right down into their fleece. We also do not have the grit and these two factors explains why Ian doesn't have as much of a problem with our animals and has been having so many with some of the fine fleeced Estonian ones. So I think it is mystery solved now.
We shall have grapes

Fencing off the garden to protect it from wild boar who love
It is still dry here and we haven't had any significant showers since last week's rain. Of course that rain was enough to encourage plants to put on some growth spurts and so Ian has had to mow paths and strim around many of the areas that need to be kept neat and tidy. We attempted to put up the fence around the garden and got over half done before the mosquitoes drove us inside. We will finish that off in the morning when they are not so active. I have also been trying to finish planting up the tomatoes but not quite got there yet. At least I have finished off my herb bed and most of the vegetable plots are tidied.
Chanel and her happy quizzical look

There is water to drink, honestly! So of course she has to drink
the rice water that I drained onto the path


Thank goodness our land does not have lots of gritty areas.
Alpacas love to roll
All of them do and the whites end up looking grey at first

Not quite sure why Sofie has taken to sleeping near the
chickens. She was not a happy cat today, we had to give her
the second dose of worming tablet. She is the only cat that
I have not been able to get a tablet down successfully
in no more than two attempts. She was even trussed up
 in a towel by Ian as I attempted to get the tablet down her
throat and then wash it down with water. Even tried cake!
There is no kidding that cat and she can foam out a tablet.
Still we sort of managed in the end.
We had some visitors over the weekend too. They are neighbours to us, well 2km away, which counts as neighbours in a rural area. They have wild horses and come every weekend to see to them and had heard about us, so paid us a visit. She was thrilled that we love working here in such a rural place. In her words she saw through our eyes what a wonderful place the area is. Like in many things, it sometimes takes an outsider to see the extraordinary in what to us is an ordinary place.
Outdoor broad beans and onions for onion leaves

Showing the advantage of pre-soaking carrot seed and the disadvantage
of sowing them too thickly. I obviously should have added more peat
to spread them out more

Cherry blossom time

Had to mow a path down to the office
I found out today that my presentations for the end of each year of my PhD have been very favourably received by the people doing the evaluations. All I knew was that I had passed each year without too many questions or hassles. I only found out because my supervisor asked if I had any presentations and ideas that other students could follow because of the positive reflections he had received on my presentations. Nice to know I am doing something well.


  1. Edith & I are looking forward to visiting you. Let me know if there is anything from Tartu that would be useful to you both.

  2. Your days are certainly busy. The alpacas look quite comical with their new hair cuts and quizzical faces.

    1. They are busy at the moment. It should calm down once the shearing is finished and seeds in just before the haymaking starts :D


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