Monday, 26 June 2017

Gosh what a week!

The orchids are out now. I think this one is a Marsh Orchid
if I remember correctly
This is one of those weeks when it feels like nothing much seems to get done that we planned on doing and yet we have been busy. It started off with the need to move the sheep from what has really been their winter quarters for far too long. The plan was to shear the one ewe that we had kept, before putting her and the two lambs over the hill, out of the way. This is so they are not continually making a noise every time we move because they think they are going to get fed. The grass is good enough to eat these days.

The chicks got put outside this week and the new ones have
started hatching in the incubator. We had a broody hen and
this always stops others from laying in the box, so we
moved her out to look after the chicks. That worked quite
well last year, but this year this hen decided that she was
having none of this and eventually started picking on the
chicks. At least it cured her broodiness
Ian tends to get a bad back shearing sheep, alpacas are much easier, still there was only one. He managed to get hold of the sheep okay in the shed where they had been overwintered and start shearing. The two lambs were fine at first, but after a while they started charging around, which was not helping with the shearing. In the end I had to let them out while Ian held onto the ewe. Eventually Ian got to a point where he needed me to hang onto the ewe, which went okay for a while but then she managed to wriggle free and started charging around the shed with half of her fleece still on - she looked ridiculous. Ian was not amused and managed to get hold of her again. This time I basically pinned her down by lying on top, which was not pleasant in the poop on the floor.

The boys have been moved onto fresh grass
The jeans washed okay afterwards though and the ewe didn't look too bad after the haircut. So all was well. We decided to give her a day to recover and a chance to calm down before relocating them. The problem is when sheep or alpacas are sheared the rest of the flock do not recognise them and it takes a while for them to convince the others they are not new animals trying to infiltrate the herd. The following day we managed to relocate them without much hassle, which was a pleasant surprise after last year when the lambs we had then made it really difficult and were chased all over the place to get them in to where they were supposed to be. That was one advantage of being born earlier in the year and Ian having fed them for a while each night.

We've seen a lot of this this summer, a rather heavy shower
At least that was one thing crossed off the list. Another thing crossed off our list was to talk about the possibility of selling one of our apartments. It has been useful having two apartments, especially when people stay, but in the summer that can mean that our stuff is spread over two apartments and one caravan. We sometimes end up not knowing where anything is and ideally we would love a cabin at least out on the land. We have got someone interested and so we at least can now see where that goes.

I'm looking at you.
Other things that got crossed off the list was to tighten the plastic on the greenhouse. It has been a rather cold, blustery and rainy summer for us and that does not do the plastic much good. It is getting older and our cat, Eyre, has not made a positive contribution to the integrity of the stuff. In other words she has been putting holes in it by trying to catch birds on the roof we think. As well as doing that, Ian also got his shears stripped down and cleaned after the shearing of the sheep. Combs and cutters are sharpened ready to do the girls when the weather improves and all have finished giving birth - well that's the plan.

I love rainbows
Alpacas are known to give birth in the morning or early afternoon, which so far has been the case for us, except this week. Late afternoon Ian hurriedly stuck his head around the door of the caravan and said "Come quick! I think Chanel has gone into labour!" Oiks! Not good news! Especially as it can indicate an issue. Sure enough it was clear that Chanel was going into labour outside and was not going into the alpaca house like the others tended to do. She seemed to be struggling with just the head out, so I went to try and get our neighbour. Unfortunately the only thing that greeted me were her two geese who were acting as good guard dogs as they do. I went back and Ian was very obviously concerned about Chanel. She had managed to burst the sac on a stick on the ground and now the cria needed to be born.

Meet Fredriks
The first thing we had to do was catch her, without unduly stressing her. A difficult job at the best of times as she is one of the most stressy of animals as it is. She set off at a bit of a trot with a head still hanging out, but eventually we managed to get hold of her. I held her head while Ian sorted out the problem, which was that one foot was over its head, rather than underneath. He managed to get the leg around the right way and then delivered the baby. He swung the baby upside down a bit to clear its airways as it didn't seem to be breathing properly and thankfully as he did that it started to object. We got Chanel and her baby boy, who we named Frederiks, inside so we could dry him off and ensure that she got started on feeding him before we called it a night.
Frederiks up and about

A very tired Mari
The next day Mari went into labour or at least seemed to. She was very uncomfortable all day and got quite tired. By the evening she still hadn't given birth. She seemed to settle down and we called it a night. Ian had spent all day just watching over her and got nothing done. I got quite a bit done as we had the young chap come and help us again. This time he spent most of the time on his knees weeding first the strawberry bed and then clearing some very weedy plots. We worked really hard all day and the garden is showing improvement. Ian has also managed to mow between the beds today and so it is all looking remarkably neat, just don't look too closely at what is actually growing in the beds but at least even the weeds are mainly edible.

Now meet George
The next morning Ian went to let the alpacas out as usual and found that Mari had just given birth also to a little boy, George. That meant a change to our normal morning routine. Poor Mari looked really tired and she wasn't bonding with her baby. We spent a fraught day watching over the pair and ended up milking her twice to get some colostrum down the little fella. We also gave him a sugar and salt solution to give him some energy. The problem was that he wasn't suckling very well either and there is a danger in giving milk if the suckling reflex is not working. Eventually he started suckling properly, which we were really relieved about.
It is a good job there is a difference in face shape, ear colour
and a shade difference in the brown. We didn't expect Mari's
baby to be totally brown too. Tellus his father is white.

Frederiks and George making friends - well maybe
The next day was a bit fraught too, as he was not doing as well as Frederiks. While Frederiks was bounding around, George was lying down a lot. We let them outside and Mari and George seemed to bond better but still not great and he wasn't really feeding. We were just at the stage of thinking of penning Mari in again and milking her when suddenly she stood still and George started feeding from her. We were so relieved. Still we weren't in the clear yet.

George in his cria coat
He was still rather lethargic today and we were concerned he wasn't getting enough to eat. His mum was still not bonding very well with him but she is much better than she was. Gradually over the day though he seemed to start feeding more often and began running around. The weather hasn't helped, we spent a few times during the day haring up to the paddock to hustle the alpacas inside. They were not impressed, as the girls do not like being penned up in the rain, they would rather stay outside. The babies, however, are not up to getting drenched yet, especially George. We resorted to putting him in a cria coat as he was shivering a bit.
He did rather too much of this for our liking. Crias usually
sit in a cushed position like above. At least he has done
much less of this today and more cushing

Now that is better, much more alert and cushing instead of
We had another visit before Frederiks was born. A young girl with her Mum and the chap who has translated for us at various times. The mother was keen for the young girl to learn English and so we have arranged for her to come and help us a couple of times a week so she can practice. She is used to helping her Mum in the garden, as do many youngsters around here and so hopefully my garden will actually stay under control this year. Now that will be nice. She is also used to being around animals too, as her family have beef cattle. She wasn't afraid of going up to them, but Chanel rewarded her bravery by spitting at her. We had wondered why she was more on edge than usual and now we know that she was probably in labour and that was why she was also moaning more than usual.
Frederiks' ET impression

Cria are so cute

Such a relief to see George feeding

At least Mari has accepted George in his snazzy outfit

No George that is not your mother. Lady V is surprisingly
tolerant of the youngsters, not so tolerant of the adults
though. She didn't tolerate him trying to feed from her

Chanel panics if she cannot see Frederiks

Frederiks and George having a run around

Monday, 19 June 2017

Home again!

This might not look the most exciting picture of the
year, but it is to us. It shows we have more grass than
last year and so potentially much more hay. We will
just need some dry weather after this next week and
we will be happy.
A varied week to be sure, this week. It started off with rainy day planning for our next Latvian Alpaca Adventure, then onto a conference and finished off with some weeding in the garden. Well that is the very abbreviated summary of the week. It was good to be able to have a few days to reflect on what we had done and what could be done better and what could stay the same. Overall we were quite happy with the way it had gone, especially since this was our first organised adventure. We feel confident enough to be able to offer something similar for next year about the same time of year. too Although there were things we felt could be run over two days instead of one, we decided to leave it as it is because we are so busy with other farm chores at that time of the year. The weeds took over during the week and some seeds I planted either did not come or got swamped by the weeds, all I do know is I couldn't find some of them. Mercifully that was not the case for all of them and some seemed to have made a bold attempt at holding off against the onslaught. If we had a worker or two, that wouldn't have been an issue, but we are not at that stage.
Still no babies and Aggie looking very tired
Alpaca lined nest that Ian found on the floor
There was a bit of adventure on the way to the airport to drop off Heather our felting tutor. They have been doing bridge repairs for a while now on the route we take and quite often at night the bridge has been closed. Unfortunately it was closed during the day this time. It was very confusing as there was also a detour on the road down to the crossing. Maybe I missed the notice of the closure somewhere, but I wasn't the only one. I realised that it was closed when the guy in front turned his car around to go back, not sure how the truck that was in front of him managed though. Maybe it is still there! Who knows! It did mean I had to take a new way back and I was quite surprised at the route. I went over another hydroelectric dam further south of the one we normally take and it was quite a stunning view in the sun. I'm glad I wasn't going the other way though, as they were doing roadworks on this one too and the queue going the other way was pretty bad. 
Buckwheat, beans and sunflowers growing in this plot

A model of the old castle in Kandava
The day after dropping Heather off at the airport, I had to go back into Riga on the bus, so an early start to take a trip to Kandava in West Latvia for the Third Latvian Rural Parliament. At the bus station in Riga I had a bizarre conversation with an old lady. Eventually through a bit of miming I realised she wanted me to look after her bags while she nipped to the loo. Strangely enough she was travelling to the village where I live and where I had set out from in the morning. She chatted along to me and patted me on the knee, not what I expect in Latvia, but she was just a very warm kind of lady and I don’t think it was too much alcohol either. Goodness only knows why she trusted me, maybe the grey hair 
Kandava had many decorated buildings

We had a field trip to a couple of farms.
This one is famous for being used for
filming shows about rural life. The buildings
were completely covered in old implements
that the lady's father had rescued from a
recycling place

I want one of these outdoor kitchens

I loved the face on the little chap in the middle at the front
I had anticipated some problems at the Rural Parliament due to the fact there was no translation this time. The last one was during the period when Latvia took over the Presidency of the Council of the EU and so there was an international flavour to the event. I needn't have worried though, there were about six ladies who stepped up when they realised I didn't understand everything. It was brilliant. I didn't really have to ask either, they just did it. I was a little disappointed though that despite one of the ladies from our local district council, there was no advertisement about our region, except a hurriedly put together poster and leaflets from me. Others had food and leaflets handy. I really enjoyed getting to know some of the other delegates and loved the concert that the local village were hosting at the end. I love the Latvian costumes and their dancing.
Some older children dancing

I love these costumes. So elegant!

Different costumes again

A slower more graceful dance this time

Roof all done
Ian and I had a fairly relaxed afternoon when I got back. We sat and chatted but not about anything in particular. I think we just needed a bit of a breather. In the evening we started putting the roof on the newest alpaca house. We can't sit around all day when there are things to do. Well we could but I had been sat on a bus for several hours and the evening was pleasant, so we took advantage to get something done. Next week's forecast is for showers, so the sooner this got done the better. 

So pretty and just growing in our woodland
Wood stacked. More needed though
Today though we made up for it for our afternoon off. In the morning I went to pick up a young lad who has helped us before. What he lacks in dexterity due to cerebral palsy he makes up for in sheer determination and hard work. While I helped Ian finish off the roof, he got on and weeded my potato beds. It didn't start off well, as I am not sure if he has ever done it before and pulled up a few potatoes. However he got the hang of it and it was made easier by the fact that our beds have wide paths and are designed not to be walked on. As it was dry, it was easier for him to kneel next to the beds and pull the weeds out that way. In Latvia, they tend to use very neat rows, often done by ridging with ploughs on tractors. Not easy if you are not steady on your feet and not enough room to kneel down. In the afternoon he went and helped Ian collect wood and pile it up. He travelled in the trailer to help and he beamed every time he went past as I was doing some more complicated weeding - like trying to find the onion sets. 
Potatoes weeded! I was so pleased to see these just about
finished by the time I had finished helping Ian.

Welcomed back with the first strawberries of the year from
our greenhouse
Well I shall finish with the news that we heard our seventh grandchild will be another grandson, so we look forward to seeing him later on in the year. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Part 2

I'm slowly catching up with my adventures over the last few weeks. It has been a hectic time and not letting up just yet. I am away at the moment too. Still I have a few quiet moments to upload the scribblings I did on the bus on the way here  (or should that be scrabblings since I did these on the computer?). Anyway so here goes, Part 2.

Starting the tour of Riga with our guide
Now where was I? Oh yes! Our Latvian Alpaca Adventure. We got off to a slightly messy start as people arrived at different times, but we managed to gather everyone together and had an interesting tour of Riga. There were a few anecdotes I hadn’t heard before and some streets I had managed to miss. Nice to learn something new. Then we had the problem that we set off from Riga a bit late and got stuck in traffic which set us back for getting to Sigulda, putting the proverbial spanner in the works as it meant we didn't have long in Sigulda. At least we got a fabulous meal at Fazenda and Livkalns turned out to be a lovely hotel in nice grounds. Some of us also got to watch a bit of the sunset at the head of a steep valley.

Art Nouveau section of Riga
The group gelled together well on the first day and it had a lovely relaxed feel of being on an outing with friends. I couldn’t hope for a better introduction to hosting a tour. We did at least manage a quick tour around Sigulda castle, but it was not good to see such large scale renovations going on that meant we had to find our way around the back of the castle. There are some nice workshops though in the ground and I think we all bought presents there.

Heather Potten and Ieva Prane our felting tutors
Our first full day was felting with Ieva Prane and this went very well. She encouraged them all to draw a design to work from, which I don’t think any had done before and a little out of their comfort zone for some at least. However the result was worth it and they enjoyed incorporating some material that Ieva makes herself and gives a lacy effect. We had to me what was a basic lunch of salad, bread, cheese and ham but this was received well and I appreciated the help of Ieva’s daughters in preparing the meal in her kitchen. Ieva played some of her husband's music in the background and folks enjoyed that so much that we finished with purchases of CDs along with some refreshments of coffee and Latvian style cakes and pastries.
Taking advantage of the nice weather
and felting on the decking. Ieva's work
can be seen on the screens behind too

Felting in the shade too
Next we headed to our own village, going deeper and deeper into the countryside. I threw in a few comments about the landscape but probably needed a microphone. Maybe next time. We managed to get our timing right for this day and we arrived in time for our evening meal. The main course was great, but we had a dessert we have never had before that was a little weird. Note to self: Delete that one from the menu. As it turned out, not many were into desserts and so later on in the week we ditched those from the menu, to be substituted with some pastries and the cakes which always went down well. We even had a non-rhubarb eater eating the rhubarb cake. Not surprised though, they are tasty.

A rather mucky looking Mari. She had been taking advantage
of the cooling rain
Ian starting the tour of the farm
The weather was always going to be an issue for us and we ended up having a tour of our farm in the morning and heading to the school for the afternoon to felt due to the forecast of rain. The headteacher kindly allowed us to use the place and even brought people in to see what we were doing. We hope to maybe do an extra lesson another time where we can teach some of the locals and maybe some children. It wasn’t easy working in the school, but we managed. Unfortunately we found out that the neck fleece on Brencis this year was not so good for felting. At least we highlighted the issues of felting with different alpaca fleeces, some are much better than others and also we managed to work on the techniques more to get the best out of the fleece. It is definitely different in the way it behaves to that of merino sheep wool.
Brencis going for a walk

The greenhouse does make a great gallery
Next on the agenda was scarf making and this was held in our greenhouse. It worked really well and the ladies made some wonderful scarves. The lessons from the previous day were used and it was funny to hear the names of the alpacas as discussions were held about which ones to use. “I’m using Aggie, who are you using?” or “I’m using Brencis this time.” Each alpaca gave a different effect, which really adds to the adventure of using alpaca for felting and helps us to realise why some people have had such a disastrous introduction to using it, if they got the wrong type of fleece. One of the ladies took some samples to look at under the electron microscope to see what the difference might be. It will be really interesting to find out if we can actually see any differences that way, because it is not so obvious to ordinary sight.
Felting in the greenhouse
A scarf using Brencis' fleece

Soup over the fire
After the scarf making we went to the moonshine laboratory. We had soup rather than bbq because the weather was still a bit hit and miss. Unfortunately the mossies have arrived, which meant spraying with the dreaded DEET, but it was still a beautiful place to be. We also made some soap using flowers we had collected the day before. The highlight of the evening though was the entertaining sampling of hooch made on the premises. They had to guess what was added to the birch sap and it was very amusing to watch, after all I was driving. I think everyone went away with at least one bottle of something they had liked.
Evening sunshine on the girls' alpaca house

Whenever there are people around, then there is Eyre. She
keeps hoping that someone will bring her treats
For the following day I had prepared a variety of threads, examples and pictures and we used our greenhouse as a gallery of my work. Each of the ladies were able to either do embroidery or needlefelting onto their previous work. I taught the felting tutor to do French knots - not easy for a right hander to teach a left hander how to do it, but we got there. I am really pleased with the effect on her piece of work too and look forward to seeing the final piece when she has finished with all the suggestions we came up with.

Some of the felted pieces and sketches from Ieva's tutoring
The afternoon was such a surprise, even for me, who planned the excursion. I had organised for the local choir to come and sing for us some traditional Latvian songs when we visited the local museum. It was such a thrill to see so many of them sing to us as we got out of the van and funny to see them taking photos of us taking photos of them. The choir were mainly elderly folk but they sang well and showed us some traditional dances. Some of them even prepared Latvian style food and drink, so we had chicory coffee made with goats milk, beans and rhubarb cake. They looked as pleased with the opportunity to show off their Latvian culture as we were to see it.

Having some fun at the moonshine laboratory
Many of the evenings we spent on the farm just enjoying the peace. With a bottle of wine, some food and plenty of good banter, we had a great time. It made the hosting of this event such a joy to have people there who appreciated our farm and the peacefulness of it and not itching to go somewhere and do something.
A very tired looking Aggie

No idea what this was but it looked rather interesting
For the last day of activities Saturday we went to our friend’s to see her goats and take part in making cheese. It didn’t go quite to plan due to some miscommunication along the way, but we still enjoyed it and I am sure we can make it work better another time. It was only to be expected that there were some hiccups along the way, considering this was the first time we had organised such a thing. In fact I am surprised that on the whole it went as smoothly as it did. I am sure that it had everything to do with those who came and threw themselves into the adventure.

Sunshine and clouds
We had a tour of a Porcelain factory that went really well. We first painted porcelain pieces that were then put in the kiln while we went for a visit to the factory to see some of the processes. It was great to be able to have coffee and cakes in the studio afterwards where we had painted the porcelain while we waited for the firing to finish. It also gave us an opportunity to chat more with our translator and the factory owner. Lastly we rounded off the venture with a trip to Marciena Spa Hotel where we had our final meal, which was excellent with great service.
A felted cuff

A close up of the scarf I made
What was really good about the whole venture was the fact we were able to put something into the local economy too. From the hotel accommodation and food for lunches, to the money spent in the local bakeries. There was also an opportunity for folks to buy local textiles such as a crocheted shawl, hats and linen work. We will hope to incorporate that more into the trip the next time, but I have to make some more contacts to get that sorted