Tuesday, 29 August 2017

We get there eventually

Frederiks looking all fluffy. He looks like he is going to be a
good fleece producer, at least in quantity.
Well here I am again posting a late blog. The reasons for yesterdays non-post was an unplanned journey to the outskirts of Riga, but I need to back up a bit to explain how that came about. We had offered to take in a refugee family for a few days sometime over the summer, only time was ticking on and nothing had got organised. Finally I was given a contact and arrangements made. A friend of ours was in Riga and she kindly agreed to bring them, since she had a seven seater car. The refugee family came on the Sunday evening and I cooked an evening meal and we tried to chat as much as we were able, with their limited English and our non-existent Arabic. Still we managed, thanks to  some laughter and gestures and in part to the wonderful world of the internet and Google voice recognition Only in part though, how Google translate arrived at "Batman wallpaper" for one attempt, we have no idea.

Feeding dandelion leaves to Brencis
I had agreed to borrow our friend's car for a couple of days to ferry the family about and then she agreed to take them back on the Tuesday evening; so the next day I picked the family up from our apartment where they were staying and brought them out to see our alpacas. The family from Syria consisted of a man, his wife, their seven year old son, their six year old daughter with cerebral palsy and their little ten month old baby girl born in Turkey. The wife was a little nervous of the animals, even the cat and so was her son at first, but gradually he became bolder and was hunting for dandelion leaves to feed the alpacas. Our alpaca love the dandelions and they are far too abundant, so that works well.

It's a bit worrying as all the alpacas are eating all day, that
is usually a sign that autumnal weather is on its way. They
don't really need to eat all day, well the boys don't, they are
getting podgy
It was a bit tricky to know what to do when it was hard to chat with them, but we were managing. After lunch I got the young lad to help me dig potatoes and he counted them in English as he found them. He then helped me pick beans and carrots. The next job was to wash the carrots and potatoes. We had a bucketful of potatoes but I only asked him to wash six of them, he didn't stop there though he carried on. In the end I had to get a stool for him to sit down on, so he could finish them off. A good little worker anyway and I won't have to wash any potatoes for a week. We still had a few hours to kill and so I rang to see if we could go to the nearby camp because I knew they had some playground equipment there. The folks at the camp have adopted a little chap and very soon he and the young Syrian boy were playing around with each other like good friends.

Even the youngsters seem to sense the changing season,
when they are not dealing with irritating itches
The six year old girl was getting rather tired and started crying. She loved the trampoline earlier when her brother and the little local lad were bouncing around on it, so I took her back on. She calmed down and seemed to enjoy the bouncing and then eventually fell asleep in the middle of the trampoline. I covered her up and let her sleep, especially as the sun had finally made an appearance and it had now warmed up enough to snooze in the sun. Her mum joined us at one point and once the little girl had woken up, mum started bouncing. She loved it and she joined in with her son and his young friend. I was just getting ready to gather everyone together to go back to the farm to eat when the father tried to explain they had to go back because they had forgotten to pack one of the medications for the little six year old. The explanation was not quite clear and I wasn't sure what they intended so we had to ring to get an Arabic translator. The refugee centre must have a rota for translators and so they organised a translator to phone me.

The mulch on the roadway into the barn has built up over
the years and was creating a problem in heavy rain with
water running into the barn. The ditch was not working either,
so Ian did a little remodelling and scraped away the hump
Firstly the translator thanked me on behalf of the family as they had really appreciated our hospitality but then explained they had to go back for this medication, otherwise they feared that she would get more and more upset without it. They also explained they had a doctor's appointment the next day - something had obviously not been explained when we agreed to take them. Something to be expected when there is a communication problem. Anyway it meant that instead of going back to eat, I had to drive them back into Riga to the refugee centre. They have an invitation to come back again if they want to and we shall see if they do. I think they genuinely enjoyed the time here and certainly the little boy did. Both he and the Latvian lad were nearly in tears when it was time to go. At least I was able to tell the young chap what a super friend he had been and could thank him in Latvian.
A more level roadway with a depression before it gets to the
barn to lead the water away into the forest
Mr. P has still been to see his ladies this week, but came back
a little green. A good sign for us, but Chanel went back to
being compliant, so may not be pregnant after all
So how about the rest of the week? As I mentioned last week we got two new cockerels and last Monday night we put each one in a separate ark with his own bunch of females. When we let them out in the morning, one immediately stamped his authority and got his ladies in order. The second one turned out to be too timid and the girls spotted his weakness and picked on him. Eventually we decided that we had to put him in with the chicks, despite being three times their size. He seems a lot more content there, but he hasn't got the hang of going away by himself yet. I have had to catch him each night to put him in the box. The other one just follows his ladies inside, thank goodness.

Slowly filling up again
Other fairly mundane jobs were also done, such as trying to catch up with the weeding, sorting out peas and beans after the storms, cutting alpaca toe nails (a job long overdue), strimming and flail mowing grass (Ian's job not mine, I can't handle that sort of equipment, I'm too small and not strong enough). Ian also sorted out the well again, this time he was able to pump the water out without stirring up the mud. It is a relief to see the well filling up at a much better rate of around 80 litres a day and certainly enough to keep the animals watered and much better than the 7 litres a day we were getting, so that is progress.

George also looks cuddly, just not as much fleece as
We were also showing visitors around, but like buses, you don't see any for a while and then they all turn up at once. Two cars drove on with a family group. Apparently some of them had been before, but not when I have been around. As they were standing around a car drove past and then reversed back. The visitors who turned up earlier had a short discussion with new group and we ended up taking the groups around together. It worked and everyone seemed happy enough.
Chanel is also munching a lot

Not our first visit to Gančauskas because the tent and the
climbing tower hadn't been built in those days
One of the highlights of the week though was re-visting our past. In 2000 we made our first visit to Latvia to teach English in a camp near Sigulda and within a couple of years really felt like God was calling us here, but the timing was not right. It wasn't until 2008 we actually moved to Latvia, but the roots of that move were definitely in those camps. This year the camp celebrated its 20th anniversary and held a party for those connected to the camps over the years, so we decided to join in. It was well organised with plenty of time to meet others and reconnect, it was just a shame we couldn't really spend longer there but had to return to put the animals away. One of our favourite moments was sitting in the chapel that had been revamped over the years, but they still had space for the swallows to fly in and out. Somethings change and somethings don't.
Gančauskas in the early days

Gančauskas today. Compare the cars here to the ones below

The barn with the chapel entrance

The chapel entrance today

The campfire then

and now! It was good to see the lady in charge again, she always
wore a white sunhat

We met up with this young lass again, she
now lives in Spain

And reconnected with this young lady
too, all the way from Canada. It was
her family that started off the camps
and have put a lot of hard physical work
into it too.
Also the young chaps in the blue t-shirt and front row red t-shirt
were also there. A little older now of course, but so are we. 

Monday, 28 August 2017

A change of plan


This is getting to be a rather regular feature, but for those of you who do follow me on a Monday evening or whatever time it is where you are, once again sorry but due to a last minute change of plan I will not be posting my blog tonight. Hopefully I shall get around to it tomorrow

Monday, 21 August 2017

All finished?

The last of the bales stacked for winter. A bit wetter than they
should be, but they will be used first
Well haymaking is finished, that is for sure. We finished collecting and stacking the last of the hay bales from our neighbours land. Ian still had grass cutting to do but he was not baling it, as it was full of weeds that rot too easily. Now we can concentrate on other jobs to do. It is easier for me because it is computer work and it has been raining quite a bit. For Ian that is harder as much of what he needs to do now still depends on dry days, such as fixing the boys' leaking roof or putting the boards on the new alpaca house. Even preparation requires some dry days as he needs dry wood to prepare the pieces for the new roof or dry boards to nail onto a dry framework. A dryish autumn would be good for us.
One of the jobs to do before the rain was to empty the well
so that we could let it flush through to see if it improved the
flow rate. Well that was the plan. We got a container so we did
not waste the water, but after about half an hour of a trickle of
water, the water was all stirred up by the pump and instead of
a well full of clear water, we had a muddy mess. We now need
to let the well settle again and try with another pump. It also
started raining - not too good with electrics cables outside 

This is one of our chicks that has a punk hair do. It is also a
complet dipstick and is often stood there while the others are
chasing about after some tasty morsel with a look on its
face of complete bewilderment.
The school year has already started in some parts of the world and so some of my students on the online school where I teach Sociology and Development Studies have started sending in assignments for me to mark. Most only start back in September though. They have been told that they cannot expect work to be marked in a timely manner as I do not officially start back yet, but since it was raining I managed to do it anyway. I also managed to write an abstract for a conference that I had said I would attend and will take place in Riga. I was not going to send in an abstract but I was talking to one of keynote speakers at the conference last month and he suggested that I should do a presentation on some work he knew I had done. I thought it was not sufficiently complete and needed more responses, but he said it would be fine as it is. I had missed the deadline but the organisers were happy for me to send one in late. I had hoped to complete it a little earlier but life has been too hectic and I forgot about it.
Our cats appreciated the new places to sleep, well when it
isn't raining

This is supposed to be a path over the ditch
with a wooden bridge in the middle.
This week we have seen rain like we have never seen before. We have known some pretty torrential downpours here in Latvia, but never have we seen a storm where the rain has meant the visibility was practically down to zero. Our ditches all overflowed and even the wooden bridges across them were under water. It rained a bit into the caravan because we had left one of the skylight vents open and the seal had gone on the other one . The rain and wind also dislodged the plastic on the hay bales meaning rain got in and it also blew the plastic off a bag of sawdust, which we use for our composting toilet. At least we have had some dry spells too and so Ian took off both the skylights on the caravan and repaired the seals and cleaned them.
Old fashioned long stemmed barley. I'm amazed this is still

My poor Marshmallows took a hammering in the wind and
rain though
This time the storm didn't wreck the greenhouse as much as a previous storm did. I forgot to mention that during one particular thunderstorm, there was quite a crack as the wind whipped up and we thought it was a tree brought down. Later on in the evening I needed to nip to our outdoor loo and found a window from the greenhouse on the floor. It was one of the high windows and I thought they were all shut, obviously not. That was another job for Ian to fix the next day.
After all the other jobs, the wind and the rain, my garden
looks a little worse for wear. The bees are enjoying the
flowering marjoram 

Aggie in friendly mood
Mating has continued this week, although we are now fairly sure that Chanel and Mari are pregnant. Chanel was compliant at first and now she spits and kicks Mr. P if he comes anywhere near, which is alpacaspeak for "I'm really not interested!" Mari is a little more laid back and just runs away in a more determined fashion than before. Ian will take Mr. P. to them again in a couple of week's time to make sure they are pregnant. Meanwhile he has started mating Mr. P. with Aggie. It seems such a shame in some ways, as she has been so nice and incredibly friendly again and we know that as soon as she gets pregnant she will be more aloof, but we also need our alpacas to be productive. If she is successful this next year in getting pregnant then she will get a year off, so we can assess her offspring. The other's might get a year off too, as it depends on when they give birth. If it is too late in the year, we will need to wait to reset mating time to earlier in the year.
The rowan berries have been amazing this year, we should
get a good harvest from these and plenty of sharp, tangy
rowan jam
This apple tree in our orchard is finally beginning to bear
more than two or three apples. Not exactly a bumper crop
yet but progress anyway

Our grapes are beginning to turn quite fast now
We have spent a few hours away from the farm this week. Firstly we went to the farm of our young helper who has been with us over the summer to practice her English. She was still a little shy and would only take Ian for a look around the farm and not me. We did get to meet her grandma who was a very interesting lady. Our interpreter who is an English, German and French teacher had not realised that our young friend, who is one of his pupils, was the granddaughter of a Professor who had written a methodological book for teaching German. He explained that he had been taught using her methodology and he thought it was a good way to learn. I think it explains why a farm girl seems to be so good at sorting out practical problems.
Not all my squashes are doing well, but this one is certainly
happy in its position on old hay bales under an old oak tree

It is even starting to produce squashes. 

Preparing our evening meal
Although our young helper denies it, she is very clever and a creative problem solver, which fits with her grandma's ability to teach a methodical approach to learning a language. It is the same logical approach to different problems. We also came away from the farm with biezpiena (a type of curd cheese), 3 litres of raw milk, a jar of honey and two cockerels to improve our chicken flock in exchange for a jar of home made English style chutney.
Kale seed for another year

Our onion harvest drying. A rainy day job will be to string
these up so they can continue to hang and dry
We also went to our friend's open farm day. There weren't as many people this year, but then again the forecast for the day was not good. In the end the rain held off and the afternoon was very warm and sunny. It also held off until well after everyone had gone and just enough time to get everything in, except the tent, which unfortunately collapsed. We met a German couple and their family there, who had family links to Latvia and were holidaying in the area. Of course we invited them to our farm, so maybe they will pay a visit.
Our tall bush blueberries are also starting to produce fruit now.
The herb garden I created last year out of rotten wood is also
doing okay. I lost a variegated sage plant and only one
lavender survived the winter, but all the other plants are
starting to take off now

Now the chicks are unable to escape. It is nice to have free
range hens, but Mr. Fox also likes free range, as do the hawks
and other birds of prey of which we have plenty 
We had planned on getting the cockerels later on in the week, but our translator friend was heading off to Germany so it had to be earlier. We weren't quite sure where to put the cockerels at first as we needed to do a change around with the chickens in the arks. We needed to get the chicks in one ark, as they were getting far too adventurous and escaping far too frequently from their hutch, but to do that we needed to cull some chickens. We had planned on doing that before getting the cockerels but couldn't. In the end it worked out fine, because we put the cockerels in the old chicken shed that now houses windows and door and that meant the cockerels could be quarantined for a few days - one of them seemed a bit snuffly and we needed to know it wasn't something more serious. Eventually we did the cull of some older hens who were often difficult to put away in winter and were past their best egg laying days and a cockerel that was too inter-related with the other chickens. That might seem a bit harsh, but in reality they had had a longer life and better quality of life than your average supermarket chicken and they are tastier too.
Did I say it had been wet?

The echinacea is a glow of sunshine in the garden though
on a dull day

Well who could resist when they are as cute as George
We have had more visitors to the farm this week and we have had another family who were interested in owning alpacas. This is the third group within two weeks who are serious about having alpacas. I am beginning to wonder if we should have an introductory course on alpaca handling and husbandry. Nothing complicated, just a getting to know the alpaca type and a chance to find out about the routine jobs that need doing. Too many ideas maybe....

Monday, 14 August 2017


Spot the errant chicks
Last week I forgot to mention the escaping animals. We have the regular escapes by the chicks, but that is normal at this stage as they are getting bigger and can either fly over the fence or muscle their way underneath. Each have had their wings clipped now but they still escape. Soon they will be going into an ark where they won't be able to escape at all - unless they dig their way out and I am not discounting that ever happening. Those folks from Chicken Run knew a thing or two about chickens. This evening after a lovely meal with the people who have been staying in our apartment we came back to find that seven of the little dears had escaped. Fortunately they are very easy to collect up, just throw some grain in to the fenced off area, open the gate and wait, throw a little more in to keep the rest busy and then wait some more or encourage the daftest to move in the right direction.
The storks are still around, but it won't be long before they leave

The boys where they should be, behind the gate
The first major escape was all the boys. The felting class was coming to an end and everyone was standing around chatting when someone shouted something like "The boys are out". I looked up to see them all trotting down the path. Whoops! We shouted to Ian who was busy talking to a group of visitors and I went inside to get some food in trays. Ian made his way over one way and I made my way over from a different direction. The boys were not cooperating well and were not terribly bothered about returning back to their paddock. The next thing we know two of our friends who were also alpaca owners and two others were heading up behind us in a row with arms outstretched like we do when trying to encourage them back. I think the boys realised they were outnumbered by enough people who had some idea of what they were doing and decided to cooperate after all. We are not sure how exactly they escaped, but suspect our visitors hadn't shut the gate properly - it can be a bit loose and has an extra catch, which also needs to be shut.
Little George also managed to get through the fence today.
The girls fence was also moved and George got confused
with the change of area. The girls of course took it in their
stride, Frederiks hesitated but got the idea, but George
after some hesitation ran straight through the wires.
He was put back behind the wire fence and the fence
switched on to remind him what it is there for

Mr. P. staring longingly in the direction
of the girls
The second escape was by Mr. P. and this was a little more serious. He has been paying a visit to Chanel and Mari to mate with them and Aggie has been curious about the goings on in the alpaca house and looking in. Well! I think Mr. P. must have been finished with the other two and crashed the gate and broke the latch. He then tried mating Aggie who obediently sat down for him. Yes we want him to mate with her, but not just yet. She still must have been a bit sore because she suddenly stood up and we were able to lead away a slightly distraught and worked up young alpaca. Next time Mr. P., next time. Oh the goings on, on a farm!
Best buddies still

In their new area with plenty of lush green grass
Our sheep needed moving today and they gave us a bit of concern too. The idea was to take them through the fence to their next area and to do that Ian held the wires up out of the way so they could walk underneath. I had a bowl of feed to keep them occupied while Ian sorted out the wires and then I lead them underneath the wire - so far, so good. The older more experienced sheep knows the ropes and followed me through the gate and into the new paddock, the lambs did not. They saw the wires of the new fence and hesitated in no man's land between the new area and the old one. I went back through and showed them the bowl of feed and let them eat some, but they were still not going to be lead through that gate. The older sheep thinking more about food, came to see what all the rattling was and helped me, inadvertently, get the lambs into the new paddock. Phew! The lambs are sure looking good though with some very nice fleeces. Hopefully in about 18 months time they will make some fine mothers.
Ian does a lot of this at this time of the year, mowing grass.
This is the area where the sheep were and just mowing all
the bits the sheep don't like to eat to keep it under control.
He did have a little incident with the mower before this. He was
reversing it and it wouldn't stop easily (it is rather heavy and
a slipping clutch) so he ended up backing into the electric fence.
All I can say is, I wish I had been there to see it.

One lot of bales stacked outside before the rain
One aspect about this year that has been truly exasperating is the weather forecasts. The weather must have been particularly unpredictable as we have never known it be wrong on so many occasions as this year. Ian managed to get bales of hay done at our neighbours and we rolled them together, but because we intend to stack them outside, he wanted to be absolutely sure they were dry and because the weather forecast only showed a little rain, then we decided not to rush and get them all in. Hmmmph! Mistake! We stacked one lot and had our evening meal and as I headed for the outside loo, I saw some very dark clouds rolling in pretty fast. As I got back to the greenhouse the dark clouds had an eerie green light behind them, it was pretty evident we were not in for a light shower but a storm. Perseid may have been putting on a show the other day, but in our neck of the woods we were seeing a light show of a different kind. We decided that we would eat dessert in the caravan with electric unplugged. Fortunately we had got the animals in and sorted before eating since it looked like there could be some rain. As for the bales of hay? They are still drying in the field.
Aggie, Chanel and Frederiks having a run around the paddock

I can almost imagine Lady V tutting at the young folk of today

Brencis keeping an eye on me to see what I'm doing. Especially
as I was wandering around with Ian's camera
Things around here are returning to some sort of normality, although we had two groups of visitors on one day. One group took a wrong turning so we ended up showing both around at the same time at one point, with one group having a translation in Latvian and the other a translation in Russian. One group had two young men translating, as they live in the UK, although they are Latvian. It was funny to hear the Yorkshire twang of the older young man and they were both quite talkative. I think they would still be here yet, chatting away if they weren't dragged away by the older members of their group. The other group were a mother, daughter and granddaughter. The daughter also worked in the UK and has been avidly researching alpacas, as she was interested in having some in the future like the group we had last week. That meant they stayed a lot longer and Ian and the young lady chatted a lot about alpacas. We are not sure we would be able to sell alpacas just yet, due to building up our own herd, but we could at least provide alpaca care services and help in obtaining some when they are ready.