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.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Oh so quiet!

Day one of our felting course. Although the day was bright
the wind meant we had to keep the door shut until the
wool was wetted 
Our farm has a certain quietness about it today. We were visited briefly by some friends collecting a key who stayed for a short cup of tea, but apart from that, no one else has been around. It has made quite a difference to this past week when we have had quite a few visitors and a felting course going on. In fact even Ian hasn't been around as he was turning and cutting hay at a neighbour's property.
Preparing a salad from our garden produce. Most of the food
was bought in from the local hotel and bakeries but we
decided to add a bit to it from our own land

Felting the mittens to fit
On Tuesday our young helper was back and we practiced making felt so that she knew what to do on the Friday when she joined us on the felting course. She got the idea pretty quickly, which was good and it meant she was more confident on the day. It was still a bit intimidating though with a whole group of adults when she was only 11 but she did make a nice pair of mittens for her mum.
Trying on one of Galina's creations

Even suits Ian. It is what every alpaca
farmer should be wearing don't you
On the Wednesday I went to pick up our felting tutor Galina with her friend from Riga bus station. Galina was travelling from Poland but her friend was coming from Belarus. At least this year I didn't make Galina carry her luggage across town and got a place to park near the station. I learnt where to park for that during the last felting course but this time I managed to navigate out of Riga much better. Not skills I particularly enjoy employing but at least they are useful skills.
Galina's friend making my hat

One of our participants and her children. Her daughter also
got to make a fabulous hat and scarf. Her son was not
particularly interested but still did a little felting at one stage.
What is nice about our location is the view from the
greenhouse when we get the chance to open the doors
One of the nice things this year is our American friends have been around to help clean and wash bedding between visitors, which left me free just to get on and prepare for the course and do whatever farm work needed doing. It is getting to the stage where I don't look too closely because of the weeds starting to get a hold. At least it isn't as bad as it could be, I have known it much worse. One of the jobs I tackled was to cut back the foliage of the potatoes as blight had got a hold while I was away. I haven't dug up the potatoes yet and that can wait until September but at least the spores should not be washing down into the soil as much.
My friend from Tartu, who I stay with when I travel up there
for university. She didn't want to do the felting but decided
to come for some time away and brought her spinning wheel.
She plied some yarn for my scarf that Galina and her friend
made for me

My scarf in the making. A joint effort
That took me all day near enough, as did cutting the leaves off the tomatoes today. I wanted the greenhouse to look nice and green during the felting course so I hadn't cut back the leaves and consequently we had a tomato jungle. I knew though that blight will eventually make its way into the greenhouse and at this time of the year and I would rather the tomato plants concentrate on ripening tomatoes than fighting blight. It has been such a cool year that so far we have had about four ripe tomatoes. Hopefully this next week they will get a spurt on and ripen, some are at least starting now.
In the process

This had a blue dye added. Aren't the daises amazing though?
On the Thursday, Galina, her friend and I had a wonderful day experimenting with eco-printing. Galina is really generous with her knowledge and we often spend some time experimenting. She gathered various leaves and flowers from around our land and used those to make imprints by steaming them with t-shirts and a pair of trousers. I was amazed with the daisies that left an intense yellow imprint of the flower on the t-shirt. We also found that our wild geranium leaves make a very dark imprint and darker than Galina was expecting, it was her turn to be amazed.

T-shirt from the eco printing day. This is just a t-shirt which
had been soaking in an iron mordant and then steamed
Making the scarf on day three
Ian got on with turning hay and other jobs around the place, while I got the greenhouse ready as well as joining in with the experimenting. At one point though I got a text to say someone had tried to call me. It turned out to be our friends from Estonia who were travelling down for the course and had hit a rock and got an oil leak. Fortunately Ian was not too far away and I managed to attract his attention to tell him about our friends' predicament. After finishing off the field he was turning he went with our American friend to see what he could do, which unfortunately was not a lot. He ended up towing her to the garage we go to in the next village, since we know they do some good work - unlike the more local places. Anyway all's well that ends well and she got her car repaired and returned the following day with Ian and our friend going to fetch it while she made felted mittens.
Trying out the hat. It was a bit tight at first and so even though
it was damp I had to wear it for a bout half an hour to stretch it

Eeee the youth of today! Always on their phones! We were
actually sharing details so that we could access a specially
created private Facebook page for our group to share photos
of the event. Amazing we can do such things whilst stood
on a field in the middle of nowhere
One of the lovely things about the course is that everyone who came fitted right in and it was like felting with friends, whether we knew them before or not. One of the ladies was a hairdresser that made felt hats and I got to know her in June when we were introduced by the neighbouring porcelain factory owner on our felting course. The hairdresser came for all three days and brought jam and home made bread on the first day. I encouraged her to bring along her hats to show people and I bought a poppy hat that she had made to go with my bag that Galina and I made last year. On the last day the hairdresser brought a bottle decorated with decoupage poppies and filled with strawberry syrup for my poppy collection.
Scarf in the process

Washing out the soapy scarf
The hairdresser brought her friend on the first day to join the course, and her son and another friend drove her to the farm on the second and third day and so she asked if they could see the alpacas. She needed to get the bus home though so one of our friend's decided to take her and a few of us decided to go with her to see the porcelain factory studio next door to her hairdressing salon. Some bought mugs and someone bought the other poppy hat that the hairdresser had made. We not make huge profits but we sure seem to put money into the local economy, so that's a plus point.
Throwing water away in the forest so it doesn't contaminate
the pond with soap

A group photo on the last day with the felted hats, scarves
and mittens
During the felting course on the last day we had some visitors to the farm, so while I was still helping with the course, Ian was doing his second tour of the day. The first one was for one of the ladies on the course who came for the first time and her husband. They had travelled quite far to join us but are talking about coming again and bringing their daughter. The second group of visitors consisted of someone who had come with her husband, daughter and grandchildren a few days before. This time it was with another grandchild and her son and his wife. The son and his wife were very keen on the alpacas and are seriously considering getting some of their own. Unfortunately we are not at the stage of selling any, as we still need to enlarge our own herd. Still we would be able to help in other ways and it will be nice for more people to have alpacas in Latvia.
We all felt like this at times as it does get rather warm in the
greenhouse. It is great when it is cloudy and the light is good,
but when the wind blows from the North and the sun is out that
is not a good combination. It almost feels at times like it waits
until we could do without the sun and it then shines. However,
as soon as the wool is wet we can at least go outside and work

Making the hat
It was sad to see Galina and her friend go, but at least she got a lift into Riga from the lady and her husband who had travelled from a distance to join us on the last day, so that worked really well. Galina's friend doesn't really speak English and so it was hard to tell her how much I liked my hat and mittens she had made, so I made her a certificate to say thank you with pictures on to remind her of her time on the farm. I had the printer with us out on the land because one of our friends on the course also wanted to adopt an alpaca and I needed to print a certificate out for her too.
Brushing the fur on the felted shawl

Yes the cats were around as usual
We sold some of our fleece as well to some of the felters from the course. One took half a kilo of Brencis' fleece, which doesn't sound much but it was a quarter of the total and we had to use a basket to put it in to weigh it. We now only have about 160g of his fleece left from this year. I think we will spin it up and make some lacey scarves like the one that Galina made for me.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Poland and back

I don't have any pictures of Krakow, but I do of the
wonderful Polish countryside.
The conference was good and there was no real drama apart from trying to finish my presentation in the session before I was due to present. I wasn't the only one but it is not something I like to do. At least the presentation went fine and that is what counts. I also asked lots of questions in the presentations by others and that is always a plus. I made some good contacts but whether anything comes out of that is always debatable, but I do come away with some lovely friends and that is something I enjoy about this particular conference.

A traditional haycock on the steep hillside. We still see these
in Latvia too, especially on the wetter summers like this year
One thing they did differently was to have a Belgium actor, Lucas De Man, present his play "We, Pig Country". It turned out to be a very powerful 40 minutes of his 70 minute play about a Pig Farmer. In the play he first played a son who had travelled for 12 years and then returned to the farm when one of his parents died. The second part is his brother telling him about what happened to the farm during the 12 years he was away. He spoke about the pressures this farmer was under and what life was like on the farm. At one point he said something along the lines of "do you know what it is like to be bone tired and still have to keep getting up in the morning because work has to be done, really bone tired" and I was thinking yes! I know that feeling and also I am sure that was what Ian would have been thinking as he was left to bale and stack hay. I helped shift 46 with our friend, just under a hundred with Ian the following day and Ian was left to shift another two hundred after I had gone.

Old agricultural implements
One of the other things about the play that really came across, is that despite the fact that the animals were raised to die, the farmer does care for his animals and it is something that is put under pressure by the hurdles they have to face with finances and bureaucratic details. It was hard to believe that this young chap was not a farmer's son and was a city boy who used to be a vegetarian. He had obviously done his research and the farmer's who contributed to it were wise communicators. When he asked if he could interview the farmer about his life, he agreed but insisted that he must first come and spend a week with him shadowing his life. He got up when the farmer got up and went to bed when the farmer went to bed. It was good training.

Horses at an educational farm
What was really interesting is the fact he was able to communicate the life of this farmer and many other farmers so well. Far more powerful than yet another academic article. The research the articles contain can be very valuable but they do not always communicate well to others, especially outside of academia. This play, however, was able to communicate so powerfully that when a tv programme used it to create a debate between farmers and some vegans or animal activists (I can't remember which now) they were able to have a civilised discussion at the end of it - I don't think this is what the tv programmers intended though.

Horse riding lessons for children at a
Of course there were the field trips too which were interesting and meant we got to see some of rural Poland. It did highlight that sometimes things get lost in translation though. What our group understood by a social cooperative and what the Polish understand by this are two different things and this lead to quite a bit of confusion on our first visit. Still it was nice to see how the municipality and a local volunteer fire brigade can get together to employ cooks and cleaners who would have lost their jobs and create a bit of extra business at the same time to enhance their wages. It was innovative anyway, even if it wasn't quite what we understood by a social cooperative, since the cleaners and cooks were not involved in the running of the cooperative. The cooperation only described the relationship between the two institutions that set the organisation up.

A hearty soup and spinach cake. It looked amazing and tasted
The next stop was to an educational farm. Well farm would be a loose kind of word. More a horse riding centre with a small mini zoo. The children have a lot of fun though and learn about herbs they can find in the fields and baking bread in a brick oven. The food was absolutely amazing. The ten minute coffee break stretched to much longer as people were more interested in the food than anything else. The presentation was good humoredly listened to and then we all decamped back to the kitchen for more of that delicious food with a hearty soup added for our evening meal. I think we had the best trip of all - foodwise anyway.
Wouldn't mind an outdoor kitchen like this one

Being greeted for dinner
We had the dinner on the last night and I got the first bus back to our conference venue at 10pm afterwards. I had an early start the next day as my flight was 5am, so I ordered a taxi for 3:50am in the morning. When I tried to leave the hostel the next morning the doors were locked, but eventually someone let me out. I stood there for a while but no taxi! I then had to rattle on the doors to let me back in and ask about the taxi. It is a good job that "taxi" is an international word and the gentleman on the desk was able to tell me the taxi would be another 7 minutes. There was a mild sense of panic but not too much as it was only a small airport and I didn't have baggage to check in. I got there in plenty of time, so much so that nothing was really open until shortly after my arrival and there was time enough for a cup of coffee. I saved breakfast until my stopover in Warsaw.

Of course we had to have traditional Polish dancing. It is
much more "Yee-hah!" than Latvian dancing
I was in Riga mid-morning and caught the bus to the bus station. I was quite chuffed with myself at being able to buy tickets at the kiosks at the airport and the bus station using Latvian. I even remembered the word for "next" when the lady asked me which bus I wanted. There was no switching to English, which normally happens to me in Riga. The bus journey home, however, was a a sad and frustrating trip home, not because of the bus trip itself but because of what was happening at home.

Poor Aggie looking weary. She has been more pleasant since
the birth and keeps coming up giving me snuffly kisses while
I'm trying to put cream on the other alpacas. Well I say kisses,
she is just being her nosy self.
Ian text me while I was in Warsaw to say Aggie was in labour and then again when I landed in Riga. I only picked both up in Riga though. There were several texts and phone calls about the progress, or rather lack of it and then the one to say he had had to call the vet. It was frustrating being on the bus because if I had been at home we could have both worked to see if we could help Aggie. Unfortunately the vet had to use ropes to pull the baby out and it didn't survive. She was not really sure that the baby was alive when she arrived though. It seemed that during the birthing process the baby had got itself tied up in knots, as legs were everywhere except where they should be. This was so frustrating when Aggie had waited so long and had such an active baby. All lost in the last few hours. It was also a girl, a beautiful dark brown colour.

Frederiks having a snuffly kiss from his mum, Chanel
A couple of days later Aggie was sheared so that she could get some relief from the heat. It was not that hot really but it is when you are wearing a fur coat I guess. We were sad and frustrated of course, but I think more resigned than we've been in the past. We have learnt so much more than we really wanted to know at times, but we will keep going forwards. That's all we can do at the moment. We skipped the local festival and just mooched around at home or the caravan we call home in the summer.

And an alpaca hug
Having lots of appreciative visitors over the past week has helped. One family came to visit and then rang their friends and told them they must go and visit, which they dutifully did the very same day they were told about us. She enjoyed the visit as much as her friends thought she would. One lady today was thrilled with the "natural" environment we have here. It is looking better just lately with lots of planted and wild flowers, as well as cute crias and chicks. It struck me again this evening how nice it is to create something that Latvians appreciate and I hope in the process helps them to appreciate their own country more. We love it here and are quite happy to stay here too.