Monday, 30 June 2014

Missing? Or are they?

The new improved divider. High enough for Estelle not to
jump it, in fact even Snowdrop our largest alpaca wouldn't
be able to get over, even in her younger days - at least we
hope that is the case.
Well the first thing that went missing just lately is our free range cockerel. I didn't report his loss last week, just in case he reappeared and had just wandered off, which we suspected he hadn't. One day the cockerel was making a horrendous noise in the gateway of the boys alpaca paddock. All the hens were huddled around him and we couldn't work out what the problem was. Normally if they sound the alarm, the chickens go into hiding, but this time they were well and truly out in the open. When we went up to the ladies alpaca house to do something, I can't remember what we were doing now, I noticed that the cockerel had missing tail feathers. We weren't sure though, with their behaviour, whether he had been attacked or got stuck somewhere. We fastened them away anyway and then let them out again the next day and this time he just disappeared. We assume he was got by a fox and it must have approached from the woods where the vegetation has grown up amongst the trees. Ian went in and cut the stuff back so the chickens could see if anything was coming, but since the little brown ones just wandered into the forest after him, he decided that they were safer inside their hut.

The poultry netting up around the chicken house. Hmmph!
We then tried putting the poultry netting around the chicken hut to confine them, but the chickens just went straight through. We found out from the internet afterwards that it is more to keep things out, than chickens in and they need to be a certain size before it restrains them. Hmmph! That isn't much good then, our free range ones are mainly on the small size, expect our one broiler chicken, who definitely could not get through the fence. The chickens then spent about three days inside, for their own safety and also while we decided what to do. In the end we decided to add one of the cockerels that is used to confinement and doesn't pick on the hens to guard them and see what happens. We know now that it is far better to confine them for at least half a day then let them out for a few hours to eat what they want , that way they feed themselves and lay eggs in the chicken house. It is quite a dilemma, as our confined chickens haven't been laying so well and so we really could do with the eggs from the free range ones.

Is this tasty? Agnese is on and off with bottles, sometimes
she will take a bottle and sometimes she won't. 
We have been trying to work out exactly what is wrong with the confined ones, they look healthy enough but we did notice a lot of feathers. We thought it might be the cockerels that are in the two arks, as they seem to be getting bad tempered with the ladies and picking on them. So in the process of moving one of the cockerels down to the chicken house, we moved the two cockerels out of the arks and placed them with the remaining cockerel in the horse box (don't worry they don't seem to be fighting, apart from the initial spat where they were deciding where in the pecking order they were). Two will definitely be dispatched. I know! I know! I've been saying that for weeks, but the weather has been awful. The plan was to boil up water on the stove outside, so that we can dispatch, gut and clean the chickens while still out on the land. To do that we need a fine evening, on a day when I am free. That hasn't been happening. If it is fine, we have been doing other things, such as sorting out the mite problem on our alpacas, that has meant coating the places with signs of mite infestation with oil or giving them injections or we have been staying overnight, that means the chickens won't get into the freezer till the next evening. Anyway back to the laying, or not as the case maybe, chickens, we have come to conclusion that maybe they think autumn has set in, with the low light levels (yes it really has been that bad), plus they are in a more exposed place and sometimes it has been raining into their arks. They'll live, but the result is less eggs. Well that's the current theory, I guess we will find out next week when hopefully the sun returns.

But as you can see, she still has loads of energy and does
like a good charge around the paddock areas
So back to the missing things. The next thing to go missing was a stick, not just any old stick, but THE stick that marked the position where we hope to dig a well. First thing to happen to the stick was that Herkules, one of our alpacas managed to break it when the electric fence was put up around the area of the stick. Ian quickly moved the fence but left the stick on the ground. At least it still marked the right area. One day Ian mentioned that he had lost a stick that the had thrown in the direction of the chickens to encourage them not to come up close to the greenhouse; well as I was doing some jobs I saw a stick lying on the floor in the long grass and thought "Oh! That's the stick Ian lost. Better pick it up and take it back." Bad move! It wasn't the lost stick, as Ian said, "it knew exactly where it was and it was meant to be there." Whoops! Ian was preparing to get the lawnmower out to cut the grass so he could find the remnant of the stick that had broke and had a brainwave. He looked on his computer to find pictures of the stick and from those worked out the area where it should be. A quick look around and he found the stub. There are now new sticks and longer sticks to mark all the points where the line of water is supposed to run and as I am constantly reminded, "They are not lost! They know exactly where they are!" In other words, "don't move them!"

Ian spent ages standing still by the greenhouse to take a
photo of the pied flycatcher at the nest on the side of the
barn. So meet Mr Pied Flycatcher
I got my own back a little while later though. The next items to go missing were my wellies. They had been sitting by the door for quite a while as they were used quite often (had I mentioned the weather has been dreadful?). One day I went to put them on, no wellies! Now it is quite common for me to wear them out to the land and forget to bring them home, so I just assumed that was what happened. When it turned out they weren't in the caravan, then the next place it was assumed where they would be was our other apartment. Nope! Not there either. Ian suggested they might be in the cupboard by the door, a fairly obvious place to look, but not where I would normally put them. In there was a green pair of wellies, not mine though! So where were mine? On Ian's feet. He had been complaining that his wellies were a little tight and couldn't understand it at all. Now we know. I was in hysterics, I just couldn't believe he could wear my wellies for three days without realising. I have size 37 or 38 (European size) feet, although my wellies are a size 39 to accommodate extra pairs of socks when necessary and Ian takes a size 42 minimum. No wonder they were tight, especially when he wore them with a pair of sealskin socks over his normal socks to keep his feet dry.

And Mrs Pied Flycatcher
We also had a near calamity with our sink unit when the U-bend fell off. Fortunately I heard the thud and realised what the noise was and reacted immediately before we had a flood in the cupboard. I am getting a little tired of plumbing issues at the moment, with the recent floods from the apartment above us at our other place to the slightly leaking loo. I took the U bend off the pipe and placed a bucket under the sink. I was in the process of trying to clean the pipes when Ian came back and he finished off the job and cleaned out the pipe to the main stack pipe too. It was pretty grotty and ready for a clean out anyway. We also fixed the loo, or at least it seems to be fixed anyway. As for the results of the recent flood, the apartment is drying out. There is still one section where the laminate flooring is raised up and we are not sure if that will go back down once dry or not. We'll see. At least we managed to sort out some sort of an agreement with the upstairs neighbours, who feel dreadful about the episode and they will pay our house management fees there for the next year, which will certainly cover the paint to repaint the kitchen and electric for running the dehumidifier for the last few weeks.

The swallows on the other hand have decided to build their
own in the ladies alpaca house
It has been a pretty frustrating time of late and seems like one thing after another. The dry one day followed by rain for the next three hasn't been helping. It is not as if it has rained constantly all day, just nearly all day. The gardens are just about weeded, not perfectly, but they will do, but that is only because the weeds aren't even growing that fast either. I still have one really bad bed to weed, in front of our other apartment, it does look bad, but I figured that the veg was more important at the moment and I only had so many dry hours to do any weeding. At the beginning of the year I felt that what was sown this year, would be really important for what we reap at the end of the year. Obvious really, but I felt we would be leaving a time when we were living on reserves and this would take us in good shape into the next year. When the seeds didn't seem to germinate, first because of the drought and then too much rain and not enough heat or light, I was beginning to get very frustrated. I then realised it would be easy to sow many seeds of despair and depression, instead I need to sow seeds of trust, faith and hope into our future. Even though I have known God's goodness over the years, I find that my faith still needs to increase some more. So we will have to see where those thoughts take me over the year.
No not a ghastly mess from our alpacas, that is the start of a
swallow nest in the boys alpaca house, but we are pleased
they abandoned that one. We weren't sure whether the plastic
would hold the weight of the nest and the boys house is less
accessible than the girls. We might actually make it more
accessible next year, before the swallows return.

I have told you the weather has been awful, haven't I :),
well here's the proof. Dark skies as a back drop for the
Talking of faith, we had a lovely day of "church" on Sunday too. My young wacky friend was going to a camp nearby and contacted me to say she will be in the area and so we arranged to see her sometime. Turns out it was a little earlier than we planned, as for some reason there was no one at the bus stop to pick her up, so we toddled out to see her and make sure she got to where she needed to be. The next day she text me to ask if she could come and visit as she didn't want to go to the service with all the others, as she doesn't like visiting new churches. She is from a family of missionaries and so is used to traipsing off to new places all the time and was a little tired of that, can't blame her really. Anyway she was the excuse we needed to really dial back, that and the poor forecast again. She also helped us with translating for our neighbours with regards to the flooded apartment and we spent the rest of the time talking about faith and life. To end the lovely day, we had scones and strawberries with cups of tea - so English.

Mustn't neglect the perennial visitor, the Pied Wagtail
Just to finish off with, Ian heard some surprising news on the radio, well snippets of news. He heard the Latvian for wild boar (mežacūkas) and compensation (kompensācija) and so intrigued I looked on the internet for news. For those following this blog for a long time, you will know we have had many a problem with the darling animals. They often descend on us in autumn and make a mess of our pasture, despite us having a contract with a hunting organisation. We just have too many around us and it doesn't take a lot of them to make a big mess in a short period of time either. I also spent a year studying the issue of the conflict over the management of them in the area for a Masters project, so I know a little about the issue. The government haven't really applied themselves to dealing with it, until now that is.

The Oak Tree, a bit closer this time. No idea how old this
tree is, but a few hundred maybe. It will have seen some
battles that's for sure
They did make an amendment to the law, but it didn't really solve the problem for local people, as there really needed to be some mediation between certain hunters and local farmers and that wasn't happening. Anyway they have now been galvanised into action due to the threat of African Swine Fever. This threatens the pig industry and since it is a major export to Russia, then there is a now apparently reason to act. Russia and Belarus have already said they are banning the import of pig products, which is a bit bizarre really as the actual disease has come in from the Belarus border and there are incidents of the disease already in Russia. It is also bizarre that this galvanises the Latvian Government when they have been calling for more restrictions on Russia due to the Ukraine crisis too, but I guess that is why I'm not in politics.

I think this is Russian knapweed. Just seen it is considered
a noxious weed in Dakota. We have had a problem with
weeds this year, the latest being the yellow hawksbeard
and have no desire for this gracious looking plant becoming
 a problem. It is a real pain as they are absolutely
gorgeous plants.
To try and prevent any further restrictions they have also decided that the wild boar population needs to be reduced by 90%, similar to the Lithuanian declaration a while ago. The Lithuanians already have detected the disease in their country. The Latvian government said the cull, would take the numbers down to the level which stopped the Classical Swine Fever outbreak back in the mid-90s. Not sure it stopped the disease spread, so much as that is the number that were left after the fever swept through. I must admit to highlighting the problem of high numbers as a disease risk in my thesis and my report did go to the ministry about two years ago. Obviously it did not have an effect, as it took an incidence of the outbreak to stimulate action. It also highlights what motivates the government. The small farmers around here do not earn much, but keep their communities alive, that is not enough to stimulate action in itself, the threat of court at the European Court of Human Rights level was enough to stimulate changing the law, but not to tackling the numbers of wild boar. It takes the threat to major exports to stimulate that.

Just because you can't have too many pictures of gorgeous
alpacas, especially when there is a cria (baby) around.
Here are all four girls, from left to right, Agnese, Estelle
(often treated as Agnese's playmate since she is only two),
Snowdrop and Veronica
Just another couple of snippets of news. The draft report I finished last week has been finalised and folks are very happy with it. Such a relief. It is the first report I have had to put together for real and not for an assignment, so it is nice that it has gone down well. Since it was written in English, but for Latvians, I tried to make sure it was as simple as possible, without sounding condescending and I think I got the right balance.

Poor Herkules, he has really struggled to get back on form
after his eye infection. His skin looks rather a mess, but it at
least we have got rid of most of the crusty skin and giving
the rest of his skin a chance to heal now. Unfortunately he
started with these nasty pustules on his ears recently, but
the treatment for mites and the oil I think is having an effect.
They were much better in the last few days
Finally just had a visit from our neighbour downstairs, we are leaking into his bathroom, he said. I quickly went downstairs with him to look, then dashed back upstairs to get Ian to look at our plumbing, especially after this weekends near calamity. Ian checked the sink area, nothing, he then started taking the plasterboard off the service area, nothing, completely dry. He went downstairs to have a look himself, still leaking. We thought the neighbour was thinking maybe it is going under the floor, but we know the floor is sealed and all pipework is above the sealed floor, precisely because we don't trust the components. The current theory is it is either coming in from the roof and due to the not so good construction and offset blocks that make up our homes, the water is reaching his place and not affecting us, or it is our neighbour on the other side who has a leak, but he isn't at home at the moment. Oh boy!  Doesn't help that we need to get our friend to talk to him at rather a late hour to try and explain.
A close up of the ear. Like I said, it is getting better. We do
need to find a good way of boosting his immune system

Monday, 23 June 2014

Green Winter

The sun made an appearance today
Okay we had the dry hot season when nothing germinated, followed by a cold spell, a brief warming spell now followed by rain that has steadily got cooler again to the point that not much further north they even had snow and we are still only in June and we are in the Northern hemisphere and not the Southern one. A few have asked how are we enjoying the "green winter." We had a bit of a localised storm out on the land and Ian heard the roar and then a cracking as he was hoeing around some plants in the field plots, next thing he knows a tree comes crashing down on our buckwheat. Fortunately the patch it ended up in wasn't doing so well, as it was over an area where he had recently pulled some tree roots out of and hadn't got around to throwing some fertiliser on it and fortunately it wasn't a big tree either. I feel sorry for my Latvian neighbours as they are celebrating one of the biggest festivals of the year here, Ligo. They stop up to see the sunrise, well maybe! One of our friends has got a marquee all set up for her family, obviously not chancing the weather. I've booked a place on the ark another friend declared he was building. Hope he doesn't take 150 years to build it like Noah did.
The clouds even looked quite pretty at times
Sunflowers! Not ever so tall yet
Since the drought broke, I am not sure if there has been a day without some rain at least. At least it feels like that. Even I, the hardened Lancashire lass, brought up in a rainy, wet place and misses the clouds in those really sunny places, am getting fed up. Ian who likes the sunny days is even more miserable and just about hanging on to his sense of humour. It doesn't help that I need to get out in the garden. I finished the potatoes that I got half way through last week and not been able to get in the garden since. We have had two and a half days where I could have got out in the garden, but I had other jobs to do and so missed the opportunity. The first dryish day we finally got Snowdrop sheared. Not exactly the best job, but the best we could do. Unfortunately we also discovered that she has a nasty active infestation of mites. Not like Veronica, which seems to have settled down and her fleece even growing back, but nasty red lesions going up her leg. I got the bottle of mineral oil that Ian was using on the shears and plastered the sores with that. After consultation with the vet we gave all of them, the boys included a shot of ivermectin - something they have to have twice a year anyway for liver fluke, but it deals with all sorts of infestations and parasites, although in this case we have to give weekly shots for the next three weeks at least. We also managed to get a scrape of her legs after wrestling her down to the ground for the vet to check on a diagnosis. The vet couldn't come out, she had too many operations.
Alfalfa - we think! The problem was the bag wasn't labelled.
If it isn't that it will be red clover so no worries.
The boys out on the grass and the girls in their paddock.
Their choice! The girls could go out in the field if they
wanted. Mind you Estelle got a bit of a shock the other day.
She was eating through the fence and when she pulled back
because we were coming to give her a telling off, she
snapped a fence post and started charging about carrying
the fence post with her. I had to block the others from
following and Ian had to catch Estelle and disentangle her
from the fence.
And all of that is to say, that scuppered the next dry day, as it meant clearing out the alpaca houses, steam cleaning them and then spraying with some noxious chemical, then putting in fresh bedding. I really hate spraying with the nasty stuff, but at the moment there is not a lot of choice, we have to act fast before all of them are infested. Having said that, apparently mites can live on them quite happily and not cause any problems, then one day some balance is tipped and they have nasty sores. The main problem with Snowdrop, is she is our largest and strongest alpaca. Even Ian has a problem holding her down. She also kicks. We both wrestled her down to get the scrape, but putting more oil on her legs was really difficult. We are not quite sure how we are going to manage a course of it, without inducing more stress that will only make it worse. Herkules has been having oil put on dry skin for quite a while now (that also could be mites but a different sort, more like Veronica's, but also I suspect brought on by being ill with his eye infection earlier on in the year), but he will with a certain amount of reluctance, stand there while Ian holds him and let me put the oil on his legs. Sometimes he protests more than other times, but on the whole not bad. He does look awful poor guy, all mucky looking from the oil and the fact it is dissolving the crusty skin, but at least pink skin is finally beginning to show through again.
That was hiding under some long fleece
poor girl. 
Sofie sleeping in the greenhouse
We have still been mating Tellus to the girls, or attempting to. We are still not sure if any of them are pregnant or not, as they don't seem to be exhibiting the great protestations that suggests they are, but they do seem to be suggesting to Tellus that his presence is not required. If they would just come out and spit at him, we would know for sure. Ian has been putting him with Estelle, as it would be quite incredible for her to be pregnant with him already, unfortunately one attempt demonstrated her improved show jumping skills as she jumped clean over all three bars of the gate in the alpaca house. She also attempted to jump through the stable door, but fortunately Ian hadn't secured that properly and she just crashed through. He was worried she would have hurt herself if it had been secured. She does all that, but still no spitting. We wonder if she is more interested in Turbjørn, the problem is that he hasn't got all the tackle and so that won't work. Oh boy! This is proving more difficult than in the books. Still I'm sure we will find out by the end of the year if they are pregnant.
Estelle gazing over the fence - probably at Turbjørn not Tellus
Estelle and Agnese. Estelle is still not quite sure is she is a
child or an adult. She is two years old
This is turning into a bit of a purely alpaca blog, but then there hasn't been much else happening besides raining a lot. Agnese continues to have a bottle, but quite often she is refusing now. She is putting on weight and getting stronger, so she must be getting her energy from somewhere. The only other things that got done was some more work on the Sociology course I'll be teaching in September (although trying to upload anything on that, was tricky with heavy rain affecting the internet connection) and finishing a draft report for the reflection workshop I did at the end of May. I could have done it earlier but I was waiting for some translation and photos which I got towards the end of last week.
We have grapes

Working in the greenhouse at least. And yes I have a
sweatshirt on, even in the greenhouse

The peas are growing well - in the greenhouse

But the blackberries are flourishing outside.

Monday, 16 June 2014


This week there are mainly just stormy photos. This is the
view of the thunderstorm rolling in
Just the way I like it! Well at least for now. There was no drama this week, no tragedies and that's fine with me. Agnese has continued to be fed goat's milk and it is having an effect. Most mornings she is not just running around the paddock, but galloping, so she has plenty of energy. Although she continues to drink goat's milk, she is also refusing some bottles and so we think she must at least be getting the majority of milk from her mum, Veronica. With the cooler weather Veronica, has been outside eating constantly, which is encouraging and probably helping the milk supply. Agnese is also getting a little cheeky with the other alpacas and I don't think it will be very long before she is being taught some alpaca manners and put in her place. I had to be quite firm with her this morning to prevent problems later on in life. She came up all sweet and tried snuffling, but it is not a good idea to let alpaca babies do this, as they then start to think they are boss and a 50kg animal which thinks they're boss can be at best a nuisance and at worst dangerous. I had to insist she give me space and not accept any advances. Hard when they are so cute and cuddly. Estelle and Agnese had a bit of a run around the paddock today. Estelle hasn't been her usual self since we had Alicia put down and this is the first day she seemed to be more of her normal adolescent self.

Looking the other way and it still looks relatively peaceful.
You can see the cutting that Ian has been doing. It serves
two purposes. Firstly we had a lot of cow parsley that we
don't want going to seed and secondly we have
discovered that alpacas prefer short grass, so it is cut about
a week prior to the alpacas going on and then it has greened
up enough for them to start eating it. Ian hasn't been
keeping it short this year, as we are trying to encourage the
grass and discourage other weeds and letting it grow
apparently helps. We'll see, the proof will be next year.
I managed to catch up a little on the weeding front. I finally found all the carrots that have germinated along with fodder beet and beans. I re-sowed seed in all the places where there were gaps just before it rained, so hopefully they are well watered in and not washed down the hill. I also managed to weed and straw up half the potatoes, before running out of straw and having to ask Ian to bring some more from the land. I decided I wasn't going to carry on doing the weeding without the straw, otherwise it means doing the job twice, as no doubt the weeds will have grown back in the meantime. At least the potatoes nearest to the very tidy neighbour's plot are done. Since it rained in the afternoon, I even managed to actually do some housework and so our house is almost presentable. Of course this level of productivity could not last, so when I went to our other allotment plot the following day, I got as far as hoeing some rather weedy paths, putting a few more seeds in of carrots and rainbow chard and I had just started weeding the onions when the heavens opened. The light showers forecast for later in the afternoon, turned out to be a torrential thundery downpour in the late morning instead. Well rain stopped play and it was so heavy, there was no point in going into the garden for the rest of the day. I had planned to work through and have a late lunch, but stuck inside our other apartment and feeling peckish I ended up with the only things I could find - dry cornflakes and raisins, whilst I sat out the storm.

A hint of a rainbow
So most of the week has been spent weeding various plots, putting out seedlings and dodging showers. We did intend on sending our sheep to be sheared at the camp/sheep farm nearby whilst they had the professionals in and shearing our remaining alpaca, but none of that happened. First of all we had to get our sheep into the horse box. Now if you recall we have two cockerels in the horse box while we fatten them up and so that meant finding a big box for them, while we transported the sheep, so far so good. The next job was getting the sheep into the box. We rigged up a temporary fence that kind of funnelled them into the horse box and Ian led them in with a bowl of sheep concentrate. Two of them followed quite happily, but of course one of them wouldn't and headed off out. Well then they lead us a merry game of chase, with two of them exhibiting great show jumping potential at one stage by leaping over the fence we had constructed from a standing start. It shows that if they really wanted to, they could actually clear the electric fence without a bother. We gave up in the end, as they were getting harder and harder to convince to go into the horse box. Fortunately getting them back into their paddock was not a problem and they followed Ian back quite happily. Grrr! Ian went to see the guys at the sheep farm and watch the shearers in action. He came back and said, "it's quite easy really this shearing lark" followed by an eye roll. So if anyone is ever stuck as to what to buy Ian for a present, a shearing course would be an excellent idea. We have arranged for the guys at the camp to come and help us shear the sheep this week, after Ian builds a small enclosure and gets the sheep used to it first, so at least we can trap them in it. Just need the rain to stop now - once it starts it seems to have difficulty stopping.

The storm clouds make the alpaca houses look small
I forgot to mention last week that Estelle also tried out her show jumping skills. We have the ladies alpaca house divided into two with planks if necessary and I was busy putting them back to keep Estelle in the right side to shear her, when she leaped over the first one and smacked into the second one that I was busy trying to slip into place. Somehow I ended up on my back with the plank and was kind of stuck. Not that the plank was heavy or anything, although it did smack me rather hard in the leg and gave me a lovely E for Estelle shaped bruise, but it was awkward and I couldn't swing it anywhere without hitting an alpaca and risk spooking them with me still on the floor. Ian had to come to my rescue. Another problem we have had both times whilst shearing is one of the alpacas piddling on the tarpaulin. Not pleasant. The first one was Turbjørn when we were shearing the boys and we were totally unprepared. At least the next time it was Aggy when her Mum was being sheared, before we decided that actually she was better on the other side of the fence to her Mum.

I love storm clouds, so atmospheric
We still haven't sheared Snowdrop. We planned on it on Saturday and it rained, so we decided that since the forecast was better on the Sunday, that would work. Nope! In rolled another thunderstorm and saturated everything. It turned out nice in the afternoon, but I was due to take a trip up to Tartu, so we have to wait for me to be home and the weather to improve. Still at least I got some weeding done and now I have re-discovered a bed of strawberries and planted out some self-seeded squashes that were growing in the greenhouse outside.

Not our own picture I'm afraid. Not had much time for the
bird photos, but one from the birdforum
One of the delights of being out on the land is the number of birds we see. There seem to be new ones turning up all the time too. The bird box on the side of the barn is now home to a pied flycatcher family and one day we spotted a red-back shrike on our raspberry bushes. Both birds we had to look up to discover what they were, as I haven't seen them before. We see plenty of pied wagtails, and we can identify most finches, I can even identify the grey backed shrikes, but those two had us flummoxed. The osprey continues to hover around and the eagle made an appearance the other day. There is also a hawk, but I haven't been able to have a good look at that to decide what sort it is.

A red-backed shrike from Suffolk birding 
My trip up to Tartu was short and sweet. I borrowed a car from a friend and went up on the Sunday night and travelled back this afternoon. I went to see the PhD defence of a colleague. It gave me a good insight as to what to expect in about 2 1/2 years time. If mine is as civilised as this one, I shall be very happy. As far as the defence is concerned it is mainly a done deal, as they say. The main work is done in getting papers published, which means the work has already been peer reviewed and that is the reason there is a lot of pressure to get academic papers written. Three have to have been published by the time of the defence and it can take over a year to get them through the publishing process, which means getting as much done, as early as possible. One of my supervisors also thinks he may have made a good contact for some collaborative work in Latvia, but until there is a formal agreement, I'm not getting too excited. Still its progress. At the moment I only have one Masters student to supervise in the autumn to begin collecting data, which of course I need for publications. Heh ho!

We didn't get the full force of the thunderstorm, that was
to the north of our land. My supervisor who has a holiday
home about 3/4 hour away said his house shook with the
force of the storm. Glad it wasn't quite that bad sitting in
the caravan
I know last week's blog was not exactly a barrel load of laughs and it was a tough week. I couldn't even face letting others know on facebook about Snowflake's death on the day, while we processed the event. I didn't want to hear any well meaning phrases that can be trotted out in these situations, I just wasn't in the right place for that. I know people mean well, but sometimes well worn phrases don't work. In the end when I did post, folks were much more understanding than I gave them credit for and many just posted "sorry" or "hugs" or something like that, which I find far more helpful. At one point whilst working through stuff, I said to God, what I would really like is a bunch of flowers, something that kind of says "I know." Well I got them! The youngest of the girls from the flat where the water poured down into ours, had been out picking wildflowers and when I turned up, she handed me an exquisite bunch. On the way up to Tartu I had a meal that was rather nice, chicken with grapes and pistachio nuts, but it was more of a starter than a main meal and I thought it would have been rather nice to finish that off with a nice piece of chocolate cake, but I needed to be on my way. When I got to my host's home though, she offered me an evening meal ..... followed by chocolate cake. I feel like it was God's way of just letting me know "I know life's been tough and you don't understand it all at the moment, but just hang on in there." So I will!
Estelle and Agnese having a huge amount of fun
running around the paddock.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Stuff happens

A stork on top of the chicks' ark

I really don’t want any more weeks like this last week. There were some good points, like my youngest has settled in well to his new job, which is a great relief and we are very grateful to good neighbours, but some stuff we could really do without. We are a bit fed up with aspects of life at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t swap what we are doing or where we are living, but such is life, things go wrong from time to time.

Agnese looking super cute
Agnese is still having feeding problems and we are now feeding on a regular schedule, approximately every two hours during the day. She usually tries to feed off her mum whenever we (well Ian usually) go up with her milk and we then have to wait until she is done. We would rather she got all her milk from her mum, but that doesn’t look promising, at least she is getting some. This is now a three month job and our next piece of research will be finding out about when exactly and how to wean her off the milk. One of the biggest problems is having to travel up to our friend’s farm which is 20 minutes away to get some goats milk every other day. We also brought our fridge out from our spare apartment to keep the milk in. Makes life a lot easier.

Snowdrop. She is doing fine after losing the baby, but
she still needs shearing
That trip up to our friend’s one morning coincided with our remaining pregnant alpaca, Snowdrop giving birth. Unfortunately the baby was dead when Ian found it. He was gutted. He said he wanted to be an alpaca breeder, not an alpaca undertaker. Our friend who helped with milking Veronica, came around to help out, as we were worried about the placenta, as that took a while for it to be delivered. I am beginning to wonder if he dreads our phone calls. He thought the baby had probably been breech, as the umbilical cord was ripped quite short and with the blood down the back of Snowdrop, it obviously hadn’t been as clean a birth as the previous alpaca babies. Ian felt really bad, because if he had been there early, like he usually is, there is a chance that he could have helped with the birth and saved the baby. Well maybe and we will never know if that was the case or not. I was meant to be at home that day, but decided my place was with my husband who needed some support and besides it would have been difficult to think straight to work with that news. We named the little one Snowflake, although we didn't think of it at the time, it seems so fitting for one whose life was so fleeting. Why Snowflake? Daughter of Snowdrop!

The fridge now resides in the barn,
where it stays relatively cool
That was the worse catastrophe of the week, but not the only one. The first one happened earlier on when our dear water company, without warning cut off the water supply to our side of the village, so that one of our neighbours could undertake work to his house he is building. When the water was turned back on, it caused the filter to blow in the apartment above our other flat and water started to cascade down. The neighbours at that apartment block saw the problem, as the water was pouring down on the outside of the window. One of them phoned a neighbour to the place where we live, who phoned another neighbour who he thought had our number and she phoned me to tell us the problem (are you still following?). Another neighbour knew someone who had the phone number for our friend who gives us the goats milk and he phoned her and she phoned Ian. Another of our younger neighbours used facebook to contact my young helper who has helped me in years past and made friends with the younger neighbours up there, who then messaged me, but I only found that one out later. One of our neighbours also turned off the electric from the box outside the door, for which we are rather grateful as the water was pouring in through light connections. It might have been a disaster, but at least with concerned neighbours we got to know about it pretty quickly.

Full of the joys of spring
What is it though about alpaca babies and flooding in our other apartment?  For those who remember in early February when we lost the first alpaca baby, born on the coldest day of the year, it was followed by a radiator burst at our other apartment. Our upstairs neighbour came down to look at the most recent damage that had been caused by water cascading down from his apartment and he looked very dejected. He asked us how much it was going to cost and to include the work, his shoulders almost slumping with every sentence. We know they don’t have much and yet they would feel bad if they didn’t contribute something. This is the third time their plumbing has caused a flood in our apartment. Our floors and ceiling are beginning to show signs of the repeated flooding. We are not sure we really want to replace floors and things though if there is a chance of it happening again. We have the dehumidifier on now, working away to pull as much water out of the fabric of the building as possible, then we will see what damage there really is.

Shorn Veronica, letting Agnese feed
All these unexpected problems has meant that I haven’t been able to weed the garden outside our apartments and so that is pretty bad and getting worse. I spent one day trying to find the carrots in amongst some self-seeded chamomile, not an easy task with both having feathery leaves. It doesn’t look like all the seeds have germinated either, or the seed planter gadget I used wasn’t set up right, both possibilities and so there are gaps in the carrot rows. I will give them a couple of days and if no joy will fill in the gaps with more seeds. The sweetcorn hadn’t germinated well either and that could be a seed problem or the cold spell we had. I had one bed covered with fleece and more seeds have germinated in that one, but it still isn’t good. I have already put some more seed in on the off chance there is enough time - in a good year there will be. I still have fodder beet to find yet and then start on the potatoes. At least with those I should be able to straw them up, which will stop some of the weeds from coming through.

Estelle being followed by Agnese
At least we did get some things accomplished this week. I have got some of the cabbages that were in trays planted out, some peas tied up and we also managed to shear two of the girls one day. They are a bit more feisty than the boys and shearing was more difficult, as the cutting comb was obviously not working as well. It looks like we need a new base comb every other animal, especially with those who have the thicker fleece like Tellus and Estelle. It also needs a new top comb with every animal. At least we know where to get them sharpened now. Ian went off today to buy some more combs so that we can finish of the last lady of the herd and have some spares for next week. Ian also planted up some quinoa, amaranth, sunflowers and squashes. We still have some more space to plant up, but that will be with squashes that have self-seeded in the greenhouse and some that have been sown in trays. We are getting there, slower than we would like, but hopefully something will grow.

Tellus in the ladies house
Talking of Tellus and Estelle, we started the process of mating them. We were getting a bit worried after a few hours, they seemed to be behaving like a couple of shy teenagers. They even greeted each other by sniffing noses, which surprised me, as I thought that alpacas just spat at each other if they got too close. Anyway we left them together and eventually they seemed to get the hang of what to do. The males though make a very surprising noise, apparently called “ogling,” it certainly sounded very bizarre. We have to wait though to see if Estelle is pregnant, chances are that she is not this time around. How will we know? When Estelle starts spitting at Tellus to make him go away. We know that Veronica is not ready to be mated yet, she was already spitting in Tellus’ direction, as soon as he looked at her, even though they were separated by a fence.  We still have to decide if we go ahead with mating her again, but since Snowdrop lost her baby, we think we probably will.

The gaffa taped up window
Other snippets from life on the farm is that we have had the first strawberries of the year. I put some plants in the greenhouse and they turned early. They were rather nice, even if there was only four of them. Our chickens have also been plotting their escapes this week. One lot got out of their ark when the door didn’t close properly. Probably because it had just been moved and the frame must have got a bit twisted. The other escapees were the two cockerels we have in the horse box, where they are waiting either to replace the free range cockerel if he doesn’t book his ideas up and stop wandering so much (he has calmed down a lot since we sent the other hens away to a new home, so I think he’s safe), or they will be for the pot, when we find some spare time to do the deed. However, they somehow managed to fly through the clear plastic in the horse box fabric top. It was obviously a bit brittle. At least they were all easy enough to catch, even if the cockerels took a little more persuasion. Chickens are quite easy to persuade to enter something when grain is on offer. As for the plastic window, that has now been criss-crossed with gaffa tape to make sure we do not have a repeat tomorrow morning.

Maybe a bit hard to see, but the black blob is the dead
mole. There is an arc of disturbed ground and that is
the path the beetles took the mole.
The strange thing is that we are usually greeted by cats on arrival to the land, but this morning it was by the two errant cockerels and no cats. This is partly because Sofie has gone on one of her walkabouts again and Bella, we discovered, had managed to get locked into the caravan overnight. Our cats though are usually proving their worth as we see lots of small gifts left lying around, usually voles that are so destructive to trees and vegetables. The strange thing is though that these gifts frequently disappear and we have now discovered this is due to Burying beetles. They literally dig underneath the dead animal and it gradually disappears into the ground, it is very bizarre to watch. We did wonder who the clean up crew were. The beetles did attempt to take on a whole mole, but the ground where it was was too hard, so they then proceeded to move it about 30cms away. Unfortunately for them, I think it was too old by then and flies had found it. Still deep respect for the wee beasties.
Video of Agnese. The end could do with editing
but I'm sorry, no time 

Monday, 2 June 2014

It's a girl

Agnese and Veronica. The extension
has come in useful, as Ian has been
able to fasten Veronica and baby in and
yet she can still see the other alpacas.
They are like siblings, can't bear to be
apart, but spit at each other if they get
too close
Little Agnese was born to Veronica on Tuesday of this last week. Ian helped a little with the birth, as he thought Veronica was struggling to push, but nothing major. All, however, did not go to plan. Agnese didn’t really get going with the feeding and we had to get our neighbour in to help us milk Veronica to get some colostrum off her. We got some but not a huge amount. Feeding didn’t really get going, as she seemed to have trouble finding mum’s milk and even when she did find it she definitely had trouble latching on. Our vet gave us some oxytocin to encourage the milk supply and we tried to milk her ourselves, but we were totally in experienced and not getting much at all. Our nearest neighbour was not able to come and help, so another of our friends came. Our neighbour and our friend, both have experience of milking cows and not really alpacas, but at least they were more successful than we were. We managed to get a good bottle full of milk and finally little Agnese or Aggy as Ian calls her, cracked the feeding lark. That was of course after a visit to yet another of our friends, who has got goats, to stock up on goats milk, as a substitute. Our friend came a few times too to ensure that Veronica’s udders didn’t get so full that Aggy couldn’t feed. So we have been extremely grateful for such wonderful support and the lessons we learnt from Benedikts.
This one reminds me of ET
One of the chickens coming to investigate
We thought all was going well, until today when Ian noticed that Aggy seemed to be straining to pee and now we are beginning to wonder if Aggy is not getting enough milk from mum. Oh boy! On advice from our friend we have locked up mum and baby, so mum can get extra feed and isn’t neglecting baby. She seemed to be doing quite well at first. We are now thinking that we won’t mate mum again this year, but give her a rest. Alpacas can get pregnant within days of giving birth and have 11 1/2 month pregnancies and it is quite normal to have a feeding mum who is also pregnant. We wouldn’t want a birth much later on in the year, as shearing a pregnant alpaca is not our idea of fun, so she will get a rest for a full year. We are still waiting for baby number two. Snowdrop is looking relatively unperturbed, but looks absolutely enormous.
Chasing off Sofie. She had only come to have a look
Up and about
I could have done without the drama really, as I have had work to complete, so I have been working in the caravan for some of the time. I managed to finish my essay, well sort of. I did the first two sections and a conclusion but I guessed it was enough and I was right, as the tutor gave me an A and said it was thorough and well written. It didn’t feel that way and I felt I was throwing stuff at it, in the end, but I do have the advantage that English is my native language and not that of my tutor. The day for completion was Friday and I finished it on the Thursday morning. I didn’t have a choice as I had a workshop to prepare for the Friday and I hadn’t more than an outline sketch for it. It was nice to relax a little in the afternoon doing the planning and preparation. I even got out the scissors and paper and made some window outlines and a flower picture from torn paper. It felt so good to be creating something for a change, rather than reading academic papers and typing.

Okay another cute picture of Agnese
Talking of academic papers, I had a reply back from the journal where I submitted a paper to and as expected I have to make some revisions to it. The three reviewers liked the theme, but said it didn’t contain enough sociology theory in it. That is a bit frustrating, I know it is a sociology paper, but there is a need for some inter-disciplinary work to be done on conflicts. It is a people problem and that definitely fits in the sociology framework, but there is more to it than that. I am trying to get my head around how it will fit in and what amendments to make. Hopefully I can chat through with my tutor soon on the subject.
An amazing piece of work. Not really
sure if it is macrame or crocheted, but
impressive nonetheless
The room where the workshop was held and where they
were preparing for an art exhibition
As I mentioned I had a workshop to prepare and that was good fun. The coordinators of the organisation I was using for the connection came and translated for me and we spent a bit of time at the end chatting about the outcome of the day. It was wonderful to hear people talk about how they believed ideas could work since the founder of group, who I had prepared the workshop for, had moved into the area. She really encouraged people to be open and contribute and they took the initiative to get things done. Quite a change from many small villages in Latvia, where they is such a sense of helplessness. They were also even beginning to think about life after project grants and how to become self-funded - an enormous step to take after reliance on top-down initiatives from state led programmes. That is not to say the average Latvian is at fault here, but it is a legacy of the Soviet system that imposed quotas and didn’t encourage an entrepreneurial spirit.
This rather intriguing set up is a giant
photo of a meadow. You sit inside and
imagine you are a child again. The size
of the photo is meant to be the size that
a child would perceive the meadow to be

Hay sculptures, there was also a hay castle, but didn't manage
to get a photo of that. They hold a hay festival every year
and make hay sculptures. Here is a link to another sculpture
The ferry wending its slow way across the river
Getting to the workshop was a bit of an adventure though. I borrowed a car from a friend, the only problem was that the radiator cooling system wasn't working properly. I did okay for the first hour, but then started to suffer from overheating issues. I had to stop a few times to let the car cool down. I also had problems with roadworks, one that blocked a short cut we usually take and another major one through the town of Jekabpils, where they are replacing a rather nasty junction with a roundabout. In the end I was 3/4 hour late, but fortunately they were flexible enough and understood. On the way home though, I knew to turn on the fan heater full pelt and then the fan up high to blow the excess heat into the car. Fine on the asphalt roads, but not so good on the dirt roads. I was following someone, so we could take a different route back and avoid the roadworks, and had to have the windows wound up due to the amount of dust thrown up. There was that much dust that at times I couldn't see the car in front and wondered if I had lost him. Still we got to the alternative crossing of the river, one of the few remaining ferry crossings. After that we got to the asphalt and winding down the window was fine.
The ferry man

"Just don't say a word! You're next" Tellus, the one with
harness on managed to espace from his holding pen. He
didn't get too far though and he is easier to catch than
his brother.
After that rather heavy week, it was time to wind down and relax, with a little alpaca shearing, as you do. Ian’s contraption worked and we managed to shear the alpaca boys ourselves, all three in six hours. Although that doesn’t sound like an improvement on last year at two hours an alpaca, that did include rounding them up, separating one off and ensuring the other two didn’t go far - or tried to. It also involved a tea stop and a quick sandwich. Toe nails were also cut and one of them had their teeth trimmed. I ached the next day though from ensuring they were pinned down, particularly their head. I didn’t do a lot of physical work, but having to kneel or just be draped over an alpaca on the floor is heavy on the knees and back at times. Ian didn’t give them a close shave but he did cut the hair on the top of their heads. It didn’t look quite right though, Turbjørn could have done with some being left on top I think, but we will have to remember that next year. Ian won’t be winning any shearing competitions this year, but at least it is done and they don’t look too bad. You should have seen the looks on their faces, as they emerged from the shed though. You could almost hear them hiss and say, “I know and don’t you dare laugh!” In fact they seemed to spend a bit of time sniffing each other, as if they were checking to see who it was. They are quite unrecognisable as the same animal that went in.

Making friends again! Ian's sweatshirt was
black when he started, but was felted
with white fibres after shearing
We went home for a shower and then returned for a night in the caravan. We are staying out on quite a regular basis these days. One of the reasons was so that Ian could be up early, before the rain to do any chores that were needed, one of them was moving the sheep fence. That thought must have been in my mind, as early the next morning I heard, or at least I thought I heard, the sheep bleating. I swear that I could hear them reasonably close to the caravan and that would have meant that they had escaped. I looked out of the window, but I couldn’t see them. In the end I got up, even though it was 4:45am, and went out to look. They were where they were supposed to be, after all. Well we were both awake by then and so decided that we would get on and move them straight after an early breakfast and then the job would be done before the rain came. It was good timing indeed, so after a second breakfast we snoozed as the rain fell. The rest of the day was spent tidying up the greenhouse. Pity I can’t say the same for the rest of the gardens at our apartments, the weeds have suddenly started popping up and I am going to have my work cut out sorting that little lot out. Oh well! Another day perhaps.