Monday, 29 June 2015


An eerie light. It was only about 9pm when this was taken,
so quite dark really for this time of year
First of all let's get the sad news over and done with. Our second alpaca baby due this year died during birth. He was a whopping big baby boy for a very skinny mother. Unfortunately his head got into the wrong position and was turned backwards, a problem for the rather long necked alpacas. On reading the alpaca bible, it is more likely if the baby is large and he certainly was at 9kg. Once we realised Snowdrop was finally in labour, well past her due date, we monitored her constantly. She went through all the right stages, but when it came to pushing there was obviously a problem. It was at this stage I went for help. Snowdrop's waters broke as I set off, but it still wasn't right so I carried on to our neighbour, who used to be a vet. Ian did try to feel if the head was in place, but he wasn't really sure what he was doing and so was rather reluctant to try more interventionist treatment. This probably wouldn't have made any difference as Ian thinks the baby might have already died by then, as it wasn't responding.
Thirty minutes later and the sky looked like this

Early morning dew on a spiders web. I have to say Ian took
most of these photos. He was up at 5:20am taking this one
Our wonderful neighbour came down straightaway and she helped to get the baby's head around and got it out. She tried her best to revive it, but it wasn't working. The only good things were that Ian could see how to work on an animal, should a situation be the same again and our neighbour saved the life of the Snowdrop. We named the baby Danny as it doesn't seem right to bury an alpaca baby without a name. He was buried in what will be a new mint patch in our orchard. It seems better to have some sort of memorial plot where we can remember them. Especially these first ones of ours, because those are the ones that have taught us so much
The baby swallows are getting big. They must be nearly
ready to move out. They contributed to the shearing at
times with some bird poo! Not what we wanted
We think one of our chickens who has not got around to
laying, despite being about a year old has finally started.
The tiny egg like the one on the right is usually laid by young birds

Agnese finally seems to have made friends with Brencis.
She almost seemed frightened of him at first, but here you
can see the two of them running around the paddock
It might seem that alpaca husbandry is really difficult, we have lost so many animals over the last two years, one adult and three babies, but all of them can really be accounted for by the age of the Mums and in this case the size of the baby. The first death was due to an unexpected birth in the middle of winter, neither we nor the previous owner knew she was pregnant. That took so much out of the old Mum, she only lasted another 5 months and died at the age of 19. At least as the overall herd age goes down, even if it is rather more gradually than we would like, these sort of incidents should be proportionally less and we will have learnt a lot in the process. At least Brencis our baby born last week, is doing amazingly well and has been no bother at all. Last year we had to bottle feed Agnese, which tied us down a lot. This year, we just keep an eye on Mum and baby and she does the rest. He is putting on weight and gaining balance beautifully.
Looking very cute and fluffy. The problem is that it is very
important not to get too friendly with him, because it can
affect his behaviour and he could become dangerous when
turning into an adult. He has to understand very clearly he
is an alpaca and we are not and there are boundaries. So hard
when he is so cute

Snowdrop and Veronica, just sheared. As you can see
Snowdrop is rather thin. We know she hasn't got worms,
they have only just been tested and they all have the same
food that keeps Veronica at a nice weight and the where
the boys get too fat. It certainly seems the baby took too
much out of her. Good job she gets a year off this year.
Just need to make sure she is kept away from Tellus
Today we got the two Mums sheared, just in time before the expected heatwave at the end of this week. Ian's new shears worked well on Veronica, who we really struggled with last year. Ian used the older shears on Snowdrop because they are lighter and easier to handle over her rather wrinkly skin. Unfortunately we couldn't get milk out of Snowdrop to save for any future deliveries if they need colostrum. We tried to milk her first while she was still stretched out for shearing, but that didn't work. We then tried with her standing but that didn't work either, she kept cushing (basically sitting down). We are going to work on making a sling to stop an alpaca cushing whilst we are trying to work on them. Ian has an idea to use the pulley that he bought when stretching them out for shearing, but that will have to be a project for later on in the year or even next year.
Eyre exploring

Estelle after her teeth cutting
We also managed to get Estelle's teeth cut properly this time. I held a wooden stick in her mouth and that kept her tongue out of the way as well as her head still. Ian was able to cut the teeth in seconds and  they look really neat. At least that is the kind of job that only needs doing once a year. If any need doing again though, we decided that we will definitely use the ropes to keep them restrained, as that also helped a lot with just the two of us. Ian stopped taking Tellus up to mate with Estelle this week. We thought we were getting somewhere when she was being distinctly uncooperative one morning, a possible sign she was pregnant, the next time she was back to her normal compliant self and sitting down for him. If she is not pregnant, it is too late on in the year to try again. Next year, we will hopefully have built another alpaca house nearer to mains electric so we can cope with a young alpaca if they are born later on in the year and feeling the cold.
Veronica after shearing. She looks thin, but her body score
is actually perfect, which is nice after she has carried a baby
to term at the age of 12

Alpaca yoga
We have seen quite a few new birds out on our land this year. One of them we have nicknamed the Golden biscuit. It is actually called a Golden Oriole, which kind of sounds like Oreos, the American biscuits (cookies), hence the name. Another new one to our land were Goldfinches which kind of runs with the golden theme we had last week, with our golden looking alpaca and our new kitten named Eyre, which as I explained last week when it is pronounced in Latvian it sounds like the Latvian name for the Euro. Today we saw a bird with a distinctive red head, but we can't find it in any of the bird books we have, so we have no idea what it is. No pictures either, so no help for you to help us identify it. All I can say is it had a definite red head, with a bit of red down to its chest and rather plain light brown back and paler chest. No distinct markings, other than its head. It was about the size of a finch. So if you have any ideas from that description, I would be very grateful.
Sleepy time. Eyre regularly cuddles up with Ian for an
afternoon nap

I didn't deliberately set out to make a heart shaped scone,
it just kind of happened
One comment I made last week, I wasn't so happy about. I felt it gave the impression that we were almost like trying to be saviours to the Latvian people by showing them the way. I tend to get fed up of people feeling like they have all the answers for those around them, so I should take a little more care in the way I word things. I like a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote which says "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." The trail though does not necessarily mean that we have made a specific path for others to follow, but part of the number of trails that others can learn from, be inspired by and then go away and cut their own path. We had another visitor this week. It was someone Ian met in the MOT (car technical testing) station a couple of years ago and he came out to visit our land once before. I have never met him, as I was away at the time. He had been hoping to come again, but not had much time. One of the lovely comments he made, was that he was inspired to make a go of the land that he has, not doing the same as us, but cutting his own path, because he saw that it was possible to enjoy working the land and trying the best we can to make it work without waiting all the time for government handouts.
Our potato patch after weeding

Our potato patch heavily mulched with hay.
The theory is this will mean more potatoes
without digging up or hoeing and less weeds

Monday, 22 June 2015


Four baby swallows in the alpaca house
It has been a week of deliveries, but unfortunately one of our alpacas is still hanging on in there and probably waiting for the holiday period of Ligo/Jani to get fully underway. We have been spending some of our nights out in the caravan so we could take advantage of good weather to get things done. We have made slow progress on the weeds, but in some places we are getting there, or at least we were until it rained a lovely drenching rain for three hours yesterday. Weeds appeared overnight then. In one crazy moment this week we were dreaming up ideas for a drone to do the weeding in our field. Surely in this day and age something small enough, but powerful enough could be invented? It probably has, but more expensive than a good old fashioned hoe and no quicker.

This was taken at 10:23pm on Saturday night. It shows how
light it is until quite late. 
Thursday was one particular delivery day. We were sitting in our caravan awaiting a phone call for delivery of shears. We had ordered a new pair for two reasons. The first reason is that they are supposed to be better for the finer fleeces that we are expecting off our heavy fleece producer, Veronica, who will be sheared very soon and for next year when the babies are sheared for the first time. Our current pair managed with Agnese but it did struggle a little. Secondly it is also good to have a reserve pair for when we have more animals, or if Ian does any shearing for anyone else. Mid-morning there was a phone call and we realised that the instructions for delivering out on the land was not going to work, or at least that was what we deduced from the phone call, however it was not the shears, it was Ian's passport. At least I managed to understand that the guy was going to be at our house in twenty minutes and we agreed that Ian would be at home to collect the delivery. After that Ian then went onto deliver some poo to a laboratory in Madona, the big town nearby, for internal parasite tests for the alpacas. While he was in Madona he was also able to take in his passport to the immigration office to update their files, so good timing!

We have had our first strawberries for
breakfast this week, all two of them.
These are our greenhouse ones, the
ones outside are still green
The results came back clear for the parasite tests so no need to give them worming injections. We had been routinely giving them injections, but I was beginning to wonder if this was just as bad as giving routine antibiotics and so was not happy with that. It doesn't help that the injections are also getting expensive. Mind you, so is screening them, but we figured that one aggregated sample was enough to decide whether we had the presence of parasites or not on the property when we only have seven animals. If one was infected, they would all need injections anyway.

Comfrey, a wonderful healing herb
While Ian was away, a couple turned up. At first I thought it was our delivery, but it turned out not to be the case. It was a couple that had seen the sign and decided to come and see the alpacas. They didn't speak English and so tested my Latvian to the utmost again for the second time that day. I must learn some key words to describe alpacas, such as soft and try and learn some spinning terms. If I understood correctly they were just driving past and were willing to pay, but since we are not set up for that yet, I declined. Also without Ian it was a short tour, as I didn't really want to freak out our heavily pregnant ladies. I think I also understood that they knew that alpacas are sometimes used to protect sheep, although our particular male alpacas are rather soft for that particular job we think. Still they seemed happy enough to see our boys at a distance. For some reason they wouldn't feed them, I think they may have been afraid they might spit - but that was another reason for not visiting the girls as one of them does from time to time.
The onion, lettuce, poppy and hemp bed

Plantain (no not the banana type fruit but Plantago major)
I only wish I had discovered this plants amazing
anti-histamine properties earlier. Whenever I get a bite, I
chew one of these and then rub the leaf on the bite. Works
a treat and easy to find, we have a huge area "infested"
with them
A friend of ours turned up next to borrow our trailer again and still no delivery. We were just beginning to think they would not arrive when there was a phone call from our village to enquire the way. So the detailed instructions did not make any difference after all. I managed to communicate that I would phone a friend and she would phone him and tell him where to deliver the shears. At least that worked and the deliveries for that day were complete. Still no babies though.
One uncomfortable looking mother

Minutes old
Finally on the Saturday Veronica gave birth and I was actually there to see my first alpaca birth, due to a change of plan on the morning. She started first of all by moaning a lot and then rolling about, which fortunately we know to expect. It does look a little alarming seeing an animal who we suspected was in labour to be doing so much rolling around, but apparently it is to get the baby in position for birth. Not sure how thrilled she was with the attention, we even got chairs out to sit and watch her. At one point she went outside the alpaca house and we were worried she was going to deliver outside, but eventually she went in and  the babies legs appeared. There was a huge sigh of relief when the head appeared too and Ian broke the sac, since that was still in tact and it looked like the alpaca baby was trying to breathe. He then gently pulled on the body to help it out. We weren't taking any chances with this one, as she lost her baby last year. The chord ruptured close to the body again, but not as close as the baby she delivered last year.
A little help to start the feeding process. Normally Veronica
will not let any of us get this close if she can help it.

All a bit much for him after a wee run around. At least
Mum is feeding well

A bit wobbly on his pins

That grass is tantalisingly close but he's more likely to land
on his face

A little uncoordinated there

Legs akimbo 

Meet Eyre. She has an eye infection unfortunately but we
were given the cream for it when we picked her up. She is
three months old
We did have a bit of a conundrum on the Saturday. We suspected that Veronica was in labour, but we had also organised to pick up a kitten from one of the neighbours. We had put out a request through our vet for another cat, since it is better to have two out on our land to keep the small furry population in check and although our cat is a good mouser it is a large area for one cat to cover. I don't really like loosing lots of vegetables to furry critters and one seems to have taken up residence under my orchard plot at the moment. Not good! The only problem was it was someone who can be difficult to get away from, lovely though she is. Lack of language is not always enough to plan a good escape. I did get away lightly and with a few extra tomato plants too. Our little kitten already had a name Eyre, as in Jane Eyre, but pronounced Air-er, which sound a lot like Euro in Latvian. She has three colours grey, yellow and white and so is considered lucky in Latvia especially in terms of money. Maybe with a golden alpaca and a lucky cat we are in for a windfall or the house sale of Ian's late mother will all come through anyway, since I am not of the particularly superstitious kind.
She is a feisty little madam, but has learnt that we don't like
her crawling across the table already and knows the sound
of cat biscuits in the bowl. Unfortunately she also gave a scare
to Sofie our older cat, when she hissed at her We will have to
work on that relationship I think. 
That head is a bit heavy on such a long neck
To our surprise the baby was a deep golden colour. A quick look on the internet and as we suspected, the baby must have passed some meconium sometime in the delivery process, which is not good. However, the baby, a boy, appears to be fine and up on his wobbly legs and feeding from Mum, with help at first. He was a good 8kg in weight. I half wanted to call him Dzintars - amber in Latvian, but that would have messed with our naming system where we are working through the alphabet, so it had to begin with B, so we finally settled on Brencis. If I am correct it sounds like Bran-ts-is, but Ian has already nicknamed him Big Bren. This is our first alpaca that was conceived on our land and the second to be born here, so his official name will be Griezītes Brencis.
Food is in there somewhere


A little nudge from mother in the right direction

Getting whiter now and a little less
wobbly, but his legs look like they
maybe knock-kneed like his Mum
We were thrilled this week to have another group of visitors, someone who has translated for us for official documents and also who invited us into school to teach his English class. He brought a little sum of money for travelling expenses, which was very welcome and he brought his family with him to see us. We had a great time. Since he was an English teacher I made scones but we drank green tea using herbs from my garden and not typical English tea. Fresh marjoram makes a really nice refreshing drink. He had seen our presentation in the classroom and got a glimpse of some of the things we have been doing out on our land, but he obviously hadn't really got the full flavour of it and was amazed and inspired by the things we have done. It has now encouraged him to make more use of his own land and see what he can do there, which I find really exciting. If more people can be encouraged to make better use of the land they already own, I will feel that our work has been worthwhile. Making the land work for them more helps to bring satisfaction and a reason to stay in rural Latvia. It is just a part of the jigsaw puzzle of making life in the rural regions more worthwhile. I know it is not as simple as do this and do that and you will have a successful enterprise, if it was, we would be better off ourselves. But by making the land work for us, has meant our money has gone a long way.
Holding his head up now when he's resting


Not everyone is pleased to see him. Snowdrop is not
impressed and pushes him away. Hopefully she will have
her own to sort out soon.
Getting the hang of this feeding lark now. We weren't so
impressed with Veronica's mothering skills on Sunday
though. We fell asleep as the rain started and after a rather
longer sleep than we anticipated, we realised all the alpacas
were still outside and drenched. Ian put them all away early
and dried Brencis off with a towel. Fortunately we think he
 is none the worse for wear, as you can see.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Still hanging on

Looking enormous
We have had so many moments this week when we thought the alpacas were going to deliver that we are getting to the point where it is only their bulging bellies that keeps us believing they are pregnant. So still no news! There are signs, definite signs like Snowdrop sitting with her feet to one side and grinding her teeth; we got so excited about these signs that we were convinced she would give birth in the morning, but when Ian went to let her out the following day, she went outside and started feeding and didn't look uncomfortable at all. The weather has still been cool most of the time, with only the occasional very warm day which at least means they are not suffering too much from not being shorn, but I think Ian's nerves are wearing.
Trying to get comfy
Trouble ahead! The chickens have discovered the currant
bushes again
We did have another group of visitors, but these were folks we know well and they were returning a trailer to us. They spent a little bit of time coming to see the alpacas though and we made sure that our cockerel who has gone for our friend before was aware that I had a stick with me and he usually scuttles away when that is waved about. Unfortunately our usually placid cockerel disgraced himself and went for their little girl. I don't think it was a pre-planned thing, I think he went up close and then she ran and he ran after her, but not too sure about that. I tried to catch him, but he managed to keep out of arm's distance and so he made a retreat. Obviously it is something we will have to watch when people visit. Especially when they have little ones.

The dark round spot on Tellus' back is the offending lump
before it started disintegrating
We had a kind of medical emergency yesterday and if you are of a nervous disposition or trying to read this while eating, I would suggest you skip the next two paragraphs. Tellus our stud male had a lump on his back that the vet looked at on Saturday. With a bit of internet searching and the opinion of our vet, we think they are fat lumps from clogged sebaceous glands. We are wondering whether the extra weight he is carrying this year has anything to do with the sudden explosion of fat lumps over his body. It is not uncommon to get them, so we are not too worried, but this lump was rather large in size, so the vet suggested a biopsy, which was scheduled for this coming week so we could take it to the labs for analysis. Ian though noticed that flies seemed to be particularly drawn to it and so he wondered if we had anything that we could put on it that would keep the flies at bay. I don't use insect repellents as I hate DEET products, they make me feel ill. I use a spray with lemon grass and vanilla oil in, which is fine if I keep spraying it, but not so great for an alpaca as they don't want spraying on a regular basis. The only other solution was a soap we had with tea tree oil in it which insects do not like, so I started washing the affected area down, only to realise to our horror that the lump was starting to disintegrate. It was gross. For the next few minutes we were removing hard crystalline lumps and revealing a gaping hole. Unbelievably, Tellus, stood still for most of the time of fiddling and poking around with this lump.

The blue-bodied chasers are back again
Sundays of course are not good days to try getting hold of vets and so Ian nipped up to our neighbour who used to be a vet to see what she suggested. She suggested Brilliant Green, but all she had was iodine solution and that was out of date. Brilliant Green was used a lot in the Soviet era, especially for insect bites. Even post-Soviet era it was still used regularly and we remember lots of children during camp weeks in our early days of visiting Latvia with what looked like alarming green spots all over them. Now we know what it was. A little later on, our vet rang back and she agreed it might be a good idea. Neither our neighbour nor our vet suggested stitching it as it might just harbour infections. It was better to let it dry out naturally and heal by itself. We managed to get hold of some Brilliant Green and so Ian will try to put it on tomorrow morning. That will look weird. I have to confess we also have some of the stuff we got out of the wound in a jar in the fridge for analysis. Gross!

Mating damselflies
We had rain this week. I know it might not seem so long ago since I was complaining that we have had too much rain, but the last lot of rain was on June 1st, when we had a thunderstorm and then nothing until yesterday 14th. The ground was beginning to crack and the upper pond level was starting to fall, so Ian connected up the pump to pump water from the bottom pond to the top pond. We reckon we moved about 3000 litres of water and means we can carry on watering the greenhouse without worrying about the level of water in the top pond. The cool temperatures, lack of rain and wind has meant that germination has been rather slow for many seedlings. They are just starting to get going with the few days of sun to warm the soil followed by the good shower we had, but the temperatures have dropped back down again - good for alpacas but not for plants. It is a good job that although we have a short season, we do have long days that can bring plants on. It might just mean we have more cabbages and peas this year, which do well in cooler temperatures and less of the hot weather plants. We'll see, it could all change.

Ian spent quite a while trying to capture the swallows in
flight, a difficult thing to do, but I like this one
Since last week's blog was such a long one, I didn't mention that we gave away our third lot of chicks from incubating our own eggs. We are beginning to wonder if this is a one off venture or the start of something profitable. Hmmm! Mind you, to be profitable we would then need a larger incubator - so maybe just another of those little supplementary things that can add up over time. We still seem to be getting black and white or grey chicks and no brown ones, despite having several brown laying birds, which seems odd, but the black ones are rather pretty. Hope they are good layers too and not all male ones. We are a bit worried though about foxes as we have had more visits. Ian even found one eyeing up the chickens in the arks. When we went to the dentists today, we took the precaution of fastening up our free range ones to keep them safe. It is a good job they are so easy to entice back to their secure homes with a little food.

The pied wagtails are easier to capture though
Another thing I didn't mention was I left my phone behind when I went away for the few days to the conference last week- it was such a palaver. It wouldn't have been too bad, but I had been trying to organise a meet up with someone to discuss a development project and he had my phone number to make it easier to find each other amongst the conference delegates, since we hadn't met before. Once I realised I had left it, I headed out to find a mobile phone shop, as I had about three quarters of an hour between buses. I then bought the cheapest phone they had, which was still €54 but at least the sales assistant got me set up and running with it, complete with a new SIM card and I didn't miss the bus. I did need a new phone as I was using Ian's American phone which was now about 9 years old and buttons weren't working properly. It also didn't hold it's charge very well. Ian tried to get a new battery for it a few years back, but for some reason it didn't work, so it was still on its old battery. Now I have a dual SIM phone, so that should be good on trips to the UK as I should be able to get a new card there and not be chopping and changing SIMs.

A sunbathing Estelle
Ian got a new phone today as well. The battery doesn't last well on his old one and the connector wasn't very good, so it didn't always charge up. In fact he was using an old phone of mine to charge up his battery during the day and then swapping over at nights, but that wasn't always successful. We found a shop with used phones that still seemed in good condition and picked one of those. It was only after a while that we realised it was probably a pawn shop. Still as long as the phone works, we are not too worried.

I'm stopping here near the feeder and the water bucket, in
the shade! 
I see Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel Laureate in science has resigned over what he now describes as silly comments on the place of women in labs. It is fantastic to see so many women humorously posting pictures of themselves at work in the labs because it shows that women do have a place there and they are not really a problem in mixed labs at all. It is ironic though that there is an element of truth in what he says, after all if you are into science it is more likely that your future spouse will be too and certainly the case for Ian and I. We met at university first day, first term of the first year and and what attracted him to me? Me in my lab coat. Not so sure the lab coat will look so flattering these days, I am of a fuller figure now, but after 33 years of knowing each other and nearly 31 years of marriage, there must be an element of truth, only it didn't apply to every woman Ian met in the lab, which is fortunate as he worked in labs for over 20 years.

Buttercups are lovely to look at, but not what we want
in the grass. Fresh they are not that healthy for animals.
Fortunately they lose their toxicity in hay when dried.
So yes, love in the lab is possible but not to be expected as Sir Tim Hunt seemed to imply. His comments were not fair to men or women, it suggests that men are incapable of thinking about anything else, other than women when they are around and unable to control their urges in order to concentrate on their job. To hear him say that women cry when criticised made me wonder what kind of a lab he was running. Constructive criticism can be delivered in a way that does not reduce people to tears. I am just pleased that now he has had a chance to make a proper apology and some prominent scientists have jumped to his defence as a person, including his wife. They made no apology for his comments but at least vouched for his non-sexist character, which is good. It now opens up a whole new can of worms though, of how universities handle their staff and silly comments made by them. It also opens up that trial by social media issues. I wonder if that will have some effect too?

Tellus' brother Turbjørn. That mark on his back is coloured
fleece and helps us to tell the two brothers apart. It is not
like the lump on Tellus' back
Talking of saying stupid things I have come out with a classic this week, that perhaps beats one of my family's all time favourite, which was to switch around the "C" and the "T" in an order for Lemon Curd Tart. The waitress in that particular instance was a saint and never even twitched when I said it. This morning's offering was to manage to combine two words in an inappropriate way, so cornflakes was mixed with porridge. I am not going to tell you exactly what was said, as it could incur hits from unsavoury websites that I would like to avoid, but if you switch the "P" from porridge with the "C" in cornflakes, I think you will get the idea. Try not to snigger too much in the morning as you eat your breakfast, it makes a mess of the table.

I nearly forgot to add that I had an interesting meeting this week about the wild boar issue in the area. The government changed the law last year and I was interested to know if it had made any difference, I suspected it wouldn't and so far my hunch was correct. It was amusing to be asked if I was the lady in an article in a hunting magazine and it was also amusing that it had been noticed that we don't always do things the same way that others around us do. I explained that we are scientists by training and so we like to experiment. My interviewee even suggested that maybe I could be on a committee to do with the issue, but we both agreed that would be unlikely to happen, but you never know. At least I hopefully will be able to keep up-to-date on the issue with some insider information and maybe I can pass on information back to the committee.