Monday, 15 July 2019


Little Ilvija, just 2 1/2 hours old here.
Well the waiting is over and our new baby has arrived. New baby alpaca that is, or cria as I should say. We have called her Ilvija after our vet. When we decided to get our alpacas our poor vet barely knew what an alpaca was, but she has made every effort to find out about them. If we have a visiting vet for some specialist treatment or advice, she is there learning what she can. If there is something wrong and not sure what it could be, we all do our research and confer with each other to decide the way forward. So our cria's name is in honour of all the hard work she has put in and her willingness to turn up and help.
Chanel in labour, having a rest.

Just born, approximately 11am

What's happening? Curious now, but if Ilvija dares to come
anywhere near Aggie, she either spits or runs off. Funny lass!
We are so pleased that we finally have a girl after a long run of boys. The last three years have given us five boys. Nice, but we need girls now. We are running out of space for boys. We were trying to decide what colour she was. At first she appeared all black, but as she dried out you could see a tan colour underneath and the black parts on her feet and back, almost had a purple tint to it. It will be fascinating to see the change over the year, if there is one, especially when she is eventually sheared. She is feeling very, very soft and we wonder if she has inherited her father's type of fibre. Beautifully soft but difficult to felt and spin. We'll see and time will tell.
Starting to reveal her colouring as she moves about to get the
membranes off.

Determined to get standing
The day of her arrival was quite a hectic day. I started off trying to finish off an article that is under review. I mentioned last week that I hadn't heard back, but I got a reply the very next day. They must have been listening. One of the reviews was absolutely stunning. It felt like they were really fishing around to find something to criticise because they were such minor criticisms. On the whole the reviewer stated that they had really enjoyed reading the article and offered their congratulations. My flabber was gasted (not sure where that comes from but in other words I was flabbergasted). The other reviewer had a valid criticism that needs addressing but I only had 10 days in which to do it, five days now. One of my co-authors is on the case though and we are trying to get the relevant info together. I think it is doable. I also got the other paper sorted and that got resubmitted, so I'm on a roll.
Hello sweetie! I'm your mum

And she's off
Anyway, back to the morning of the arrival. I was just getting into the swing of the paper when Ian appeared at the door and grabbed his camera. Chanel is in labour he blurted out and took off. I went to see where we were up to and figured I had time to go and do some sorting out in preparation. I went and filtered some rain water and put a kettle on to boil, then went and grabbed a towel. All sorted we watched and waited. Eventually the head came out, but that is not the normal process. It should have been feet first and we were worried the feet were stuck. Ian rang our vet but as he was talking to her, I shouted to him, I think I can see one foot, then two feet. I turned my back for a second and when I turned around both feet were sticking out, just as if it had been a perfectly normal birth.
Here let me tell you something

So what's going on in the neighbourhood?
Everything progressed well after that. Ian did swing the cria upside down a bit to empty her lungs as he thought she seemed a bit rattly but that was more out of precaution than anything else. I didn't need the hot water and towel after all. Even nicer we were able to let them outside quite quickly as the rainy days had turned into a pleasantly warm, but not too warm a day. It was funny to see all the alpacas taking an interest to see the new one, even the other group of girls on the other side of the fence came running up to look. Chanel is a lovely attentive mum, Ilvija only has to disappear for a few seconds and Chanel is calling for her and looking this way and that to find her.
Everyone has to have a sniff to become acquainted with the
new arrival

Hang on a minute! Somethings not right here! There is a
fence in the middle.
We were expecting visitors in the afternoon so we settled down to have some lunch when Ian got a phone call to ask if a family could come to visit. Errr! Yes! But we have another group coming at 3:30pm. Okay no problem, they came at 2pm. We had enough time to finish off lunch, set up and check on mother and baby. The family were lovely. We were really impressed that both parents took responsibility for explaining everything to their children and demonstrated a curiosity to find out. We were part way through our demonstration when another couple turned up, so they joined in the tour too.
So that's what's been going on. Time to switch it on to remind
a certain someone of what the fence is there for.

Who me? How could you think something like that of sweet
innocent me?
This second couple are actually seriously thinking of getting alpacas and wanted to take one for a walk. There was just enough time to do that before the next group turned up. All was well and the third group were equally lovely. It was a joy to show everyone around and funny to watch some of the younger ones being totally unafraid of the alpacas and thoroughly enjoying feeding them. In fact we had to stop them because, as we explained, if they eat too much, they'll get fat. This is a bit of a problem for those who have far more visitors than we do, even if we had had five groups in total over the weekend, with two groups taking alpacas for walks.
The night before Ilvija was born.

The remnants of the rainbow nearly
three quarters of an hour later.
Mating of the alpacas has continued this week and we finally seem to have sorted out our feisty older lady who was being resistant to the advances of a quite determined but smaller Mr. P. Taking another male in first seems to have done the trick, at least she is more tolerant of Mr. P. and will sit down and go quiet for a period of time now, although still having a spit at him from time to time and making some rather alarming noises of discontent. The spit off test when they explain to the male they are just not interested is not going to be reliable for her. We think we are just going to have to wait until later on in the year to see if the mating was successful.
The clouds were weird that night.

The view as I collected the milk
from my neighbour this week. Hard
life isn't it!
I'm quite pleased it's been a busy week. It's not left me a lot of time to process the alarming outbursts from the American President. It beggars belief that a man in that position can state that congresswomen born in the US should go back to the country they came from ...err that would be America then, with it's failed politics. Hmmm! Wonder what that could mean? The outright hypocrisy of the man is staggering when he is a second generation immigrant himself, since his mother was Scottish. Also four of his five children are second generation immigrants too considering that there mothers were of Czechian and Slovenian descent. How he can still remain in his post with those kinds of views is beyond my comprehension and alarming to say the least.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Writing and raining

Just awwww!
Writing is going well for me at the moment. I've recently had two more articles published in Dispatches Europe, this time encouraging people to travel slowly through Latvia and visit places outside of Riga. I also encouraged people to visit our own farm of course, nothing like doing a bit of self-promotion while I'm at it. Having said that, it is not something that comes easily to me, but I recognise that if we want people to visit, then we have to take what opportunities come our way.

Herkules gets fed up of the heat and the flies. He's probably
enjoyed the rain just lately.
It was a relief to hear that a paper for an academic journal that I have co-authored was accepted the week before. I am not the main author on that one, I just added a section and polished the English before the second review. I haven't actually taken a look at the last revision as I haven't had time really. Although I now have three full published papers which kind of qualifies me to get my PhD, they are not the main bulk of my work.  I am still waiting to hear the results from that particular paper, but since I only submitted it on the 17th June it is not surprising. I hope to hear soon though. Apparently the turn around is very quick. Then I can get my thesis sorted. Now that will be good.

The baby swallows, still hanging around
There have also been three papers submitted for the EU project I'm involved in. I am only named as first author on one of them and co-author on another. Being first author makes a difference, it basically means I have put the most work in to it, after that it just means I contributed. Anyway all three got rejected. The editor though requested we have a Skype call with someone to help us with the content so they could be resubmitted, as they like the idea of the project. That at least is promising. During the Skype call we found out that the one I had mainly written was basically okay but the others needed re-wording to get accepted.

This bug was rather reluctant to
give up it's hold on the
meadowsweet flowers but I had
plans for these in a dessert, so he
had to go. There have been some
amazing bugs just lately.
We found out today what the minor the changes that were needed were but they are so minor that we should be able to sort it out by tomorrow. It takes a little bit of time to coordinate with my colleagues since we are not in the same office and in this case relying on emails but we get things done. Still it is progress. Published papers can be very important for academics and some places demand many publications to keep your job. Fortunately that is not the case for me and the job I'm doing, but having publications is still helpful for the future.

Our view for our evening meal
Of course, being summer, my time is not taken up just with writing it is also usually tied up with working on our land collecting hay, doing something with the alpacas or chickens or the gardening. So we are quite relieved that the drought is mainly over. We've had a reasonable amount of rain, but still not as much as elsewhere. It seems Riga is flooded in places, so we are grateful that it wasn't that bad for us. We have had enough to give the plants a good soak, but not enough to create a mudbath. Still it has rained most days this week, so I haven't done that much in the way of outside activities. I did get the chance to do some weeding and finally stake up some peas because I can get the sticks in the ground. I also started some seeds off in the greenhouse so that I can get some of the quick growing plants in for salads and some perennial plants for next year. It is much easier when I can get water without a great palaver.

After the rain 
We've actually been able to harvest rainwater to water plants and stock up on our own water supply. The ponds are still too low to water the greenhouse though. I have been taking the water first from a reserve we pumped from the only reasonably full pond earlier in the season and then I have been getting the water from the collapsed greenhouse. It was covered in black plastic and just happens to make a good rainwater catcher. Now there's an idea.

Still a very pregnant alpaca
We are still waiting for Chanel to have her baby. There have been odd days when she's looked uncomfortable but most of the time she looks rather too relaxed. We had hoped that she would have given birth before we start on the process of getting the other girls pregnant for next year's babies. Instead we just had to get on and hope she doesn't go into labour while Ian was supervising the mating process. We have never mated five girls in the same period before and it takes some planning. Not all of them can be mated to the same stud. Ian made a gate to separate the alpaca house into two so we can use two studs at a time and keep the girls separated to some extent.
Just how though can she bend round that far whilst pregnant?

Mr. P with a faraway look in his eyes.
One of our concerns is Mr. P maybe passing on some genes for rapid teeth growth and a possible asthmatic tendency with dusty hay. Not ideal for an alpaca. They are cute babies that he produces but not much good if they are then going to be a health liability. We are giving him a try again to see what happens next year. Meanwhile we decided to give Tellus another go. He's starting to get old, but then he gave us one very good baby in terms of fleece, George, a very, very sweet natured but not good fleece, Freddie and a reasonable fleece but rather large alpaca, Brencis. All of them are lovely natured, so we'll see what happens there.
The sweetest natured alpaca of them all I think. Only his
fleece is not very fine at all. He does produce a lot, so it is
a shame that his isn't fine too.

Brencis having a good scratch.
We've also tried Brencis now he's old enough with one of the girls, which has been interesting. Poor guy, it is his first time and he doesn't quite know what to do. He has needed some coaching by Ian to at least get on the right way around. He was fine the first time but must have got over excited the second time around. We have had to stagger the mating, as there is not enough room or appropriate accommodation to have three stud males. We also need to know who is mated when so that we know when to expect the babies next year, hence Ian has to supervise. Some of the girls have been rather resistant and we even considered trying Tellus instead of Mr. P with Vanessa, as she is a feisty lady like her Mum, Veronica. The reason we didn't is that we realised they both had the same father and so too close a relation.
Veronica might be old and a bit unsteady on her legs at time
but she is still feisty
Don't let this sweet, innocent face fool you.
She wasn't so innocent looking as she was
spitting at Mr. P.

Is it safe to come out?
Female alpacas will sit down if they are receptive and being around others that are mating helps them to ovulate and therefore be more receptive. This is the reason for having so many of them in the alpaca house at the same time. It's all a bit mind boggling really. We are hoping that Vanessa will respond to the mating going on behind the gate before bringing down Mr. P because otherwise he is just getting absolutely covered in spit. We are not sure she likes him really. Vanessa is on the older side and because we can't mate her with Tellus or Brencis because they are too close a relation, and George is too young, we are kind of stuck with persevering with Mr. P.
Amanda is such a cutie

Our boys can be very relaxed and calm
Normally our boys are fairly chilled. About dusk there maybe a bit of a fracas but rarely anything serious. However, the other day there was quite a to-do. I can't remember who was chasing who but they all seemed to be at it and this was before any of them had been to see the girls. Eventually Ian had to separate Mr. P. off to cool down as he was the one that seemed to be the main instigator. He seems to be picking on George at the moment and it seems to either set the others off trying to stop him or off on their own disagreement with another alpaca. There are probably hierarchy issues as the young ones grow up. Still, most of the time they are calm, so we just wait and see.
I love how Herkules, our deaf old man is still the boss and
will sort out the youngsters
Even Turbjørn tries to keep order, despite being the grumpiest
alpaca we have. No one, but no one invades Mr, Turbjørn's space

Jakobs is too young for faraway looks in his eyes. 
It was our time for a flat tyre or at least a soft tyre this week. One of our friends has had to repair three tyres on two cars due to the state of the roads and our visitor last week had a flat tyre. The washboard dirt roads are not good on cars. It's a good job our village has a tyre repair place, so not too big a job to deal with. It just meant it was one of those weeks when we were backwards and forwards to the village. I went back one day and realised I'd forgotten the key to the apartment and so had to drive all the way back to get it. There are traffic lights in our village because they are doing some major renovations on the main road and since the traffic lights take a long time to change and were on red when I got to the junction, I turned in the opposite direction and did the shopping first before heading back for the key.

Jakobs  does take after his Mum, Mari though. She's the one in
the foreground with Aggie behind.
Munching away on the hill
There are not many Brits in Latvia, around 400 I think, not too sure of the exact number, so it is almost inevitable that we will know a fair proportion of them or at least know about them. One guy we had met a while ago after I found out via a blog he had written that he lived in a town that wasn't very far from where I grew up. I even worked on the edge of the town where he used to live when I was a teenager working for my parents before going to uni. His son and grandkids were visiting and so he decided to come and visit us again. Funnily enough one of our previous visitors recommended our place when our friend posted a message in a Latvian expat site to ask for ideas for places for his grandchildren to visit. It is nice that someone recommended us. The weather could have been better but at least the rain held off and wasn't nearly as bad as forecast, well not over us it wasn't. It was amazing to find out his son and grandchildren live quite near to one of the places where we had the best holiday ever. One that nearly ended in disaster but made good by the open hearts and generosity of strangers, but maybe that's a tale for another time.

I know Aggie isn't pregnant but it is still unreal to be able to
scratch your nose with your toes.
We got the results back on the alpaca fleeces. We are a bit puzzled with some of them. Not sure if it is a problem with the testing or our sampling. It turns out that Turbjørn's fleece has got a whole lot finer, but we didn't think it was by that much. Also a sample we took from a young alpaca to be tested because we wondered how fine her's was, didn't turn out to be as fine as I thought it was. We shall have to compare them with next year and see what they show then.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Now let me tell you a story...

A really weird cloud formation over our land this week
"Are you sitting comfortably? Now I'll begin". Well that is how "Listen With Mother" used to begin, a radio programme for children under five that ran for many years in the UK. I'm not sure if I ever used to listen to it, but the words are a familiar way to start a story. So if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin this week's story. Once upon a time and not so far away, I met a lady at the Latvian Rural Parliament. We got chatting and swapped contacts with the result that - as usually happens these days - we became Facebook friends. During the week she sent me a message to tell me that a well-known former journalist and author was doing a talk at a bookshop in Riga that sells English books. She was rather sad she couldn't go. Neither could I go either. Too much to do at this time of the year.
Chanel looking rather too chilled out considering she is due
any day now

Still very much pregnant and so the wait continues

Baby swallows. They flew the nest
I still read through the details for the event and then did an internet search to find out more. He sounded an interesting chap. I then saw that the gentleman was actually going to be visiting the Struve Geodetic Point that happens to be two minutes down the road from us. This point is part of a chain of points used to estimate the radius of the earth in the 1800s. Interestingly enough the first point established was in Tartu, a place I visit often of course. This point is on the UNESCO Heritage List, but would you believe, we haven't even visited it, although we keep meaning too. Anyway, this was too much of an opportunity to pass up, so I sent a cheeky email to the bookshop to say that if the author wished to join us at our farm, we would love to meet him.
Ian found a wagtails nest in the alpaca house this week. It was
not in the safest place and in danger of being stood on. At least
they were safe from the cats. Later Ian found them in a safer
place on one of the pieces of wood and then later on under the
feeders. The great thing is that the wagtail parents s were
hanging around Chanel and seemed to be catching flies that
were bothering her. Hopefully these little chaps will be joining
the parents and making life easier for the alpacas. We do wonder
if they normally nest in the alpaca house and we've just never
found them before. There is usually one hanging around and it
is certainly safer than the wood piles where the cats usually
find them.
Under the feeder

Close up of a baby wagtail

They haven't read the books! Alpacas do not like long grass
The first surprise was when the bookshop owners replied to say they would pass on the message and do we have a contact number. I duly passed on my phone number and thought no more about it. The next day I had a phone call. Yes the author would like to call in, will it be okay in two hours time? What!!!!! Oh yes! Of course it is. After I rang off I suddenly remembered I was meant to be having a Skype meeting, or at least I thought I did. After a frantic phone call to my boss I found out the meeting was the following week and so it wasn't a problem. Annoyingly the invitations to the meetings seem to disappear from my inbox if I click on accept and do not reply with a comment. I then get a reminder only 30 minutes before the event - not terribly useful. I also remember this happens every time about 30 seconds after clicking on accept and before writing it down.
Neither are they supposed to eat oak leaves

Having a good scratch though is acceptable

Digging up molehills for peaty soil for potting on plants
After the panic I trundled on down to the barn where Ian was working and explained we were about to have a visitor and since it was a particularly naff day with showers it would be a good idea to tidy up the greenhouse. So the next couple of hours we spent sorting the place out, washing up and making scones. As you do! It needed doing anyway. The author was a true gentleman who was happy with whatever we offered and was utterly polite in a quintessentially English way. It seemed so utterly bizarre to be eating strawberries and scones and drinking cups of tea in the middle of rural Latvia with a famous author and his driver, but that is what makes our own journey so fascinating.
My walnut tree is starting to get going now, finally!

And my waterlilly is thriving too. 

Chanel was definitely uncomfortable this day, so Ian was up
having a chat. Unfortunately all settled down and so we
still wait
We had quite a long chat about this and that. We found out he was fairly familiar with places we knew as a reporter in his early days. He even knew what a flow cytometer was - which is the type of specialist machine Ian used to work on in his time as a lab technician. He was also interested in my research as some aspects fitted in with something he was doing, so it seemed particularly serendipitous for all of us. After a lovely time and of course a visit to see the alpacas before the rain curtailed that, he had to go. He nearly didn't leave us, not because we were having such a great time, but because the tyre was flat on his car and Ian ended up changing it in the rain. It was a good job Ian spotted it, as that wouldn't have ended well. At least the gentleman and his driver managed to get to the meeting in Riga that evening and I understand it went very well.
Still waiting but not for the rain

It all looks like quite a dramatic backdrop, but still most of
it is heading around us and not over us. We have had one good
downpour today though

Having a jaw!

Cut and baled and greening up now after the rain.
Besides sitting around talking to well-known folks we have got two lots of hay baled up and under cover before any rain, so more Crown Green Bale-ing. We are now a third of the way through the amount we need for the following year, which is good. What is not so good is the forecast this week is for showers all week with cold temperatures. So while a large portion of Europe swelters our weather deteriorates. Hopefully it will warm up again and we can get the rest of the haymaking done.
Little helpers! Ladybird larvae are also voracious eaters of

I'm hoping these are pupating ladybirds, otherwise I have an
infestation of something else.

It is not so obvious in this light, but
I love the contrasts of purples and
yellow plants with the different
greens. I'll try again on a sunny day
There have been plenty of visitors this week too and one coach load were from Austria. We went to collect a friend of ours to translate from English to Latvian so the guide could translate into German as requested. In the event, most of them spoke perfectly good English, especially as many were quite young. Many of them were also from farms and so were quite interested in the care of the alpacas. Although there are many alpacas in Austria, there are not many where this group come from. Fortunately our friend enjoyed chatting along to the young folks anyway and so was a break from the usual routine.
Now if anyone knows what this is, I would
be grateful. It is a strong smelling herb of
some description. I bought some herb
seeds and planted them up last year. Two
sorts I cannot remember the name of.

Just like his father, Brencis takes a good photo in the
dark alpaca house. We couldn't do that with Mr. P
We also had a visit from my crazy young friend. Only she is not quite so crazy these days, nor so young. We both work remotely and so there was one point where we both needed to get on with some work and so we shared a co-working space, with our computers set up on a picnic table just outside the greenhouse where we could see the alpacas and using my phone as a hotspot to connect to the internet. It worked rather well. There was one point though we were startled to see a young alpaca running free.
Not often we can get a good photo of Mr. P but I do like this one

Yes we had rain and rainbows today
At the time we had another set of visitors, a mum and young son. They wanted to take an alpaca for a walk and so Ian sorted out two Freddie and Josefs, so they can go together. The idea was the young guy would hold the rope with his mother taking the end of it and Ian walk with the other one. Unfortunately she didn't hang onto her end and Freddie got away towards the end of the walk. I stopped what I was doing and walked up to Freddie slowly. He had a long lead and so I was able to grab the end and reel him in slowly. I held onto him until Ian turned up. It wasn't too big a deal really because Freddie knew where to go and just wanted to get back to his other mates.
There have been some great cloudscapes this week

Some of the new girls do enjoy sitting
in this hollow next to the alpaca house
to keep cool on sunny days
He wasn't the only escapee this week. Vanessa's lot have got out twice this week. It seems they need a reminder of what the electric fence is for. We think the grass had got so long they didn't see it and walked through it the first time. The second time they decided the fence wasn't worth bothering with and headed straight out anyway. They were confined to barracks on both occasions. They will need confining a little longer too as Ian needs to make some more wooden posts and the ground is still too hard, despite the bit of rain we've had to hammer them in properly.
Confined to barracks

More interesting bugs
My friend and I weren't on the computer all the time though. She also picked strawberries. We always think of her when picking strawberries, as that was one of the first things she did when she visited us many years ago as a young teenager. In fact she picked so many that by the end of her time with us, she had gone off them - at least for a short while. Unfortunately she wasn't around long enough to eat too many of them and I took her to the bus station yesterday to send her on her way. She maybe back soon and if not, then we will no doubt catch up on her journey another year.