Tuesday, 30 July 2019

RIP Spuggie

This was Spuggie as a little chick. One of those will be
Black Tail too but she was a little hard to pick out at this
stage. Unfortunately I haven't got any recent photos of
Spuggie on this computer.
Spuggie, the Geordie name for a sparrow, was a survivor. She got her name because she resembled a little sparrow when she was born, a little stripey brown chick, amongst all the yellow and peach coloured ones. She grew up in an ark that we moved daily and then as we raised more chicks we decided to let her and her cohort become free range chickens. We did this for a couple of years, raising new chicks and putting the older ones in a hutch in the alpaca paddock. The idea was that the alpacas would protect them. We did this until we got to the stage of losing too many of them to foxes and birds of prey.
A view of the ski hill from a track we have or at least had
around our land for alpaca walks. Details below

Herk have you been rolling in the mud? Last year I used to
cover him in clay to protect a sore spot from the flies, he
obviously thought it was a good idea.
He is one of the alpacas that was meant to protect the chickens
and didn't. We used to say that they had a hotline to all the
foxes and birds of prey to tell them we were out and come
and get the pesky chickens. 
Obviously the alpaca deterrent wasn't working and the chickens went through the fences anyway and left the potential protection of the alpacas. Big bird, the only female broiler chicken we managed to hatch even had a big bite on her behind from one fox attack. We had known the alpacas watch with amazed expressions on their faces as a bird of prey circled the hen house causing panic amongst the chickens until we chased it off. So it was with great reluctance that we decided that free ranging was not working for us and Spuggie and those who were left were re-incarcerated in an ark to be moved daily in summer. That was a few summers ago now and Spuggie and Black tail have hung on from the second brood we ever raised (Big bird was in the first brood and died a few years back at a great age for a broiler chicken of over 3 years).
Ilvija is definitely the most inquisitive cria I've seen in a while

Mari and Ilvija are definitely good friends. We were worried
at first that maybe Mari would hurt her, but they seem to
encourage each other and Ilvija does not run away all the
Spuggie was always a bird with a full crop. She always looked like she had got food stuck in it and if any other chicken looked that full we would have been worried, but not with Spuggie. We were used to her waddling around, her crop swinging about looking so stuffed we wondered how she could possibly move. She was still the boss though to the end, albeit a boss with an eye for the fellas. Unfortunately the other night we found her with a leg that seemed to be unresponsive. We settled her comfortably into the ark to see if she had just hurt it rather than put her on her own in the cat basket, but by the morning she had passed away. Her end was swift. I do wonder looking back if she was struggling a bit with her legs the day before but up until then she was often one of the first in for food every night. RIP Spuggie, you had a good innings of just over 7 years. So now all that remains of that brood is Black Tail, a chicken often too intelligent for her own good but still going.
Poor Freddie, he often looks startled. Bless him!

A soggy looking Jakobs.
The day I found Spuggie dead in the ark was a rather busy day. I ran into the village (in the car of course) for some supplies and called in for some cheese from my friend the goat farmer. Late morning a lady I had met at the Rural Parliament came with her husband and some friends with their two girls. We had a great time chatting, seeing the alpacas and drinking tea and eating cake. In the middle of that a vet who is beginning to specialise in alpacas came with her mother, so more alpaca visiting and talking about alpacas. Our friends hung around and helped us to cut the toe nails of the boys, which involved haltering up Brencis and the two guys who came hanging onto him while Ian cut his nails. He is a lovely guy, except when it comes to shearing and toe nails and then he becomes quite uncooperative. Not good for a huge chap. I must admit to leaving them to it while I had a chat about development and such with my friend from the Rural Parliament.
The boys out enjoying the cooler weather

This! Yes we had rain, but also some trucks turning round on
this spot. Our driveway is not designed to take big trucks.

We did it! Just enough bales now to get
us through the year, with still more to cut
if the weather will just hold long enough.
Our friends left to get something to eat and I went back into our village with Ian to collect a young lass from France. She was a friend of my long-time crazy young friend (crazy in a good way, you understand and I wouldn't have her any other way). My young friend had suggested a few places to camp in Latvia and she chose to come and visit us. What a blessing she was. When we were busy, she pitched in and when we weren't ,we either sat around and chatted or she read. It was so good to have someone help us on a rather hot day to gather the bales of hay and get them put away before the rain. She camped by the side of our greenhouse, which is one of the few flat areas to camp on our land and went with the flow. She helped with washing up or whatever little or big job needed doing.

Ilvija's neck is now just about long enough to reach the
ground to eat the grass.
You can never have too many baby alpaca pictures.
She also joined in chatting with friends and came with us to visit others. She went with Ian when he went up to our friends north of us with alpacas to collect some feed and see her new alpacas that had arrived that day and she went with me to my goat farming friend to pick up her daughter who also came to do some work for us again. It was rather sad to see her set off on the bus to Riga today the first leg on her way back to France on the bus.
Rain clouds gathering from the south.

A lovely evening sky to relax with.
It has been such a lovely weekend with great visitors but the only downside was the good weather was followed by the rain on Monday. It was only meant to be a short shower, but we got a deluge instead. It wouldn't have been so bad but we are still trying to finish off hay cutting. Ian had cut the steep part of the hill and had planned to turn it to get it off the floor but ran out of time. He turned it this morning even though it was still damp in the hopes that it might dry off, but it rained again. We still will have to clear it, we cannot allow it to rot onto the field, otherwise we lose subsidies.
I love the stripes but would rather see it baled. You can see
a bale on the left hand side. It is one of the large bales that
should be on top of the hill. As our friend and
I were rolling bales together to make them easier to collect,
there was a guy baling for our neighbour at the top. Ian
pipped the horn of his tractor and pointed up the hill. At first I
thought that he was pointing to the large number of storks
setting off (Ian counted 27 storks), but I then realised he was
pointing to this huge bale rolling down the hill. I did move
slightly and watched until I was sure it was heading away
from me and not heading towards the road. 

An evening rainbow

Our very own grumpy, pesky cat. This week's haul was
nearly a large tub of sour cream. Fortunately, although she
got the lid off, we caught her before she had eaten very
much of it. A rattle of a pan has her skulking around. It's
driving me mad.
Other snippets of news this week is that a paper I co-authored was officially published this week. I had heard it was accepted a few weeks back but now it is online (unfortunately behind a paywall though - link here if you are interested and have access). Ian finally got around to fixing the horse box, which was a good job as we needed it to collect hay from the field. He also had to take a wheel to get another puncture fixed. Not good. And finally the mushroom year continues and we managed to collect more and get them dried. So potatoes, mushrooms and peas for winter this year it would seem.
The daisies are looking a little sad after the rain

The apples are ripening

Welcome to the jungle.

The road alongside our land is being remodelled. They are
putting in humungous ditches. This is going to be fun! Not!
Imagine what it will be like when it has rained consistently and
turns into mud soup or when it has snowed and turned to ice.
Now imagine a huge logging truck or one of the frequent
trucks heading to the biogas unit hurtling along the road. A recipe
for an accident unfortunately.
This is the top of our land. When they put an electric cable in
they created a track that we had been using to access some
woodland for mushroom picking. We can't get this way now
the only options are to access it by road, scramble down the
bank or over a swamp. Hmmph! The road is dangerous to
walk along on this stretch as it is on a bend.

And this is the bank to scramble down

Another view of the bank. The only other option is to cut
back more trees on the left of this picture.

They have also sculpted the soil back onto the land. It isn't
technically ours as the road belongs to the state up to 11m
from the centre. Only this does go over the path where we used
to walk the alpacas and will need remaking now.

It is already washing away into the ditch too.

And full of water after the rain.

Yes of course you can park on our land! Without asking!
It is a good job that we had already cut the hay.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Been a tad busy

Lots of visitors and lots to do, so the blog is late again this week

Monday, 22 July 2019

Another week over

Ilvija is turning into quite an inquisitive little soul
I finally got some garden jobs done this week. I reseeded some carrots, beetroot and fodder beets. I had so few that have actually germinated that I had to do something and now the rains have arrived it seemed the best time. I sowed carrots in someone else's garden and they germinated but mine didn't - timing has been so critical. At least there is still time to grow smaller carrots but maybe they will not reach maincrop size, we'll see. It has been such a slow start to the season due to cold, then the drought and now the season is slipping away.
Not a bad view for an evening cuppa

I thought we had lost this rose this
year, it took so long to come
through. Fortunately it did and it is
still a lovely colour with a
wonderful smell
I even had help this week, which was great. Now tell me, how many teenagers do you know, who could correctly identify plants to make teas with no prompting? Not only can identify them but also know how to prepare them to make the tea? That was the sort of help I had at the weekend. I now have lovage (a herb that tastes a bit like celery and coriander/cilantro but without the hassle of growing celery) in the solar drier and marjoram tied in bunches drying in the barn.
I have been trying to collect
examples of the biodiversity on
our farm. A yellow crab spider

Ian has been busy too fixing the horse
box. It should have had its technical
 a while ago, but no time to sort it.
It is a pain as we usually collect hay
with it, but this time we only have
the tractor.
I also have all my peas staked up. My helper was able to go into the forest and sort out the right sort of sticks for stakes and with only a little initial guidance. I got the peas weeded and the beans staked up while all that was being done. We also prepared a bed out of some rotten wood to put the blueberry bushes in that were bought at the beginning of the season. Watered all the plants in the greenhouse by hand, because we still don't have enough water in the pond yet to use the pump; recaptured three escaped chicks; cleared a bed ready for some garlic bulblets and talked about plants.
After some cleaning

One of the many number of medicinal herbs in our fields.
This one is called Self-heal in English and Parastā
brūngalvīte in Latvian.
My helper is so fascinated by plants and their uses I suggested she take a look at ethnobotany as a possible subject to study. It may have some very valuable uses in the future as crops fail and we have to reconnect with a wider variety of food plants than we do now and going back to ancient uses may therefore be helpful. Maybe we will have to go on some visits to different places to find out more, because along with her other accomplishments she is also pretty fluent in English too, so I think we would both find that an interesting day out. It was also fantastic to get so much done in one day and we both wondered where the day had gone because we were just getting on and chatting from time to time.
Aggie has been a bit miserable this week. She doesn't like
the heat and she doesn't like other alpaca's babies. The little
ones learn fast to avoid her

Lady V, unlike Aggie is a favourite Aunty Alpaca. Ilvija
will often sit with her.
I was working on my paper again based on the two reviews I got last week but just as I was nearly finished, I got the third and final review in. It was a weird one. The reviewer said I needed to add a literature review, which I already had, just not called a literature review. They also suggested half a dozen references to articles in tourism journals. My article is not focussed on tourism and it is only briefly mentioned. There was a common factor though in most of the article suggested - one particular author. Hmmm! Fortunately the editor also suggested that we did not need to include references suggested by reviewers if we did not feel they were needed. More hmmmm! I suggested the changes we had already made would answer one of the criticisms made and sort of ignored the rest - in an academic way of course - by explaining full references were not given, so not entirely sure which ones were recommended and being in tourism journals meant they were not really relevant.
The grapes are growing well

They are even starting to change colour
We've had a couple of trips out this week, both in the rain. One half day trip included a trip to the hairdressers, collecting some chicken food and visiting our friend's alpaca farm nearby to update our records for the data centre that we have to do twice a year all rolled into one. An eclectic mix of tasks, but all very much needing to be done. My hair was truly awful, we had completely run out of chicken food and the data centre update has to be done this month, in fact we might have been slightly late for it. All was done anyway.
Fleabag formerly known as Flossie. She was dashing around
the greenhouse tonight, so we thought we had better
investigate. Sure enough, three fleas were found.

Sofie on the other hand, couldn't care less 
The other trip was today, to go and shear three alpacas. Ian had made it clear that they had to be kept in so they would be dry, but the person who organised it forgot and so they were drenched. Having said that, we went to have a look anyway, as we were over half way there when we found out. When we got there we realised that we wouldn't have been able to shear anyway. There was only a covered area for shearing and not an indoor place and it was raining pretty heavily. There were also only two who needed shearing and not three, one was too young. Fortunately they paid for our travel and our time and we will let them know when we can organise to come again.
The idea was they would be on here while the cria was little
so we could see them. She arrived so late, they ate most of
the grass and now had to be moved to behind the alpaca house.

Chanel is a very attentive mum
One of the reasons we haven't been able to get out of course was our little cria, born last week. We had been waiting and waiting for Mum to give birth and so off farm trips had to be kept to a minimum. We then couldn't be away for long at first, as mums don't always seem to ensure their babies are safe from rain or sun. They maybe intelligent in many ways but not always with respects to their babies, certainly not Chanel anyway. She is very, very protective of her babies and goes into a panic if she can't see her, but that doesn't seem to extend to ensuring she is in the shade or undercover when needed. Chanel wasn't keen of us weighing little Ilvija every night either. At least we knew she was putting on 200g to 300g every day, so obviously she was being well fed and thriving.
This photo makes me laugh. Chanel looks like she has a
cigarette in her mouth. Trust me, she does not.

Just don't you come near me!!! No I will not play! I am not
your Aunty Mari.
It seems there have been more awful outbursts from President Trump this week. I am appalled that he is still supported by Christians. We should learn to disagree in politics but it should never be acceptable to stir up a crowd to shout, "Send her back" or "Lock her up". This is not the 1930s Nazi era. It is not just thoughtless, it unleashes forces that should never be unleashed - the power of a baying crowd. I cannot think of one single reason for backing this kind of behaviour. His actions destabilise the world by enabling other leaders to justify their own actions. The US has lost much in moral leadership and sadly not the only country to do so.
Just how?

Dane's blood. Strange name, but there
you go. A less sinister name is clustered
bellflower, which sounds quite boring
in comparison.

I have got a sample of this to decide whether
it is St.John's Wort of St.Peter's Wort

Oh yes! Mushroom season has begun. These
are Orange Birch Boletes - at least I think they
are. What I do know is they are perfectly safe
to eat.

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.