Thursday, 10 September 2009

Autumn already?

Walking the dogs the other morning I detected a temporal shift. (No not a rift in the time-space continuum - you watch too much sci-fi).

Spring began for me with a subtle shift in the greens of the valley. I declare Autumn to have begun with a shift in the browns. Still subtle, Autumn is not yet full-on.

Leaves are falling in increasing numbers and begin to cover up the paths. Red jewels of the rowan trees are scattered around, too prolific for the birds to eat them all. The dew was heavy on the grass and the swallows seem to be feeding like they know they have a long journey soon.

Autumn is one of my favourite times of year but only one among many. Living here in the valley seems to allow the shifting seasons to be more present somehow. Certainly more so than our previous urban home. Now every day essential rituals include checking the weather forecast, since the outside impacts most things we do. You have to do most things anyway but it helps you decide which clothes to wear since it is such a long way to dash back to the house if the heavens open.

Sue needs a new pair of wellingtons that do not leak and my thoughts are turning towards waterproof trousers that are what the name suggests they should be. Autumn is breaking upon us but in the meantime we enjoy some very welcome sunshine.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Reggie the racer moves on and other updates

Not sure where he has gone to but our racing pigeon visitor has not been seen for a few days. I did not even get to tell him his new name. He had taken to sitting on the bathroom windowsill and blinking at you through the window. Go well my young feathered friend...

The other visitor on the bank of the lake seems to be still digging but not showing his/her face. I am not sure whether it can be a fox, since our dogs show a distinct lack of interest in the hole other than cursory head stuffing and then on to the next thing. They have just had baths and a hair trim so heads in holes is to be discouraged anyway.

The cats continue to amaze and amuse. Bramble - small ginger - loves sitting on things, particularly near the edge. We have lost teapot lids, flour jars and the odd vase when she has fallen asleep and literally dropped off, though the vase was actually because she was trying to drink the water.

She also has a novel way of leaving the house but I will tell you about that another time.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Boy racer, or girl racer?

A racing pigeon turned up exhausted on Sunday morning (30th) and just wandered into the porch seeking shelter. Given our cats and dogs, this meant a rescue and removal in a cage to a quiet spot with some food and water. Guidance from various websites suggested that they will fly off again once they have rested. Next morning on release he only got as far as the roof and has pretty much stayed there since with the occasional test flight up and down the valley. He moves well, just not very far. (I have decided he is a 'he' but I couldn't really tell just by looking at what colour socks he was wearing).

He does not seem to be hurt but is not currently showing much inclination to return home - wherever that is. I checked his leg ring but could not see a phone number printed on his wings - apparently some of them do have this. The Royal Pigeon Racing Association have a page for reporting stray pigeons but you have to have them in your possession - you know the old saying about a bird in the bush (or on the roof). I was sure he would fly off home but apparently not. Now I have his number but can't currently make contact with the owner. GB-09-K38035

He seems happy enough but let's hope that the cats and local birds of prey don't invite him for lunch.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Last cria of the year just arrived

(This is Lalana, the mum.)

Bank holiday Monday saw another wet day to go with the many we have had during the summer here in Swansea.

Finally the sun arrived in the afternoon. This was closely followed by a pair of white feet, spotted at a distance across the valley. Lalana, our oldest mum at 6 yrs, produced a gorgeous girl with long legs.

(This is the new cria at the really floppy stage.)

She weighed in at 8.75 Kg which is big in anybody's books. She struggled initially because of being born on a steep slope. As she tried to cush, she kept toppling over and kept sliding further and further down the hill. In the end I decided she needed some flat ground to get herself established so I picked her up in the sling (taking the opportunity to weigh her) and gently moved her. Mum was in tow and keeping a very close eye on me. Really don't like interfering like this but felt it was necessary in the end.

After 10 minutes she had cushed for the first time (briefly), 50 minutes to her first wobbly stand and just over an hour and a half to her first feed. I think it would all have been quicker on the flat but you just have to try to let them get on with it without interfering too much.

Last year Lalana gave us days of warning behaviour with her cushing and frequent trips to the poo pile and lots of tail lifting; this time she fooled me. I had weighed Lalana earlier in the day and checked her Sacrotuberous ligaments (they run from base of tail to wing of pelvis) which are normally like piano wires but near to giving birth relax and almost disappear. They were hardly present but the rest of her behaviour suggested it was not going to be today. Ah well, learning all the time.

Lalana's cria is doing just fine and feeding well. She is getting stronger all of the time and moves around with the herd without any trouble. They are all gorgeous at this stage but she is particularly pretty girl and her fleece looks really nice though it is obviously too early to be sure just how good it is. Nice to finish the cria season with a girl, having had two boys earlier in the year.

Now if it would just stop raining for a while...

Finally, this is a video clip of her first attempts at walking. Lots of forward momentum but she had trouble with the stopping or turning. As you can see, the rest of the herd seemed to want to check out her technique and give general encouragement.

Alpaca Open Day

Sunday was our autumn Alpaca Open Day.

We now have 15 alpacas, having started with 5 pregnant females in March 2008.

While I was talking non-stop in the stable, where the girls and their cria were safely in a pen, Sue was up at the house with lots of lovely helpers, supplying our guests with hot drinks and home made cakes (even if not from our home on this occasion). They also got a chance to get their hands on some toasty warm and soft alpaca socks.

The weather was seriously wet and we appreciated every one of the 70+ visitors who came to see us and the animals. Walks in the valley had been planned but will have to wait for another time.

Learning all the time.

New resident in the valley

I think this particular resident is probably not that new but his home is.

I discovered a while back a hole in the bank near the lake. It has gradually been growing, so my assessment of who was responsible has had to keep changing. My own dogs were the first potential culprits - usually following after the smell of a mole, they will dig down a bit. But no, the hole grew when they had not been near for ages. Rabbits usually leave little pieces of evidence around the burrow - none to be seen and the hole continued to grow in size, bigger than a rabbit would produce.

This process has been going on over a number of weeks, so it must be a weekend and evening project.

Finally I found fresh soil and some footprints - smudged by the rain but looking suspiciously like a fox. Not big enough for a badger - unless the hole continues to grow!

We will keep an eye on it to see if we can confirm just what is making the hole but apart from the fresh soil, so far we have not seen the excavator at work.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Raining hay...

Along with the insects, hay making suddenly burst into life with slightly unexpected consequences. While enjoying all of the damsels round the lake the other Sunday, we noted a strange, large, black shape bobbing at the water's edge. It was a large round hay bale wrapped in plastic. There was only one place it could have come from, which seemed too fantastic to be true, so of course we explored all the other implausible options as explanations for this anomaly.

Only later the next day did we discover the truth that it had indeed come down from two fields away, through the bracken, bouncing over two fences, crashing through some trees, only to belly-flop into the lake with a walrus-worthy splash. Barnes-Wallace of bouncing bomb fame would have been impressed we are sure and this epithet has now been appended as a nickname for the farmer, which is sure to last long into local folklore.

No serious damage done apart from some bent fences - the posts remained intact. You could not have done that if you had tried.

Pictures show retrieval.

Perhaps it will become a new country pursuit? Or even be added into the Olympics for 2012.

It should be pointed out that the farmer removing the 'bomb' is not the same one who put it in there.

Damsel Day

Sunday 9th August

Last Sunday was something of a "damsel day".

The summer has come in short bursts of a few hours here and the odd day there. Not the promised long hot barbecue summer but just fleeting glimpses of high intensity sun to warm the bones. No wonder last minute holidays are doing so well this year. The log burning stove has even had occasional use during July and August which seems most bizarre.

The larger winged insects who seem to rely on hot summers to make flying easier, have had to take each chance as it has come. Last Sunday was one of them. The electric-blue damsel flies were out in force and what a show. Usually this means seeing 4 or 5 together but there were squadrons of them flitting along the edge of the lake, pairing up and partaking in aerial displays and sorties, hovering over the water and perching on the rushes and reeds.

There was even the occasional heavy set dragonfly, so little seen this year but made visible in the glorious sunshine of this our Sunday-afternoon-summer. Who would want to be a weather-person?

Naturally I broke the first rule of the valley, which is to always carry a camera, so I have no photo to record the event which means you will have to imagine them all...

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Farmer takes alpaca to pub

BBC NEWS | England | Farmer takes alpaca to pub
Wonderful video clip from the news. My mum told me about it and while we were still talking on the phone, Google popped up the answer of this page at the BBC. She was delighted that I had not missed out seeing it after all.

This has got to be one of those 'don't try this at home' moments. It does raise the awareness of pub-goers to the existence of alpacas but I am not sure I would like to see this duplicated generally throughout the country.

Perhaps I should have a word with Rob and Joanne at the Shepherds? Maybe a bit of extra interest for the beer garden in the summer.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Warming the pot

When you make tea in a pot rather than a mug (you do still make tea in a pot rather than a mug don't you?) it helps to get the best results if you warm the pot first.

Of course this option tends to be limited by modern day hurry, along with an increase in single cups of tea being brewed because people are alone, at least in still being a tea drinker.  It becomes easier to just throw a tea-bag in the mug. Gone are the days of the English tea ceremony involving warmed pots, leaf tea, strainers and milk-first china cups on saucers.

My late father-in-law would regularly say that his tea was too wet, meaning that it needed a little something to go with it, such as cake or at least a biscuit. This week I discovered a new fact, at least for me. I do not remember having ever heard of Marie biscuits before, let alone having had one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they taste almost the same as Rich Tea biscuits, which are half the price! I know, I know, the purists among you will say they are completely different but there you go, when you are in a hurry to make a cup of tea any old biscuit will do...

Doing the job properly and warming the pot has become slightly more difficult these days as jug kettles replace the older squat versions such as our veteran Russell Hobbs. As I was making breakfast for my wife the other morning (sorry for the gratuitous showing off there), I was reminded of my good friend Keith from University days, who taught me many things but especially how to do things right. If you hang the tea pot on the spout of your trusty Russell Hobbs or similarly stumpy kettle, it will sit there perfectly poised, ready to catch all of the steam as it emerges from the kettle spout. By the time the kettle boils, the pot is warmed to perfection.

To get a really good cup of tea out of your warmed pot you then have to add the right kind of tea. Being here in Welsh Wales, then it would have to be Glengettie (which only sounds like it is from Scotland). 

So next time you reach for the kettle and a tea pot, why not have a go at warming the pot and see if you can taste the difference. At least it may lower your stress level a notch or too because after all, if you haven't got time to stop to warm the pot, you probably will not find time to stop and smell the roses either.

1. More than you could ever want to know about the Marie biscuit can be found here

2. There is a website for everyone out there

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Just when things seem to be settling down

Fed and watered, the alpacas were about to be released into the paddock when sticky eyes and lost leg fleece were noticed.

Mike Safely of Northwest Alpacas talks in his book The Alpaca Shepherd, about looking every animal in the eye every day to check how it is doing. When you start looking, it is amazing what you see. While they do not welcome too much fussing and fiddling, they are very tolerant of intention. It is a bit like learning to speak a new language.

Nia's eye bathed with warm water - no major problem but we will monitor. Scylla's leg hair loss looked like mite inflammation so treated with eprinex in pig oil and rubbed it on Owain's ears for good measure - little pink patches starting to show.

No grass to be seen today and probably not for a few days, unless we have heavy rain. Distributed hay nets through the paddocks to keep the fibre flowing and will keep an eye on what they are up to during the day. There is usually a window somewhere in the house you can catch a glimpse of the animals, even if you do have to stand on tip-toe.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Alpacas join in snow time frolic

Well everyone seems to be talking about the snow... 
and why not, it does rather take over normal life when it suddenly arrives. Hard to believe it is only water.

Our alpacas were standing around in it while it settled on their backs and their heads. I did not think they were being very sensible but they seemed to like being out in it. While a blizzard raged, I locked them in the stable. After the blizzard came the sun, so they were released again. Now the fun started.

The instinct to play in snow seems to cross all boundaries of age and even species. The dogs had enjoyed romping in the snow earlier. Now it was the turn of the alpacas. Rolling you can understand but just lying down and stretching out your neck in it, then leaping into the air - quite amazing to see. Clearly they were having a great time. The youngsters chased each other and threw snowballs (well I am sure they would have done if they could), then the mums joined in and played with their cria (term for young alpaca). Caught some of it on video on my digital camera.  A delightful surprise when I thought I was just going down to feed them.