Monday, 30 April 2012

The Heart of England Fiesta 2012

We arrived back from the Heart of England Alpaca Fiesta at 01.45 hrs...rather later than anticipated and with 3 extra alpacas. No, no more purchases. The alpacas belong to our friends at Cockerham Alpacas who broke down on the M6. The AA refused to tow the alpacas eventually after 3 hours the Highway Agency managed to organise for them to be towed off...luckily we had the van and trailer so managed to get the alpacas home...what do they say about friends in need!!!!

Anyway we had another great weekend. Owning alpacas has brought so much into our lives...apart from the fact that they are a pleasure to own and a privilege to look after....we have met so many tremendous people through our common interest in alpacas. I can't pretend that everyone wouldn't like their alpaca to win, but I never see anything other than good sportsmanship and genuine congratulations to the winners.

We did take Beck Brow Explorer in the end, I entered him just a few hours before the cut off time for entries...and I was so pleased that we did...I was so nervous when he went into the ring... he had some serious competition...not least from ACC Pathfinder (another Cambridge Navigator male) who took the white championship at the Alpaca 2012 Show a couple of weeks was close but Explorer managed to take 1st placed Intermediate White Male...go boy!

Interestingly Nick Harrington Smith, who was judging, asked Paul if Explorer's fleece had been 'altered' since shearing...he obviously thought that he may have been trimmed due to his lack of visible guard hair anywhere...even his chest...we were pleased that he asked as we were able to state absolutely no way...I would rather be last than be dishonest...but Explorer is incredible in his uniformity of micron throughout his fleece.

The social side of the event was great fun as always. I managed to sit on the 'naughty chair'...the one that tipped you on to the floor when the required amount of red wine was consumed...the chair that went on to not only tip the next occupant on to the floor... but out of the patio doors and on to the patio...naughty chair!

Beck Brow Magellan taking 5th place ..."he needs his fleece off"

Beck Brow Explorer waiting his turn.

The supreme Champion went to a fabulous fawn male owned by Bozedown Alpacas: Bozedown Achilles...the standard was again judged to be as good as anywhere in the world...a fantastic weekend and well organised event.

Monday, 23 April 2012

New Females and a Stud Male For Sale

We seem to have spent every weekend since February on the road. And this weekend was no different. At least we had a slight change of direction with a trip down the A66 instead of the M6.

This time we set off with an empty van and came back with a full one...well not quite...just two new females. We have been having a good look at our herd and making of those plans was to introduce some more black in to our herd (we have a share in Viracocha Black Sabbath a prize winning black macho who will be coming to us in June). So we have purchased two females sired by the very impressive Warramunga Downs Miguel of Fowberry. One black and one fawn...yes I know...why not two black...well the fawn is out of two blacks...she has a lovely fleece...and the icing on the cake...she is pregnant to the Futurity Herd Sire Champion; EPC Top Account of Fowberry, and due next month...exciting!

Another decision has been made to put one of our herd sires up for sale. We knew we had too many males in ratio to our females, and this was confirmed on our herd assessment. Much better to concentrate on a couple of males, and that way we can measure traits and progress much more accurately. We will therefore be using Beck Brow Explorer and Waradene St. Patrick of EPC over most of females this year. Legacy of Purston, who is 15 years of age, is due for retirement (he has produced around 120 progeny since importation so deserves a rest...he won't think so!). So the decision has been made to put Anzac Hollywood's Attitude up for sale. He is such a lovely male...but we just don't have enough work to do him justice.

Hollywood's Attitude

Below are a couple of photos of the new girls, taken this morning when they were wet (they don't seem to be bothered about going in the shelter at the first drop of rain as ours do) so looking rather soggy!

Our new black female (2 years of age) will be mated with Black Sabbath in June

Our new fawn female (3 years of age) due a Top Account cria next month...she will also be mated to Black Sabbath.

I saw the strangest thing on Saturday...unfortunately I didn't have my camera...a crow was sat on Legacy's back pulling out his fleece (he appeared oblivious to it) when it had a beak full it flew off... then 5 minutes later it was back again for had obviously heard about the exceptional properties of alpaca fibre!...talking of which I am looking forward to receiving my alpaca duvet and pillows purchased at the World Alpaca Conference charity auction...bit cheaper than an alpaca at least!

Right just to add to the comings and goings we are delivering Nina to her new home this afternoon. Then it will back down the M6 again on Friday as we head off for the Heart of England Fiesta.

Friday, 20 April 2012

A SRS Alpaca Herd Assessment

It is always risky putting yourself forward to be judged...especially when the judges are two of the leading experts in their field...especially when the judging is about your beloved alpacas...and consequently about your ability to buy and breed the correct alpacas...however sometimes you have to be brave...

Last night we had the pleasure of having Tim Hey (owner of Inca Alpacas and well respected BAS judge) and Dr Jim Watts (a veterinarian from New South Wales who has developed a new way of breeding fleece coated animals; the SRS system) stay over in preparation for our herd assessment this morning. Although we had planned an early start (06.30 hrs) I was awake by 5am anxious to hear their opinions.

The SRS system is about;
  • reducing primary fibre diameter
  • increasing fibre density
  • increasing fibre length
Our alpacas were assessed systematically and scored accordingly. Fleece length was measured and skin biopsies taken from selected males (the skin biopsy gives a primary to secondary fibre ratio and also measures density). Jim and Tim gave feedback as we went through the herd, but we will receive a structured report with recommendations. It was an incredibly useful experience, and an impartial herd assessment has given us a much clearer vision.

There were no major surprises in that the 15 females that we had selected as our best, all fared well (these were the only females tested). However we can now be more specific in what qualities we want to breed into, or preserve, in each individual. One of our top rated females was Blueberry Samurai Bahati, who at 8 years of age still has a fabulous fleece. Her daughter Poppet (Beck Brow Paige Turner) also scored very well. Someone that we had maybe slightly underrated was Morden Hall Honaria, and her daughter Beck Brow Crystal Maze who were both highly praised. Silverstream Galaxy ET was declared as exotic; with her fleece described as 'better than any cashmere', but we do need to add some length to it. Inca Van Dieman Chaska was also scored as top class by Jim ( she was bred by Tim's parents!) I won't name all of the others as they performed as expected. It was a great relief to be given a definite thumbs up regarding our breeding decisions and our approach to genetic improvement.

However there was undoubtedly a star of the show....yes you guessed...Beck Brow Explorer...we knew his fleece was long but it proved to be exceptionally so. The smile that appeared on Jim's face when he opened his fleece just said it all. Whilst on one hand I was so proud of him...on the other I realised that he wasn't going to be best please that we were going to have to take a skin biopsy...but amazingly no pouffing. Waradene St Patrick of EPC also scored very well and he was judged to have great density...thus he also had a skin biopsy taken.

All very exciting and we look forward to getting the formal results. Jim is now on a plane to about a non-stop schedule...but the demand for information on improving alpaca fleece traits is never ending!

Beck Brow Explorer ready for his biopsy...not a great fleece shot but you can see the brightness.

It has been great to consolidate the Stage 1 Judges Training Course (I have passed with recommendations to proceed to stage 2 if I wish to do so), the World Alpaca Conference, and today's herd assessment. I was especially pleased that I had identified the correct strenghts and weaknesses. I am now even more excited about our future breeding decisions...maybe a three year plan for now! Density...density...density seems to be a good goal!

Apologies...this blog may be a little lacking in modesty...usual service will resume next time!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

WAC: Coloured Alpaca I understand it!

Now, I did promise that I would share some of my learning from the World Alpaca Conference...the problem is where to start. Our favourite lecture was the one on colour genetics presented by Dr Andrew Merriwether...he is a geneticists...I am not...but I will share the basics as I understood them:

Every alpaca has two copies of every gene (one from dam and one from sire). This also applies to the gene for colour. This is then expressed in the phenotype i.e the colour that you see...obvious so far...what was interesting was the dominance of colours...which is essentially white over fawn over brown over black (greys are another matter).

So a white alpaca may have 2 white genes or may have one white gene and one of another colour, depending on parents, but as white is dominant that will be the phenotype expressed. Therefore if a white alpaca has two white genes it will always have a white offspring, even when mated to a fawn, but the resulting off spring will have one white gene and one fawn (or brown or black depending on the second gene of the fawn and which has been passed on). So the white progeny (from the white and the fawn) is capable of having a fawn, if mated to a fawn ,depending on which gene is passed on.

Unfortunately it isn't quite as easy as this as Dr Merriwether has indentified through DNA testing; a white spot gene and a dark spot gene. It is possible for this to be expressed as masking the underlying colour (i.e one massive spot or sometimes just the extremeties show the underlying colour... for example a brown with a white moustache or foot may be a white with a brown spot gene). There is also a dillutional gene (not so common) that does what it says on the tin.

I did look for some work on the subject on the net and found some work that was done some time ago however the information presented at WAC was from more recent work completed.

Paul has now come up with lots of theories and is making plans to breed coloured alpacas with fleece qualities of is a ten year plan (at best depending on whether or not he manages to breed females)...and means that we cannot sell any alpacas until he see the results of his breeding plans...and he calls alpaca breeding MY hobby! I am actually going to let him test his theory, but only on 50% of our females...Cambridge Camilla and EP Cambridge Lady Gaga are definitely in my 50%!

Of course all this relies on the pedigree of the alpacas being correct. During the lecture on Expected Progeny Differences presented by Darby Vannier we were surprised to hear that when the alpacas submitted for the programe were DNA tested, 15% of them had been registered to the incorrect sire!

All of the lectures were packed full of information but some are difficult to share without the photos or notes. Now we are deciding if we can manage to get to the World Alpaca Confernce New Zealand...we have had a kind offer of we are very tempted.

Although we have not got a great deal of stock left...we have Our Alpaca Shop up and running. Now to get some more products created...lots of decisions...too many for a Sunday!

Friday, 13 April 2012

The World Alpaca Conference 2012

Apologies for the late report on the the World Alpaca Conference 2012; We arrived home last night after a jam packed 3 days, and were straight back to work today.

But what a fantastic time we had. Keble College and its grand dining hall was an experience in its self, but add to that a well organised, information packed conference with world class speakers, and a chance to catch up with friends from all over the world, and it really did live up to expectations.

I will share some of the information gained from the lectures in a later blog. Dr Andrew Merriwether's lecture on 'Colour Genetics for Alpaca Breeders' on the last day, was one of particular interest, and had Paul and I discussing his findings for most of the journey home...we have definitely adjusted our expectations of what colours are likely to be born here this year!

The Huacaya Golden Fleece award went to an amazing white fleece from the Snowmass herd...scoring an incredible 95/100...certainly the highest score that I have seen.

The weather was dry for most of the time...not much sunshine...but best to have the shades just in case

Checking out the gear of the guy infront...

We were lucky enough to win a prize in the charity raffle...Calamity Bear...she wasn't very well behaved at the gala dinner...and her tiara did slip a little...but she is still in one piece!

World Alpaca Conference Calamity Bear

I will share some pearls of wisdom from the conference, but my first would be not to drink more than your share of the pink champagne...but I was not alone!!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

An Almost Illegal Tangle...

Well, the weather is certainly keeping us on our toes in Cumbria...we didn't have time to put away the suncream, before we needed our snow shoes. Yesterday we had horizontal really was blowing some gale...unfortunately I had left the garden umbrella up...we no longer have a garden umbrella...oops.

Thankfully no other damage was sustained, and we have kept our electricity supply...for a change. However, I was greeted rather keenly by Almo (Anzac Almost Illegal) this morning. Obviously a length of bramble had blown in to his field and he had gotten himself well and truly tangled. Despite the fact that he is now working, he was back into cria mode..."get this thing off-of-me Mummy!"...and he just stood as I managed to free it from his fleece.

Anzac Almost Illegal

Although Almo looks a picture of innocence, we have to keep him and Waradene St. Patrick of EPC seperate. We have tried them in together but Almo just will not back down and St. Patrick isn't going to let him win at any after a burst lip they have a fence between them. St Patrick definitely thinks that all of the girls belong to him...and even keeps Snowstorm our Suri wether in check

Waradene St Patrick of EPC with Snowstorm

This is St. Patrick annoyed with Almo for even daring to look at his girls!

Anzac Hollywood's Attitude who is the biggest of our stud males, is the one that always keeps out of trouble...nothing to prove!

Anzac Hollywood's Attitude

We really do need to do some further halter training with Adelle, Boots and Quintos. However, it is still rather windy, so no point in spooking them...we will hopefully make some progress over the Easter weekend

Easter-Wood Adelle

Talking about Easter...I had forgotten that it was this weekend...and that we are going to the World Alpaca Conference first thing on Tuesday...I have left it too late... I can't get an appointment at my hairdressers...dash...if I wear a white tuxedo maybe I will be okay...otherwise I think the grey roots will mean I am going to be lacking colour uniformity (contaminated fawn!)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Paddock Condition?

Today we have arrived back after a few days away, and have been poo picking for the last three's that for dedication to the task!

Paul's brother got married down near Ascot yesterday, so we decided to have a couple of days extra in the area. Now I know that normal people would use this time to explore the surrounding area...but not we noticed that there was an alpaca course at Bozedown Alpacas (40 mins away) on the Friday and we have had a bushman's you do!

After Paul's obvious desire to be handler of the year at the Futurity...I decided to volunteer him as a handler on the BAS Stage 1 Judges course...he did actually find it both useful and enjoyable...luckily. This is a great course for anyone who shows alpacas, it really does give you a great insight into what the judges are looking for...and it also makes you appreciate what a difficult job they have. Liz and Nick were great as always; loads of information with plenty of laughs too. I just wish we lived a bit closer and we could volunteer more often.

No alpaca photos I am afraid...but rather than have a photo less is Robyn and I without our wellies!