Not a good
day for our stud males (machos), for on the first of the month all stud service
is withdrawn! Each stud is removed from his group of
llamas) and brought into the yard. Given a couple of days to
settle into the winter routine of abstinence, they will then be groomed
and wormed and returned singly, or in pairs, to otherwise empty fields.
Any females that should be, but are not, in calf will have to wait until
Spring is in the air before they are returned to the stud male of our -
sorry, not their - choice.
winter we are changing wormer, from Ivomec to Dectomax and from
Injection to Pour-on.
There are those who
believe pour-on does not work with llamas, suggesting it does not
penetrate their coats. I do not believe that to be the case however,
provided it is applied properly (brushing and dividing the coat along
the spine in a parting). So we will go ahead and at the end
of the year, assuming there are no prior problems, we will have dung
samples tested to see how effective it has been.
Meanwhile it is time to re-organise the six groups of females that were
running with the six studs into two groups: those without and those with
calves. For the moment the latter are in the great majority but as
weaning begins next month, the balance will soon start to shift! It is a
wonderful sight to see so many mums and babes running together. There is
always great excitement as these groups join together in a fresh field
for the first time and the calves suddenly
find themselves with lots of new friends. They
gallop from one end of the field to the other and back again. Every
corner, every inch, has to be explored
and every dung pile sniffed!
time last year it had been raining almost non-stop for five weeks but
although we've had some heavy downpours, this autumn is brilliantly
sunny and mild and the colours of the trees are sensational - a
great backdrop for this colourful group which, as they run about
constantly changing formation and direction, remind me of a
good weather has also given us a late flush of quite reasonable grass:
it had been so dry through the summer that I wondered whether we would
have enough hay for the winter, but as it turns out I suspect we will
have a surplus. A good job as numbers have been
artificially swollen by the absence of sales during the foot-and-mouth
epidemic. Although llamas will not catch the disease - even if placed
into a barn full of diseased cattle, sheep and pigs!) they are
classified as susceptible because they will succumb if the disease is
injected into them! A classic example of a clash between science and
One of our llamas in Dorset, "Kuzco" is chosen by the
Walt Disney corporation for promotional work for the release of the
video of their film "The Emperor's New Groove" - a cartoon about a
prince that is turned into a llama (I think!).
Last month we had
our first post-fmd sales and this month the positive trend continues.
Although there are laborious and expensive procedures to follow in
having licences issued, the animals vet inspected and transport
disinfected it is a relief that things are getting back to normal.
November is a big month in our calendar: it is time for the first wave
of weaning and halter training. Of the 38 calves born this year,
exactly half it just so happens ~ are ready to leave their mums,
although the poor things do not know it yet!
is a particularly exciting time for me, if not for the calves, as having
watched the newborns grow in strength and stature over the past months,
it is when I start handling them, and examining them at close quarter I
will be able to decide which I want to keep as future breeding stock. In
fact the only true disadvantage that I have discovered in llama farming
is that I find myself wishing away the years as I look ahead to a cria
coming to maturity for mating some two years away, and then to seeing
the resultant offspring another year on... Whoosh, three years gone!
had planned to start the process at the beginning of the month but it is
actually mid-November before I get going...
rattle of a bucket and thirty eight mums and thirty eight calves come
running to the field gate: out they all come except for one calf who
insists on trying to follow the rest out by getting behind the gate into
the corner where it hinges against the fence! There's always one... but
a little encouragement and she joins the rest in the migration to the
farm yard. Along Chestnut Walk, past a couple of fields and across a
stream (that's always the difficult bit for the young first-timers).
the yard there are still two stud males in their enclosures and seeing
the new arrivals approaching, they rear on to
their back legs resting front feet on the top of their gates, to
take a closer look. Standing some eight
feet high in this pose, they look magnificent and the new arrivals
surge into the yard to inspect them.
fun then begins, separating the 19 that are to be weaned
Mater (my llama training school
~ as in aLma
Mater - sorry but I simply cannot resist these silly
anagrammatic juxtapositions!!!). Systematic sorting then takes
place: a female is encouraged into a stable with her calf. If she is one
to be weaned I open a gate out into the yard beyond and if she is not to
be weaned then a swing of the gate in the other direction sends them
through to the next stable! And so
the process goes on until we have two groups.
Those that are not to be weaned then return over the stream, back along
Chestnut Walk and into their field - saved from separation for a while
Those to be weaned remain in the yard. They will stay
with their mums for three to five days
so that they settle and accept it as their temporary new home.
When I remove their mothers they will then be much
less stressed. But thirty-eight llamas to muck out for
several days: that's even more work than
mucking out our three mini-donks.
few days I feed the group concentrates: the
mums are greedy for them and they teach their calves to follow suit and
eat them - a valuable supplement for the calves when they lose their
mothers' milk. Some take to the concentrates straight away, others take
a day or two but by the
time it is ready for separation they are all
eating them. They quickly grow to like them and although concentrates
will not form part of their overall dietary regime, they make a good
start, treat... and bribe!.
Weaning time arrives. Once again I take small groups up to the
Mater and, working quickly this time, use my swing gate system to send
calves one way and their mums the other. The calves hum for their mums
but before the mums really have time to know what is going on I am
guiding them back to the fields.
Occasionally one will be upset and pace the fence
line trying to return, but on the whole
they accept the separation with an amazing degree of equanimity - as has
this entire group.
calves are back in the yard humming just a little for their missing
mothers and three or four are pacing along the gate, but they now
know this as home and overall seem fairly un-phased by the separation.
Anxiety is forgotten when they hear the rattle of the bucket and they
all come to eat their concentrates: no sign
of any real trauma, so a successful day.
couple of days to settle and I will begin halter training them: how will
they be? Generally some take to it with no trouble, others have a
panicky start but settle into it reasonably quickly and then there are
usually some who are doggedly (or llamadly)
determined to keep the independence they had known for the first
few months of their lives - and who can blame
Forty-eight hours later I open the enclosure gate to herd them around
the corner and up to the
Normally this is a little difficult the first time but this group seem
to have been born here before! Out they come turning the right way up
the path and straight into the training yard! Things carry on as they
had begun: brilliantly! I divide them into three groups and begin a
gentle introduction to being touched and handled. I do not halter
"break" but "introduce" handling, haltering and eventually leading, over
a period of several days. Only three out of 19 object to the halter when
I finally make the first attempt at putting it on some five days later,
and only one is still objecting two days after that.
Soon I will add a little foot lifting to the routine. A dream class...
have set the first of the month as the date to begin the next wave of
weaning and Class number One leaves the yard for a
well-deserved return to a grassy field close to the house where I
can watch them play. Only seven
to come in this time. A nice small group to handle and which will
leave me with another reasonably
sized number of twelve to do in January.
Our children finish school on the 12th so it would be nice to have the
seven haltered and leading by then...
Repeating the weaning routine is delightfully easy
with the reduced numbers and this group proves to be as amenable as the
first larger group. Once I have them accepting a halter and leading
Mater, I will put them out in a field with the nineteen.
I will then bring them back altogether
into the yard for further walking on the lead classes after the school
holidays. Then, of course, it will be time to work on group 3 !!!
Sales-wise it is
another busy month - and a difficult one checking out that the impulsive
Christmas pressie buyers know and understand what they are committing
to.. Llamas are for (a llong) llife... and I need to be sure that the
recipients will really want them and will be happy to look after them,
small though their needs may be, for a long time. Because of the freeze
(now lifted) on livestock movements caused by foot-and-mouth, we have
had these 2000 calves rather longer than usual and it is is even more
difficult than usual as we say good-bye to them. Some are not going too
far - West Devon and Somerset. Others are off to Oxfordshire, North
Wales and York.
snow and our children go sledging in one of the steep fields occupied by
a group of twenty adult female llamas. All twenty come charging over to
watch! They are absolutely fascinated by the activity, their heads
following the boys as they sweep down the hillside. One by one they then
come up to the sledges to examine them at close quarters. I wonder if
they would like to have a go?
It is the same down
in the yard: one of my prize barns, expensively concreted and kitted out
with removable sections and water troughs has been taken over by the
boys for their ping-pong table and badminton court. As the boys play,
the young llamas in the yard line up and watch the shuttlecock sailing
from one side to the other, their heads turning left to right and back
again ~ a wondrous sight.
youngsters go back to school and it's time for another group of
four-legged youngsters to come in to school: weaning and halter-training
time for another nine. This will leave just three late-comers to be
weaned later next month.
traditionally a quiet month for sales, strong sales have continued and
almost all the stock that should have been sold during the period of
foot-and-mouth is now gone to old and new clients. The horrible moment
of having to choose which of our young 2001 calves to keep and which to
let go arrives once more; it is not easy. Rather than allow myself to be
swayed by growing personal attachments, however, I decide I must be
clinical and sell those of which I have plenty of related stock, keeping
just a few of those whose bloodlines I have less. Of these, one male
especially stands out that I will keep: a fine pale coffee coloured male
with a heavy silken coat and whom I have named
Since moving the
breeding herd here three and a half years ago I have been threatening
each year to do a mass Spring shearing and start benefiting from the
superb wool they carry. But each year we have been too busy putting the
farm to rights-fencing, concreting barn floors, re-roofing, dealing with
Defra's totally irrelevant (for llamas) foot-and-mouth proclamations and
regulations etc. Now, however, I have decided to go for broke and
instead of doing it myself (and finding more excuses not to get around
to it!), I am bringing in a specialist shearer. We will shear
approximately one third of the herd in May, and hopefully repeat this
process each year thereafter. Llama fibre takes two to three years to
grow back fully - wonderful fibre but slow growing! And this way we will
have the herd nicely divided into different stages of fibre
The last three to be
weaned from 2001 come into the yard. Two boys and a girl. One boy is the
first cria from Pixie, a wonderfully fluffy beige, white and just a hint
of papa's silver grey. The girl is cinnamon brown with a black and white
face and super long eyebrows: small with still bandy legs; she
captivates all our visitors!
A film company
contacts us wishing to make a ten minute documentary about Roseland
Llamas on behalf of the Foreign Office, for distribution to television
stations throughout the world; more about that later...
Suddenly all those
creatures that just a few weeks ago seemed like shaky, skinny lambs on
stilts are beginning to strut their stuff! Of the males, a few will be
destined to become future studs, others gelded as field pets or
livestock guards. The girls are all proving pleasantly biddable and it
will be a case of checking bloodlines to decide which few I should keep
for future breeding and which I have sufficient of their line to sell.
I send the British
Satellite News team to spend a day filming at the UK Llama Centre where
Chris and Jo take them on a trek to the Heritage Coast. Here they get a
chance to film the stud males, the two groups of females and the
youngsters. I herd a group of young females from the farthest field to
the yard for the camera's benefit: something they have learned to do
willingly but with the camera trained on them will they let me down?
Remarkably sods law does not prevail and they are impeccably behaved! I
know the day went well when the interviewer leaves wondering where he
could put a couple...
Two more boys are
sold, this time to go no further than Dartmoor and two that have been
living at the UK Llama centre are sold but will stay on at the centre on
a "bed and breakfast" arrangement for a couple who fell in love with the
llamas but do not yet have their land.
weather has been almost too good in that the lack of rain means that the
grass is barely growing yet. As last year with fmd precautions we could
not bring anyone in to do any field maintenance, I am now having the
fields all chain-harrowed.
It will soon be Lama
Sutra time (the beginning of next month) so it is time to start thinking
about worming and re-organising the herd.
I bring all the
adult females into the yard : I separate all those due to calve in the
first half of May and the four that I have kept from 2000. I worm (Dectomax
pour-on) and groom them before turning them out into the maternity
paddock. There they will stay until they have calved and the calves are
about three weeks of age, whereupon they will go (with their calves) to
the studs that I have chosen for them. The four youngsters will stay in
the field until the end of this month when they will go to their fist
Chris and Jo come
from Dorset to collect a couple more young males which will then be
available for sale "advance trained" to trekking standard. They choose a
white male with lovely slightly curly wool and (unusually) blue eyes. A
steady youngster who should make a good trekking llama. The other male
is a pretty grey brown with a white sash. He's a little nervous but I
think that will go with time and the extra attention he will receive.
The wonderful early
Spring brings a spate of enquiries and on the second weekend of the
month eight youngsters are sold: a group of four, three and a single
going to Cumbria, Plymouth and Penzance... The three boys for Plymouth
are collected not by a trailer but a transit van. The owner puts
together a ramp of old builder's planks and I line the van with deep
straw but once up the very high and steep ramp the ceiling height of the
van is actually quite low: will the youngsters walk the plank and then
bow their heads to enter this unexpected accommodation or will we be in
for a long and nerve-racking session? To their credit they each walk the
plank with no more than a seconds hesitation and momentary
second-thoughts. They bow their heads and enter as though it was an
every day activity! Of course pleased as I am, it just makes me the more
sad to see them go - they've come such a long way from that first day I
introduced them to the halter!
sunny afternoon I notice from the house that Fergie, a very elderly
female llama, is still sitting by the water trough in her field where I
had seen her early that morning. I go to check her. She gets up very
unsteadily and lets her head hang just above the grass. She is very
thin. Form some months she has been moving slowly, always last by some
way to go through a gate to fresh grazing and I had wondered whether she
would make it through the winter. I bought her in Poland some 12 years
ago and she was probably five or six then. She has had a calf every year
since and, except in one year, always a girl! Last year she did me
especially proud when one sunny August day she and two of her daughters
all produced a female calf on the same day... Fergie was named after
the Fergie because -of course -she too has long bright red
hair. Fergie allowed me to put a head collar on without protest and
slowly and very unsteadily allowed me to walk her from the field into an
enclosure where there was fresh, lush grass and perhaps more peace. It
is always a difficult judgement to call whether in these circumstances
to separate the llama or to leave her with the group she is used to:
this was a half way house as her friends were on the other side of the
gate. Once through, she sat down heavily and there she steadfastly
remained. I brought her a bucket of water and a little concentrate and
left her. When I returned later in the day I fully expected to find her
dead or close to death. She however was sitting with her head held high.
Clearly she was in no hurry to leave us. The next morning she had not
moved but was still sitting with her head held strongly in the air. She
ate some concentrates from my hand and had finished her water. For two
days she neither moved nor expelled any of the food or water that she
took in. Each time I came to see her I was amazed to see her head
proudly and determinedly held in the air. On the third ay I decided she
should move, if only to let her underside "breathe". I persuaded her to
stand but her back legs quickly collapsed and she sat again. The next
day, however, and the one after, there was behind her a healthy pile of
llama beans - a good sign I thought. One week after I had anticipated
her demise I came to her enclosure to find her standing at the gate
"talking" to her friends on the other side. On day eight she was in the
enclosure standing with her back to me when arrived. As her head turned
I saw a slightly triumphal look on her face and there she was with a
long strand of grass hanging from her mouth - she had been grazing.
Things were definitely looking up...
I have finally done
it... bought a digital camera! There will be no stopping me now. All I
have to do is learn how to use the wretched thing (it comes with a 116
page manual and seems far more complicated than my computer), but
hopefully I shall soon be peppering these pages with more pictures and
the promised photos of youngsters born or for sale "to follow soon" will
appear within days rather than six months after the promise!
The first calves of
the year could/should start arriving any time - and one is right on cue,
a May Day calf! A lovely white female with light silver grey sheen, as
the first efforts with my new digicam show - See
Calving 2002 and the
RoseLand Lama Sutra
Fergie, it would
seem, has given up any immediate thought of dying as she trots away
indignantly from a friendly pat on the bottom... I put her into the
Maternity/Mothers-in-waiting field where she will either be
re-invigorated by the prancing and fun-loving cria or be killed off by
exhaustion from their activity! (Although mated last year to Cas she is
just all skin, bone and ginger fibre and most certainly if she had
become pregnant, will no longer be carrying.
Bob the Shearer
arrives and we decide only to shear the studs as the females are all too
involved in, or close to calving. Blankets of wonderfully soft fibre are
soon spilling on to the shed floor and I am left with a group of spindly
shadows. I should have learned my lesson from Samson.
Each Sunday this
month has brought a new cria! and toward the end of May there are nearly
a dozen calves in the maternity field, charging its length, leaping on
meditating mums and seeing just how far they can push them... But it is
soon time to move on the first born as they go with their mothers to
waiting stud males. I do this nineteen days after birth, based on
research by Peruvian camelid specialist, Dr Walter Bravo, that
suggests this to be the optimum time. Cas receives the first two,
QuickSand the next two. I try to move the first to each stud in two's so
that the calves have a playmate! Despite having a group of five females
now, Cas seems obsessed with Chianti; it seems that every time I look
into his field he is busy mating her (Lama
Sutra) ... Meanwhile Polo
receives his first girlfriend, a novice called
Goldie who, despite his enthusiasm, is not impressed by his
The month begins
with three days of national celebration for the Queen's Jubilee and the
celebrations are mirrored here by the birth of our "Jubillamas" ~ the
Jubilee Three ~ born on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of the month (see
Calving 2002 for pics!). Two daughters and a son we have named
Jubilee, Jubilant and Jubilation! But the real surprise was the third of
these... produced by Fergie. Two months ago we had given her up for dead
after a very long and productive life. She clearly had other ideas and -
it turns out - not only did become pregnant to Cas last year but managed
to keep her calf alive despite her near demise and being so incredibly
skinny. Her very dark brown daughter, Jubilation, is small but very
sweet and pretty. Needless to say we will not be putting Fergie back to
another male, so this is truly her last calf...
Keeping a careful eye on Fergie and her calf is thriving. Fergie herself
gorges on grass and feed supplement but remains as skeletal as ever;
clearly her ability to properly digest and process her feed is
diminishing. Still she is rarely to be seen without streamers of grass
hanging out of her mouth as she looks up to ask why I'm bothering her
There are still a
lot heavy swaying bellies but the would-be mothers seem reluctant to let
go of their loads and after a busy beginning to the month, just seven
newborns are welcomed to the world. What they lack in quantity, however,
is made up by their quality and rich tapestry of colour.
again as she suffers a relapse. I notice one morning that she is sitting
in exactly the same spot that she had settled in the evening before. She
cannot stand. However after drinking nearly a bucketful of water and
munching some concentrates from my hands, she staggered to her feet much
to the relief of all and especially her daughter who took the
opportunity to suckle keenly. An injection of vitamins and a bag of
rehydrating fluids follow. Before long mouthfuls of grass are hanging
from Fergie's mouth once more and the panic is over!
calves and deciding which studs to put the females back to when
their calves are around 19 days of age is the order of the day.
One of the most
curious factors I have observed over the years is how certain genes seem
to come out in runs. Last year for example Cohiba produced a wave of
what was, for us, a beautiful new shade of pinkish beige with a slight
silver sheen. This year he has not re-produced this so much but more a
group of strong colours such as grey with silver edging to the ears and
white blazes on their heads. Over several years BlackJack rarely
produced solid blacks but bi-colours or rich dark browns; this year,
however, he has produced blacks prolifically...
Fergie is not
producing sufficient milk for Jubilation and I take the rare decision to
bottle feed. J is not impressed and even after a few days she resists
this extra feed. Not a bad thing because it suggests she is not that
deprived, and also we do not want her to "imprint". However our sons
break up from school mid-month and we are off on holiday leaving my
brother to watch over the herd and he will have to carry on this duty -
as well as look after the ever-exuberant Monty, our German Shepherd Dog,
Chunky the guinea pig and a group yearsof zebra finches that are multiplying
at a horrifying rate (good homes urgently wanted)! Quite a handful for
an academic more accustomed to llibraries than llamas...
Happily life on a
llama farm is very laid back during the summer months: watching the
babies arrive, putting the poor mums back to the male three weeks later,
watching the babies play: well something like that any way! The
big worry of the summer in fact is whether our hay will get made without
it being rained on! A likely prospect if this past miserable few weeks
is anything to go by! This job is contracted to our wonderful dairy
farming neighbours who have a beautiful herd of prize-winning Jersey
Playtime for baby
llamas is seen at its best in the early evening when they will play tag,
charge across the field daringly going ever further, and then racing
back again to jump on to their mums who are peacefully sitting, chewing
the cud and meditating. This last part of the game is called "how far
can we push mum": curiously enough this is a game not unfamiliar to our
own two children!
In the weeks before
we are due to leave for Italy calls come in from television's "Richard
and Judy Show" who would like a llama on the TV set, and from the
"Really Wild Show" who would like to introduce one of our llamas to
children on a seaside beach! Haven't got time for either, so pass on the
enquiries to Chris and Jo at the UK Llama Centre who will most certainly
do them proud with our llama Kuzco and his trekking friends. We do
squeeze in a photo shoot, however, for a charity wishing to promote a
fund-raising trek in Peru: The Mission for
Seafarers. Scooby, a lovely gelding llama wraps himself around the
trek leader, Martin, and provides them with some super pictures.
A last minute call
and visit before we leave and the very last of our 2001 yearling males
is sold. To think that just a few months ago when foot-and-mouth had
stopped all farm livestock movements, we wondered if the phone would
ever ring again! Luckily we have a few super yearling females from
2001 still available, and can now begin taking reservations for 2002
male calves that will be ready toward the end of the year.
On a visit to the
maternity meadow I witness Calienta, one of my hembras (female llamas),
being "mated" by another hembra, Melita! A lesbian tryst that annoyingly
I did not have my camera to capture and add to my Lama Sutra! Still this
fairly unusual behaviour suggests to me that Calienta is not in calf as
I had expected and that Melita might not be either. I lead Calienta and
Melita off for a visit to Cohiba (the stud I was planning to remate them
to after their calves were born). Calienta sat down the moment she saw
Cohinba bearing down on her and several mating sessions followed. Later
on, however, Melita rebuffed his approaches. Whether this because she
is, as intended, already in calf or whether it is her newly declared
life style, we will have to wait and see.
We return from
holiday to calm and order and as always my brother David has done a
splendid job of stewardship. Five new calves are frolicking in the
maternity meadow and a huge wall of black plastic wrapped haylage sits
in the yard ( it was made in sunny weather but rain threatened before it
was ready). I've never used haylage before but I suspect the llamas will
love it when it is fed to them this winter. There's still one field for
hay-making which hopefully we will succeed in making when the current
unsettled weather ends - if ever it does.
A visit to the new
arrivals is my first priority. It never ceases to be a wondrous joy to
wander among the adults that I know so well and meet their new miniature
alter-ego's that now play all around them. The moment of discovery as to
how the particular mating I had planned some eleven and a half months
before has turned out, and whether they are male or female is as
exciting as when I first started fifteen years ago.
It is said that once
a llama calf reaches two months it can survive (if not quite thrive)
without its mother's milk and the one sadness we did come back to was
the fact that at the point Fergie's calf Jubilation reached two months,
Fergie sat down, not to rise again. Amazingly she had survived near
death in April, carried on as a skeletal shadow of her former self to
miraculously produce a lovely calf at the beginning of June. It seems
that she then struggled through only to give up when she saw her progeny
safely established . We have a long line of Fergie female children,
grand-children and great-grandchildren as her tribute.
Jubilation grazes well and eats concentrates and we will continue to
supplement this with a bottle but she seems to care little for it and is
keeping up reasonably well with the mother-reared calves.
An early highlight
of our return among the new arrivals is the birth of our first vicuna
cross great grand-daughter.
Victor Vicuna produced llama cross daughter Vixen (1/2 vicuna) who has
produced two daughters, Victoria and Velvet (each 1/4 vicuna). Now
Victoria has produced her own daughter (1/8 vicuna). Vinny is a carbon
copy of her mother who, in turn is a copy of her llama father
CrackerBarrel! The interesting challenge of this small group is whether
we can keep a degree of the fineness of fibre inherited from Victor, the
pure vicuna, whose fibre measures 12 microns. So far through the first
and second generation crosses the quality has been maintained at 16
microns. We will probably not have Vinny's fibre measured until she is
about a year of age. Photos will follow...
Mid-month the sun
returns after a week's absence, although we missed most of the heavy
rain that affected much of the country. On a hot sunny morning I return
from a shopping trip to see all the llamas in the maternity meadow
gathered together right in the middle. This tells me almost certainly
that a baby has been born. A quick visit over to the gathering confirms
my suspicion and better still, it turns out to be two calves, a boy and
a girl! This brings us past the thirty mark - 16 girls, 15 boys. All the
mothers and mothers-to-be are crowded around the newcomers welcoming
them with sniffs and gentle nudging. The new mothers greet this partying
with varying degrees of concern.
Calving is usually a
speedy and clean event and more than once I have been initially unable
to discern which in the gathering is the new mum!
Whilst we breed
firstly of course for the all important aspects of conformation and
temperament, a favourite hobby aspect is finding the 30 plus colourings
that llamas allegedly come in: we're getting there and this month is
marked with some lovely shades of grey and brown blends.
With the Met Office
promising fine weather 'til the end of the week we decide to make that
last field of hay! It is mown, and now we must see if the Met Office was
Some of our sold
stock remains with us until the new owners can collect them or
accommodate them at newly acquired properties. On Friday a single male
is being collected by a farmer coming down from North Wales and who has
bought him as a flock guardian. Tomorrow we are delivering a gorgeous
pair of small, cuddly llamas to their new home on Dartmoor. Although
unrelated they match beautifully in size and colouring; cream, beige,
and grey. Before they leave we take them for a long walk down the
lane and around the farm. They've come a long way from the first day we
brought them in and introduced them to the halter!
We are combining
this journey with dropping off our miniature donkey,
Mabel, at the Miniature Pony Centre where she will meet a stud
miniature donkey and stay with him until she is in foal. She looks very
smart in her new red and blued head collar but is very quiet and we
suspect she knows something is up. She will be greatly missed whilst
... Well she will be when we can persuade her into the trailer. Today's
opportunity goes by as she digs in her hooves and resolutely refuses to
budge. Treats, ropes, caresses and sheer physical force at both ends
fail to move this sweet little twenty ton miniature donkey! In contrast
the two llamas walk daintily in, giving Mabel a haughty look of
superiority that llamas can manage so well.
What on earth made
me think the Met Office might be right, I wonder, as grey overcast skies
offload several bouts of fine but heavy drizzle on to my hay crop!
Genetic gems: Two
years ago I mated Fuegita (bi-coloured ginger and white) to my spotty
stud SunKing and last year she produced his calf with a white front and
some chocolate chip spots on her back and sides. Well done SunKing in
passing on those spots... After the appropriate interval I then
mated Fuegita to solid red-brown stud QuickSand; she has just produced
his calf - white at the front, peppered with chocolate chips over back
and sides... hmmmmm.
What does this llama
farmer have in common with David Beckham? Absolutely nothing but... This
morning I receive a letter from HarperCollins, the book publishers,
saying they want to publish in a book of short letters to The Times from
the past few years, - I quote - a "witty letter" that I wrote to The
Times in 2000 about using llama poo on roses! Sadly, they explain, they
cannot pay for the privilege. In this same morning's newspaper I read
that the very same publishers have signed up David Beckham for a £2m
To complete the
topic, the subject of llama beans is raised
by a questioner on Gardener's Question Time on Radio Four. The team of
experts, most surprisingly, know nothing of its miraculous benefits....
Will have to drop them a line and put them right!
The maternity meadow
is beginning to look rather empty. Most mares are now back
in fields with the stallions. Yes, I have "suddenly" decided - after
fifteen years - to adopt and adapt some horsey terminology: stallions
for adult males (or
stud males) and mares for the females. For the offspring, however, I am
sticking to calves (or cria): see
TalkingLlamas, What's in a name
!). The month kicks off with two boys and a girl - bringing the
count so far to seventeen boys, nineteen girls... and there are a
few calves possibly still to come.
My wonderful new digital camera
packs up on me just as I am recording the latest births. What a nuisance
as this item I spent a lifetime without, I cannot now live without!
With weaning time
looming, I bring in the yearling females that I have kept for future
breeding and the few that remain for sale, for a little halter and lead
practice and a good groom. How they have all grown from the
first time I brought them in last October! And, biased dad though I am,
some are truly exceptional! They all seem to remember the routine well
except for two who halter up well enough but then stand like immovable
rocks, refusing to be led! Teaching those that jump around is much
easier because at least you are going somewhere! With a lot of
encouragement and (rapidly disappearing) patience (on my part), we
eventually start to make a little progress...
One of the models of good
behaviour, the daughter of Blanca, one of my oldest females, has
grown enormous and needs her toenails trimmed. This is the first time in
fifteen years that I have needed to trim the toenails on a yearling! I
will bring her in daily for a few days getting her used to having her
feet lifted and her toes played with, and then take the clippers to
Two of our 2001 male
calves who were the first to be sold are the last to go, having been waiting for
their new owners to move home to North Wales. A black llama and white
llama, they have grown on well and look wonderful together. Both are
very calm and very well-behaved, and load into their new owners trailer
impeccably. I will miss them.
Blanca's daughter is
soon lifting her feet on demand, so out come the clippers and off go the
Visiting our far
field which is divided from the others by a small lane I meet an elderly
lady who drives the eight or so miles from Exeter every few weeks to
spend the afternoon llama-watching. We are so used to the llamas that it
is difficult to imagine what a surreal experience it must seem to chance
upon them, as the occasional tourist coming off the well-beaten tourist
route, does! We will hear the sound of a car slowing down and
braking. Count to ten to hear the sound of the car doors opening and
closing, count to ten again and look out of the window and there they
are, hanging over the gate, cameras at the ready...
As the end of the
month continues with a blaze of sunshine, I have to remind myself that
the time is almost here to remove the stud males from their groups and
to bring in the first calves for weaning.
The full circle and
cycle of a year in the life of a llama farmer is complete. It has been
marked by buoyant sales, the herd in good heart, and a fine crop of
wonderfully colourful cria with gorgeous temperaments. I can hardly wait to decide which calves I will
keep and mate to which studs when they are ready in two years time... and then
of course moving on a year from then,
just think of the offspring they will produce...
There I go again!