Roseland Lamanac
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   or...

  A year in the life of a llama farmer

 

October 2001
November
December
January 2002
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September

 

October 2001

1st: Not a good day for our stud males (machos), for on the first of the month all stud service is withdrawn!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 hembras (lady 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.

This 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!

This 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 dazzling kaleidescope.

The 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 sense.

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.

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November

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, nineteen ~ exactly half it just so happens ~ are ready to leave their mums, although the poor things do not know it yet!

Weaning 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!

I had planned to start the process at the beginning of the month but it is actually mid-November before I get going...

The 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).

In 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.

The fun then begins, separating the 19 that are to be weaned in the Lama 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 longer.

Those to be weaned remain in the yard. They will stay in there 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.

For these 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 Lama 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.

The 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.

A 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 them?

Forty-eight hours later I open the enclosure gate to herd them around the corner and up to the Lama Mater. 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...

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December

I 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 within the Lama 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.

Post-Xmas brings 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.

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January 2002

Our two-legged 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.

Although 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 Shahtoosh.

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February

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 growth.

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...

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March

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.

Typically the 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.

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April

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 studs

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!

One 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!

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May

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 advances.

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June

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 again...

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.

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July

Fergie dominates 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!

Checking newborn 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 cattle.

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.

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August

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.

Meanwhile, 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 right.

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 she's away...
... 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 autobiography... hmmmmm.

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!

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September

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 them!

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 overlong nails!

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!

                   

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