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Thursday, December 30, 2010

A new (b)logger

What better way to burn off the Christmas excesses than a day's graft in the fresh air ? Aided and abetted by my two helpful sons keen to leave aside their new I-pods and phones and be 'at one' with mother nature....
Actually, it wasn't quite like that.
Josh, 'the elder' who lives and works in Mexico is spending Christmas with us this year is not really the physical type, whose idea of heavy lifting is two pens at the same time.!
Jake 'the younger' normally doesn't do anything he can't reach from the end of his bed, so a bit of shock was in store.
The job was done though, and the logs were all moved to an accessible point yesterday.
Today we all have aching backs and shoulders but a satisfying sense of acheivement. (or is that just me?)

Josh wanted to write the blog today. So here is his account:

It’s been a tough year. After having spent most of my waking hours explaining subjunctives, conditionals, and subordinate clauses – with varying degrees of success – I decided to reward myself with what I thought would be a well-deserved, relaxing winter break with family in the heart of Brittany, with the promise of being able to relax for a couple of weeks and, well, the tranquillity might even help clear my mind. Chicken soup for the soul.

It turns out I was wrong. Yesterday I was assigned the task of “chucking logs across a forest” as my father so accurately put it. He had recently cut up a couple of trees that had fallen down in a nearby forest for firewood in a few winters’ time. He would normally get the tractor in and move them all back to the house that way, but, as sod’s law would have it, the trees that fell down were at the bottom of a valley, making access impossible with a tractor, and the logs lay at the bottom of a 10-metre slope.

All alternatives having been considered, and subsequently ruled out, the only solution was to throw the logs up the slope by way of a human chain: my brother, my father and myself. I’m not sure how much logging experience any of you have, but I soon discovered that two trees – one oak and one chestnut – give you one hell of a lot of wood. Obviously, I didn’t count the damned things, but there must have been in excess of 1,000 logs. Add to that the fact that these were logs that had been soaked by three weeks’ rainwater, making them much heavier – about two tons.

The whole job took us about seven hours, with a half-hour lunch break. Somewhat ingenuously, I offered to position myself at the bottom of the chain. This was for the psychological motivation of seeing the pile of logs go down bit by bit, but also, admittedly, to avoid myself the embarrassment of not being able to catch the wood. However, I had failed to realise that this would mean picking them all up instead of just catching them, which is without a doubt more strenuous on the back. I also discovered that for every log you took off the pile, ten more appeared underneath, so it was psychological torture.

So, for all those of you who are wondering what I’m getting up to in France, and possibly thinking ‘That lucky git gets a nice holiday in Europe while I’m stuck here eating tacos… again!’, well, I hope this post has answered your queries, and given you something to smirk about. Maybe it has even taken your mind off the stress caused by the relentless crashing waves on the Ensenada beach and the endless carne asada tacos and buñuelos. Rest assured I am still busy working, this time in the freezing cold and incessant rain, on my two-week lumberjack apprenticeship courtesy of Quelvehin Alpagas and Dead Oak Trees Co.

Oh, and guacamole just isn’t the same with French avocados… and it doesn’t go very well on crêpes.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Predator

One of the main chores of alpaca ownership is the never ending collection of droppings.
Whilst this is not essential, we choose to do it because on limited pasture it helps to keep the parasite and worm counts to a minimum,and that means happy,healthy alpacas.
Which has to be a good thing!
Nevertheless it can sometimes be a bit of a drag with around thirty animals to clear up after.
Imagine my joy then when I came across a poo-hoover for sale in a nearby village.My days of trudging around with the wheelbarrow were surely numbered.
I hurriedly arranged a viewing to see this machine that was to change my life.
To get the story into perspective this all happened about a month ago. At the viewing I wasn't convinced it was the godsend I had hoped for.However, the guy selling it used to be an agent for the manufacturers, and,having lost none of his sales patter assured me it was the bees knees and I couldn't live without it. Mindful of my apprehension he agreed to let me have it for a trial period.
So it was arranged. I collected the beast and unloaded it from the trailer ready to clear the paddocks in a jiffy.
Now,the first thing you notice about the beast is the word "PREDATOR" emblazened on all three sides in large print.
The "PREDATOR" (this should be said with a growl in your voice, the voice over of all the horror movie trailers you've ever watched).
The"PREDATOR" is the beast to make mincemeat of poo piles,the Arnold Schwarzenegger of poovers gobbling up everything in it's path.
As my trial period unfolded inbetween bouts of rain and other chores over the following weeks the "PREDATOR" turned out to be more Mr Bean than Arnold Schwarzenegger. A catalogue of mishaps too numerous to mention made the whole experience rather miserable.
Not that it was all entirely the "PREDATOR"s fault. It could suck.God it could suck.There wasn't much that didn't fly up the tube. But the tube was always in the wrong place.There's always lumps just out of reach.The whole thing was too cumbersome to manoeuvre without running through poo and thereby spreading it rather than collecting it.I couldn't get through gateways without knocking bits off the tractor. The pipe kept blocking up when I tried to do leaves,At one point I was so engrossed in watching that it wasn't blocking up that I drove straight through the fence!and then a trip through the woods to empty the thing resulted in me tipping it over on it's side. Gary Sanders style!
Ok,if I had a Quad instead of a tractor it would have been easier. If the paddocks were flat and the leaves had been dry it would have been easier. If I could train my alpacas to poo in allocated areas like Judi B's it would have been easier. But lifes not like that and now the old wheelbarrow is back in daily service.
The PREDATOR has been returned to it's rightful owner.

Quelvehin Porte Overte

Well we nearly didn't manage it. The freeze was holding out right up to Friday night when the temperature upped a few degrees and the rain came and washed the bulk of it away. Too late for some of our more distant clients and friends who made their apologies and would have stay away.
After concluding by Thursday it was going to be a non-starter, it was now a mad panic to get everything ready for the open day.
Gary and Felicia from Popham Alpacas arrived Saturday morning after a longer than normal journey to avoid the worst of the remaining snow,and after settling the animals in, there was only time for a quick cup of tea before it was 'all hands on deck' getting things ready.
The workshop was cleaned (a bit) and dressed with fleeces. The Lodge was decked out with products with Patsy spinning in one room and Kate felting in the other. The Cottage was to be the dining room for some thirty odd lunches despite the fact it is let out to a long term tennant. She was very understanding and quite enjoyed being waitress for the day.
Gary gave a talk on fleece traits whilst Felicia was in her element searching for unwanted nasties in freshly gathered poo samples under her microscope.
All in all the day went well and a big "Thankyou" to everyone that made it possible.

This week also hails the return of the prodigal N° 1 son after a few years in Mexico, Josh is coming home for Christmas. He is currently doing the rounds in England and after three years of only wearing tee-shirts and eating everything laced in chillies he is finding the food rather bland and the weather somewhat chilly!
Looking forward to his arrival on Wednesday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blimey! Winters arrived. A bit too early for my liking.
This was the scene we woke up to yesterday.
It was minus eight degrees first thing this morning and all the car doors were welded shut. I had to detach the trailer from the car in order to take Jake to school but only after wrapping the hitch in a woollen shirt with a hot water bottle to release it!
I had hoped to replace some broken rotten fence posts this week but there's no way I can get a spade in the ground at the moment.
Not that I was particularly looking forward to digging holes but it would have been a welcome break from picking up leaves which at this time of year is never ending.
Hope it clears up for the weekend or our 'open day' could be a closed shop.!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Goodbye to Fleur

Another alpaca left our clan this week. The lovely Quelvehin Fleur survived her 10 hour drive down to Marc and Odiles herd in Auroure apparently unperturbed by the journey,and has settled in well.She was a hard one to part with as she was mated to Atlas and having a black father herself was well placed for a possible black cria. Just what we want ourselves! Oh well,
business is business,needs must and all that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

canine contemplations

"You know,it's not a bad life,this being a dog lark. My plan for total world dominance is slowly taking shape. I've gotten rid of mother.Moved her in to the old folks home across the way.Well, she was getting a bit too much attention for my liking. Cramping my style you see. The old fart of a setter is no bother.I can be at the scraps bowl before his arthritic old legs have lifted him off the carpet. And as for the cat? well he hasn't been near the house for six months since I gave him a 'seeing to'.
I've just got this new settee too.Leather don't you know.Not new, but it'll do.Just my size,as long as they sit on the floor. Apparently it's easier for them to clean after I've sprawled on it. And sprawl on it I do! Well you see, I've chewed enough shoes and stuff now they don't shut me in the utility room any longer so I've got free use of all furniture during the night. Well, until about four in the morning when I go up and jump on their heads in bed. It's a right laugh,they can't shut the bedroom door you see, due to the house falling down and it no longer fits in the frame.
Just need to sort the catering side a bit. Helped myself to a smashing pork loin the other week in a bid to demonstrate that, I too appreciate the finer things in life,but so far I'm still only getting dog type biscuits.
Well, it's getting late. He's off to bed now. I'll leave it a couple of hours and then I'll have one of my barking sessions where I pretend I've seen something. Always good for a bit of night time attention. woof woof."

Le Petit.

Whilst out clearing the usual autumnal tree debris from the fields this morning I snapped a few quick cria pics. The first is Heidi who is an exact mini replica of her mother.
This is Hendrix. Sporting the best fleece of this years bunch despite the black band right round his belly
The lovely Hannah, daughter to Evita and Atlas. A beautiful solid dark fawn.
"Tiny Tim" little light fawn Harvey. Only 5kilos at birth but going like a good un .
Hendrix again. What a cracking head!
Heidi and some leaves.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Popham visit and a dog leaves home

Well, we are back from our annual holiday.A long weekend at Popham Alpacas in Cornwall. Always a treat even if it is a bit of a 'busmans holiday'.
With a herd of over 100 alpacas there is never a dull moment and we spent a lot of time looking over their results of last years matings,with a certain degree of envy.We were hoping to bag ourselves some coloured females,and spent a lot of time pondering it over pints of real ale down at the local.
If there's one thing we're lacking in France it's 'proper' beer!( and black alpacas). (two things)
oh,and lemon curd,marmite,and custard cream biscuits.
We were fortunate to have Judy to' house sit' for us whilst we were away. even if she did manage to lose two boys within an hour of us leaving!
She did a sterling job. Way beyond the call of duty and in pretty dire weather conditions too. You can read her blog story at
So it's back to business as usual.The leaves are starting to fall and the spiky chestnut casings are a nightmare to try and get out of Suri fleeces.I can see many days of raking ahead.

Meg, my beautiful weimaraner bitch that wondered into our lives about a year ago has decided it's time to move on and has chosen to live in a big manor house over the other side of the forest. She has had a wander lust ever since the puppies didn't need her any longer and having no boundary here it was difficult to stop her roaming. After a couple of months of fetching her back we have given in and have agreed to let her stay there.Her new owners are besotted with her,and whilst I was annoyed at first as she was clearly enticed to stay with treats and her own bowls and bed etc.. She has since had the opportunity to come home but seems increasingly settled there.
She was a beautiful dog,but like a lot of beautiful women,fickle and a heartbreaker.
We still have one of her pups,and still called 'puppy' (we really ought to think of a proper name now) who I think is partly responsible for her leaving as he has become more and more dominant over her.
I'm sure I'll grow to love him too, once he stops eating my bloody shoes!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Living the dream?

I've often wondered how my alpaca business plan would be received if I put it before the tycoons of Dragons Den.
This week it all became clearer....
So there I was in that bare brick warehouse clutching Dinnadin,our favourite alpaca, and facing a row of daunting 'Dragons'. I pulled the silken cloth from over his head and they all simultaeneously managed a smile.
Dinnadin had charmed them already.They would be putty in my hands.
I nervously made my pitch asking for a paltry sum of £50,000 investment, seemingly on the basis that they were 'cute' and I wanted some more.
James Caan was quick to declare himself 'out' stating he had an allergy to all things fluffy and for this reason he couldn't invest. He did however say he would love to bring his children over one weekend for a visit. I said he would be welcome.
Deborah Meaden started to quiz me on projected profits for years one,two and three and what returns to expect on her investment.
I stuttered an answer not structured on any findings fiscal or otherwise but reitterated that they were lovely.
She admitted this was so but proceeded to give me a dressing down on my business acumen,saying the sums just don't add up.
She had a look I didn't warm to,reminding me of a school teacher in the past.
I decided I couldn't go into business with someone that was going to give me lines or make me stand in the corner.
Duncan Bannatyne was the first to make an offer saying he "could'nae see a problem" and they were "terrific" Peter Jones,not wishing to be left out said he agreed and would match Duncans offer.
Theo Pahitis also declared an interest but only after asking a lot of questions about how much meat each animal produced and what they tasted like.
So, three offers on the table to choose from.
I walked Dinnadin to the back wall to 'take a moment' We didn't take long to dismiss Theos offer suspecting he had plans for some kind of Greek kebabs he wasn't being entirely honest about.
Dinnadin said he always thought Peter Jones was a bit too smug for his liking so Duncan was the dragon of choice.
As we shook hands I remembered Duncan had a criminal record way back in his past but decided to let bygones be bygones and everyone deserves a second chance.
Nevertheless I made a mental note to keep an eye on the petty cash.
And so it came to pass that Duncan arrived at Quelvehin and the fifty grand was in the bank.
We exchanged pleasantries and I took him to meet the alpacas. After a while I handed him a poop-scoop and wheelbarrow and following a quick demonstration he pushed up the sleeves of his Saville Row suit and knuckled down to some shit shovelling.
It didn't last for long though. "This is bloody crazy, yer ne'r gonna meck any money doing this man"
I told him that as a partner in this business he should learn to take the rough with the smooth and that it was all worthwhile because alpacas were, after all, very cute.
He had no argument with that and momentarily succumbed to a bit more scooping.
But it wasn't working for him.Something wasn't right. He started ranting about how we should start another company that specialised in animal waste management that then hired the machines from another company that we own that then had to get it processed at the proccessing plant that we can set up,and that way we actually get paid for somebody else to clear the fields.
I gave it some thought but couldn't see how we could get it all in place by this afternoon so I said we would have to carry on as we were.
It was at this point that everything became very surreal as dreams have a tendancy to do and we were farming lime green turtles, checking they were pregnant by pressing their soft underbellies to see if a little head popped out.Wrapping them in tissue paper and stacking them in crates.
Clearly it was time to wake up.
Now I don't know what all this drivel means or why I think you should be interested but, turtles aside maybe I'm trying to tell myself something.
When poo picking starts giving you nightmares It's time to buy a poo hoover. So if anyone has one for sale please get in touch. I have an imaginary budget of £50,000
I'm sure Duncan would approve.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

All in a days work

Sometimes life's not so bad. I can remember in a former life Mondays being a bit of a drag.This Monday was just how a days work should be. Nice early start in glorious sunshine, load the mighty Atlas into the trailer and hit the road. He had a rendezvous at Le Grandmere alpacas with a couple of ladies desperately in need of a little lovin'.
Whilst Atlas was at work Ron and Judi,as always, laid on a fantastic lunch and we sat on the terrace and supped wine all afternoon.
It certainly beats plasterboarding, one of my other ongoing jobs at the moment,and it's more profitable!
We did put the wine glasses down at some point in the afternoon to take a proper look at their cria. The results of last years Quelvehin couplings,and quickly fell in love with a certain white female.
Meet Blossom. Very,very white,and very fine, but it was the ears folks,incredible ears. Never have I seen such thick fluffy ears! Totally adorable.
It wasn't too many glasses later a deal was struck and she was 'earmarked'(no pun intended) to join the Quelvehin breeding program.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mystery plague wipes out entire herd

There I was,in the heat of the afternoon,dashing around,hoovering the paddocks,checking water,fetching hay and all the other jobs to keep the little darlings happy and healthy. Sweat dripping from my brow,and what are they doing?
Sunbathing, bloody sunbathing!
Who's the mug here?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The joys of motherhood

Charisma surprised us with a most un-alpaca-like late afternoon birth on Monday. A tiny fawn boy only 5kilos but full of beans. It was her first,and whilst very loving and attentive would not allow him to feed. No way. The more he persisted the angrier she got to the point of stamping and kicking him. Then was overcome with remorse and made a big fuss of him.
It was clear she needed a lesson in motherhood, so as the night was drawing in we took them into the barn and penned them in together and prepared ourselves for another all night vigil.
Coffee and Cornish Pasties al-fresco again as we monitored the proceedings.
It's a frustrating situation. Not wishing to intervene and stress the Mum making her less likely to allow him to suckle but at the same time knowing you have this time frame in which he has to get the colostrum intake.
As we approached midnight she had allowed him a couple of short sessions but he was getting tired of trying and was resting for longer periods. We decided to make sure and transfer some milk ourselves.
After a gentle but firm talking to, to our surprise she stood perfectly still and allowed me to milk her,and feed it to the cria.
Happier in the knowledge he had taken at least some colostrum we called it a night. By the morning he was feeding normally and everything was hunky-dory.
We put them back with the herd and I spent the day poo picking so I could keep an eye on him.
Apart from getting stuck in the fence all seemed well.
They are back in the barn tonight because it's actually rained ALL day today. Yes rained,loads of it. Hooray!Our first decent downpour in months, great news for the grass. Not so good for a little-un to be out in all night.

Caurel Fete

It was the annual Caurel fete again this weekend,so we took the Quelvehin quartet along to entertain the folks. It was a little overcast and the attendance was down on last year. Once again we had the pitch next to the stage where the musicians were playing and conversation in French was even harder than usual whilst competing with the loudspeakers.But that aside, it was a pleasant day and a few more people have been enrolled into the alpaca appreciation society.
We had an artist and a potter along side us and by the end of the day they were drawing and modelling alpacas.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Madonnas and Motorbikes

Had a bit of rest from alpaca duties this weekend to indulge myself in my other favourite pastime and got the motorbike out for the Porcaro ride out.
The story goes that the Curé (parish priest) of Porcaro and keen biker held a special service some twenty years ago whereby he blessed his bike and a few others within his congregation with the old holy water and the 'Madonne du Motards' was born. Every year on August the 15th he is available to 'baptise' your bike and bestow upon you the blessing and protection of the Moto Madonna before the ride out. How cool is that?
The Madonne du Motards starts on the Saturday evening when bikers from all over France converge on the sleepy village of Porcaro, set up camp and do what bikers worldwide do. Rev their engines all night and drink alot mainly.
We found the Priests home complete with club house in the converted barn and even saw the main man himself sat astride a huge trike in his leathers complete with dog collar and chomping on a cigar. Very surreal!
We visited the chapel. A sombre place and reminder of the dangers of motorcycling. All the walls were adorned with plaques of remembrance and photographs of hundreds killed on a bike.
I questioned whether the Moto Madonna was perhaps failing in her duties.
Anyway, the old priest has really started something. I don't know exactly how many showed up for the weekend but opinions varied between four and ten thousand bikers set off on the Sunday afternoon. It was a seventy kilometre run through various villages and finishing at Josselin. Because of the sheer volume of bikes, the trip took around two hours and bikes were still leaving the start as the first batch arrived at Josselin. A couple of times along the smaller country lanes the traffic ground to a halt in complete overload!
It was a great day though and it seemed the world and his wife were lining the roadside to cheer on the procession.Lots of hand slapping as you ride by and Jayne was throwing sweets to the children from the big pocket in the back of my coat.
A splendid weekend. Roll on next year.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Elodie's Birthday

We say goodbye tomorrow to Justin,Conchi,Talia and Elodie who have stayed with us for a fortnight. I hope the girls enjoyed their time with the alpacas and have a few memories to take away.
Dinnadin, our favourite Huacaya was on good form as always and seems to genuinely enjoy the company of children and is a bit of a poser in front of the camera.
Elodies introduction to alpacas coincided with her fifth birthday and she wore her bestest party frock for the occasion which unfortunately attracted a few brambles along the way,but all was put right again with the promise of a plaster and an ice cream. The photos of this occasion sadly didn't come out too well so I've posted some others. (must get a trusty Nikon!)
We also said goodbye this week to two males we had for sale. ElCid and Eldoret have gone to pastures new and very much greener near St Nazaire.
Michel & Sybille will,I have no doubt, pamper to their every desire in their grand surroundings. Sybille is the perfect new owner for Eldoret, being, as he is,"adorable,but ever so slightly daft!"
( in the nicest possible way.)
Alpacas have put us in touch with many new friends and acquaintances and if only for that reason you have to love 'em.
Still no rain.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oh please let it rain.

Seems all the rain we had in February was our quota for the year! It's been months since we had a decent downpour and I know the holiday makers in the gites won't thank me for saying it,but, "I wish it would rain. I mean really rain! for a few days at least.All the lawns and fields are scorched brown,and nothing is growing. The alpacas have already started their winter hay supply and that's not good as I think the supply of good hay is going to be lean this year.