Fiber Day

We attended the “Focus on Fiber” day up in Hastings this weekend, and I must say it was rather encouraging. While the people doing small-scale “home craft” style production was nice, I was more interested in the growing attempts at commercialization. Apparently a couple of high-country Merino stations are now starting to add groups of alpaca wethers in with the merino, with the goal of providing a mixed wool/alpaca fiber product.

Even more exciting was an R&D project to produce a 60 meter bolt of Suri fabric (done in 5 meter sections with different processing techniques) which is to be sent to Italy for the high-end suit producers to examine. This project has relied on government seed money for the R&D, and as the speaker said, if we have a change in government, we lose that. I hope the audience of farmers understood that. National, the “party of the farmers”, will cut all the agricultural R&D money. (But we know that “conservative” parties have really lost any touch with reality in their ideologically-driven need to hand out tax cuts to rich people).

The drive back had one exciting moment. As we came over the crest of the Rimutaka Hill we hit rather heavy rain. Then we realized that the rain had a high snow/slush percentage. Yikes. I am glad I was taking the road slowly, as on one corner we lost traction and started sliding. Turn into the slide! After a few harrowing seconds fishtailing back and forth, we got the car back under control. Just second before on the other side of the crest we had passed a fresh hole in the fence where a car had gone through the night before (they had not yet removed said car from the tree it was wedged in). The Rimutaka Hill can be an exciting place when the weather is bad.

Sweet Dreams

With dogs and cats, it is easy to observe them all day and night, and as they tend to trust you and let their gaurd down, you get to see all sorts of cute dreaming behavior.

This is more difficult with alpaca. They are never all asleep, as some remain on gaurd duty. Those that are awake will react to your presence, and the sleepers usually awaken in response to this activity.

I just had a fun opportunity with A1. She is completely deaf, and was fast asleep. I kneeled down next to her, and watcher her dream. He little lips were twitching, and her facial muscles were quite active. And she was humming. As she is deaf, I know this was not due to external stimuli.

I wonder what alpaca dream about?

The melancholy of progress

While we have been in the alpaca “business” for nearly 5 years now, this is the first time we have started a serious Sales and Marketing exercise (primarily because we did not have much to sell previously). As you know, fate gave us lots of boys (a 2:1 ratio) over the years. The inn was now officially full, and we had to look into selling some boys before this year’s crop of cria dropped.

We decided on a 2-pronged approach. We printed up 500 A5 promotional flyers and started mailbox-dropping the rural valleys in the area. We also put up a classified add on TradeMe. While the mailbox drops generated a bit of interest (which is good considering how much time it took to drop all those off!), the online add unleashed a torrent of calls and emails.

And let us all thank photogenic, grey Enfield for being our poster-child. Almost every enquiry started with “is the grey one available?” Wow, but the power of cute can be rather overwhelming!

So far we have sold 9 boys. A group of 5 (Zahir, Zafar, Enfield, Brocket, Basilisk) is going to a couple in Mangaroa (Upper Hutt), and just last night we agreed to sell a group of 4 (Rikaku, Opinicus, Alphyn, Bagwyn) to a couple at the top of Paekakariki Hill road. Both couples are enthusiastic, and very keen to learn and do well by their new charges. We are very happy with them.

We won’t sell our alpaca to people we get a bad vibe from. Had one couple drop by the farm last week, and I knew within minutes that I was not going to sell any animals to them.

Today a person is dropping by in the morning (though she may be a tire-kicker). Thursday or Friday someone is coming by to check out Jasper, Pharoh and Pepito. The last 2 are wethers we agist for someone else. Yes, we have run out of our own and are selling other peoples ‘paca now! If she likes those 3, we will be delivering them immediately (this Friday). The group of 4 will be delivered the first week of November, and the group of 5 will go out in December (they need a bit more time to prepare their block for stock).

I will be a bit sad to see them go. Zahir and Zafar and wonderful- who can’t love smoochy Zahir! Rikaku is a great “uncle” to the young ones, and while he is not terribly people-oriented, I really like him. And of course Enfield was the bottle baby I nursed along as Latte slowly died from Lymphoma. But they are going out in big enough groups, so they will be happy. And they are close enough that we can go and visit occasionally (the advantage of offering a “support package” to new breeders is the excuse to check up on our babies). And it has given us the opportunity to meet more fun/interesting people in the region.

Be prepared!

It is always hard to tell what long-term effects childhood experiences have. I was a Boy Scout, and an Eagle-scout in the end. The Boy Scout motto is “be prepared”, and I wonder how deeply that motto sunk into my brain.

It is not very surprising then that I got roped into Civil Defence, and now I find myself the manager of our local CDC. Yikes!

Two weeks ago they screened a locally produced made-for-TV movie “Aftershock.” This follows the events after a 8.2 earthquake hits the Wellington region (they centered the quake on the Wairarapa fault in cook straight, about 20 km from Wellington). Tam, Kerrey and I all watched it on her lovely large TV. (And she can pick up TV 3, which we can’t always do. I wonder if I would have a different impression of local TV offerings if we got more than two and a half channels.)

It contained no surprises for any of us, but it may have come as a bit of a shock for other viewers. No happy Hollywood ending here. Mass casualties abounded. The office workers trapped in their building? All but one died in the end. All those people trapped in their cars on the motorway after the quake? They didn’t do so well when the 6 meter tsunami came rolling in. The fires? Burned down most of old Wellington.

We liked that they covered some bits that are often missed in these scenarios- psychological casualties among the people working in the emergency management center, the fact that they had very few fire trucks, most of the roads were ruined, and there was no water to fight the fires anyway.

On Thursday they screened a “are you ready” program that took a family through a “simulated earthquake” to see how well they could survive for a few days after everything fell over.

Apparently it was a bit of a shock/wakeup call for many people. Good.

This past Saturday there was a Community Safety meeting in the Tawa town center. There were talks by the community constable, the local fire brigade, and civil defence. Kerry and I were both there to represent our various agencies. It was well attended by the public, which was nice to see. Afterwards, as everyone was leaving, one middle-aged woman collapsed in the doorway and started having seizures. The race was on! An emergency management person and the police officer made it there first, so seeing it was all under control the firemen just shrugged and walked away. I just played crowd control to get people out the back door. Glad to see that a room full of emergency responders was ready for action!

Now I need to get off my tail and get our local CDC more organized. I have not really picked up the ball properly since Chris (the former manager of the CDC) died. Grenada north is a very interesting/challenging area from a Civil Defence perspective. We cover a large area, extending 5 km up the Takapu valley. We have a very diverse mix of people and properties, with a small suburban area (Grenada North) with about 450 people, a Light Industrial park that has up to about 2000 people in it during working hours, and a group of rural/lifestyle properties with about 150-200 people. This makes planning much more exciting, as depending when something happens (day, night, weekend) we have a completely different population distribution. Plus the light industrial area has many food warehouses which would be vital after a major earthquake. Whee!

Goslings, we has them, too.

Goslings !

This is our original gander, with one of the geese and her three (so far) goslings.

Barry and Larry (the ganders we inherited from some neighbors) have stolen two of the five geese, and one of those geese has another two goslings. The two geese and the two ganders in that group travel in a protective huddle around their two little goslings.

That leaves two more geese still on nests.

Llamas, we has them.

Meet Hob and Opa:

Hob and Opa, our new llamas.

Hob is four. His previous owner was hoping he’d be stud material, but he grew up too short.

Opa is sixteen, and was a working stud until four years ago. He came along because he’s best friends with Hob.

Yay ! We have llamas !


Slow is our little drug-kitty.

He has had a heart condition much of his life, and finally went on medications about 8 or 9 years ago (at age 7 or so). More recently his kidneys started to go, so we raised to dosage of his Fortekor, which also helps kidney function. He gets a check up at the vet every 6 months now. On the latest check we discovered a bit of arthritis in the hindquarters, and he is getting hyperthyroid problems. (swollen thyroid, weight loss, plus the blood work came back with elevated thyroid hormones)
Let the parade of drugs commence!

He still gets the Fortekor once a day (which has helped his kidneys, which are now back in the normal range).

Added to that we have the “cat-pep” pills, which are a combination of green-lipped mussel extract, Thiamine, and Taurine. Being made of seafood, there is not problem to get Slow to eat those (twice a day). Those should help with the arthritis.

And then there is the Neomercazole for the thyroid. These pills are “fun”, as you must handle them with gloves! Yikes. Thankfully mixing the pill in a bit of jelly-meat works well, and we have Slow gobbling them down (twice a day).

Yes, Slow now gets 5 pills a day! The Neomercazole is only for a month, then he will get his thyroid tested again, so we can work out if that is the right dosage.

We are going to need to get better presents for our cat sitters in the future!

The big dry

So, we were back at the house. It was cold, raining, windy. I had somewhat recovered from my “24 hour” bug (I was now 16 hours into it).

Open the tap- nothing comes out. Walk up to the 22,000 L tank behind the house- completely empty! Walk further up the hill to the 750L header tank which feeds the troughs and house tank- mostly empty, with no flow coming in from the spring. Ack! (This also meant no hot shower after the long international flight!)
So I spent Friday trudging back and forth across the property, somewhat incoherent as I was not yet really recovered. I found a leaking seal in the pipe (probably steppped on by a horse), and after much futzing around, got it fixed. Some water started to flow through.

Saturday we had water flowing into the main tank, but the tank was not filling. There was some water for the house, but not much. We thought the water loss was from a running toilet, but after switching off all the toilets the tank was still not filling.

Sunday morning I discovered the cause of the water loss- the solar water panel on the roof had burst, and our gravity-fed system had flushed 22 tons of water out the panel and down the drains. We cut the panel out of the system, and the tank started to slowly fill. We had water! Yay!

But no hot water. Seems when the system went dry, it killed the hot water cylinder.

So Monday I called and got a new cylinder arranged for installation Tuesday (Thankfully we were due to have it replaced anyway, and a new one had been built and was ready to go). I also went up and worked on the spring to try and improve flow. Thursday I hammered a pip into the bank to see if I could get direct water flow (as opposed to our “catch basin” that was made decades ago from plasic sheeting and piled rocks). After an hour of vigorous hammering with a sledge hammer- no water came out. Drat! So I spent time and worked on repairing the catch system of the spring, and managed to get much better water flow into the system.

And then the next week the water cylinder died. At least that turned out to be a failed element. This apparently happens occasionally with new cylinders- if there is a pinhole in the element a drop of water gets in. When the 3kW element turns on the water flashes to steam and bursts the element open, destroying it. At least it was only day or two before that was fixed. We were very glad that our friend Kerry lent us her shower during these hot-waterless times, so that we could occasionaly de-stink.
So, once again we have water, and hot water. This is a good thing. Now we just need to get the panel replaced. It is covered under warrantly (yay!), I just need to keep poking the manufacturer.

The Trip- Part III

Okay, yes, I have been very bad about updating. Let’s see if I can remember some of the fun tidbits from the drive and our last few days in the US.

Two days was not enough time to really explore the back roads of West Virginia. We saw some lovely covered bridges. We accidentally stumbled across the first battlefield of the Civil War (300 confederates vs 2000 union troops, fighting for a ridgetop farm).

We were struck by the lack of sheep. We saw a few small mobs, but all that lovely landscape NOT covered in sheep is a bit weird after living in NZ. But considering how many wandering dogs there are in the area, I can see why people would want to stick with cattle.

The final push down to Knoxville was a bit of a death march. Since we had not covered ground as quickly as planned in WV, the last bit of driving was quite long, and we did not arrive until late. Carol and Joel have a lovely new house. The AC was appreciated, as we had driven out of the unseasonable cool weather in Delaware, and into a southern heat-and-humidity filled “normal” summer. Our poor little antipodean bodies were not ready!

Some highlights of this part of the trip included a trip to the Museum of Appalacia- which is all of 5 minutes from their house. The poverty of the region led to a great deal of ingenuity. The hand-carved rifling-jig in the gun workshop was especially nifty. (as was the specialized “gun anvil”)

We also visited an alpaca farm. While Tam and I had a perfectly reasonable conversation with the retired husband, Carol and Joel were talked at by the seriously crazy wife. You see, she had helped her brother co-author a series of books (The Arc of Millions of Years). Apparently they had “cracked the Mayan callender”, and this led to a revelation about the truth of 2012, the book of revelations, how all the animals fit on the arc, magnetic tetrahedrons, the dead sea scrolls, and a bunch of other stuff. AND she and her borther are apparently the last living people who saw the Roswell crash. Boy-howdy, you meet some interesting people in this world.

One other weird thing we noticed- lots of people in that exurb of Knoxville had what we would call “lifestyle blocks”- a nice house sitting on 3-5 acres of land. In NZ this would be fenced off, and there would be stock grazing it. In the US, there was not a fence to be seen, and the entire vast expanse of lawn was mown. Yee Gods, what a waste of time and money mowing that much grass mechanically. It does explain why the market for pet-alpaca is worse in American than it is in NZ- people with 5-acre blocks are the perfect sales target for selling alpacas. But when they don’t have fences (and don’t even consider having stock!), it makes it more difficult.

Packing for the trip was a bit stressful. Thankfully all the stuff made it through fine. We wre bringing back my kilograms of books and had carefully backed the bags to limit the danger of (a) theft by the TSA, or (b) having the luggage “searched” by the TSA in such a way that ends up damaging most or all of the contents.

The flight across the pacific was going well, and then I fell ill. After the fact I realized this was one of my classic “24 hour bugs” which lays me out flat, and then I am fine the next day. Not surprising I picked up a bug, what with all the travel, eating-out, lots of strangers, etc. Having this bug hit half way across the pacific was not fun. Headache, nausea. Bleach. By the time we reached Auckland I was a serious zombie. I have vague memories of Tam collecting the luggage and keeping things organized. I was lying on the floor, drifitng in and out, most of the time when we were not actively moving from point to point. I must say all the Customs/Biosecurity/Border agents were brilliant. When they saw Tam escorting one of the restless dead, they quickly moved us along. We jumped to the front of lines. This was good.
At biosecurity we had them spray all our shoes. We had been on that alpaca farm three days earlier- and after the owner told me of the dieases they have to test for I wanted to be VERY SURE we were clean. Some of those diseases are on the “OMG- nuke it from orbit” list MAF maintains. In the same category as foot and mouth. Sometimes I forget how lucky we are in terms of many animal diseases down here.

Anyway, just as we finished biosecurity and were free to go- I felt trouble coming. I ran out into the terminal looking for a bathroom. NOTE FOR AUCKLAND AIRPORT- YOU NEED BETTER SIGNS SO DISTRESSED PEOPLE CAN FIND A LOO QUICKLY!!! Knowing I only I had moments, and since no bathroom was in sight, I ran out the front doors– and prompty chundered all over the street. At least that made me feel a bit better.

The flight to Wellington was also a blur, with a bit more chundering. First time I ever used an air-sick bag. The ones provided were well suited to the task. We then retrieved the car from Steve and Jennifer’s place, and drove home.

We returned to find our that the house had no water. Not a drop. Let the fun begin!