Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Guess where we went?

 Eeeeeh, that's an awful lot of metal Geordie to be doing nowt!

Well not quite- it's more than a little inspirational just because it's there standing on a hill master of all it surveys and that's a bloody lot of the North East I can tell you. If this Mamma turned on a pivot like a weather vane it would have total dominance over a mighty kingdom indeed. Mind you, if it did you could probably hear the squeaking in York!
It's an impressive hunk of metal Geordie but I still can't quite work out if it's defending you or protecting you. A bit of both I suppose. At least you knew where you were with a ship.

Having passed this chunk of arty scrap for the past 16 or so years we finally tripped over the base of it yesterday by sheer accident on our way back from the Northumberland County Show. Always too busy in the past to take a gander we did  quick whizz around the next roundabout and lobbed ten minutes out by paying the old red boy a visit.

Impressive engineering in its simplicity and scale. Shirley unexpectedly announced she liked it. I checked she meant the Angel and not the ice cream. 
Me? Well, I still don't see why we needed an Angel. And having read the blurb on the information board I was non the wiser. ' we need to preserve the idea of Angels in our scientific world...' Or some such. That one had me pondering all the way down the A1 Mr Gormley. You could have quite easily said the same about winkles- thank God you didn't. Imagine?
It is because it is. And  it is a huge modern landmark impressive in its own right for merely existing.  As such satisfies any function which we individually bestow on it and that is enough. It's called Art and if it is truly significant to the human experience it will still be there 500 years from now. 

Whatever, like the bridges of the Tyne this magnificent landmark will always herald the arrival or the leaving of a great and vibrant city and a warm hearted, loyal and generous people.Until of course the price of scrap metal quadruples! 'Twas ever thus, Geordie- Enjoy!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Toft Alpacas 'companion animal' had a great day out

As a companion animal I'd make a better cabbage! I'm not a watcher at all. I can't watch alpaca judging for too long.I much prefer to be doing than watching. So I love the agricultural shows as I get to wander around all the livestock exhibits asking questions and meeting the breeders.
I couldn't resist clicking these two Suffolk's who were all dolled up, trimmed, combed, polished and dyed for the sheep show at the Northumberland County Show.
A real contrast to the paddock condition in which alpacas are shown. I love the sheep lines at the agricultural shows. I can genuinely stand for hours watching the sheep being judged. It's a mystery I am dying to understand but each time I come away a little more mystified than when I arrived.
There the judge is, is in the ring, with his or her stick poking and prodding and touching as the sheep run hither and thither. The handlers kind of wait at the fence side until he or she taps their sheep with the stick at which point the handlers dive in and grab their entries and put them in a semblance of order which only they seem to understand. 
The judge then grabs the rosettes, slaps them on the sheep in the order he sees fit and the then they all nod or shake their head and move on to the next class. No explanation or justification of the decision making is deemed necessary and much muttering and speculation amongst the watching sheep men as to what the poor judge is thinking.
This in contrast to the alpaca judging where all is concentrated and orderly. Animals are placed and the the judge must reason down to sixth placing their decisions and rationale for their placements. 
The result? The public flock to the alpaca judging in droves and love the glimpse they get into the judges brain as opposed to walking away from the sheep judging as mystified as when they arrived. 
And for the alpaca breeders? Well they were told in public why they were standing where they were. It won't stop the disgruntled moaning about the judges mental capabilities but they can't add any speculation about the judges reasons into the mix!
I for one would love to hear the sheep judges reasoning. They are all experienced sheep men and women who obviously know what they are doing I just wish they would share this knowledge with the rest of us. 'Twas ever thus!

Alpacas at the Northumberland County Show draw big crowds

I love the Northumberland County Show. The wonderful thing about the Northumberland County Show is the genuine mix of town and country with country lovers from the City of Newcastle attending in droves to mix with the farmers from right across the North of England to appreciate the cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, rabbits, cavies, horses and of course especially the alpacas.
The public just love the alpacas. There is a tremendous interest in all things alpaca and it made me realise yet again how much I miss the Alpaca Showing at the Agricultural Shows. Breeders only shows are fine for breeders but they are not a replacement for getting our alpacas in front of a new crowd. There is genuine excitement in being in front of large members of the general public with alpacas that is hugely rewarding. Also the promotional aspect for the Alpaca is irreplaceable. There will be a lot of enquiries coming NEBAG's way in the coming weeks I'm certain. I'm jealous to death!

Paul Rippon of Barnacre Alpacas did a sterling job of educating the public on all things alpaca with an informative running commentary throughout the judging. I dare say he'll go very quiet for the next few days having talked on the microphone non stop for almost eight hours straight.

The alpaca showing never had less than a hundred members of the public watching at any one time and for the climax of the Show Championship there were close to three hundred waiting for Shirley to announce the result.

The Supreme Champion Huacaya Alpaca was won by an intermediate light fawn female from Beck Brow Alpacas in Cumbria.  A bit more 'bling' for your cabinet Barb. 

The Reserve Champion and Best Bred Northumbrian Alpaca went to Fallowfield Alpacas.

A high standard was maintained throughout all the classes with an especially impressive entry in the white juniors both male and female. Congratulations to NEBAG on creating a great show with a lovely atmosphere. Congratulations also to the Northumberland County Show Organisers and their team for persevering despite the challenges caused by the weather on creating a genuine country event which was a joy to attend regardless of the mud on our boots. What else do you expect when you're out in field? Pavement? There's enough of that stuff in the Toon!

Northumberland County Show

Great Bank Holiday Monday at Bywell in Northumberland where Shirley was judging the North Eastern and Borders Alpaca Group annual halter show at the Northumberland County Show.
 Shirley judged 104 alpacas in total on the day and a good standard of entries maintained all the way from Grey to White. 
Although the ground was wet and very muddy  having been severely affected by the rain In the week, the weather held off on the day and a good time was had by all. 
Congratulations to the members of NEBAG for organising a great show and especially to Melanie Douglas of Fallowfield alpacas and her merry team of show organisers. Her husband Mike, current NEBAG chairman performed his role of Ring Steward for the morning session with Paul Vaclik and Paul Shrimpton sharing the responsibilities in the afternoon.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Grass and Muck...

Bit of a day out on Wednesday with my friend Graham Reed from Lightfoot Alpacas in Kent. 
We went to the Grass and Muck event. We wandered round the a royal Agricultural Centre, Stoneliegh kicking tractor tyres and asking hard questions about the multitude of grass cutting, baling, turning, raking and chopping machines that were being demonstrated. They were huge, shifted tons at a time and looked like 'Transformers' as the hydraulics unfolded to reveal their true capabilities.
For a short while it seemed to us that the whole world was obsessed with harvesting grass, which it was.
There were more tractors for a man to look at than anyone could imagine. The sun was shining and the air was full of the smell of new cut grass. Very reassuring, extremely interesting and very therapeutic. Thanks Graham.

This is a first...walking lessons.

After 17 years of breeding alpacas there is always something to surprise us... No, it's not the cut of my shorts!
 This young lady was found the other day not in the maternity paddock but in one of the prebirth paddocks. She was born a week or so early but wasn't particularly prem. She was probably born at sunrise and we found her tucked in a depression in the field around 11am. All dry, all fine except she didn't stand up. Then when she was placed on her feet she didn't seem to know where her legs were. Every time she went to move forward her back legs swing in front of her front ones and she tips back in an ungainly mess and lands on her bottom.
Only one solution. So here I am teaching her to walk. Forgive the shorts I am well aware it's not a great look. This light touch harness cobbled together from a lead rein stuffed through the support strap of her cria coat kept her on her feet long enough for her to gain some awareness of where her legs were and how they might work. A couple of ten minute sessions and she was getting herself up on her feet- so it works.
Each day she gains a little more confidence but she remains a bit 'special'. It's a worry and we can only hope that she will improve enough to be productive, we shall see. Mum is attentive but cria seems disinterested so is not feeding off her, We are bottle feeding the cria and she is doing real well. However she is still sometimes a bit wobbly on her feet and seems to wander off from her  mom far too often. She is walking and running on her own now but she wouldn't win any prizes for style!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Thankyou campers....

Warm nights like Friday bring out random campers who like to sit around lighted fires and talk bollocks all night setting off every dog for half a mile. 
Then of course they naff off early leaving not a trace of their festivities. Thanks people I just love picking up your leftovers.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Alpaca shearing sequence

At Six minutes an alpaca a video is a long job and needs a special set up at this busy time. This sequence of photographs is the best I could do but at least it a wee glimpse of Alpaca Shearing Toft style. For all those who are still shearing on the floor I have to warn you the floor gets further away each year as you get older and the fleece job is a pleasure when you work on a table.

First the alpaca is led to the shearing table. Lifted by the shearer and his handler onto the table.

Our shearing table staff hold the head whilst the alpaca is made secure by tethering its legs and stretching gently. Toe nails are quickly clipped at the same time whilst there are three people on the job.
Once our Shearing table oppo passes the alpacas head back to the Shearers handler they concentrate on rough sorting the fleece around the shearer shoving all the extremely rough stuff off the legs and belly and any contaminated fibre into the 'waste' bin.

The alpaca shearer shears one side, the alpaca is turned and the shears the other. Six minutes -tops.

Then finally the blanket, the best part of the fleece is taken to the sorting table to be skirted and sorted for processing into luxury TOFT knotting yarn.
It takes about six minutes on average. 10 alpacas per hour weather permitting. For 200 alpacas it's a full hands on two days of ferrying in our gorgeous teddy bears and running out the Pink Panthers.

Working up the flick...

Here is Alison one of the Toft Studio interns working on her flick. The flick being how to get the alpaca fleece from the shearing board and onto the sorting table spread in a uniform manner with one flick of wrists and arms. Alison started shearing as a 5 out of 10 amateur and ended after 200 goes as a 9 out of 10 professional flicker. Another vital life skill added to her cv!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Shiny new born Suri glowing in the sun...

Aren't we all on this fine day... This wee girl was born a week or so early yesterday but has now found her legs and the sun. She and the other three earlies will be the stars of the show over the next few days for the customers of the Cornflower Cafe which pops up Thursday to Saturday in the Toft Studio for Coffee cakes , light lunch and lots and lots of alpaca chat! 9am-4am and as delightful as this wee girl!

Shots from the Toft Alpaca Shearing Shed 2014

Hard work? Absolutely.  Fun?  
Ask the 'newbees' from the Toft Alpaca Studio who rolled their sleeves up and got stuck in like they'd been there all their lives. A big Toft thanks to Emma, Alison, Ellie, Lisa and Harriett for giving the grumpy old shearer plenty to distract him. Toft Alpaca Shearing Shed 2014.

Well that's done....

We finished shearing the last 12 alpacas before breakfast this morning and sent the shearer on his way having  sheared 193 alpacas since Monday. The weather was playing off and on throughout but thanks to the dedication of our herdswoman Linda and the Toft Team we never missed a beat. With the help of the 'newbees' from the Toft Studio Linda kept the herd moving towards the shearing shed as teddy bears and returning the to their paddocks as pink panthers.  Despite the weather we rattled through them with hardly any hesitation and only a handful were sheared slightly damp. All knackered today and the sun is out in all it glory- 'twas ever thus!

Thursday, 8 May 2014


Toft is simply gorgeous at the moment. The Toft orchard is awash with pastel glories. If only the rain would give it a rest we could enjoy it. 'Twas ever thus! 
At least those souls who get along to the Cornflower Cafe in the Toft Studio for lunch can  nip out between showers, check out the alpaca babies, then nip back for Cappucino and cake. Luvverly jubbly!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bit of a bad hair day- it gets us all in the end.

It comes to us all in the end and it's only in the past four years after 17 years of breeding alpacas that we have had to come to terms lately with caring for old and geriatric alpacas.
This is Accoyo Cornelius one of our foundation sires now 16 years of age. I have no idea what that would be in alpaca years but given that the maximum lifespan would be about 20 and on the altiplano I guess 10-12 would be about the limit. He was born on import in utero 16 UK years ago which
makes him seriously geriatric. He has two years fleece on him here and as you can see like an old care home resident his tired old locks have  a mind of their own.
He still gets around well if a little slower than he once did. He is sound in mind and body and passes his days munching and looking as all alpacas do. His glory days of being Show Champion with a string of ladies sitting for his attention might be rapidly transforming into a distant dream but he still shows an interest when a young good looking maiden passes on the wind.
His descendants march on with the best of him inside them as he reminisces about his glory days. Does he recognise them as they pass his retirement paddock, I doubt it but on a warn sunny day in early summer we'd like to think so. He will be sheared next week because he must be and we pray for a mild winter so he will still be munching this time next year to see another spring.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The girl done good ....

Lovely day yesterday at the North Somerset show watching Shirley wading her way through  a hundred very impressive alpacas. Entries were limited to six alpacas per herd which was a great idea as this enabled many more herds to participate in the one day show. 
Luckily the weather held good all day which was a good job because this is an outdoor event and alpacas are virtually impossible to judge in the wet.
I met lots of enthusiastic owners with so,e very fine alpacas, had a good scrat round the sheep and cattle lines, stick makers and ironmongery as you do. All in all had a very countrified day out. 
Meanwhile in the ring Shirley rattled through the Huacayas and Suris in a very professional and confident manner and the day wrapped up about 5pm with the Supreme Champion Huacaya going to The Diplomat of Valley Alpacas and the Supreme Champion Suri going to Margaret Steinchaden Silver of Pinkney Alpacas. 
Congratulations to John Grover and his merry team of helpers who organised the show and to Gary Naish who as always ran the ring with much humour and quiet and confident style to make the whole day a very enjoyable experience for all. Congratulations also to all the exhibitors who showed some fantastic alpacas and kept the event moving with their enthusiasm and good humour.
Well done Shirley. Although I can't say I particularly like hanging around as your 'companion animal' I have to admit I spent all day telling all that would listen " That's my girl!" xxx Too proud for words!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

North Somerset Alpaca Show for Shirley today

Weathers good, judge is fed. Watch out Somerset here comes the judge!

Toft Alpaca Husbandry Introductory Workshop- Perfick!

A great crowd, stunning weather, lunch and afternoon tea at the Toft Alpaca Studio in the Cornflower Cafe. It doesn't get much better than it did yesterday. 
Here's Dan and his son Ben doing a bit of father and son alpaca bonding whilst being shown how to halter alpacas by Shirley.
We are off tomorrow to North Somerset where Shirley is judging alpacas at the North Somerset Show. I'm playing companion animal - as one must. 
I am really looking forward at being at an alpaca show where I am not a steward, announcer, commentator or  judge. Time for some r&r on Bank Holiday Monday and a walk down the sheep lines and tool stalls whilst Whoopy Daisy puts the alpacas through their paces. Sad huh? But this is the closest we ever get to a holiday. Have a great Bank Holiday.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Now that is fan dabby dozy!

Shirley and I tested the salted caramel chocolate cake at the Cornflower Cafe at Toft Alpaaca Studio with our lunch yesterday. As you can see we hated it! It hardly touched the plate as it tasted as good as it looked. Nice one Georgie and Jen- way to go!