Friday, 9 September 2016

Weigh time over at TOFT Alpacas

At TOFT we religiously weigh every alpaca  on the farm every month come rain hall or shine. This month it was absolutely gorgeous making up for all the rainy days to come. We also check body score and  eye lid palour at the same time, taking this regular opportunity to monitor the whole of the TOFT alpaca herd. 
We weigh in the winter months to ensure that no one is losing weight and weigh in the summer to make sure that no one is gaining an excess. We try to maintain all the mature alpacas between 65-75kg not always easy when some of them want to eat all the pies. The greedy ones end up in the 'fat field' for the winter and the slightly challenged end up in the 'skinny field'. 
At this time of the year after the joys of summer grazing  we expect all the alpacas to have a body score of 3.5 -4 out of 5 max and would expect them to come out of the winter between 2.5-3.5 body score. That's what we aim for as our ideal but with two very mild wet winters on the trot, in which the grass hardly stopped growing, it's a challenge to keep the weight off these extremely efficient grazers.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

What? Is my bin better than yours?

Irony upon irony. At the risk of starting to sound like Victor Meldrew -can people please use their common sense and finish the job they started.
I picked these two massive carrier bags up just left in the hedge on farm yesterday. They contain the remains of two or possible three disposable barbecues and all the detritus attached to a wee picnicin the  countryside on a lovely summer day.
What I cannot understand is the logic of people who buy Eco- carrier bags from Asda- fill it full of their rucbbish and then dump it in the hedges and lanes of the wonderful clean countryside they came to enjoy in the first place. 
Who do you think is going to dispose of this lot for you? Firstly it will be the foxes, badgers, ratsand  squirrels, not to mentioned seagulls, who will tear this lot apart in a night or two and scatter your debris all over the place. At which point your carefully packed rucbbish  becomes not just an eyesore and an imposition but a tsunami of litter polluting the very space you came to enjoy.

Get real people! My bin is not better than yours. You brought it out here please take it back!

Or I warn you some young millennial is going to make themselves a fortune by creating an app that makes these Asda bags and the like traceable. Then we shall gladly send your detritus to be dealt with at your gaff, possible by drone!!!

Enough! be logical and finish the job!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

What is all this about...please you brought it take it with you

To those thoughtful people who use wee plastic bags to pick up your dog poo we appreciate you efforts to keep our 3/4 miles of footpaths clean. 

To those of you who then proceed to hang the bags in the hedges and fences in the absolute belief that their is somewhere on TOFT a 'poo fairy' who comes along in the night and spirits these packages away- I have to inform you , at risk of destroying your innocence forever. There is no such fairy and in my busy life I could do without having to dispose of your little presents. You brought these items with you, you used them, please take them away with you. The whole point of performing this worthwhile function is that they go back on your own bin, not in mine and certainly don't hang like urban Christmas decorations all over the countryside. 
Much love and thanks- the TOFT 'Poo Fairy' who wants to be made redundant ASAP by your change of habit. xxx

Friday, 12 August 2016

Fabulous weekend of celebration at TOFT Fest 2016

What a weekend we had last. Sorry not to have put this up sooner but it's been a busy old week- 'twas ever thus!
 We have all just recovered from tidying up and getting everything back in place after a tremendous two days of craft and alpaca celebration here at TOFT. This weekend marked the tenth anniversary of the brand that is now TOFT. A brand that is internationally recognised across the world as representing the very best in creative design, service and luxury. 
More than time this celebration marks the the arrival back from University some ten years ago of Kerry Lord or Bettinson as she was then, carrying her newly printed, first class honours degree in English and with a little time to kill before taking up a masters or embarking on an academic career. We casually asked her, as you do when a spare pair of intelligent hands arrives on the manor, if she would look over our emerging alpaca retailing efforts and see what she could do. 
Well the rest is history, she took to it like a shark in a meat factory, committed her talents to the n'th degree to make this side of our business a huge success. Ten years later TOFT employs over 14 people, retails and wholesales across the world and has become a brand with a huge national and International reputation. Kerry has just published her fourth book on crochet. We have the TOFT coffee shop and Shop open five days a week on site in the TOFT Studio. We have an online retail facility to rival the best in its field and a wholesale division that is smoking! The goal posts are moving so fast around here you don't get a chance to kick the ball at them.
All this is very much down to the commitment, energy, creativity and talent of our daughter Kerry, and of course in no small part also down to the amount of support she gets from her husband, her friends, all our family, friends relations, passers by and any other slave, that can be exploited to give her a hand. 
I could go on forever detailing the incident, adventure challenges and successes of the past ten years and I am convinced that one day someone will do just that, but suffice to say Shirley an I are so very proud of our daughter and what has been acheived here. We feel very privileged to have played a part in seeing Kerry Lord become a brand in her own right and mature into the formidable creative force she has become today. 
10 years is a long time and a lot has been acheived but I confidently put you all on notice to watch this space. For I am acutely aware that for TOFT the story is just at the end of the beginning. This first ten years has been a magnificent achievement but it may it well be a mere drop in the ocean as to where Kerry will lead her merry team of Yarnies to next.
Congratulations to you all, congratulations Kerry and our sincere thanks to everyone past and present who has contributed to making TOFT the success it is today. Hold onto your hats y'all for the best is yet to come!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The end of an era... and thanks from TOFT Alpacas

I must apologise, I have been very remiss this past month or so in not informing all our friends and fans that Linda Newport our herdswoman of 15 years standing has left Toft to take up a career elsewhere. We have been so busy since she announced her sudden departure I haven't had time to spit let alone keep this blog up to date.
Linda will be sorely missed at Toft as she has been working with us as part time herdswoman for as long as most of the kids can remember and has played an absolutely vital part in our success over the past fifteen years.
When she joined us we had around thirty alpacas and around 15 acres of ground to look after, nowadays we have 70 acres  and  200 alpacas and whole lot besides with the Toft Coffee Shop and Studio onsite and the online activities expanding on a daily basis.
I was trying to get a half decent photograph of Linda to accompany this announcement but she was always expert at hiding from the cameras. I enclose a few shots to pay tribute to her time with us and jog a few memories.
We thank her for her massive contribution to Toft through her years of dedicated service and wish her well in the future as she retires from the farm work and moves on to pursue an indoor life so that she can spend more time with her Grandchildren and family. We shall all miss you, Linda, and hope that your change of path brings you all the happiness you deserve.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Broken bones and a quick car trip...

Alyona a four week old Cria was hopping around the paddock the other day unable to put any weight on her front right foot. At first we thought it a sprain but it didn't get better then we administered anti inflammatory and it didn't get better so yesterday we bundled her into the backseat of the Hilux and too fake her to Towcester Vests for a x ray. After some heavy scrutiny it was discovered that she had a broken metacarpal and a cast was put on. For the next six weeks she will be hobbling around the paddock toting this lump of plaster like Marleys Ghost, but hopefully she will mend quick and we can get her back solidly on all fours a lot sooner. She sat as good as gold in the back seat, Never made  murmur during the examinations and came back to TOFT like the queen on her birthday procession- all dignity and calmness in the face of all adversity. I kid you not its like they know you are there to help.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Eeee.... This grass is taking a bit of eating..!

You can't hear the grass growing at TOFT these past few weeks. We are busy shuffling the weaners around en masses to try and chomp it down. If we were growing cows or sheep we would be overjoyed but the alpacas are such efficient grazers that they get fat on concrete. As we prefer to keep our alpacas at their 'ideal' weight we are currently employing an intensive grazing and cutting regime to keep the grass under control. However this warm wet weather is doing its best to scupper those well laid plans. 'Twas ever thus!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Mr TOFT Alpaca Judge busy at the SWAG show at the Royal Bath and West

Just had me a great two days judging halter at the South West Alpaca Group Show at the Royal Bath & West. I remember attending this show at its inception 15 years ago as an exhibitor, again the following year or so with the BAS promotional trailer when Julio Sumar judged it. I have watched it move and be developed ever since then into what is a fantastic showcase for our wonderful creatures. The alpacas now dominate one corner of the show ground. A location with immense potential for agility classes, walks , info demonstrations all sorts of Alpaca related activities to inform and entertain the public. 
We had a great crowd watching throughout. I was immensely proud of the Champion lineup in both Huacaya and Suri with some real quality alpaca livestock on display. 
Thanks to SWAG for inviting me. Thanks to Di Davies and her merry team of stewards and organise for their organisers for creating a truly memorable couple of days. Thanks to all the exhibitors for letting me judge your animals and here's wishing you a very healthy and productive season ahead.
And finally good luck to Julia Corrigan Stuart who apprenticed with me throughout. She did a great job was a pleasure to work with and I wish the very best from her judge certification later this year.

Friday, 27 May 2016

First TOFT Timogen babe hits the ground...result

Always difficult to know when to start the boys mating the females. This time last year we decided to get our Champion Brown Male TOFT Timogen working earlier than usual as we have syndicated this male and the new owners were keen for him to work in 2015. At the time we had a couple of older girls that we decided to let him practice on. Today the first results of that boys graduation to being a man arrived in the paddock in the form of a beautiful dark brown female out of TOFT Snowdrizzle. Result!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Hallelujah....Bring on the boys !

These girls are those that over wintered in the non pregnant paddocks yearning to meet the boys and satisfy their need to reproduce. We started mating at TOFT as soon as shearing finished, which was last week. So these girls are now all together in the early mating paddock being run in and serviced every other day by our very happy Stud males. Every day they queue at the gate with that 'look' in their eye! 

The sound of 'orgling' echoes around TOFT every Monday Wednesday  and Friday at the moment as the boys get themselves match fit for the rest of the season.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Devon County Show with Mrs TOFT Alpaca Judge

Splendid Thursday and Friday this week at the Devon County Show in Exeter where Shirley was judging the alpacas and I was commentating on the proceedings and keeping exhibitors and public informed on the wonderful world of Alpaca. The weather heals off both days from being disastrous with a short break for rain on the Thursday when we went inside for a couple of hours. 

All in all the rain threatened throughout as it does in an English Summer but it never really materialised and a good crowd enjoyed the proceedings throughout. Jo Bridge was apprenticing with Shirley and together they kept up a cracking pace to get through 170 entries over the two days.

It was a great two days of Alpaca fun and the standard of alpacas seemed very high with a very large Suri entry making my job of keeping the 'rabbit' going fairly easy. Great crowd, great setting, fabulous alpacas and a great sense of camaraderie from the exhibitors makes this an unmissable event. Just look at the setting, a permanently fenced show ring, two huge back up marquees to house the alpacas and to keep the ring going in adverse weather. All this next to the main show attraction the Devon Eye! What's not to enjoy??
What a showcase for our magnificent creatures. Congratulations to all the winners, commiserations to those who didn't get placed. Well done Mrs TOFT Alpaca judge and her apprentice from....Suffolk!
Well done Devon!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Six minutes on that table and look what happens...

That's all it takes to shear an alpaca- walk it from the pen, lift it onto the table, tether back and front legs, stretch and secure as someone holds the head. Once settled, toe nails are cut and shearing begins . Shear one side then  roll the alpaca and shear the other. Check teeth, administer vaccination and wormer if appropriate then release. 
Meanwhile the useable part of the fleece, which is the majority, is taken from the shearing table and placed on the sorting table where three other people rapidly skirt and grade the fleece to its relative batch in less than six minutes.
6 min is all it takes to transform our stunningly beautiful 'teddy bears on legs' into ' Pink Panthers'. Now we must wait 3-6 months for the 'look' to return whilst enjoying the comedy of our Panther romping around inthe sun enjoying the freedom of their summer clothing.
Why do we leave the top knots on? Because it's cute- shave the topknot and  they look a bit like 'Old Nick'. You can't sell an alpaca with a shaved topknot!

Monday, 16 May 2016

And they're off... Group sex on the hard standing at TOFT

Yesterday we began mating in earnest, well the males did. It's been a long winter for the boys and they've been waiting patiently in their paddocks this past month or so. The weather has been good if a little cold and although we could have had Cria born early this year there is no telling what next year will bring. 
Our Policy at TOFT is to begin mating as soon a shearing is over. In this way fleece can't get in the way or complicate the process in any way. As we shear around the second week in May it means our babies will not arrive next year until the beginning of May. It's an 11.5 months gestation period for an alpaca and they are ideally mated 2 weeks after birthing. So a little foresight and stamina is required over the next few months on all our parts whilst birthing and mating dominate at TOFT.
So yesterday it began mating with 8 stud males performing the first duties of the season in the pens on the hard standing.They went off like a bag of frogs. The sound of or 'orgling' males was deafening. The sex party was in full swing from the outset and those poor boys left in the field were non too pleased to be on the bench. 
TOFT will resound to these dulcet tones of mating males every Monday, Wednesday and Friday right through until the second week of August by which time hopefully all our breeding Mums for 2017 will be settled, scanned and the boys can rest all winter in the paddocks as their respective females concentrate on growing the next TOFT generation.
This year we are returning to scheduling all our 2017 births between May 1st and the end of July all things being equal. We did achieve this a few years back but birthing has got a little out of sync in the past few years. Any late birthers this year will be held over until this time next year. We much prefer our Cria to be on the ground early in the summer so they can thrive and be ready for anything our winter may decide to throw at them. 
It has been said and so it will be done- we hope. We can but try. As with any livestock operation we react to whatever the weather and circumstance throw at us and plan as a best we can against most eventualities. 'Twas ever thus!

TOFT Alpaca husbandry introductory day...

Lovely day yesterday with a cold breeze but a lot of bright sunshine as we ran the 2nd TOFT Alpaca Husbandry Introductory of the year on farm. Here's a shot so some very happy and now knowledgeable alpaca enthusiasts.
Thanks for choosing to come to TOFT to increase your awareness and experience with alpacas. We trust you went home with all your questions answered and your heads spinning with the wonderful world of alpaca. Thanks for your sense of humour and your company and we wish you well with your own alpaca adventure whatever that may be.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Talent will out...

There are millions of alpaca picture taken every week. These magical creatures steal the heart of everyone who comes into contact with them. However the great alpaca pictures come as always from those who have the eye to recognise the light , the situation and the composition as a potential upon which to lavish some time to get a great result.
Whilst in the last throws of shearing on Thursday I noticed my daughter Kerry Lord sitting cross legged in the paddock with a bunch of newly shorn alpacas. She is currently 5 months pregnant with her second child and there she was shuffling slowly forward on her back side inch by inch until she was in a position to take this photograph. Was it worth it? Well judge for yourself. I see lots of alpaca photies having been breeding them for almost 20 years now., I have taken loads but just occasionally you see something that takes your breath away and this one took mine. Is it the combination of colours all bright and new in the  air minutes after shearing? Is it the sense of release in the alpacas as they recognise summer after a wet winter? Is it the angle and the contrast against the deep blue sky behind?  It's all of those and a lot more besides but more than anything it's the taker who knew what she wanted and pursued it with patient determination to achieve a fantastic result. Luck no way! It's called talent. My eldest has the 'eye' and long may she continue to use it to surprise us. Enjoy!

Who's a smart boy then...?

Archie the TOFT Llama got his annual haircut yesterday as the final alpaca to be sheared at this sitting. Archie is sheared standing up and that cut is called a Barrell cut which apparently is all the rage in the Lllama soirees at the moment... Honest!
Archie has one main function at TOFT and that is to demonstrate the difference between a Llama and an Alpaca which he does magnificently. As you can see he is... A foot and half taller, has big curved ears like the handles of the European Cup, his tail is permanently cocked at a jaunty angle and his head is much larger and more accentuated giving him a haughty arrogant look which is not as submissive as the alpaca. Job done.. Well done Archie.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Happy new hair do....

Well that's done, we knocked off shearing the last alpaca about 1 ish, having made good progress since 6.30am. Good breeze over night ensured all were dry this morning. We got a good start and Freya and Linda had al the remaining alpacas in their place adn running smoothly through the holding pens ensuring the shearer kept moving without a break throughout. A big thanks to all who took part in  rounding up, shearing , sorting, grading and tidying up. Couldn't have done it without you. Go get showered and enjoy!
All there is to do now is clear up. For the rest of the summer we live with the 'Pink  Panthers' until the regrowth rounds them back into cute Teddies. Mind you with those ears now their main feature these girls look pretty cute!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Busy busy busy... From the crack of sparrows

We begin shearing yesterday afternoon having shredded up a number of alpacas overnight Tuesday for an early start. Unfortunately the weather was against us for most of the day. So as we can't shear wet alpacas we delayed starting until the afternoon. In between showers we had just enough dry to get through about 40 before rain stopped play. 
We were all up at the crack of sparrows this morning to find our shredded alpacas a bit damp to kick off straight away. We got them outside in the wind for an hour while we all tucked into bacon sarnies and Bobs your Uncle we got the table busy by 8.30am. The weather has been perfect today with bright sunlight and a gentle breeze to keep the alpacas dry. Finished about 7.30pm after a full on day. 'Twas ever thus! Dinner now then bed.  We shall all get up at the crack of sparrowfart and do it all again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

And we're off.....

The first Cria of 2016 was born today in the rain. A white girl from Shanbrooke Accoyo Tsar of TOFT ET out of TOFT Ambarona. We haven't weighed her yet but she looks a big un. So much for being born on a sunny day before 3.30pm. Obviously Mum couldn't hang on as the rain has been fairly constant today, if not heavy, from about 1am. 
So there we go first one on the ground for 2016. Mum and babe all well and only 47 to go. We shall call her Alyona which is a touch Russian after her Dad. 

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

It just went...

Bit of a shocker the other day. I went up to the Rye Hill Farm entrance to our place where the Sustrans cycle track comes through towards the Reservoir to find that a gate had completely disappeared. Gate and post were gone leaving a large gap where a wooden pedestrian gate used to hang. 

On enquiry it turns out that Linda had noticed this omission a month back and Shirley swears the gate was gone before that. Well I never.  No one found it remarkable enough to inform yours truly. 'Twas ever thus. 

Who and why we shall never know. Maybe some kind and handy soul is going to replace it but I doubt it. Of course the cyclists love it because now they don't have to stop and open the gate. H'mmm...

TOFT poo picking machine

TOFT Poo Picking Machine- Only thing missing is the engine. Runs on normal fuel intake with cake and coffee supplement! 
Seriously I always smile when I pass these rigs. We have them placed all over the farm in strategic positions for clearing the hard standings, small home paddocks, isolation paddocks etc. A £40 wheelbarrow and a £7 snow shovel. Yours truly has been known to invest in several snow shovels in July and August when he sees them in the sales at less than £7 outside small DIY outlets and garages. Well, we just can't have enough of those boys floating around to shovel up the Alpaca poo. Simple but, oh,so effective. After almost 20 years of picking alpaca poo we still haven't found anything better than a cheap plastic snow shovel for scooping up the 'beans'.
Of course we do have an old Wessex sweeper/scarifier that works off the PTO on the tractor for cleaning the bigger paddocks. I mean lets get real, there's almost 70 acres of alpacas  at TOFT !

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

TOFT T Team....Torranaga,Tamburlaine and Timogen

A Trio of T's - award winning sons of Lavender Park Tulley

Mums in the Maternity Paddocks...

Excitement mounted this week at TOFT as we moved the first batch of expectant mothers into the Home (maternity) Paddocks closer to the house. Not long now before the Bambi moments fill our days.

At TOFT we move the pregnant Mums close in two weeks before their due dates and move them back for mating two weeks after they give birth when we know Mother and babe are coping well. Bit chilly yesterday with a touch of snow sliding through on the wind but nothing substantial save rain and cold. Nothing to stop these Mums birthing as soon as the sun shines and they get a bit of dry. 

Alpacas are the envy of the sheep world in that their natural instincts are still very strong ensuring that they normally give birth in daylight hours before 3.30pm, usually on a sunny day. The downside is they can give birth anytime over a four week period around their due dates. Swings and roundabouts!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Debutantes- TOFT Class of 2014

The 2014 Maiden girls were moved this week into the clean paddocks in order to ready themselves for mating which will start immediately shearing is finished. 
At TOFT we always as a rule try and leave our females to mature fully and mate them at two years of age. There are some female alpacas which mature early and we know some breeders mate their girls anywhere from 12-18 months. For some girls this works fine but at TOFT we are looking for our females to produce elite Cria every year for at least ten years so we don't mate them until they are 2. So here they are in the new paddocks looking for the big boys. Keep looking girls we start shearing on the 11th of May!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

TOFT class of 2015

All the TOFT Weaners have been moved onto fresh pasture in the last couple of weeks. These paddocks consist of un harrowed winter growth which has been left for six months to settle giving them enough new grass growth to get him through to shearing without their fleeces collecting any surplus vegetable matter. 
At TOFT these days all our cria are under 20 microns AFD in their first fleece, which is a fantastic achievement and a credit to their pedigree but it comes with the additional problem -these superfine fleeces will, if not looked after and managed properly, collect every but of dry matter out of their paddocks and make them unusable it we are not careful. We do our best adn hope that we can remove any excess that has gathered in these wonderful fleeces at shearing. We shear the second week of May so we have a bit to go yet.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Heart of England Alpaca Fiesta 2016

Popped into  the Heart of England Alpaca Fiesta yesterday at the Bury Farm Equestrian centre, Slapton near Leighton Buzzard.  Always amazed to think back to 2000 when we managed about 48 entries in the first BAS Alpaca Show at Purston Manor Brackley. Some exhibitors actually carried their alpacas into the ring to be judged and carried them out again. At that time there were less than 2500 alpacas in the country and halter training was in its infancy. The learning curve had only just begun. 
16 years later and the Heart of England Fiesta attains over 300 entries 24 hours after they opened for bookings.
 I think it's now safe to say as we approach our twentieth year of breeding alpacas that our South American friends have secured a permanent presence in the Agricultural landscape of the U.K. All we have to do now over the next 20 years is start to move to a more commercial fleece producing operation to add real value for the breeders to this magnificent fibre. Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, 10 April 2016

TOFT Hosts BAS Level 1 Judge training...

Busy old week on the Manor as we hosted the BAS level 1 Judge training course here at TOFT. Course Tutors were BAS Judges, Liz Barlow and Jay Holland, Shirley was observing so she can tutor in the near future and yours truly was on domestic duty, catering, handling and support service. A massive thanks must go to our herdswomen Linda and Freya who'd did a great job of organising the animals and to the handlers who came from far and wide to help lead and hold the alpacas for the prospective judges. A great three days of learning and fun on the Manor.  The delegates all went home exhausted but wiser than when they arrived. We thank then for their good humour throughout and wish them all the very best as they advance through the various BAS judging levels.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Grans on the Manor ....TOFT Alpaca Open Day

It really is a family affair at TOFT and not just for those of us who work here on a regular basis. THis weekend we had the pleasure of our daughter Laura (aka FEMME) taking a break in her busy recording schedule to sample the 'vibe' on the TOFT Alpaca Open day. It's great to see that she hasn't lost her touch with the alpacas having been living that there 'London' life for the past few years. 
Here she is enjoying a little family fun with the Supergrans- Gran Gran Adam, Gran Shirley and Gran Sandra. That's a whole lot of Grans on the Manor in one day but fun was had by all.
The two scallywags are Edward Lord and Jacob McDowell who revelled in the attention, being surrounded by Grans all day long.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

TOFT Easter Open day

The TOFT Easter Open day took place yesterday. The Manor was running with Yarnies and fans of TOFT Studio TOFT Alpaca Stud and the TOFT Coffee Shop. The people started arriving at 9.30am even though we didn't officially start until 10am. By 3.30pm 6-700 people had been through the gates around the farm and back again. A huge TOFT thanks to all our helpers and staff who created a wonderful atmosphere in the shop, on the farm and with the alpaca walking. Happy Easter one and all and a huge thanks to our 'rellies' the TILLEY clan for giving up the time to steward and help the proceeding run smoothly.
Here is my incredible Mother in Law Myra joint in in the Alpaca walking. She's a real TOFT treasure and the best a man can get. Thanks again one  and all and we look forward to seeing you all again in August.