Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Fallowfield Gardening Squad!


I’m blaming my absence of blogs this week on a combination of being rather busy and a bad back.  Unfortunately, when you have a bit of a dodgy back, long hours spent in the car, combined with rocking a rather heavy grandson have a price to pay!

Anyway Happy Easter to all!  The constant wintry weather has obviously frozen my brain cells as I have found myself saying to friends two or three times over the past few days  “What are you doing for Christmas?”!!!!!!!! 
 
 

Holidays such as Easter and Christmas are meant to be a time to relax and recoup one’s energies and to spend time with family and friends.   Mike and I are both very keen gardeners, although you really wouldn’t think so if you were to walk round our large garden right now.  Ok, so the weather has been too bad to get much done so far this year, but then that was the case last year.  However, despite a snowy start to the day, we have had a lovely sunny afternoon here and Mike took the opportunity to get cracking with turning over the beds in our vegetable garden – with a little help from some friends!
 
 
 Mike does the initial digging and then the hens follow on – breaking down the soil to a fine tilth – after all they have to earn their keep in ways other than laying us the most delicious eggs!  My two Buff Orpingtons weren’t going to get involved as they are pretty broody at the moment and are quite reluctant to leave their nesting boxes.  Good Friday might be the day when you traditionally plant your first potatoes – or at least it is in this country - but there is no way that we are going to plant spuddies out in the garden right now.
 
 
 

 

We have been very lucky to have not only sister Lucinda and husband Andrew to stay this weekend, but also Peter, Iona and gorgeous grandson Archie.  Lucinda and Andrew actually came up to collect their 8 week old Sprocker puppy, named Hetty.  Little Hetty is chocolate brown with one white paw and a white flash down her neck.  Ok so in the alpaca world she would be classified as a Multi and would not make an appearance at the British Alpaca Futurity but Multis are often the cutest looking alpacas in the paddock.  We’ve never actually bred a Multi but it doesn’t mean to say that it might never happen.
 

Archie was able to meet his Great Grandmother this morning when she came up for a coffee.  It was a bit chaotic with an 11 week old baby and 8 week old puppy at large in the kitchen.  We were all on tiddle alert for the puppy but she didn’t blot her copy book.

Whatever else happens tomorrow, we simply must get back to some halter training as we are taking alpacas to the new NWAG show in Carlisle next weekend, where I am also stewarding.  I have to be honest that I can’t remember which alpacas we entered – best check tomorrow!  We have two white weanlings that we were getting confused with a few weeks ago and we actually entered the wrong one to the Futurity.  Or maybe he wasn’t the wrong one at all since he managed to win a 4th place rosette in the highly competitive Junior White Male class!

Once again, I hope everyone has a lovely weekend and don’t forget to move your clocks forward an hour tonight if you live in the UK.  British Summer time officially starts tomorrow – whether it is snowing or not!!!!
PS  If anyone can tell me why it is that I can change the size of the first two photos that I publish on each blog but not the others, then I would be most grateful!
 

 

 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Wrapping up for winter


I’m not going to go on about the awful weather we are having as it’s getting a tad monotonous except to say that I no longer believe in global warming – another Ice Age perhaps but definitely  NOT global warming.
 

Nevertheless, it’s not just us humans that have to wrap up warm.  Scrumpy is modelling – a bit reluctantly! – her fleece coat.
 

 Hester is modelling her waterproof, fleece lined coat. 

 

Scrumpy was actually a bit fed up at having to go outside at all in this cold weather, but top models just have to go where the work takes them!  Actually, I did spot some dog coats for sale at the British Alpaca Futurity at the NEC.  They all looked good but some were a bit more practical than others.  The felted alpaca ones were probably more practical although I’m not sure how washable they would be and although I love Scrumpy dearly I would not put her in a beautifully knitted alpaca coat.  After all, she is not one of those Handbag toy dogs and nor am I a brainless celebrity.  Some might argue about the brainless bit I suspect!

All joking apart, this is the first winter that we have ever used larger sized alpaca coats.  We normally just use them for our crias when they are very young and still vulnerable.

 
 

We have got our first guests at Eastfield, our holiday cottage in Corbridge, arriving on Friday for the week.  Having got the place immaculately clean for the Quality in Tourism inspection, we have now got to give one of the bathrooms a good clean out.  The bathroom in question has a wonderful large cast iron bath – not one of these mean, modern, plastic apologies for a bath.  But, as there was some wear on the enamel, we decided to get the bath re-enamelled before we had any guests.  It looks fabulous now but the whole bathroom is a bit on the dusty side to say the least.  Thank goodness they kept the door shut!  The guests were actually on the phone last night from Switzerland and were just checking through a few details – not least that the heating would be on for their arrival.  I’m quite sure that they will be delighted to find the cottage is so cosy and will be impressed with our Fallowfield Alpaca duvets and pillows.  Check out the photos on the Sykes Holiday Cottage website www.sykescottages.co.uk

Mike has just come in from outside and says that he is going to wear his thermal long johns tomorrow – watch this space for a photo!!!!!

Friday, 22 March 2013

BAS Judges' Calibration Clinic

 
 
No I haven't lost the plot - at least I don't think so! - but I thought I would share this lovely photo Mike took of a cowslip last Spring just to cheer us all up in this miserable weather.

I feel as if my feet have barely touched the ground over the past couple of weeks.  There is always so much to do here at home in any case and then we were away at the Futurity for a few days.  Having got home late last Saturday night, there was just time for me on Sunday to visit my elderly mother who is in a nursing home and have a quick sort out and then I was off again on Monday morning leaving Mike to hold the fort.  I have to admit that it was a bit of an effort as I was still feeling a bit shattered but it was worth it.

The reason for dashing around the country once again was that, as a trainee judge,  I was attending the BAS Judges’ Calibration clinic at Toft alpacas and staying with middle son Pete and Iona and baby Archie which was a real bonus. It was great getting in a bit of “Granny” time!
 

The calibration clinic was excellent.  We were so privileged to have Amanda Vandenbosch as our tutor and the Toft Alpacas Studio was the perfect venue.  The weather has been awful this week and although we spent some time outside, we were also able to judge animals indoors.  A big “Thank You” to Rob and Shirley Bettinson for hosting this event.  There was a great atmosphere amongst judges, trainees and handlers and a real feeling of everyone supporting each other.  No photos I'm afraid -  I was far too busy learning and chatting and there was a heck of a lot of both!

I would strongly recommend anyone who is interested in knitting and crochet to visit the Toft Alpaca Studio www.toftalpacas.co.uk.  You will find it truly inspiring.  Kerry Bettinson has to be congratulated on her creativity and design of both the studio and her range of products.

We have had a visit here this morning from a lady who is a very keen hand spinner and she bought three fleeces from us, two of which were show fleeces.  It is always really fun when you find someone who gets just as excited as us when they see a good fleece.

Having been away for a few days, I am desperate to do a bit of cooking.  No-one could ever say that I am short of cookery books but that didn’t stop me from borrowing Iona’s copy of Ottam Yottolenghi’s book “Plenty”.  It is a vegetarian cookery book with some stunning recipes.  I am a real fan of his as he shows you that you really don’t have to eat meat to create a really special meal.  Having said that, my sons think I am a bit weird as although I am certainly not vegetarian, I am quite happy to eat just a plate of vegetables.  I think I’ll give the Mushroom Lasagne recipe a go this weekend.
 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

British Alpaca Futurity 2013


 

I have to admit that Mike and I are both feeling a bit shattered today after going to the Futurity last week.  We got back home late last night.  Ten out of ten to Mike for driving all the way.  It was pouring down when we left Birmingham and the traffic was awful but we got home about 10.15pm.
 

We had dithered on about whether to go to the Futurity this year but we are very glad that we did.  The standard of entries was even higher this year than last but we still managed to bring home 3 rosettes.  Most of the entries are from breeders who own several hundred alpacas and due to a rush of sales recently we currently have less than 30.  Minerva, Maximus and Isidor all got rosettes – 5th, 6th and 4th.  Although we had hoped for higher places, the judge did say in her summing up that the final line-up of alpacas in these particular classes represented “The best of the best” and even the 5th and 6th placed animals were exceptional alpacas – pretty good then! 

One of the great things about going to such a big alpaca event as the Futurity, is all the people you meet.  It was so good to catch up with our alpaca friends from all over the UK, Europe and Sweden.
 

We were really lucky to have Lucinda and Andrew house-sitting for us in our absence.  In fact, as I type Lucinda is cooking supper.  I think it is roast chicken but there is a rather mouth watering smell of pear and ginger crumble coming from the kitchen too.  In our absence, they have been testing that Piccalilly I made a few weeks ago and it seems to have got the thumbs up!

Bookings are starting to come in now for our holiday cottage in Corbridge which is really exciting.  We have got our first guests arriving there for Easter weekend – only a couple of weeks away.

No chance of putting my feet up here for the next few days though as I am off to Rutland tomorrow to stay with my son Peter and his wife Iona and wee Archie. As a judge trainee I am going to Toft Alpacas on Tuesday and Wednesday for the judges’ training clinic run by Amanda Vandenbosch who was judging at the Futurity. 

We had hoped that the weather here might get a bit milder but it is snowing again now.  Just as well that we bought a new cria coat for little Hester who is struggling at the minute.  She has been refusing to take hard feed and as we have so little grass in our paddocks we have had her penned in our orchard.  Whilst at the Futurity we did get hold of some of the GWF Hembra and Cria feed which we have been trying to get into her today.  Fingers crossed with that one!

The question is – will Mike need to dig out the snowdrift from the top of the drive tomorrow?   

 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Alpacas on the move.


 

This is obviously the week for Fallowfield alpacas to be travelling – some to new homes and some to the British Alpaca Futurity at the NEC and more mundanely some to just another paddock here which has slightly more grass.  I did say “Slightly”!  Note how these alpacas are not even prepared to lift their heads up for the photo shoot - far more important things on their minds.

I'm always a bit sad to say “Good Bye” to those of our alpacas that are moving on to pastures new and it’s important to us that they go to good homes.  We took three of our girls up to Conundrum Farm in Berwickshire yesterday where they were warmly greeted by their new owners Nigel and Lynn Dudgeon.  I think these three must have thought they had arrived in paradise with a big field all to themselves and yes – you guessed it – loads of grass! 

I have to confess that we didn’t get round to taking any photos of  Nerini, Eve and Portia as they left here or even after arriving at their new home because, quite frankly, it was just too cold to hang about outside.  Not to mention that we are just a tad busy here.
 

Talking of sales, we have been busy with photographs in the sunshine this morning as we have added some more alpacas to our sales list.  You can check these out on our website www.fallowfieldalpacas.com.  The only way to keep a herd to a certain size is to keep selling and there are some lovely alpacas on the list.  Some are show winners, some more suited to starter herds and some great pets.  These photos are of Octavius and a close up of his fabulous fleece
 

It’s a hive of activity here both in and out the house today and though still cold, it’s bright and dry.  As we’re off to the NEC tomorrow morning, we’ve got masses to get done.  Mike is sorting out the animals, vehicles and writing instructions for my sister and brother in law who are house sitting whilst I am making sure we have got everything we need – bar the kitchen sink! – for this huge show. 

There is always a bit of a debate here about just how much hay we need to take with us when going to an alpaca show.   Mike would take less than half of what I insist we need.  This is probably because when we were really novice breeders, we took some of our alpacas to the Nationals and took the amount of hay Mike reckoned we would need and we ran out.  Fortunately we had good friends there who had loads and were happy to help us out but ever since then I take enough hay with me to feed the whole herd – well maybe not quite!!

Anyway – wishing everyone travelling to the British Alpaca Futurity a safe journey and do come and say hello to us.  We are very much looking forward to catching up with lots of alpaca chat and meeting both old and new friends.

Back to the packing now – mustn’t forget white shirts and black trousers, the dress code for exhibitors and stewards and since I fall into both categories I had better take plenty!

PS  Just sold two more alpacas today - it's all action here!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Pigs, pigs and more pigs!

Today is Mother's Day and as opposed to Father's Day which in my book is just a commercial exercise, Mothering Sunday does feature in the Church calendar.    I might be slightly biaised but argue with me at your peril!  All three Douglas sons and Douglas husband remembered  - well done guys and I love you lots too!

It was certainly never going to be a day of rest for us farming folk.  We woke up to decidedly wintry weather this morning.  Frequent snow blizzards and a wind chill factor which just doesn't bear even mentioning!  However, this couldn't stop the halter training.  After all, I can hardly tell Amanda VandenBosch who is judging the Huacaya alpacas at the Futurity at the end of this week that it was just too cold to halter train our animals - well I suppose I could try but I don't think that it will be conducive to getting a rosette.  I couldn't help thinking that it is quite remarkable how great our alpacas look until just before they are due to enter the show ring.  I know the alpaca dress code is "Field Condition" -but honestly!!!!



The real treat of the day was going down to Staindrop in County Durham to meet our pigs.  I present to you the Fallowfield Oxford Sandy and Black piglets!!  We came across The Sandy & Black Pig Company when we were at the Country Living Fair in Harrogate just before Christmas - ok yes, extra brownie points for Mike for taking me!  We just loved their sausages and pies and the rest as they say is history - or will be in about 9 months time when the pigs are in our freezers.  Check out www.sandyandblackpigs.co.uk.



The pigs were everything and more than we had hoped for.  People say how cute and intelligent they are but they seem to be almost human at times.  The Mums were very relaxed and we were able to pick up the piglets . Admittedly there were more important things on their Mums' minds - supper was being served! 

Did think about having roast pork for supper - but opted for chicken instead!!!!!!!!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Success!



Yes we made it!  We had our Quality in Tourism inspection this week for our holiday cottage and we got the highest grading there is – 5 Star, Gold Award.  We are really pleased.  It is a justification of all of our hard work and belief that Eastfield is a really special property.  Yes, we have gone to a lot of trouble to decorate, furnish and equip it to a high standard, but what makes the difference is the location and the total ambience of the property.  In a word it is quite “Unique”!  You can spend as much money as you like on a property but if the location is wrong, it’s never going to be that special.  For those who don’t understand the system, the Quality in Tourism people carry out the assessments on all sorts of Guest Accommodation in this country, from large hotels to small B & B’s on behalf of Visit England.  It has to be said that they are incredible pernickety and you can guarantee that they will always find something you’ve missed or that they just don’t like.
We will be having our own website for the cottage in due course – quite frankly that has been the least of our worries recently! – but in the meantime there are lots of photos to be seen on the booking agent’s site www.sykescottages.co.uk.  The property name is Eastfield, ref. 22844.  If you are interested in making a booking, we would love you to contact us directly as we can take private bookings.

You know the old adage,” If you want a job doing then ask a busy person”.  Well you must all be aware by now that we don’t exactly sit around here at Fallowfield twiddling our thumbs.  In fact our three grown-up sons are constantly berating us for not having quite got to grips with retirement.  So what’s retirement??  People do say we both look a lot younger than we are but perhaps they should all have been to Specsavers!  So what were we up to last night?  Mike was out to dinner – but it was a business meeting, so I’ll let him off that one and I was giving a talk/presentation about alpacas to the Riding Mill WI, which is chaired by my old friend Jenny Coates.  Mind you, I could have gone off Jenny pretty rapidly as she introduced me by the delightful name my sister used to give me “Smelly Melly”.  Not too good that one!  I will forgive my sister since she and her husband Andrew are brilliant about coming up from Derbyshire to house and animal sit whilst we are away.  So no prizes for guessing who is coming to stay next week when we are off to the British Alpaca Futurity!
Fingers crossed that Amynta behaves this well next week!


 

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Don't cast a clout 'til May is out or The North South Divide!






 I wonder how many people recognise what I believe to be a Northern expression “Don’t cast a clout ‘til May is out”?  If you haven’t heard it before, it basically means don’t be fooled by one or two days of fine weather and shed your warm clothes until the end of May.  And there you see Mike and I – both Northumbrian born and bred – still wearing our coats whilst halter training on this beautiful sunny day, and our Cockney friend Paul Vaclik of Munaycha Alpacas without an overcoat! 
 
Even our alpacas don’t get to shed their fleeces until after the Northumberland County Show which is on 27th May.  As the alpacas need to be in full fleece for this show, we never shear until the first week in June.

This was the first day that we had walked the weanlings down the laneway and past the main female herd.  It is Maximus (aka “The Beast”) being walked by Paul and Isidor in the photo.  It’s really pretty unfair giving Maximus that nickname, as he is so laid back just like his sire, Houghton King, but he is so well grown with such good density of bone for his age.
 

Eve, the alpaca with the particularly dirty neck seems to have been enjoying the relatively warm day today.  She is one of the first alpacas we bought and – despite being Southern born and bred! – she has always enjoyed dipping her neck into a water trough on a fine day and then rolling on the ground.  Actually, I’m so relieved that the weather has picked up as we are off to the Futurity next week and our show team have been looking so scruffy.  At least they are starting to dry out and fluff up a bit now.  No grooming for alpacas before entering the show ring!  I am always amazed at the amount of grooming that other farm livestock breeds  get involved with compared with alpacas that have to be judged in “Field” condition.  Having said that, we do get a few funny looks from a few farmers when we unload our alpacas at an agricultural show and they look like mini haystacks (alpacas not farmers you understand!)
 

Since we were in photography mood, Mike took one or two more of the weanlings whilst they were waiting their turn for halter training – yes I agree, they do look gorgeous don’t they!

 

 

Friday, 1 March 2013

This was the week that was!


I can’t believe it’s Friday already – where has this week gone?

We have been rushing around like mad things getting Eastfield, our holiday cottage in Corbridge, ready for letting.  It actually went live tonight with Sykes Holiday Cottages www.sykescottages.co.uk.  The photographs were just done this afternoon so it will be about a week before these are on the website.  I know that we are ever so slightly biased, but it is a really special cottage.  I have been spending hours getting things absolutely perfect as we have got our Quality in Tourism inspection on Wednesday next week.  At least with self catering, you know when the inspector is coming as opposed to B & B when you get the “secret shopper”.
 

Halter training has been a bit spasmodic this week – not what we would really recommend!  I’m sure that I’ve said before that it’s better to do a little bit every day rather than once every two or three days – but you know what they say – “do what I say, not as I do”!!!!!  Actually, I think that our current group of weanlings have lulled us into a false sense of security as they are so laid back.  I just put in our entry for the new  NWAG show in April at Carlisle this evening.- better late than never!  I kept thinking that we had loads of time – but then I suddenly realised that we only had a week left to get the entries in. 

If you are beginning to get the impression that things are slightly frantic here, then you could be right!!

We’ve got our first lot of B and B guests of 2013 arriving tomorrow night.  We are also hosting a dinner party tomorrow night which we are looking forward to immensely.  We have been very remiss in our entertaining of late and are looking forward to catching up with old friends.  The menu is: 

Twice Baked  Spinach and Gruyere  souffl├ęs

Salmon en Papillote with new potatoes and salad

Chocolate Mousse and Tarte Tatin.

Ok – I admit that I’m a bit of a Francophile, especially where food is concerned, but then I did spend a year in Grenoble working as an an assistante anglaise as part of my French degree course.  There is great pleasure to be had in cooking and sharing food with friends and family.  So what are you all cooking this weekend?