Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Whoops - she does it again!

There was no denying that the weather was brilliant here today – I accept that it was probably warmer down south, but then the Southern softies can’t cope with extended periods of cold weather (nor can I come to think of it!)
The alpacas were enjoying the sunshine too, some of whom were giving a jolly good impression of having popped their clogs (technical term!)

This was Maisie who was not dead, or even slightly under the weather, but simply enjoying an afternoon siesta and not at all pleased to have been disturbed when I went to check on her.

As it was such a lovely day, I decided to crack on with poo clearing using our paddock cleaner.  Mike wasn’t about, but this didn’t deter me.  I was working really enthusiastically until I managed to pull the hose off the machine – whoops! 

I then decided that I should tidy up the area by the back door.  Being a bit of a perfectionist,  I didn't just want to sweep around the pots, but thought that I should lift them to do the job properly - whoops, or should I say double whoops!  that pot was in one piece  before this spring cleaning fiasco began!

At this point I decided that I had better go to Tesco’s – I don’t want to see any comments from you guys about women being good for nothing better than shopping!
I’m just wondering if I dare get the jet wash out tomorrow to clean the barn and the kennels!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Fantastic Result!

Fantastic result!

No I am not going to bore you all to death with Fallowfield show results!  What I am blogging about with great pleasure is the number of entries that we have got for the Alpaca Section of the Northumberland County Show and also the level of Sponsorship.

All Show Organisers will tell you that they worry like hell that they are not going to get the entry numbers in each year to make a really good show.  I don’t know if it is something peculiar to alpaca breeders, but we find that most breeders seem to go right up to the wire and enter their alpacas right at the last minute.

If you had asked me a couple of weeks ago how things were going, I would have been all doom and gloom – especially as we had argued the case with the Tynedale Agricultural Society that we needed a larger tent now that we were going to be on the new showground at Bywell.  We were beginning to think that we were going to look really silly.

When we checked the tent size some weeks ago, we somewhat optimistically decided that we would cap entries at 110 alpacas and (wait for the drum roll!) we have got 103 with four hours to go!  Not only that, we have achieved a record breaking level of sponsorship – thank you all so, so much.

I can only say that I am jolly glad that Mike gets to plan the penning schedule – if anyone can make it work, Mike will!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Moving on a Broad Front

This has been one of those weeks that just illustrate what a wide range of things occupy us here at Fallowfield.
Halter training has been continuing even though not all participants were as enthusiastic as others!

Now that the weather has picked up – well until this afternoon when we had a heavy shower of thunder and hailstones! – Mike is busy every spare hour that he has harrowing and rolling the fields.  In my ignorance, I used to think that this was just a good way of getting out of my “To Do” list and there was no way that he was going to be able to hear his mobile whilst on the tractor!  I confess that I was wrong – hard to believe really! - and if the pasture management had been left to me over the years, our fields would be in a very poor state now.  Not that they are in any great shakes at the moment, but that is all weather related.  However now that the grass is finally growing – the alpacas have hardly touched any hay this week.

Here is a great photos of Mike and my sister Lucinda at the Northumberland County Show last year.
Houghton King won Supreme Champion and his daughter, Fallowfield Petra won Reserve Champion.

Anyone who is involved in the organisation of an Agricultural Show will appreciate just how much work is involved.  Vicki Ridley and I organise the Alpaca Section of the Northumbeland County Show and I am also Chief Steward.  Vicki is brilliant at paperwork which is not my forte, so between us we make a good team.  People always seem to leave their show entries right up to the last minute and there are always a  myriad of queries that go with the entries. So not only have Mike and I been chasing up alpaca breeders all week, but we have also been trying to get as much sponsorship as we can and we think that we have broken all records this year. We are hugely grateful to all concerned.
We have had some lovely B and B guests staying this week.  We do enjoy looking after our guests and making them as comfortable as possible.  We often get complimented on the choice we offer for breakfasts – particularly for vegetarians who sometimes feel badly done at breakfast time.  A popular choice here are our American style Blueberry Pancakes with maple syrup.  This is my recipe:

135 g. Plain flour
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
¼ pint milk

2 tablespoons melted butter
Maple syrup

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  These can be mixed in advance and stored in an airtight box.  Beat the egg into the milk and add to the dry mix and beat well with a wooden spoon until smooth.  Then add the melted butter and the blueberries.

Heat a non-stick frying pan until quite hot and drop small ladlefuls of the mix into the pan.  There is no need to grease the pan first as the melted butter in the mix will prevent it from sticking.  Bubbles will start to appear on the surface of the pancakes and when these burst, the pancakes should be ready to flip over.  I usually lift the edge of one to check that it has a good golden colour first.  Flip all the pancakes over and cook for a few moments more.  Serve with the maple syrup.

These are truly delicious as the blueberries burst whilst cooking and you get a lovely jam like effect – yum, yum!!  Enjoy!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ups and Downs!

This week has definitely had it’s ups and downs – and that is irrespective of whether you are a glass half full or half empty sort of person.

Even the most miserable old sod cannot dispute that the weather has been a helluva lot better this week.  We even have some plants growing in the garden and buds on the climbers - wonders will never cease.  I don’t even mind the fact that I can see weeds growing out there too.  I got all enthusiastic about gardening this week although my back is definitely telling me to “Cool it!”  A couple of years ago, we hosted the wedding reception for our middle son Peter and his bride Iona in a marquee in the garden here at Crag House. 
I have to say that the garden really looked fabulous but then not only did Mike and I work really hard to get it that way but our friends were all joining in too. It was so beautiful that we vowed that we would make a big effort to keep it that way, but the weather conspired against us.  I also found that the other bonus about working long hours in the garden was that I lost a bit of the middle aged spread.  So, Spring Resolution – garden more and eat less!  Result -  garden and body beautiful – well I can but dream can’t I??!!

As the weather has been so brutal for so long, we decided this week that it would be a good idea if we took some blood tests from a selection of our alpacas to make sure that nothing was amiss.  We would always far rather be proactive with our alpacas than try and pick up the pieces after the event.  We have always given A D & E Vitamin and mineral paste every 6/8 weeks but we want to be sure that the alpacas are in good shape as we enter the birthing and breeding season.  So this week we had our vet David Parkins from Intake Vets to come and take some bloods.  He was ably assisted by a student vet from Nottingham University Vet School.

One of this week’s low points was when David had a look at Philly who we have been treating for a jaw abcess for several months now.  We had thought that we were winning with this one, but apparently not!  She has put on a lot of condition but the infection seems to have spread further down her jaw.  So not a great prognosis it would appear.  I can only reiterate that whenever you are doing any husbandry tasks with your alpacas, please, please check for lumps and bumps on their jaw lines.  Jaw abcesses do occur and the sooner you spot them the better.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

If you go down to the woods today....!

Having had a week of feeling pretty miserable as I’ve had this cold/flu bug that’s been doing the rounds, I got a real pick me up on Sunday afternoon when our pigs arrived.  They are brilliant and I’m really pleased we got them (I know it’s only day 2!).  I don’t know if I’ve said this before but only one of them is ours and one belongs to Paul and Rachel Vaclik who keep alpacas here as well.  We were golng to get three for ourselves but thought that as we hadn’t kept pigs before it might be better to start slowly.  Pretty impressive hey, not rushing into things!!!  The thing is we are doing this for fun – and sausages! – and don’t want to make like difficult for ourselves.  Paul and Rachel have named their pig “Bangers” but ours - after a lot of thought and some good and bad suggestions for names – is just being called “Pig”.

Just as you can spend ages watching alpacas, the same goes for pigs.  They are really quite hilarious.  They don’t seem to do anything slowly, as they go rushing around the place, chasing each other round their bijou residence and if they catch sight of you, their heads turn round as if they are jet propelled.  They don’t seem to be worried about our dogs and were nuzzling Scrumpy on the
nose through the wire fence.  I think Scrumpy is the one that needs to be wary as if she got in with them, they could flatten her pretty quickly, as they are so strong, even at 8 weeks old.  It will be interesting to see what the alpacas think of them as it won’t be too long before some of them will be going into the field that borders the pig paradise.  Paradise it must be too – loads of space, lots of trees and piles of brushwood to investigate.

Late yesterday, we got on with doing our regular alpaca vitamin drenches and also spits.  All of this husbandry stuff is so much easier now we have these proper pens inside the barn.  We were really pleased to find that all those, bar one, that we thought were pregnant, were spitting well – and I mean well!  Mike was chortling away when I got mildly spat at, but then Maisie got him full on.  It was especially funny as she was lying down in her pen which we thought looked a bit ominous and we were presuming that she was not pregnant after all.  As Maisie is Minerva’s mother we were especially disappointed about this.  However, she was lulling Mike into a false sense of security, as he had only just taken King in to her pen when she leapt up and started spitting at them both really vigorously.  I wish that I’d had a camera!


It’s such a treat to have better weather this week.  I was walking round our garden yesterday and quite frankly it just looks ravaged.  So many shrubs look quite dead and others just badly burned with the frost.  I think it’s going to take a lot of work to get things turned round this year.  I will finally get my seed potatoes in this week and think that I may actually order some plug plants rather than seeds this year.  Everything is so behind and apart from vegetable plants, I think there are going to be loads of gaps to fill in the flower borders this year.  Mind you, you do sometimes wonder if it is false economy buying these plug plants, by the time you’ve bought compost and maybe more pots to pot them on – not to mention the time it all takes.

My cooking seems to have picked up again as I have started to recover from this bug.  Just as well really as I think there was a limit as to how long people would make diplomatic remarks about quite obviously dodgy cakes etc..!  So there are fruit cakes in the Aga and I’m just wondering now what to do with some chicken breasts that are in the fridge.  So what better excuse do I need to sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and pore over a cookery book or two!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Culinary Chaos

Before I go any further, I would just like to say – please don’t expect to see any photographs tonight as things have not gone altogether smoothly today and trying to get a few photos for the blog was the least of my problems.
I have just come through to the office after watching this evening’s episode of Masterchef.  Ironic really, considering the sort of day that I have had in the kitchen. 

Tomorrow is changeover day at the cottage and I always provide a home baked cake for our guests. Added to which we have got bed and breakfast guests in this weekend – so tea and cake on arrival and then as an added extra, we had 5 people here this afternoon on an Alpaca Experience Course which includes tea and cake.  Shouldn’t have been a problem at all for someone like me that bakes all the time.
Just before lunch today, I set out to bake two lemon drizzle cakes.  This recipe was given to me by one of our bed and breakfast guests and has become a failsafe recipe in my kitchen – until today.  At this point if you are listening Fiona, I apologise for making such a pig’s ear of your cake recipe.  When baking, I nearly always bake at least two cakes at a time.  I was dashing along, thinking I was in control of the situation when I realised – after the cakes had been in the oven for about 5 minutes – that I had only used three eggs.  Arithmetic is not my best subject, but even I could work out that for two cakes, I should have used six eggs.  Time was obviously of the essence, so I whipped the cakes out of the oven – glad at this point that I had used cake tin liners – and scraped the mixture back into a bowl.  Trouble was the mixture had become quite warm so I had to allow it to cool down before adding the missing eggs.  This I did, keeping my fingers tightly crossed that the cakes would be ok. I can just imagine the facial expressions of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood if this had happened to a contestant on the Great British Bake Off!  Bear in mind that it was one o’clock at this point and the alpaca people were due at 2 pm.   The cakes did look as if they might just about pass muster when I got them out of the oven, but I must confess that I kept the best looking one to take down to the cottage tomorrow afternoon.

Mind you it just goes to show that sometimes, you can avert complete disaster.  I suppose that I could have tried to con everyone with some of my Irish gift of the gab, by saying that it was all done deliberately for scientific testing purposes -  well on second thoughts...!
When we all stopped for tea and cake this afternoon, I did confess that I had had a few culinary issues this afternoon.  I thought it was probably the least that I could do given the fact that at the outset, I gave my Health and Safety pep talk, which includes the immortal words “ We won’t ask you to do anything which we consider to be risky” .  They probably didn’t realise that this included eating one of my cakes!  I very nobly said that neither I nor Scrumpy would be offended if anyone “accidentally” dropped some cake onto the barn floor.  I have to admit that although all of our guests praised the cake, it was really no great shakes
Here is the real Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe

175 g. Self Raising Flour
1/2teaspoon baking powder
175 g. Caster sugar
175 g. Flora cuisine
3 medium eggs
Grated rind of two lemons

For the drizzle:
Juice of two lemons
115 g caster sugar

Basically you mix all the cake ingredients together, put into an 8” lined cake tin and bake for approx 40 minutes at 180 deg C.  Then pierce the cake all over with a skewer and pour over the drizzle mix whilst the cake is still warm
Flora Cuisine is a liquid Flora margarine that is available in most UK supermarkets and is found in the chiller cabinets near the tubs of margarine.

Tip: - Remember to use unwaxed lemons.  Organic lemons are also unwaxed – even if they don’t say so.  If you only have waxed lemons to hand, then plunge them into boiling water for a couple minutes to remove the wax coating.

Let’s just hope that once I get over this stinking cold and get my back sorted out on Monday that my brain will once again kick into gear!  I'm also just hoping that our weekend bed and breakfast guests don't read this!




Monday, 8 April 2013

God Makes Work for Idle Hands!

I think that I must have been very bad – or idle! – in a past life.  Because I’m sure not remotely idle now!

Last week was a classic.  Apart from all the everyday stuff going on here, we ran an Alpaca Care Course last Thursday.  This had actually been re-scheduled from a couple of weeks ago when the weather was really arctic and since some people were coming from Scotland, it seemed sensible to postpone the day.  We always love talking about alpacas – yes, I admit I can talk for Britain, but as they say up here “Shy bairns get nowt!”  It was a great day – still a bit chilly, but sunny most of the time.  It’s always interesting to learn about what has got people interested in alpacas.  For some, it’s the idea of having a new hobby in retirement, whilst for others it’s the possibility of adding to their existing reindeer herd.

Our course attendees had just left when our Australian Bed and Breakfast guests arrived.  Then, having given them tea and homemade cake (standards must be maintained!), I got a phone call from Sykes Holiday Cottages to say that they had just received a new booking for Eastfield for the next day.

So much for having a quiet night in with our feet up!  It was just as well that we were aware that our Swiss guests were leaving on Thursday morning, so we dashed straight down to Corbridge to start the clear up for our new guests.

No chance of a lie-in on Friday as the B and B guests had a plane to catch, Eastfield had to be made ready for the new guests, preparations had to be made for going to the NWAG Alpaca show in Carlisle and last but not least, the pig ark had to be built.