Farm Diary

Glorious Spring

While most people seem to be complaining about the weather at the moment, we are enjoying our best spring for many years. Lovely, cool days and good rainfall have combined to produce excellent growing conditions.

If we have a complaint (and we wouldn’t be farmers if we didn’t!), it’s that the pacas and llamas can’t keep up with the pasture growth and we’re having to mow too often!

Our thanks to Tracey Clarke, one of a delightful group of campers who stayed with us recently, for her excellent photos:

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End of the drought and shearing

At the beginning of September, the entire state of New South Wales was drought-declared. It is very unusual for us, being in a notoriously wet area, only eight miles from the coast, to be included in sure a dire proclamation. And how quickly things can change! In just three days last week, we had more rain than our average August and September totals combined (well over four inches). The pastures, which were taking on a decidedly brown tinge, are transformed, and the soil is actually too wet to work. Our hearts go out, however, to farmers in other parts of the state who have been nowhere near so fortunate, and who are now finding it almost impossible to buy hay for their starving stock. Meanwhile, we will be mowing succulent green grass as soon as it is dry enough to do so. If only we could get it to them!

We are once again indebted to master shearer, Bernie McInerney, for his professional expertise. The entire herd, plus several sheep from next door all shorn before lunch today! Our grateful thanks also to our good friend Laurie Salzler for her invaluable assistance in this back-breaking task. Some really lovely fleece this year.

Wet weather, shearing and a mountain of orders have meant we have had to turn away a lot of visitors in the past two weeks. This is not something we do lightly, quite apart from it being bad for business. Most booking problems could be avoided if only we could persuade people to to do so well in advance of their proposed visit. Please, folk, try to give us as much notice as possible! Remember that were are a highly labour-intensive, working farm. Same-day bookings are completely out of the question, and by contacting us only a day or two beforehand, you run the risk that we will already have unavoidable farm work scheduled, or someone else will have gazumped you. We hate turning people away!

 

Llama ffamas

Our exciting news this week is that we have branched into llama farming! Our first llama, Willie, has taken up residence along with his alpaca companion Whalon. Over the next few months we hope to introduce at least two more of these noble creatures, and eventually breed them.

Llamas and alpacas are very closely related and can even inter-breed, although they produce sterile offspring. People often ask us what distinguishes a llama from an alpaca: apart from llamas being bigger and not quite so neatly-proportioned, the main differences are in the ears (banana-shaped in the case of llamas) and the tail, which llamas carry much higher.

Willie is a lovely, quiet lad who has already made friends with a number of our visitors. We are looking forward to learning much more about these remarkable animals, although their alpaca cousins will always remain the stars of the show.

As Willie and Whalon arrived, Leisel, Mayan and Nell left us for a wonderful, new, upmarket home at a rainforest retreat in southern Queensland. It’s always sad to say goodbye to our pacas, and we will never part with them unless we are certain they will have a good life.

Better late than never

Yes, the heading could apply to my tardy blogging, but I’m actually referring to autumn, which finally arrived just a few days ago. An extra two months of “summer” may sound appealing to anyone on holidays, but, believe me, it becomes very wearing for a farmer: grass continues to grow at a ridiculous rate and seasonal routines are thrown into chaos. Alpacas love to wallow in water and bask in the sun, so they are happy, but they also postpone the growth of their woolly winter fleece, which is not good for business.

Apart from the weather, a highlight earlier this month was a visit from the Gilmer family from California. Erik, Summer and their five delightful children had been holidaying in eastern Australia and dropped in for morning tea and a tour of all things alpaca. Visitors from the USA are a rarity for us, even though we sell quite a lot of our products there.

As always, we’ve also had lots of local visitors, including a lovely group of ladies and friends from Iluka CWA, last Friday, and 17 people with their mums for Mother’s Day (last Sunday).

If you’re thinking of paying us a visit, the next few months are an ideal time to come. Crisp mornings and cool, sunny days are perfect for relaxing outdoors and enjoying a meal, and the alpacas definitely look their best at this time of year. Lots of crias to see, too, and more on the way. The count for this year so far is five, with Opal, Onyx, Oscar, Oprah and Olive being welcomed to the herd. All playmates for Napoleon, who was born last December.

Autumn at last!

While “the beast from the east” has been freezing Europe, we have suffered “the pest from the west” – searing heat and enervating humidity. Today, however, there is a hint of autumn in the air, as we enjoy our lowest daytime temperature this year: just 23 degrees.

Last Monday, 48 members and guests of Casino Probus club braved the heat to visit us – our biggest group ever, and delightful people.

Hopefully the next few months will see much more pleasant conditions. It’s actually the best time of year to visit us, with cooler temperatures, greener pastures and increasingly fluffy alpacas.

Meanwhile, the stars of the show continue to multiply. Herd numbers now stand at 33, with Opal and Onyx being our latest additions (see photo on our home page).

 

Inundated with visitors

We’re very pleased to report that we had a huge number of visitors – tour groups and campers – over the Christmas/New Year and January school holiday periods. We are always delighted to meet new people and, of course, tours and camping form an important part of our business model.

However, we would like to remind everyone that we conduct tours by appointment only, with at least 24 hours notice being required. Unfortunately, if you don’t book ahead, you will almost certainly be disappointed: we will either be booked out or have something else planned for the day.

It would be great if we could operate like a tourist park and be open to the public any time, but, in addition to welcoming visitors, we have a very labour-intensive farm to run. We have to plan our farm work around tours. We also have to have sufficient food in to feed our guests. We’re not a cafe!

Please give us as much notice of your proposed visit as you possibly can; we hate having to turn people away.

Autumn comes early

February is traditionally the month we dread for heat and enervating humidity, but this year we have had a dream start to the month with cool, autumn-like conditions prevailing for the past 10 days. Unfortunately, from all predictions, that is all about to change, with a week of searing heat bearing down upon us. Even so, the forecast temperatures don’t look any worse that a “typical” February.

We have had two new crias born in the past couple of months: Napoleon, by far the biggest cria we have ever seen, and rapidly catching up to his father, and Opal, who is much more normal in size and is Jahna’s first healthy cria (she lost her two previous babies), so cause for some celebration. Next in line for the maternity ward is Felicity (Bluey) who will burst if she doesn’t give birth soon.

The normal gestation period for an alpaca is very fluid and can vary from under 11 months to over 12 months, making it quite difficult to accurately predict when a birth will take place.