Farm Diary

Wetter!

When I last wrote, in January, it seems we didn’t know what ‘wet’ was! In the past five weeks we have had more rain than in the whole of 2019, plus a flood (not surprisingly) and have only managed to open on three days. Almost all of our camper and day visitor bookings for the Easter holidays had to be cancelled.

Yes, farmers do always whinge about the weather, but this time I think we really do have something to whinge about!

On a more positive note, the first of our R-year babies, Rhys, was born in March and is doing well.

There’s a lot of work to do to recover flood-damaged grass and plant winter pasture before the cold weather sets in but, hopefully, we will now see enough sunny days to get it done.

Wet!

Just as we seemed to be on-track for a bumper summer holiday season, with more bookings than we could handle, the rain started – and it’s not over yet!

The past month has seen four times our average rainfall – enough to make the most die-hard camper cringe. This, along with a couple of covid scares that resulted in state border closures, has lost us two-thirds of our bookings. Now it is too wet to even accept bookings, so we are closed indefinitely. Oh, the joys of life on the land!

On a more positive note, three Christmastime alpaca births this year: Quasar, Quantum and Quark. I’m so glad “Q” year is over and we can now have sensible names, like Robert!

Rain, combined with stifling heat and foul humidity, also tends to produce an abundance of succulent green grass. Great for llamas and alpacas, but not so great for the poor silly sod who has to spend 30 hours a week mowing. The $12,000 pasture seeder that we purchased a couple of months ago now seems somewhat surplus to requirements.

Nevertheless, we look forward to a better year than 2020 and wish the same for all our customers, followers and friends.

A changing world

The recent September/October school holidays have illustrated to us just how much the world, and our business with it, has changed since last year: No international visitors, no inter-state visitors and no tour bus visitors; and yet we have been busier compared to previous years! How can we explain this? Well, it seems that with state borders closed, New South Wales people are looking for quiet, uncrowded places to holiday in their own state, so our camper numbers have actually increased. Meanwhile, fed up with restrictions and dangers, people are also looking for “safe” places to go for family/group meals or outings, so our day visitor numbers have also increased overall! It’s an ill wind …

Just a reminder to our valued visitors: We are currently restricted to a maximum of 20 visitors on the property at any one time. Please don’t ask us to bend this rule. There are massive fines for both you and us if we do.

The new “normal”

It’s good to be able to report that we are back in business and starting to see increasing numbers of visitors. Sadly, however, no large coach groups. We miss our elderly visitors and hope it won’t be too long before large group outings are back on the agenda for them.

As a treat for our Winter visitors, our huarizo, Sarina, produced a beautiful female cria. This was especially exciting because huarizos (male llama/female alpaca cross) are supposed to be infertile. So our little Spotto is a very rare baby, indeed: three parts llama and one part alpaca!

As I write, Australia is experiencing a second wave of corona virus. This appears to be happening in other parts of the world, too. It seems we’re not out of the woods yet. Wherever you are, stay safe and well.

Farm life goes on regardless

Due to the effects bushfires, drought and flood, and now coronavirus, our income has been reduced by 70% over the past seven months. The agri-tourism side of the business is now non-existent and, not surprisingly, in a time of economic crisis, sales of our premium alpaca products have almost dried up.

We are thankful for both state and federal government assistance to help us stay afloat, but we would much prefer to be paying our own way! Ultimately, all government assistance comes out of the pockets of tax-payers just like us.

But even in the midst of a pandemic, the daily routine on a farm continues as normal. It doesn’t really seem like a lockdown when you have over 50 hectares of land to work and roam around in. We feel very fortunate compared to those of you who are confined indoors.

After the ravages of drought and flood there has certainly been no shortage of work to get the farm back to how it was a year ago, but we are now getting close.

We want to assure all our day visitors, campers, caravaners and shop customers that we will be back in business the minute the lockdown is lifted. And there is going to be one hell of a party to celebrate!

Famine to feast

In the past four weeks we have had more rain than in the whole of 2019 (over 22 inches)! Australia is indeed a country of extremes.

While grass (and weed) growth has been phenomenal, large dead patches in our, now lush, pastures bear witness to how close we came to oblivion. These areas will take a long time to re-establish. Ironic, too, that low-lying areas of our pasture may now suffer from flood damage!

The pacas and llamas are loving the wet conditions, as they delight in wallowing in muddy water as an alternative to dust bathing. For those born last year, this is their first experience of getting really soaked.

End of drought

After 13 horrible months, our drought finally ended last weekend with rainfall of approximately 10 inches. In any normal January, this amount of rain would have resulted in serious flooding, but such was the severity of the drought that it had all soaked away within two days.

Assuming average follow-up rain, we are hoping our pastures will recover before the winter. At the moment, there are large dead patches that, even with favourable conditions, will take months to re-establish.

Jericho, our stud male, was obviously feeling very amorous around this time last year, as we had a spate of Christmas babies: Paul, Paula, Persephone and Prince were all born in December, along with two others that didn’t make it. All four are doing well.

Alpacas and llamas obviously thrive in dry conditions as the herd has never looked healthier. Unfortunately, we have now returned to the hot, extremely humid weather typical of this time of year, which is not good for skin conditions. The wallowing holes, which contain water for the first time in over a year, are proving very popular!

Drought continues, but life goes on.

Well, it’s been a long time since my last entry and it would be great to be able to say that conditions have changed, but, sadly, we are still in drought, with less than 42% of our average rainfall for the first eight months of the year. Amazingly, what little rain we have had has fallen at exactly the right time and kept us going, but how much longer we can survive, with the heat and dry winds of spring upon us, is hard to say.

There have been some exciting new additions to our family over the past few months: Sarina and Sarah, white adult huarizos (alpaca mother, llama father), joined us in June, and have proved very popular with visitors. Then, last month, Hugo, Simon and Dave (adult wethered alpacas) arrived. But most exciting of all was the birth, a fortnight ago, of our very first llama cria, Otto, to proud mother Cal.

This week master shearer, Bernie McInerney, paid us a visit and relieved the alpacas of their outer covering. I’m pleased to report that, following a very successful year, a new supply of fleece was sorely needed to fill orders. As always, we are indebted to Bernie for the amazing service he provides, not only as a shearer, but as dentist, podiatrist and surgeon to the herd!

No end in sight for worst drought in history

So far this year we have had less than one-sixth of our average rainfall. Over the past week, cooler temperatures and a few light showers have eased the situation and made everything deceptively green, but in the absence of heavy, soaking rain, any benefits will be very short-lived.

Meanwhile, lack of plant growth and mild weather have allowed us to tackle clearing jobs that would normally be reserved for the winter months. We’ve also saved quite a lot of money on fuel as pastures and lawns need less frequent mowing. Seems every cloud (if there were any!) has a silver lining.

Worst drought in living memory

Well, “living memory” isn’t always entirely reliable, but we are definitely in severe drought conditions again: No measurable rain for over six weeks, combined with near gale-force winds and temperatures, regularly in the high 30s, that never┬ádrop below 20 degrees, day or night. The effect has been devastating, and quite unprecedented for us. Our summers are normally wet, sometimes very wet. Droughts, if we ever have them, typically occur in late winter and spring.

Despite the gloom and doom, we have ample good-quality pasture to see us through the summer and beyond. The pacas and llamas are pretty upset that their paddling pools have dried up, but are otherwise coping just fine with the trying conditions.

Already this year, we have welcome two new crias to the herd. Peppa and Pebbles are thriving, despite both having had difficult births. With no rain to keep their older family members clean, it is nice to have two babies that are white as snow. Of course they won’t stay that way for long …