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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

Her Outback

Alex Harrington Smith

The last couple of months have been busy and as is ever the case provided plenty of education. Since last writing, summer has left the hills and we have seen some pretty impressive rain fall and the coldest morning on record for 24 years. Contrary to popular belief it gets really cold here. Though, having said that, I am writing this on the deadline with bright blue skies and sunshine radiating through the windows of my office. I made a trip to the UK in early May and was able to get to a couple of the shows. The main purpose of the visit was to conduct a screening in Switzerland for the AaeV. Val Fullerlove and I, having already done one in Germany, arrived feeling as if this was a good excuse to meet up with old friends and test the local wines out. The screening took place at the farm of Lisa Stocker That is well worth a visit just for the views or to see how an Alpaca barn should be built. Overall the standard of animals was very high and the efficiency with which things were run was impressive. We assessed the phenotype of about 50 alpacas, examining everything from head type to toes. The beauty of these days is being able to focus your mind solely on the positive and negative traits of alpacas. Whilst there are a number of people who believe that a show judge cannot be a screener and vice versa my experience is that the screening process can be a great leveler for the show judge. You have in front of you a sheet of paper with very exacting criteria that need to be fulfilled and you are forced to look analytically at that animal. In this process there is no room for personal taste or worse still simply awarding an accolade to the best of a bad bunch – a job every show judge dislikes.

Back in Australia lambing season has started so the winter herd is now running with a flock of pregnant ewes proving that foxes really are kept at bay by alpacas. We had the misfortune of a stray dog getting in amongst the sheep but as we arrived on the scene all the animals were safe, if a little harassed. This was definitely due to the presence of the alpacas who were standing their ground firmly which negated the need for chase and thus diffused the situation to some degree. The ewes are pretty much left to their own devices and in spite of the onset of harsher weather they lamb down outside in the paddock. I’ll confess this concerned me initially but sheep and lambs are a lot tougher than you think. Most of the group are finished lambing and the young are fit and healthy and thriving out there. The cross that Matt Lloyd has used includes an English breed as well as the Merino which means the ewes are a lot more protective and will stay near by to the young.

Meanwhile the mating has stopped here and there are just a few hangers on in the heavy dues. The current emphasis is on drenching and ADE injections for the cria that will happen monthly for the winter months. Weaning is well underway and thanks to plenty of feed coming through they seem to be growing well on the whole. Also through the winter we are running a number of embryo transfer programmes, the first having taken place at the end of May. A number of the most elite and proven females were utilised and of course only the very best of the males. EP Cambridge also managed to break an ET record with a flush producing 21 embryos, all strong and healthy and fit for implanting in to the awaiting recipients. Jane Vaughan’s previous record stood at 15 so it could be some time before Show Time loses her crown!!

I think it is fair to say that I am settled in to life in Australia. The Kelpie is growing like fury, the Akubra has been purchased (and oil skin coat!) but the Ute has finally gone. In its place is a wonderful, civilised kind of a car with 5 doors, a boot and other modern conveniences that were so sorely missed. My house and garage has become home to something of a menagerie there is a kitten, Saffie, supposed to be in the laundry but pretty much roaming around. We had a few tense moments wondering how much Kelpies like to eat Cat but Saffie got her claws out and is now pretty much in control of Ozzie. The Sheep, Meryl, Marvin and Shauna are living in the garage for a few more days but the vocal chords are getting good and strong now so their days are numbered before it is back to the cold yards.