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Alex's diary

Alex Harrington Smith

I normally like to sit down with a glass of wine and write my diary, it helps the art of reflection I find. Unfortunately there are a few days of very high temperatures coming through so for this poor Pom alcohol is off the menu. It has been sometime since I last wrote this diary (Rachel?s patience is astounding ? she loves me really) and so for once it is hard to know where to begin.

The birthing season has been in full swing for at least a month now so plenty of checking of these girls is the order of the day. There are circa 100 girls out there at present and all these should birth by the middle of December at the latest, plenty more to fill their shoes though. Even after nine years the magnitude of the breeding programmes in a large stud can blow your mind. Fortunately Matthew and Cathy are now back so the highs and lows are shared out a little. It was a pleasure introducing them to the new drop the day after they returned. We have some stunning cria gracing the paddocks that will move us to a whole new level of breeding. The completeness of Commisario blending with the ageless charm of the old master Ruffo, the artistry of Stravinsky, or the finesse of Spartacus over Caesar blood, the discovery of how new lines gel with the old. All of it weird and wonderful, almost incomprehensible in the way it comes to fruition. For breeders there is nothing quite this exciting.

The farm at Oakbank is a hive of activity as the drought calls for some major harvesting of hay. There is a lot to cut and bale whilst constantly battling the weather - temperatures are getting high and the hay has been getting too dry to bale. Add to that the heavy dews you see in the Adelaide hills, particularly Oakbank, it can also get too wet. It seems to be a balancing act with short windows of opportunity available to get the job done. Undoubtedly it will all come together and if it is anything like the clover hay my girls received courtesy of one of the other properties it will be beautiful quality.

Irrigation has also started - you often here the sound of the irrigators creaking as they spin round. I find it quite relaxing watching these majestic jets of water slowly working there way across the paddocks, especially at the end of the day when they first get going. At least some of the paddocks will stay green during the heat of the summer - it is quite odd seeing these patches of green on the landscape where everything else can be so arid and brown. They are like small oasis in the desert. I often feel sorry for the girls on pasture which is not irrigated as they watch the girls next door partaking in some lush irrigation grazing. In this instance I guess the grass really is greener......

Meanwhile the alpacas are eagerly waiting for shearing. They are often seen in rather languid poses under the shade of a gum tree or positioned under the irrigators in the early evening cooling off. The best part of shearing this year will be my well timed absence ? no need for luxury holidays, just the knowledge I won?t be in that shearing shed for a second is enough. Almost like finding your own slice of utopia. Now to convince everyone that Cathy is surplus to requirements (not easy!) and I?ll even have a serious shopping partner. This may be pushing it a little.
The other big adventure was of course the AAA National Show and Sale. I am sure there is no need for too much gossip about events irrelevant to showing as the UK blogs I read suggest all this has been more than covered by the rumour mills. The show had a great atmosphere not tainted by politics or sore losers. In this respect perhaps the best show I have been to in Australia. Plenty of Brits turned up which was good ? since leaving the UK I don?t think I have ever felt more at home at a show. EP Cambridge had a successful show ? plenty of calls between Melbourne AUS and Baydon UK, resulting in an exaggerated mobile phone bill and some stern words from Sally. Sally who is the administration and accounts supremeo, came to the show with me and was a constant source of support and amusement ? if only one could put videos in print I would show you the lesson I had in dancing to Neil Diamond?s crunchy granola Suite. To give you some ideas please recall being 13 or 14 and watching your parents dance in public. Thankfully the transit van was in motion at the time and no one could possibly have seen it, if they did I hope the therapist they find is not too expensive. Luckily for us Philip (O?Conor) also turned up. Now if you ever want an evening of sophisticated entertainment in Melbourne look no further than Philip. I believe EPC UK is not his only job, he also works for the TAB (a betting agency here in Oz) and is in charge of keeping patron numbers up. We went to the TAB at the end of the road both nights and then I discover his one night in an Adelaide motel was in suspiciously close proximity to, you guessed it, a TAB. Something fishy going on there. My victory on the Pokies was the highlight of the evening. Philip gave some amazing fund to start with (at least 50 cents if not a whole dollar!) and I was up nine bucks by the end. Sally has since raised some concern over a possible gambling addiction.

What else? Another successful embryo transfer flush took place last week which is always good. Great fun as ever with Jane Vaughan?s ever increasing repertoire of amusing anecdotes, not to mention nutrition and reproduction 101. It really is a fascinating exercise but with its highs and lows it is not for the faint hearted. In addition to all this there is the burgeoning Alpaca meat industry here in Australia, you should check out I took some time to get my head around the whole thing but I am now there. Having sampled the fare at the National Show it is with some trepidation that I admit how excellent it is. It has a very pleasant and subtle taste, incredibly tender and all in all pretty damn good. There are many factors in Australia which meant that the time had come and Steve Ridout has recognised this. He is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic along with being completely committed to seeing it done right and in a manner that ensures it is in no way damaging to the larger industry.