After two years of mild and wet winters, this year we were hoping for something a little drier and colder, a harsh spell of winter weather was what was needed. The lack of seriously cold weather had been blamed for the abundance of flies, midges and mosquitoes for the last two summers and hence, the rapid spread of Blue Tongue, flu and every other ill. ?Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it? my mother used to say!
We had our spell of cold dry weather just after New Year. Well and good, but this was shortly followed by two hurricanes with just two weeks between them. The effect on South West France was devastating. Fortunately we were hit by the edge this time and did not suffer the full brunt of the storms? fury. Between the two storms over 1,000,000 acres of forest were lost in the Landes alone. Water, electricity and telephones were cut, in some cases for weeks. I remember thinking after the UK hurricane of the 80s, ?This is a once in a lifetime experience, thank heavens?. These represented our fourth and fifth.
Initially I thought we had escaped unscathed apart from the natural loss of phone, water and electricity. The animals were all fine, the youngsters and their mothers safe in the barn, the rest in sheltered corners of their fields. Then I noticed my pride and joy of 2008, my new shearing shed. It wasn?t exactly damaged, simply lifted vertically and stood intact on one end. The tractor parked beneath was completely untouched and the whole structure more or less unscathed. We had built it beautifully, just had not secured the base terribly well. Dismantling proved a lot harder than the original build, partly because of the height, position and weight of the components. My neighbour, Gilles, proved invaluable as ever with his skill and energy and I am relieved to say after three days of hard work we had it back in place, but with a more secure base this time.
Late in 2008 I was contacted by an American fashion house planning to launch a new range of alpaca wear on the Paris fashion scene. This would be a world launch of a sensational new product and our involvement would guarantee us world wide publicity for our herd. With our small herd I was not sure if we really needed such publicity but I agreed to help. Our role was to supply a high quality young male alpaca to accompany the models on the catwalk for a week. Did we have such an animal halter trained? Yes we could provide one, as long as he could have another as companion and one of us could be there to look after them. Not a problem, they said, and arrangements proceeded apace.
At this time I must confess to second thoughts. Enduring a week of flashing lights, the loud music and announcements that accompany such an event in the unnatural atmosphere of an international fashion exhibition seemed pretty horrifying to me, and how would the animals feel? I then received an email demanding that I guarantee the alpacas would not spit, kick or bite for the duration of the show. This was not acceptable behaviour in front of the cameras and, besides, the models insisted on such guarantees. Remembering various newspaper articles concerning the behaviour of a number of super models I felt it only reasonable to demand a counter guarantee for the protection of our alpacas. We didn?t go to Paris. A week later we received an email from Indonesia asking about alpacas, so much for world fame.
In a previous article I mentioned the fact that we had experienced an unnatural number of early births last autumn. This has been followed by an equally surprising late birth, some ten weeks late resulting in a birth on Christmas day. Noel, what else can you call him, arrived just as I took our Christmas turkey out of the oven. Our birthing paddock is overlooked by our kitchen window and so progress could easily be monitored between courses by a quick visit to the kitchen. He is growing well, untouched by snow, frost or hurricanes. Mum, no doubt, yearns for the calm of the altiplano.
Our show season is suffering a degree of disruption this year. The spring show at Vierzon has unfortunately had to be postponed until the autumn. The ?fonctionnaires? in France are not noted for their speed of response. In this case, due to insufficient notice, they belatedly laid down their veterinary requirements, unhappily leaving insufficient time for the owners to implement them. The show organisers have been able to reschedule the judge and the venue and this event will now take place in the autumn just a couple of weeks before France?s Major International Show at Pompadour. This prestigious event at the home of the French national stud at Chateau Pompadour, organised by France?s two major camelid associations, ALF & AFPC, is set to be mainland Europe?s premier showcase for alpacas and lamas. Fortunately, the various veterinary requirements have already been agreed, are totally reasonable and able to be easily met by all prospective entrants, both national and international. Entry forms for this event will be sent out in early June and details of health regulations are available now.
I have just returned from a reunion of the key committee members of both ALF ( Alpacas et Lamas de France) and AFPC ( Association Francais des Petits Camelides ). These two societies have been working hard to bring about a speedier development of the camelid world in France. To achieve this long held prejudices and misconceptions between the two clubs have had to be aired and cleared away. Those involved in the recent merger of BAS & BCL will understand the effort and goodwill needed to achieve this. Happily these issues have been largely resolved in a relatively short space of time and the two societies are embarking on a series of initiatives for the future. The first example of this is the above mentioned show, ALF leading this year supported by AFPC with the roles reversed next year.
The meeting was held at the home of the world renowned petit camelid specialist Dr Bernard Giudicelli and his wife Christiane. Such a meeting naturally must be accompanied by an excellent meal, we were not disappointed and the choucroute was the best I have ever tasted . I could only hope I would be able to stay awake on the 500km drive across the mountains going home.
A large agenda covering a wide range of topics was debated in a positive and constructive manner. Naturally various animal health issues were at the core of the agenda and a joint approach to tackling these and responding to the various government agencies involved was agreed. AFPC has now restructured itself in a similar fashion to ALF in response to the growing number of alpaca owners and breeders in France with specific members on the council responsible for alpaca issues in France. The idea being that these representatives will meet regularly to develop a joint approach to the needs of this quickly developing and growing section of the camelid world. Already agreed is the need to develop a central common computerised register. Unbelievable as it may sound, the register at the Bergerie Nationale is still a manual affair and frequently involves delays in registration of up to three months. Also featuring high on the joint agenda will be the development and promotion of French alpaca fibre and the subsequent production of high quality products. France, along with the rest of the world, may well be in recession but I feel we are making progress towards serious growth over the next few years and looking forward to creating a better general environment for alpaca and lama owners in France.