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Letter from France

Nigel Cobb

Alpaca World ? Autumn 2016

The summer was late to arrive here in France this year. After a promising early spring, the heavens decided to open and stay open. We were all more than a little fed up. Little did we know that we were later to be very grateful for all that rain! We have had a very hot and extremely dry time of it with none of the usual thunder storms giving their respite and us all a bit of a rinse. The paddocks here on the farm are bare and have been for some weeks now. That means extra work, extra cost and, because of the dryness, a rather inferior quality of hay. Roll on the clouds and rain.

Because of the shortage of good quality hay we have tried rye grass hay this year. It is cut before the seed heads have formed and the alpacas love it. We have been mindful of 'rye grass staggers' which is prevalent after annual rye grass was genetically modified. We understand that the perennial type (which is what we are using) is less dangerous, but we have introduced it slowly and keep a beady eye on our herd. All is well as we write this. Since the local hay is so bad this year we may just have to rely on it.

One good thing to come from the lack of humidity is that the alpacas are comfortable and are to be found with their bellies facing the sun especially in the morning and early afternoons. Nevertheless they still enjoy a good hose down, or should I say hose up, when the temperatures are high. They love it but it is a labour of love on our part with 60 odd to keep happy. They always jockey for position so one is constantly having to move the hose so the less 'pushy' ones get a go. In our maternity field and garden we have garden sprinklers; trouble is some of the more savvy of the girls sit on them, consequently we have amassed a considerable collection of broken sprinklers!

We now have an obligatory government registration system for camelids. It is being run by the horse society and its objective is to enable the Government to control any disease outbreak, by knowing where animals are and what movement there has been. Whether that will work or whether it will be needed is a moot point. Most of us in the business here see it as an unnecessary and costly exercise ? the cost to the bigger breeders will be well over 1,000 euros to set up and then annual costs as well. But it is now law, so we have to get on with it. It is a pity, though, that AFLA, the association for camelids in France did not manage to get its voice heard. I don?t think they have a good relationship with the ministry and so representation for the owners suffers.

On a more positive note there is a move afoot to create a pedigree registry for the French alpacas and to create an association just for alpaca owners. Any budding internet designers interested in creating this registry? More about this in the forthcoming issue.

Very sadly we had a fantastic cria born this year - Layla - who we ended up taking to the veterinary clinic in Toulouse. Unfortunately they were unable to save her and on post-mortem it was found that she succumbed to a fungal pneumonia. We have no idea how she contracted this and luckily no other animal on the farm has suffered this problem. Both Karine Pader, the vet in Toulouse and Claire Whitehead did their best to save her. But diagnosing a fungal infection in the lungs early enough to stand a chance of nipping it in the bud is apparently very tricky. Such a shame for a young vibrant life.

After spending a week in the hospital with her mum Lilly, Karine suggested we bring them home as Layla's condition was worsening and all treatments had failed. So I was on my way home with them both, a drive of some four hours, when the car broke down. Unfortunately I was still three hours from home and it was about 8pm. However, we were not far from The Alpaca Boys, Paul and Damien of DuPrem Alpacas. Like knights in shining armour they came to our rescue. Paul drove the one and a half hours to where I had broken down, hitched up our trailer and drove the two girls back to their farm in Aveyron. Damien had meanwhile organised a very comfortable and private stall for the alpacas and a bed and dinner for me. What hosts! Alpaca people can be fantastic.

Sadly Layla died the following morning shortly after we had hooked her up to the IV and given her more fluids. Paul insisted on driving us to the laboratory in Limoges for a post mortem and then brought us back home. Layla's mum Lilly was in quite a state that day and it took her a few days to mourn her loss. But she is now pregnant again and we?re relieved that Layla?s death was not a contagious disease. But what wonderful friends.

Meanwhile it has been Ginny's and my health that has taken centre stage here. I have had two operations in the last few months. One on my shoulder and the other necessitated a week in a clinic in Bordeaux for spinal surgery. After seeing both surgeons in a week for an injection into the base of my thumb and the all clear from both of them, I was told to exercise. The spinal surgeon suggested cycling was good, so I gave it a go. On my second trip out I was sent flying by a dog belonging to our local Chasse (hunt). The result a broken hand, bruised ribs and cuts and grazes. So my exercise regime is on hold for a month or so.

Ginny meanwhile is in a lot of pain with her knee and a replacement is necessary as she has virtually no meniscus left after two surgeries to remove torn parts. Yes, she really is too young, but a replacement is her only option unfortunately. Thankfully the healthcare here in France is fantastic and the facilities and aftercare are also really good.

All in all we are not in the best shape. So you will see in this issue of Alpaca World that we have made the very sad decision to sell our alpaca business and farm. We need to pass on our fantastic lifestyle to someone who is a bit less rickety!

Whilst our fantastic friend and farm help, Chris, is away for a month in England, for a well-earned rest from us and the farm, we are exceedingly lucky to have a new 'workawayer', Elke who is Austrian. We could not have survived without her invaluable help these past weeks, especially as I have only one hand available for work. Try holding, even an easy alpaca with one hand and then do an injection. Elkie has learnt really fast and we are so pleased she decided to take time out of her studies and came to help.

We had an email recently, as did most camelid owners in France, from a wholesaler who would like to include alpaca and llama meat in his repertoire. It has been interesting to read the tirade of abuse he has been met with from French owners. . Interesting, because as a society, the French add frogs' legs, snails and horse-meat to their diet not to mention the barbaric production of 'fois de gras'. Oh well!

Judge Shirley Bettinson is paying France a visit at the beginning of October to appraise some alpacas at the annual AFLA show in Macon. This show is a two day event and includes llamas as well. Sadly we will not be there, but we will cover it in the next issue.

I believe the alpaca market in Europe is generally buoyant. France has certainly seen an influx of owners from other countries and this seems set to continue well into next year. We are also very near to the centre of the French wool industry here and there has been considerable interest in alpaca fibre recently. Recently there was a wool and fabric fair at a village close by - Roumazieres. It was attended by many producers of alpaca fibre products and breeders as well: Nigel and Eve from Bonheur Alpacas, Karine Sauzet of Domaine du Bressac, and yours truly of Europa Alpacas. It is held in a beautiful spot in the buildings and grounds of the Castle de Peyras. It was a fun affair and was wonderful to see what craftsmen can produce with natural fibres, with alpaca fibre taking centre stage. Our friends and fellow breeders Hilde, Catherine and Arild Stover attended the event as well. They are Norwegians and have set up their home, alpaca business and yoga instruction half an hour from us.

Nigel Cobb
Europa Alpacas

Photo captions
Chris, our great friend and help at the farm had ideas to enter Masterchef and decided to make onion rings as a precursor to entering! They were delicious, but readers may decide whether he should enter!

Jérémy Thibault of L?âge du fil, showing Elkie Peil, our workawayer, the intricacies? of spinning, at the fibre show in Roumazieres, a local village.

Shouldn?t I be inside the house and you, Zavier, outside? Life is never normal at the Cobb?s.

'What you have to do at mating time'.