Saturday 3 January 2009

Saturday’s Work

As ever there are at least 101 things to be done around here so I made a start on another one of them. I need to clear the two poplar trees that were felled across the area I’m turning into the veg plot.

I’m sorting through the branches and cleaning an
d putting aside any wood of a suitable size to burn – of which there is not a lot really, and burning the stuff that is too small – of which there is rather a lot. Poplar isn’t a good burning wood; I’ll have to season the logs for a couple of years I think, but it also means that the brash doesn’t burn that well either.

Luckily I’d removed some old hay from the barn that th
e alpacas didn’t want so I could use that as a starter; due to all the seeds in it I don’t put it on the compost heap. With the hay, an old cardboard box and later on some barbeque lighting fluid and I was to keep the burn going for 3 hours. I eventually cleared the area in the foreground of the above picture plus made a start on the area behind the tree trunk that’s hidden in this photo.

It doesn’t look very much in the photograph but the trunk is over a metre in diameter and the end of the tree, that just passes the first line
of posts in the distance is around 40 metres away. A bit more work needed I think.

I had my supervisor of course, Snowy was really pleased when I peeled off my shirt, yes it really was t-shirt weather in the sun yesterday, and sat on it to make sure it didn’t go anywhere. The mist in the background of the picture is in fact smoke hanging round from my fire and the cooker, there wasn’t much breeze yesterday hence the t-shirt, albeit with a thermal vest underneath.

Friday 2 January 2009

Is It Really Winter?

While letting the chickens out this morning I glanced down the little valley below me and saw the magical misty view above. I’m having great difficulty with remembering it’s the beginning of January though. Today I was out clearing a bit more of the poplar trees and had to strip down to my t-shirt. When I came in at 4 the temperature was still 12 degrees. I hope to make the most of the good weather over the next couple of days as I believe we’ve snow forecast for a few days time.

Thinking about the temperature reminds me I have a weather station to install – yet another job to add to the list but it will make it much easier in the long run to keep track of the weather. It’s not that difficult to do it’s just deciding on the best site that is within the distance to send the data back to the base station, decisions, decisions, something I’m really not good at.

Thursday 1 January 2009

Cooker Troubles

I thought 2009 was going to carry on where 2008 left off when my wood burning cooker started to smoke yesterday. At first it was just a little smoke from around the base of the flue pipe. By the time I went to bed I could barely see across the kitchen so I left it on fast burn to burn out overnight. Thankfully the temperature has almost been in double figures during the day here and I think only dropped to 6 or 7 overnight.

By 10 am the cooker was cold enough for me to start dismantling it for cleaning, something I was rather apprehensive about. In the end it was much easier than I thought it would be and all my training lugging heavy weights over the last year meant I was able to lift out the cast iron cooking plates that are a single piece. As you can see it was pretty gunked up.

This is where the flue pipe meets the chimney.

That done I looked at the chimney, it was totally blocked with cinders. Picture is slightly out of focus as to take it I had to stand on the cooker with my head up inside the concrete cooker hood effect that covers the two cookers.

I'd had it swept last year and then it hadn't been used until November. Once I'd started shovelling the gunk out I realised what had happened. I'm using not-ideal, but free wood which leads to more tar but I'd not been getting an efficient burn due to there being a hornets nest partially blocking the chimney. No problem from the hornets at the moment thankfully they were well and truly toasted.

So after around 3 hours I had a fully cleaned out cooker, the chimney as clean as I can get it at the moment, I'm hopping that I will now get a hotter burn which will dry out the tar deposits and enable me to chip them off the sides of the chimney, something I think I need to do every 6 weeks or so.

I think it's done a lot of good, the fire caught in less than half an hour and reheating the unit has taken only 6 hours rather than the day it took the first time I lit it. All in all I think the 7€50 I spent on chimney brushes last year have already paid for themselves and I can now add chimney sweep and cooker engineer to my growing list of new skills.

Wednesday 31 December 2008

Happy New Year Everyone

Thank you to everyone who's been kind enough to comment on my blog over the last year - I missed my first anniversary on the 11th of December as explained in the post below. I do hope that 2009 will be a good year for you all although I fear it is going to be a tough one for us all too.

See you next year.

Catch-up Post

It's been a while since I last posted about the farm. As ever 'things' rather took over, the main thing being that my beautiful PR alpaca, Ashan, died. I went out one day and found him in the field unable to get up. I rushed him into the house and called the vet; his temperature was very low but apart from that there were no other clues as to the problem. He had an antibiotic and IV fluids and I packed hot water bottles round him and covered him with a blanket - thankfully my kitchen floor (the warmest room in the house) is glass tiled on concrete.

He seemed to recover and the following day his temperature was back to normal and he was up and wanting the others. One fast clear out of the animal part of the barn and Ann came over to help me walk all the alpacas up to the barn so that I could keep an eye on Ashan and he would have the company and the warmth of the others.

The following afternoon he was down again, again the vet came out and his temperature had plummeted again. He'd had another shot of antibiotic in the morning and seemed fine. This time he was obviously suffering but with what?

Sadly he died in my arms at 9:30pm, I'd gone back into the barn on one of my regular trips to collect and reheat the hot water bottles.

The next day the vet came over to do a post-mortem. I was expecting it to be due to worms or coccidia again. I'd had a long talk with Robin at Utopian alpacas and discovered from him that the Panacur I had been given for the alpacas was not strong enough and I had been told to give a far to small dose. None of the treatments used on alpacas have actually been tested on alpacas by the drug companies and it seems my vet was giving me the treatments designated for sheep. So I was given 2.5% or 4% Panacur when I should have been using 10%. The vet nearly had a fit when I administered nearly 5 times the cattle dose to the alpacas but that is what it takes.

The initial examination showed that Ashan had a full set of stomachs and that there were no lesions or ulcers so it looks like the gut was fine. Liver and kidneys looked OK too - I had to hold the body still while the vet cut, I don't think I would ever make a vetinary nurse but it was interesting all the same. She took away the lungs and heart to be examined my the main vet and I heard back later in the day that they felt there was congestion in the lungs and around the heart.

This diagnosis, and after discusion with Robin the fact that Ashan was dribbling before he died, has thrown up the posibility of Blue tongue. I've only been trying to get my animals vaccinated for the last 3 months! There is no official confirmation as it's been the holiday period and I don't think I'll hear anything until after the 5th. I've been told that there isn't enough vaccine, that I would get the vaccine when a larger herd of animals was vaccinated as the vaccine comes in doses of 100 animals and the vet wouldn't open a bottle just for 6 animals but I think I may have been given the real reason this time. While I'm registered as a farmer with alpacas, I'm not registered as a breeder of alpacas so I don't have a breeders number. This being France, If you can't fill in all the boxes on a form, which in this case would be a breeders number, you just don't get.

If I'd been told this was the problem back when I first asked I would be registered by now. As it is, that will be another job to do when the agriculture department opens again on the 5th.

On the plus side, I how have all the alpacas in the barn where I can keep a close eye on them and they have had a decent dose of wormer and I've also given them a dose of anti-coccidia treatment, one recommended by Robin. I really need to give them another type of wormer, Ivomec-D to work on any liver fluke that may be present. I have lots of the snails that indicate the possibility of liver fluke and the field they were in was very wet. However the vet won't order it for me. As I said he was horrified with the dose of Panacur I gave and has said I can't give another worming dose for at least 4 months.

I would normaly be in agreement on that but for the fact that I have lost an alpaca and I know that despite me giving the alpacas the treatments recommended by them I cannot get the alpacas to put on weight, in fact they are very under weight. If it's due to them having really high worm counts (oh and the vet doesn't think it necessary to have worm counts done) as they've not had the correct formulation or amount of wormer then I want to get them properly wormed as soon as possible.

This may sound a bit hard against my vet, it's not meant to be. He's probably the best vet around here but as alpacas are not common here and they don't appear in the dosage charts for the various medicine he plays safe.

So a bit of depression and a lot of work - Ann has been coming over a couple of afternoons a week and we've been pushing on with the fencing and nearly have the first field fenced - and I've not been posting. However, tomorrow is a new year.