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Monty is a lively, intelligent alpaca. His mind is rather finer than his fleece, but that suits him. He works as spokesanimal for Winterhead Alpacas of Snowdonia, and acts as lookout, guard, fixer and companion for the celebrity super stud Fowberry Morgan. This blog offers a glimpse into life on a hillfarm, in the beautiful Welsh mountains; the alpaca farming year; the social life of the herd; the harem and sometimes the humans who live there.
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It's about time you met some of the youngsters on the farm. Born last summer, 2016, they're all growing up rapidly into fine young alpaca lads and lasses! It's not been great weather for taking photos: the dark chins shown here are not actually dark, it's just that the grass is really wet, as of course it often is at this time of year. (All the more tasty grass for us as the year goes on so who cares about selfies really?) Also, some of them are a little bit decorated with hay.
There is a new theme for the names this year. The humans decided to name them all after famous Welsh authors. To be specific: winners of the Prose Medal, which is awarded in the National Eisteddfod each year. Well not every year, if you want to be pedantic. The judges are pretty fussy and some years they will say "No, no one's quite good enough for the medal this year," and and everyone goes home disappointed. But these youngsters are named in honour of some of the winners. (Admittedly not the ones with boring names like Dafydd but honestly, what kind of name would that be for an alpaca?) I think this theme is very fitting -these youngsters all look like winners as well to me.
First up, here is Islwyn, named after the author Islwyn Ffowc Elis. He (the author, not the alpaca) is very well-known for his novel Cysgod y Cryman ("Shadow of the Sickle") in which communist idealism collides with societal conventions in rural 20th century Powys but the piece that won the medal is one I'm not sure I want to read. It was called Cyn Oeri'r Gwaed - "Before the Blood Cools". Young Islwyn here has that far-away look in his eyes. I wonder if he's contemplating a revolution?
Young Mihangel is named for Mihangel Morgan, who won the prose medal in 1993 for his novel "Dirgel Ddyn" ("Mystery Man") about some very strange goings on in night-classes for adults. He's also quite well-known for being gay, so if our young Mihangel grows up to be a top alpaca stud, the humans are going to feel a bit silly. I don't think they've thought this through.
Mihangel's rich dark brown colour has completely thrown the humans too (to be fair it doesn't take much), because his dad is not Nero Black Ice but Morgan.
Meg Elis won the prose medal in 1985 for a piece called "Cyn daw'r gaeaf" - "Before the Winter Comes," which sounds like a subject dear to any alpaca's heart. We like to make sure the barn is snug and there is plenty of hay to see us through the winter. Though that probably isn't what she meant, come to think of it. To win the prose medal you usually have to have multiple layers of meaning, preferably including at least one layer which is very dark.... Our Meg Elis has a lovely dark streak along her nose. Very distinctive, if I may say so.
There have been at least three prose medal winners called Angharad: Angharad Price, Angharad Jones and Angharad Tomos (who managed it twice) but one alpaca will have to do for all of them or it will get confusing.
Cefin, what can I say about Cefin? Cefin Roberts won the prose medal in 2003 but he is much better known for his TV and drama work and for founding Wales' much-loved music and drama school, Ysgol Glanaethwy. Remember that huge choir (162 singers) that almost won Britain's Got Talent on TV a few years ago? He was the conductor.
Our Cefin may not be as musical, and he does have a bit more hair than Cefin Roberts (who must be very cold on top), but he has a healthy, natural aversion to performing dogs and people tend to love him too, so maybe they have plenty in common.
Eigra Lewis Roberts seems like a lovely lady, always smiling in pictures I've seen of her. She is a prolific author, beginning with her first novel when she was only twenty, and she won the prose medal twice, both times during the 1960s. She differs from our Eigra in a couple of other important ways: she has eyes that can see forwards and I'm pretty sure she's not black.
Young Eigra here is the result of a liaison between our new stud Nero Black Ice (totally black, of course) and the lovely Three-of-Nine, a dark fawn.
Fflur Dafydd won the prose medal in 2006 for her novel Y Llyfrgell, a tense and complicated murder? (?)-mystery set very creepily in the National Library of Wales (overnight, when it's closed). It was made into a film recently under the title The Library Suicides, which involved a surprising amount of blood and sex in the stacks.
There is another famous Fflur Dafydd who is a singer-songwriter, sort of in the Joni Mitchell tradition, only in Welsh, and another one who is an academic expert on the poet R.S.Thomas and lectures on literature. Well it turns out, these are all the same woman. How does she do it? Will our little Fflur turn out to be so multi-faceted? She's off to a good start, just look at that pretty, asymmetrical face marking. She already looks quite different depending on whether you see her from the right or from the left!
Irma Chilton was a real champion of down-to-earth reading materials for young people, in Welsh, in English and in Norwegian. If you grew up in the 80s and 90s and ever wondered how children's books made the transition from the stuffy post-war stuff to the more gritty, gripping, child-centred tales of today, well Irma Chilton had a lot to do with it, both in Wales and in England. She knew real poverty as a child and then worked as a teacher in what we now call underprivileged areas, but she had a real talent for encouraging and inspiring others, and she saw getting kids to read (for fun) as a crucial first step for them to have a chance to improve their lives. For that, there needed to be a lot more, good quality contemporary children's books out there, so... she made it happen. Fittingly, it was a children's novel that won her the Prose Medal in 1989.
Going all the way back to 1955, Selyf Roberts got the prose medal that year for a series of non-fiction articles, which just goes to show that there are many ways to be a winner. Just as there are many ways to be an alpaca!
Big news today: there’s a new Hunk just started work here! I was feeling sorry for the group of seven lovely ladies who had apparently been left out as His Nibs (Morgan) has been ministering to another group of six, a couple of fields over. Then today, a strange trailer pulled up and out came a large alpaca silhouette. He looked like a moving shadow, but there is obviously more to him than that as the “ladies” were immediately all over him. Whoever he is, he’s been thoroughly welcomed into this subset of the herd.
I have made enquiries. “Ice” is his name, and he’s from the Nero Black herd in Northumberland. Apparently he was up soon after dawn to step into the trailer, which he did willingly enough of course as there are usually lady alpacas at the other end. This time was a rather longer journey than usual, but he stepped out at this end ready to orgle and there was the lovely Coco, hitting the floor at his feet. What more could a stud want? Well as it happens, he was about to find out. After Coco’s welcome, he was led into the field to meet the rest of the ladies, who will be his harem for the next couple of weeks. Paddock mating is a new idea for him, as opposed to pre- arranged timeslots with individuals in the pen, but I can see he’s already got the hang of it.
Much like Morgan, across the way. He’s spending the last couple of weeks of the breeding season (not really a season, but the humans will put a stop to it soon just to avoid any winter births next year) with several ladies he knows rather well from previous liaisons. “Died and gone to heaven” was I think the way he put it.
Picture the scene. Each stud has his own territory and harem, and his own varied terrain with hillocks to pose on. They can just about see each other, and each other’s companions, so, when they’re not otherwise engaged, this is what they do: pose to show how macho they are and say, “I’m king of this hill .” They look very proud of themselves.
I realise I haven’t said much about Morgan lately and he has been busy, so here’s a closeup. And here he is exchanging a chaste kiss with his baby daughter Delyth. Isn’t that sweet?
First let me apologise for not blogging for a while. Just when I thought I’d get more time in the office, I got a new job! You might remember Vladimir and Jasper, the two boys I took on when they were weaned a few years ago. Well they’re strapping lads now and both have joined me as wethers – the ideal flock guards. I have been showing them the ropes, and no foxes have dared show their noses in our field for some time, let me tell you. Now that the lads have got the idea, we’ve been assigned our first joint patrol here on the farm! It’s been very exciting. The main herd of girls is divided at the moment, with moms-to-be and a few companions in a lower field, close to the humans, and a group of 16 older girls and ones who are not breeding this year who have been given access to wilder pastures, up in the hills. As these cover a large area, steeply sloping with lots of rock outcrops, dips and crannies and largely out of sight, the humans have asked us to go along and keep an eye out for any trouble. I have to say it is lovely out here with so much to explore, so far to roam. Alpacas are built to roam miles, and we don’ t have quite that far but it is great to be able to stretch our legs a bit. The girls have been very happy to have us, and made us feel one of the herd right away. Here we are with a few of them, in a rare moment where we were down near the barn and someone remembered a camera.
Actually, speaking of cameras, I should mention we’re all becoming quite well known in our area. I understand the group of Ramblers that came through today had walked miles to visit us. They had special boots and water bottles and everything! They were probably a bit warm, even without fleece. Of course we didn’t mind doing a bit of posing.
Before I close let me mention a clever idea the humans here have come up with . They were clearing away vegetation, as they do from time to time (I’m not entirely sure why as they never eat it), and discovered a small staircase behind the cottage, leading up to what would have been a small gate into the expectant mums’ field except that it had been barred. They have now re- installed a gate, and have their own little entrance, so they can come and check on the girls with less disruption. It’s reminds me of those big houses on the TV where the servants have their own system of passageways and staircases so they can do their work more quietly and efficiently. A servant staircase. I like it.
Let us move on to fluffier things. Spying over into the ladies’ field, I see the cria have begun to arrive. Apparently we’re about halfway through the birthings. Since I count seven so far, that’s going to be quite a lot of cria . In honour of some big political event that’s coming up soon, all the cria this year are being given Scottish names, which might seem a bit odd, but I’m named Montgomery and I was born in Norfolk so I’ll not comment.
The humans seem to have planned well in advance, with Morgan’s work last year in batches so the ladies could come down to the birthing field in smaller groups. So a month ago, there were the first four being watched extra carefully. Right on time, along came the first cria…. to Windmilcot Kali, who was not of course one of the first group. Her cria was in fact a whole month early so he arrived about a quarter mile away across the farm, on one of the grassy mounds that are like islands in a boggy area barely accessible by quad bike. Being so early, he was too small to stand and nurse, and his mum hadn’t got the milk ready anyway. The pair of them and a friend moved into the old stable for a few days under a heatlamp and kept the humans busy with tube feeds and then bottle feeds until the little’n got strong enough to stand and help himself from his mum. Fortunately he seems to have got the hang of this very quickly and now you’d hardly know he’d had a tricky start at all. His colour is interesting: I gather this is the first time Kali has ever passed on her distinctive markings. Up to now she’s only ever had solid-colour cria. The little chap is probably destined to be a wether like me but he’s sure to be popular. They’ve named him Hamish. Two births, almost a mix-up The brown cria, cushed on the left, belongs to Vicky (standing, right). Three- of-Nine has not yet realised that she has a cria of her own.
The next five to arrive are all little Morgans, in various shades of fawn and brown. There was some drama when the first of them arrived, a light-brown girl to young Vicky. As a first-time mum Vicky wasn’t quite sure what to make of it so she had a little grass to eat while she waited for the wet bundle to do something. At that point, Three-of-Nine came to sniff the baby and sit very close beside it in a proprietorial manner, much to the surprise of the humans. Vicky’s cria colour looked remarkably like Three-of-Nine. The odd behaviour was resolved when it became clear that Three-of-Nine was also in the process of giving birth. Another girl – light fawn, much like Vicky this time – soon arrived. Unfortunately this thoroughly confused Three as she’d already decided the first one was hers. Vicky came back, having birthed her placenta, to find her cria already heading for Three’s udder. Three would have been fine with a swap, I’m sure, but it is unlikely that Vicky would… I heard the humans express considerable relief that they’d seen both these births happen and knew whose was whose. The two mums got penned separately for a short while with their correct crias and once nursing was established, all was well. Phew!
And then the last of this batch to arrive was Zoe’s young lad Iain, who is miniature. He was not premature but dysmature – full term but still half-baked . He really was tiny: only 4.5kg at birth, which is barely half a normal cria . Despite that he was full of life and energy and had no trouble at all heading straight for the milk. His oddest feature was his ears, which came out curled over, inside out, something that apparently happens from time to time. It had the humans running to the internet and asking fellow-breeders what, if anything, needed to be done about it.
The short answer is… masking tape. Using a finger as a former, the ears are shaped the way they’re supposed to be. The tape just needs to hold them for a few days and they should be fine. We’ll see. Meanwhile he looks like a little dalek. I shall keep this photo to bring out when he’s dating.