Amberly Do the Double!

As Autumn arrives and we reflect on the summer that has passed, we feel truly blessed to have had another year of healthy births on the farm. In total we had 14 cria born altogether; three suri and 11 huacaya but most unusually, the balance of males to females weighted very heavily in favour of the boys, with a ratio of 10 boys v 4 girls! In all our 12 years of breeding, we have never had such a year of boys.

That being said, with the introduction of new genetics the previous year, we couldn’t be happier with this year’s cria. With this being the first crop of cria from our stud male; Popham Kane of Amberly, we couldn’t be more impressed with the advancements he has made.

Of all the progeny we have on the ground, one of the most notable attributes that Kane has passed to his cria is density. In essence, the denser the fleece, the greater the yield in fibre. This is a trait that can be difficult to reliably breed into a herd and is something that we have been focused on achieving for a number of years, without compromising our fleece fineness.

Unlike last year, we decided against cria shearing this year and instead, decided to take our chances with the youngsters becoming walking hay racks as the season goes on. To date and whilst we shouldn’t have favourites, I have a definite top pair! One is a solid white male named ‘Amberly Raise the Stakes’ sired by Kane and out of our Multi-Championship female; Honeyfield Simply Sizzling. The other is a fawn male named ‘Amberly Showdown’ again, sired by Kane out of a homebred dam; Amberly Showtime. We look forward to seeing how these two as well as all of the others grow out as the season goes on.

Remaining on the subject of reflecting, you’ll remember from my last blog that this summer marked the launch of the first ever ‘All Ireland’ Fleece Show, as part of Tullamore Agricultural show and I’m pleased to say, it was a huge success.

Organised by the AAI, the show was judged by BAS judge Mary-Jo Smith, who did a sterling job assessing and critiquing each of the 60 entries in turn. In each of the classes, the quality was very, very high and it was a pleasure to see representation from so many farms both North and South of the border. 

On a personal level, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our results and the whole event served as the perfect climax to what has been a tremendous show season for us as breeders and for our alpacas. In short, we won colour champion and reserve in each of the categories we entered and were awarded both Supreme Champion Huacaya and Suri as well as ‘Judges Choice’ best fleece in the show. It doesn’t get much better than that! 

Anyway, back to the now and with the changing of the seasons and as the cria continue to grow, we continue to monitor the health of our herd by ensuring they are all in good bodily condition and by maintaining faecal sampling to test for parasites. It is also at this time of year, that we pay particular attention to our husbandry regime, for not only are many of our annual vaccinations due at this time but it is also now that we begin our annual vitamin injection regime. 

As natives of the Andes, alpacas really benefit from two monthly injections of Vitamin A,D&E which we begin to administer from October to April. With the Irish altitude being much lower than that of the Andes, our alpacas are not exposed to the same level of UV light and that coupled with the density of their fleeces, makes it difficult for them to naturally absorb the level of sunlight required to maintain the synthesis of all necessary vitamins. 

This is particularly true of pregnant dams, as maintaining the correct levels of vitamins and minerals is crucial to the healthy development of the growing foetus, helping to avoid conditions such as; rickets in the cria due the following year. 

As well as focusing on our own herd health, this year, Elaine and I were very fortunate to qualify as ‘BAS Training Affiliates’ in the first tranche of this new scheme and so, are accredited with being able to deliver BAS certified courses for new owners and experienced breeders on all aspects of alpaca ownership and running an alpaca business.

This is a very exciting prospect and an excellent opportunity for the alpaca industry in both Northern and Southern Ireland. We plan to host our first stage of training in January 2019 and will keep you all posted on dates and progress.

Until then however, it’s back to grindstone. The grass is still growing and so, paddock maintenance continues. With the onset of the worsening weather, we have already made a dint in our hay supply so, maximising grazing is always a priority at this time.

Summertime at Amberly

Greetings from Costa Del Amberly! With Spring now a distant memory our summer has well and truly arrived, bringing back-to-back sunshine and temperatures to rival that of the Mediterranean!

As you can imagine, summertime on the farm is a particularly busy time, when jobs come in thick and fast and many being done at the mercy of either contractors or the weather. That being said, it really is one of my favourite times and this year our list of ‘must dos’ kicked off with one of the most pertinent jobs for any fibre farm; the task of shearing!

Now, shearing day is a day that is planned with military precision here at Amberly and I must confess that that is all down to the meticulous attention to detail of my wife Elaine. With her list in tow, Elaine always makes sure that everything we could possibly need is set up ahead of the shearers’ arrival and as the process begins and the day goes on, we shear in routine, from the light coloured animals to dark, avoiding any colour contamination and have all of our fleeces skirted and individually bagged by the end of the day. Our saddle and neck fibre is skirted together to constitute the prime ‘firsts’ whilst the remaining areas are bundled together as the ‘seconds’.

Here on the farm, we utilise all of our harvested fibre. Our firsts go off to the mill for processing into yarn and our seconds are used to create our luxury alpaca bedding range. As you know, Elaine is an avid crafter, and so when the yield of yarn returns from the mill, it’s like all of her Christmas’ have come at once! If it isn’t knitting, then it’s weaving, if it isn’t weaving then it’s felting! As she often exclaims; “there just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

That being said, we don’t skirt and bag all of our fleeces on shearing day. Those that are going to be entered into a fleece show, undergo a slightly different handling process and are individually rolled in brown paper or large material sheets, in a process called ‘noodling’. These are then stored and skirted just before being shown.

This year, we are particularly looking forward to the first ever All Ireland National Alpaca Fleece Show, which is being held as part of Tullamore Agricultural Show on 12th August 2018. This show marks the first occasion that members of the Alpaca Association of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group will be able to show collectively and really benchmark the quality of the ever growing national herd.

Fleece judging is a very specific science, involving a detailed critique of a wide range of fibre characteristics. Each fleece is marked out of 100, with points being awarded for fineness and handle, uniformity of micron, length and colour, character and style, staple type/density, brightness (huacaya)/lustre(suri) lack of guard hair, lack of impurities/damage and the overall clean fleece weight. As a consequence and as you can imagine, entering a fleece show allows you the opportunity to receive very detailed feedback on your alpaca’s fleece, information that can be invaluable when it comes to making future decisions for the direction of your herd. I’ll be sure to let you know how we got on in the next issue of Olann and.

As well as shearing, there are of course lots of other jobs to be getting on with on the farm, topping fields, bringing in the hay, strimming and mowing to name but a few! There is however, one particular job that I absolutely relish during the summer time; the job of birthing!

For us, welcoming new life onto the farm is both a privilege and a blessing and with a gestation period of 11.5 months, the long awaited cargo is very precious indeed. Alpacas are what we call induced ovulators and so, as opposed to coming into a direct ‘heat’ cycle, it is the actual act of mating that induces the female to ovulate. This in itself has its advantages, one of which being the fact that you can select and time matings and births according to a time that suits you.

At Amberly, we carry out what is known as pen matings. Our practise is to keep stud-males separate from the females until the day of mating, when the selected pair are brought together to mate. Again, this is a considered practice and our decisions, which are based on many factors, have been known to cause many a hot debate in the Amberly household!

As fibre producing animals, the majority of our breeding decisions are based on the desire to develop particular fleece traits. Whilst it’s not a straightforward approach, each female is considered in terms of how she could be improved and herd sires are selected accordingly. Then the waiting game begins.

As I’d mentioned in a previous issue, last year we introduced a new herdsire Popham Kane of Amberly to the farm and in early June, we welcomed the very first of his cria: a beautiful white female out of one of our best dams. From the moment of her birth, the little one had that ‘look at me’ persona and was aptly named; Amberly Vanity Fair. We look forward to seeing how this little one grows out and how her fleece develops.

 

In addition to births, and whilst I said that I would behave myself on the ‘making purchases’ front, I must confess that I have fallen off the wagon and have purchased two new herd-sires to complement the direction of our herd and in particular, with a view to covering Kane’s daughters in the future. These two boys; ‘Bee’s Knees’ and ‘Hey Now’ came from Beck Brow Alpacas in Cumbria and we thank Barbara and Paul Hetherington of Beck Brow for releasing such high quality males.
The final little input I have for you is an update on our participation in the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group’s annual judged show as part of Armagh Agricultural Show, on 9th June 2018. I had mentioned this show in my previous column and am very pleased to announce that we did indeed do the double, taking Supreme Champion and Reserve Champion in both Huacaya and Suri, as well as many of the colour championships. This included Champion Brown Huacaya with our little bottle fed star Amberly Reckless Behaviour, whom you’ll remember from my previous column. We couldn’t be more elated.
Anyway…time for me to return to the birthing paddock and waste even more of my time, watching the twitching of backsides and swooshing of tails as I will my females to hurry up and give birth!

2017 Summer Showing Round Up

Well…June 2017 saw the arrival of the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group’s Annual Judged Show at Armagh. Elaine and I couldn’t be more proud to take Champion White and Supreme Champion with Popham Kane, Best Home Bred with Amberly Vindication, Champion Suri with Amberly Suri Perkúnas, Champion Grey with Amberly Portrait of Perdita (Purdy) and Champion Fawn with Amberly Secret Ceremonials. Thank you to Barbara Hetherington for judging such a fabulous event and well done to all of the other exhibitors! Special thanks to Felicia Sanders, Terry Winter, Janet Morrison and Annabel Magee for helping us with everything on the day!

PS….having proven herself without any shadow of a doubt, we decided to leave Simply sizzling at home in the maternity paddock!

IMGP3418.jpg

‘Sizzle’

Success at the BAS National Show 2016

What a fun filled weekend at the National Show! Great to catch up with friends, old and new! This year we entered three of our fleeces and we’re delighted to get a 1st, 2nd and 3rd! Congratulations to all who took part and a huge thank you to all those involved in organising such a brilliant event!

image.png

 

Success at the ‘Heart of England’…Europe’s largest fleece show

This month marks the pinnacle of our alpaca journey to date. We entered three of our fleeces into Europe’s biggest fleece show, the ‘Heart of England’ and out of 240 entries, are very proud of our results.

  • ‘HoneyField Cassandra of Amberly’ won second place intermediate light huacaya.
  • ‘Atkins Lightning of Amberly’ won champion white suri.
  • ‘HoneyField Simply Sizzling of Amberly’ won Reserve Supreme Champion Huacaya and overall ‘Best British’ huacaya!

We couldn’t be more proud and are forever thankful to Donna Stalker of HoneyField Alpacas and Nick and Sue Atkins of Atkins Alpacas for their continued help and support!

Incidentally, ‘HoneyField Cassandra of Amberly’ was awarded ‘Best British Huacaya’ at the 2014 Heart of England and was the first ever coloured huacaya to receive the prestigious award.

????????????????????????????????????

????????????????????????????????????

Show Time!

Saturday 15th June 2015, was the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group’s annual judged show, and we couldn’t have been more delighted with ‘DOING THE DOUBLE! Team Amberly came away with Champion Coloured Huacaya and Suri, Champion White Huacaya and Suri and overall Supreme and Reserve Supreme Champion Huacaya and Suri. Thanks to Tim Hey for judging and to Barbara Hetherington for her excellent compère skills.

11425502_861346097234710_7096112784340374170_n

 

The Results Are In…

Supreme Champion Huacaya-Honeyfield Simply Sizzling of Amberly
Reserve Champion Huacaya-Amberly Vindication
Supreme Champion Suri-Atkins Lightning of Amberly
Reserve Champion Suri-Greenside Desert Prince of Amberly
Champion White/Light Huacaya-Honeyfield Simply Sizzling of Amberly
Champion Coloured Huacaya-Amberly Vindication
1st Place Junior Female Fawn Huacaya-Amberly Andean Bronze
1st Place Junior Female Multi Huacaya-Amberly High Society
1st Place Intermediate Grey Female Huacaya-Drumrawn Lucy of Amberly
1st Place Senior White Male Huacaya-Honeyfield Marcus of Amberly
1st Place Intermediate Beige Female Suri-Amberly Honeysuckle’s Keepsake
1st Place Senior Brown Male Suri-Greenside Desert Prince of Amberly
2nd Place Senior Brown Male Suri-Springfarm L’Orient of Atkins
2nd Place Intermediate Fawn Female Suri-Greenside Malana of Amberly
1st place Junior a White Male Suri-Atkins Lightning

11048654_862410793794907_7432762765541398710_n 11236469_862410847128235_3827064471214603987_n