This is not an ad for a new Ed Sheeran album. Yes, two of his albums have been named after mathematical symbols, but this blog story is completely different. There are some similarities between this story and popular music in that both are about gain and loss, personal and general.
So let me start with our story. Some of you will have read some of our previous blogs and some of you will have been here to see our alpacas. For those of you newbies, we are Hilltop Farm Alpacas. We are a small holding of 17 alpacas ranging in age from two weeks to ten years old at the time this blog has been posted. Hilltop Farm is set in North Offaly and is a perfect setting for those of you who want to get away from the busy lifestyle that is considered to be normal, if there is such a thing as normal any more. But that’s a discussion for another day.
On the 18th June 2020 a new cria (baby alpaca) was born into Hilltop Farm. A male; another progeny of our magnificent male, Bronson. Again, those of you who have been here will know all about Bronson and what this guy is like. He loves human attention and he adores being photographed and he even stands for selfies and that is something he taught himself to do – believe it or not.
This all sounds great, right? This little male born on the 18th June was very little. His mother was a first-timer. She had never given birth before. Early on the morning she gave birth she was showing signs of discomfort. Bella was her name and she was four years old. She was a fit female and had a deer-like face and always appeared to be smiling. You may have guessed that speaking about her in the past tense that she is no longer with us.
Bella was unable to give birth to her cria by herself. Our vet told us that the cria was not in the correct position to be birthed and that he would have to operate there and then – a C-Section. The little cria came into the world smaller than the average cria. The average weight of a new-born is 7kg but this little boy was only 4.8kg. He was tiny. This pure white fleeced boy was given the name Fargo and he looks like a Fargo although I can’t quite say what a Fargo should actually look like.
For four days Bella provided milk for her little boy but she was in pain from the operation. On the fourth evening she died from infection that had set in. It was always going to be a worry and the vet had done all he could for her. He had recommended that we try bottle feeding Fargo before Bella died so that he would be used to it, if required. It was and he took to it like a duck to water.
Almost four weeks on from his birth, Fargo has grown. He is the funniest animal we have ever had here. The little guy is a firm favourite of our many visitors and he knows how to play up to people so that he can get all the attention. But that is also something that has been handed down to him by his father – the one and only Bronson.
Fargo is most definitely one of the positives of the last few years. He was a miracle baby but he came at the sad loss of Bella. But as Ed Sheeran says he is Perfect and he now lives in his Castle on the Hill.
Who would have thought that Ballinagar would be a place people would come to when on holidays in Ireland. Well, let me just tell you all, that it has become that. Since October last year we have had visitors from Fresno, Buffalo, Riga and Puerto Rica just to name a few places.
Hilltop Farm Alpacas has become more popular than we could ever have expected when we first opened the farm to visitors. But it didn’t all just happen by chance – hard work has created this growing opportunity for us here at Hilltop Farm. Out own website – www.hilltopfarmalpacas.com – has seen a large jump in viewership figures in the last eight months.
It’s not just about seeing larger numbers booking-in that is the best thing though, Don’t get me wrong, it is important, but it’s seeing the reactions on the faces of our visitors as they walk among our friendly alpacas that is the most rewarding. People are getting a real kick out of the soft nature of our animals; being able to pet them; get selfies with them and even sneaking a little kiss on occasion.
However, one of the most rewarding visits was that of a group of Puerto Ricans who came to Ireland for four days and spent one of their afternoons with our alpacas. They even sent us a fantastic video of their visit. One of the guys worked in the tourism industry at home and he was really impressed with Hilltop Farm Alpacas.
So it just goes to show that if you put in the work, you will get some return. It then just depends on how much you want to ultimately achieve.
Keep it here with us and we’ll let you know how we are getting on.
Alan & Catriona.
Life is as much about enjoyment as anything else. No matter what you do, there should be a time for fun and if you don’t have it, make a place and time for it. Just take a look around you; maybe you only see all the usual boring stuff. But if you look hard enough, even just a second longer that you would normally, you will see something different. It might even be funny.
As you know, we have alpacas at Hilltop Farm and the amount of enjoyment we get out of them is sometimes taken for granted. That was until Bronson, our prize-winner decided to write his autobiography. And it’s on sale on-line and at our farm.
Ok, let me go back a little bit. I will admit it, Bronson didn’t actually write his autobiography, but he has lived a fascinating life already and he is still only three years old. What really happened was, Catriona told me I should write his story to date. I wasn’t at sure first if I could create a book worth publishing, but it wasn’t until I began the process that I realised how much he had done and how entertaining he had been. I mean, anyone who has seen him in action will know what I’m talking about.
Bronson is a doer. He is also a people person. I have seen him amusing eight children under the age of ten all by himself. He has walked with children and adults who have autism and he even made an elderly man who had been seriously impaired by a terrible stroke. It’s things like this that bring joy to people, things that we have on our doorstep (almost) that can improve someone’s mental state, even if it is for a short period of time.
Bronson’s book is currently selling and a new order has been requested to manage the interest in it. It is far greater than we had anticipated. Maybe if you are one of those people who can’t see past the mundane you should come and see our alpacas and believe me there are a few characters among them. Maybe you might even want to read Bronson’s autobiography.
Come out and see us and we we’ll tell you all you want to know and give you a little insight as to what it is like to watch graceful alpacas saunter around their paddocks as if it just what was always done. As if it just normal to see these fabulous quiet animals come and look at you and wonder who it is that is coming to see them today. And if there is any way that they can improve these people’s lives. Even if it for just a time. But the memory will last forever.
Karma. That’s what most of us have said at one time or other when we hear of a terrible incident that occurred to an individual or group of people. And if Karma is behind everything that happens, what did Hilltop Farm do to deserve its fate.
What has brought this on, you might ask. Well allow me to retort. On 27th August this year a cria that we called Ezekiel was born to this world. But it was anything but a straightforward birth. In initially he appeared to be in the perfect position, his head and front legs were out and it was up to his mother, Isabella, to push a few more times and he would be born. But little Ezekiel was gasping for air. Our vets HGM Veterinary Services in Tullamore were called immediately and with a little help from the staff at Hilltop Farm, Ezekiel arrived just as our vet did. The cria was still gasping for air and Catriona blew into his mouth and suddenly his breathing regularised somewhat – but not entirely. The vet got there and examined Ezekiel and found that there was fluid on his lungs and he also noticed that the umbilical cord was not intact. Somehow it had been ruptured in the womb and this had caused the little boy to gasp for air. Under normal circumstances he would have been getting his oxygen from his mother. The vet explained that this lack of oxygen most likely would cause him to have a reduced mental capacity. However, within half an hour of being born Ezekiel was up on his own four feet and walking around – Staggering might be more correct. All seemed to be heading in the right direction. But Ezekiel did not drink from his mother because he didn’t know he was supposed to. Why you might ask. That was the first sign that he was in fact slightly brain damaged – it was now up to us to bottle-feed the little boy.
To look at Ezekiel walking around the paddock you would not have thought he had less of a mental capacity, but just a little quirky. And because of the attention he was getting from us, he was more inclined to hang around with us that the other alpacas. He would run to meet you at feeding time. He always recognised the bottle. We always tried as best we could to include his mother in the process so that a bond could be formed between Isabella and Ezekiel – but alas nothing ever came of it. She looked after him every day but he didn’t recognise who she was. Occasionally she stood for him to drink from her but he just went about his own business, nibbling at everything except what he was supposed to.
After a couple of days, his breathing deteriorated and the vet confirmed that Ezekiel had developed pneumonia. Even after the injections he had given him to clear his lungs.
We took turns every night to stay with Ezekiel out in his shed. We had to be sure that he wouldn’t go out in the cold air and of course to ensure he got his quota of milk. The little boys was so playful and believe it or not, he never once stepped outside the shed. Sometimes he would just sit and stare at the wall but then we realised that some of that time he was asleep even though he always sat up perfectly straight.
Soon however his breathing deteriorated and it became audibly harsh. After trying some things out, it became clear that his breathing was much better when he stood and incredibly he learned a trick. When we would count one, two, three up, he would get to his feet and stare proudly either at us or at the wall of the shed. Either way, he was visibly happy.
Our vet had been out several times to see him and tried absolutely everything to rid Ezekiel of his pneumonia. Very early, before sunrise on Friday 13th September, the icy cool air was getting the better of the little boy and so we decided to bring him into our house. Yes, we had a baby alpaca in our sitting room. He was so content. He sat on a blanket in the middle of the floor and watched television. He stared up at the screen and it looked for all the world as if he knew what was going on. He even waited until he was brought out to the front lawn before he did his poo. A toilet trained alpaca.
Ezekiel nibbled everything in the sitting room to his heart’s content. He often stood there, ears pricked up with that proud face showing.
But the following day, Saturday, he became lethargic. He spent a couple of hours at the front of our house in the fresh air. The vet had dropped out to see him that morning and though he looked a little better that the last time he had seen him but he still explained that there was a harshness still in one of his lungs.
Ezekiel slept on and off that day both inside and outside the house. He was getting progressively weaker and at 3:41 on Sunday morning he passed away after a two and half week struggle with an immovable pneumonia. The quirky little cria with the strongest will to live and the cutest little face was gone.
But what did we do to deserve this fate, or what did that little animal do to deserve the circumstances he was faced with. If that was Karma, which we don’t believe it was, what did we do to bring it on.
Alas, even though little Ezekiel has passed from this world he will always be in our minds. He was the alpaca with the slightly reduced mental capacity that could entertain us, learn tricks and be so obedient. We might never see the like again.
All at Hilltop Farm
When people come to visit Hilltop Farm one of the questions that is asked regularly is, what do you do with the fleece? Unfortunately we have done very little with ours. That answer then leads to; what is the point in having alpacas if you cannot gain something from them? That is a fair enough question especially if you are someone who wants to get into alpacas just to make a living.
In our case, our animals are now self-sustaining in that they don’t cost us anything to maintain. That might just sound absurd but it is true.
The problem with creating products in Ireland with alpaca fleece is that there are no woollen mills in this country. Britain has several well established mills but then the cost of transport over and back has to be taken into consideration and unless you have a large amount of animals, it’s not really cost effective. However, we are planning to create a product with some of our fleece that is not being created anywhere in Ireland at the moment. There will be more on this when we move into production…
But how is Hilltop Farm sustainable? It’s people who make it so. Every weekend and even on the occasional weekday evening we have visitors coming to see our alpacas. But it’s not just having a look; oh no, it is an alpaca farm experience. It starts by visiting the paddocks, meeting the docile animals and getting to rub down some of them, some of whom even go so far as to lie down at your feet while you caress the silky, cloud-like fleece on their backs and necks. When you have met them all, you may then bring some of them on a quiet stroll. Finally, the log cabin is available for light refreshments – tea/coffee/water and something light to eat while talking about anything and everything including alpacas. A new venture into visits has also commenced with a visiting equine school and, believe it or not, a hen party. Yes, a hen party who had book their visit well in advance. They stopped at Hilltop Farm on their way to their final destination. Both were fabulous successes.
We can almost guarantee that you will have a smile on your face and maybe even a light fluffy feeling within you as you leave Hilltop Farm Alpacas to go home.
Why not come to Hilltop Farm and experience the experience and similar to us, you might even want to embark on your own adventure into farming.
Alan and Catriona