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What a Difference a Year Makes....

1st July 2012

It's now exactly one year since we picked up the keys to our new house from the Real Estate Agent. And what a year it has been…. It has been amazing - probably one of the most packed and life-changing years ever. Even more so than the year that we decided to emigrate to New Zealand.

But of course it doesn't start with the moving in date. There is of course a Prologue…

The Prologue

For me, the story starts in March 2010. We'd had an adventure holiday in the South Island (see 'South Island Adventures') and were driving home. We hit Feilding, and discovered that it was 'Fieldays' time.

For you non-Kiwis, Fieldays are large agricultural shows - the equivalent of the county shows in the UK. There are only a couple a year (but there are lots of smaller A&P - agricultural and pastoral shows) - the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere is at Hamilton's Mystery Creek in June each year.

As townies we couldn't resist a visit. The stall at the front gate set the tone - it was selling 'Highland Cattle Starter Kits' consisting of two heifers and a bull! A bit different to a goldfish in a plastic bag! We ventured in - wow! More tractors and large agricultural equipment than you could shake a stick at. And lots of people were carrying long plastic brightly coloured slightly flexible sticks. We couldn't understand why (hint - we do now - keep reading and so will you… :-)) This was our favourite - a helicopter for crop spraying, complete with tanker! Helicopter on a Truck

And then - love at first sight. Our first view of a real alpaca. I spent the next half an hour hanging over the pen side while Art looked indulgently on. He eventually dragged me away by promising me that if we ever bought a house with a big enough back garden he'd buy me one.

So - if these are your alpacas, our current life is all your fault….

We arrived home to some bad news. My elderly Mum in the UK was extremely ill, and I needed to go to her. I jumped on a plane, and spent the next 5 months looking after her until she died.

Fast forward 6 months. I'm back in NZ, and I am fortunate enough to have inherited my Mum's house. We decide to use the money to buy a small 2 acre section, and build a house on it. I'm going to have a back garden big enough for an alpaca! We plan the house we want, decide what's going where in the garden, get our budget sorted. We're doing the final measurements on the section - and a Real Estate Agent comes and puts an 'Open Home' sign up for the house down the road. We sneak a look. It's more or less identical to what we're planning, and less than 2 years old. It has better views. And it comes without the hassle of building. And all the grounds are fully landscaped. And it's the same price as our budget. To cut a very long story short, we bought it.

Oh - did I mention it came with 30 acres (13 Hectares) of paddock and bush?? Never mind - we'd keep the bit of grass nearest the house for the alpaca, and lease the rest off to the local farmer. Problem sorted LOL

Chapter 1 - July 2011 - The first couple of months

For you who have already been followers of our diary, you'll probably find more information elsewhere about the move itself. But this is a summary of our year, so please be patient.

We picked up the keys then spent a couple of weeks clearing and moving all the contents of our many cupboards. Moving day itself involved catching the cat (no mean feat and I have the scars to prove it), directing the furniture removal men then driving the hour south to our new home. We were met by wild turkeys! This was going to be very different to Auckland.

Just a note to those of you who have been waiting with bated breath for the next instalment…. It's now January 2013, and I've only just gotten round to adding a bit! Let's see how far I get this time….

We let the cat (a refugee from our son's rental property) out of the box and she promptly disappeared into the dusty corner of the garage. Also let out of a different box were the two Pekin ducks (also a refugee from our son's rental property - he has a lot to answer for), who headed straight for a cattle trough that was in one of our gardens.

Note we said gardens in the plural. We have two near the house, planted with New Zealand natives. One is more mature than the other, but both contain a well spread mix of ferns, palms, trees & shrubs. At a reasonable distance from the house in the more mature garden is a well established Rimu, and quite near the house in the newer garden are some Pohutukawa - beautiful!

We also have a vegetable patch with slightly raised beds, which when we arrived were full of winter veggies.

One good thing with arriving in mid-Winter is that everything has more or less stopped growing. This was supposed to give us a bit of time to slowly break us in to this 'living off the land'.

Country Utilities

The first thing to get to grips with was living on tank water and heating the house with a wood burner. Fortunately the tanks were full, but the wood burner very quickly got supplemented (replaced) by a heat pump.

I'll take you through the route from wood-burning stove to heat pump:

  • Day 1 - Study wood burning stove. 'Looks easy enough - and there's a pile of dry wood in the wood shed. I could grow to like a real fire'
  • Day 14 - look at nearly empty woodshed - 'Its amazing how much wood that stove burns - I must cut some more'
  • Day 16 - local farmer - 'you have to cut the wood up then put it in a dry place for a while'.
  • Day 18 - buy an axe from Bunnings
  • Day 20 - buy a sledgehammer to hit the axe
  • Day 22 - buy a chainsaw
  • Day 24 - 'We're nearly out of dry wood'
  • Day 25 - try burning a small lump of wet wood from the outside woodpile - 'this isn't burning very well, is it?'
  • Day 28 - I receive a telephone call at work - 'I've just ordered a heat pump from Harvey Norman'.

Suffice to say that the wood burning stove has not been used since the day the heat pump was installed, and currently has my Mum's tapestry fireplace cover standing in front of it….

I won't go into the water and sewerage systems - Hubby has other places on the diary where you can go for this information. But I love the fact that we don't have to pay water rates!

Telephone and electricity were fairly standard when we moved in. Most impressive was the speed of our Broadband connection, which was actually faster than the one we had at Bucklands Beach. Apparently one of the old neighbours 'used to be something big in Telecom', and he obviously had clout. Our friend in Miranda Road (4 km away by distance) can't get broadband at all!

Chapter 2 - August to September - The First Alpacas

Now we'd settled in, we started thinking about getting those pet alpacas for our top paddock.

In the next road along, we'd spotted a sign for [[]|Paqocha Alpacas]. Art (without telling me) called in and had a chat with Caroline, one of the owners. Next I'm being taken along for a visit 'just for a look'.

Now Caroline and Hendrik (hubby) have two types of alpacas - the fluffy 'normal' ones that look like overgrown teddy bears and other ones that have fur that looks like Dougal in the Magic Roundabout (one for the older people's memories there - you youngsters, go and look him up). Note the technical terms here - we're not into alpaca living at this point.

Caroline reckons that with our top paddock we could keep a few alpaca boys as pets, although of course we will need to fence the paddock off first. Hubby Art calls the local farmer, Dick, to ask about getting some fencing done. (These last two sentences contain the four words that probably sum up the most important memories of our first year, namely 'alpacas', 'fencing', 'Caroline' and 'Dick'. They all tend to go together….)

Art & I visit Paqocha and pick out two of the Dougal alpacas. We discover that they're actually called 'Suris', and the teddy bear ones are called 'Huacaya'. Our two are a light fawn one called Nugget, and a dark brown one called Guinness. They're pets because they are not considered fine enough to use as stud males. Poor guys - it's all or nothing as an alpaca male. You're either in the 5% that are considered good enough to spend your life making love to your many girlfriends, or the 95% who end up with a visit from the vet and a snip between the legs. Caroline also sells us a couple of older huacaya males called Bacardi & Suestado, because alpacas are herd animals who need company, Nugget & Guinness are still babies (under 1 year) and need big brothers or they might get stressed (she's a good salesman is our Caroline!)

The boys arrive and settle in. They are lovely! Each has his own character. Bacardi is the 'big brother' boss, Suestado is gentle, Guinness (the baby) is timid, and Nugget is curious.

We go to see our friend the sheep farmer near Taumarunui. 'I have just the thing for you - come and meet this young male lamb who has lost his mother and needs bottle feeding three times a day'. We named him Rambo, put him in a large box in the back of the Honda Jazz, and drove home, where he was promptly adopted by Suestado.

We discover that these alpacas are a bit addictive, so decide that we may start using the nearest large paddock to our house after all to keep some more alpacas, instead of leasing it out as planned.

A few weeks later, towards the end of September, Caroline gives the boys a health check. All is looking well. We ask if it's adviseable to let them into the larger paddock, and as it has had cattle in it before she can't see any harm. They run off. The two older boys start munching grass, and the younger ones and Rambo gambol about. Before bedtime I make sure they're back in the house paddock safe and sound.

The next morning, it's drizzling. I let them into the larger paddock, and noticed that Suestado did a small stagger. I didn't think too much about it.

Lesson number one I have learned big time this year. Let your instincts rule. That afternoon i looked out and noticed Suestado was lying down. I went out, and although he was just about sitting up, he did not get up and move away from me. This is not normal alpaca behaviour - if they let you go up to them in an open field and don't attempt to move away there's something wrong.

I stayed with him and told Art to call Caroline. She arrived, took one look at him, and told Art to call the emergency vet. She put on a large dog coat made for a Great Dane on him, and gave him a vitamin B injection. He stood up! I was so relieved! We walked him slowly up to the house paddock and waited for the vet. The vet arrived and took his temperature. 'His temperature is really low - he's hypothermic'. I felt so guilty - he'd been sitting in a wet drizzle-filled paddock all day. 'But they can usually handle it' says Caroline, 'unless they're ill, they don't need shelter'. The vet listened to Suestado's heart. 'It's all over the place. I think he's eaten something'. We decide that as we don't have any shelter where we can put him, the best place for him is back at Carolines. 'And I don't like the look of Bacardi'. The vet takes his temperature and listens to his heart. His temperature is marginally low, but his heart is all over the place as well. He goes back to Caroline's too.

The next few days are a nightmare. The next day, Suestado dies. We walk the paddock and find new, lush, nibbled foxgloves. 'But they don't eat foxgloves. Everyone has a few, and they just leave them alone'. Well actually, sometimes they do eat them - by accident, because they were in the middle of a long patch of grass.

Foxgloves (Digitalis) 'Digitalis toxicity (Digitalis intoxication) results from an overdose of digitalis and causes anorexia, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as sometimes resulting in xanthopsia (jaundiced or yellow vision) and the appearance of blurred outlines (halos). Bradycardia also occurs…….Depending on the species, the digitalis plant may contain several deadly physiological and chemically related cardiac and steroidal glycosides………..Digitalis poisoning can cause heart block and either bradycardia (decreased heart rate) or tachycardia (increased heart rate), depending on the dose and the condition of one's heart.'

I thought we may have caught Bacardi early enough to save him, but two days later he also died. Apparently alpacas have three parts to their stomachs, and once something passes into it, it's practically impossible to give an antidote or remove it. If you can give charcoal virtually straight away this can help to negate any poisoning effects, but it has to be immediately.

I was devastated…. how could we lose two? We'd started talking about getting a couple of pregnant girls, but after this, were we fit to own them? Caroline assured me that this was a real one-off, and that we'd just been really unlucky. We replaced our two lost boys with another two - again Huacaya - called Neo and Tupac. Neo adopted Rambo. Tupac took over the bossy role. All was back to normal.

Chapter 3 - October to December - Life Settles Down

We keep the boys in the house paddock, while we attack the large paddock with a vengeance. We decide that the best thing to do is to fence off the far end of it, and the south-facing bank near the road. These are where the most foxgloves are to be found. We attack and remove anything that looks like a foxglove.

Eventually we bravely let the boys in. I watch them like a hawk. Everything seems fine.

We decide to get some girls. We select a brown Suri (Jossalyn) who is pregnant, and her daughter, who will be pregnant. Also a black Suri called Velvet, who will also be pregnant. As Jossalyn's daughter has a small problem, Caroline hangs on to her for a while and 'lends' us Ellissa, a light fawn suri who is also pregnant.

The one thing I love about alpacas is that each one has a different character. Velvet is sturdily built, and has the sweetest of characters. Ellissa is quiet, and a bit timid. Jossalyn is the matriarch - talk about bossy!

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