Sunday 30 August 2015

Alpaca update

Today Di and the stud alpacas visited again. None of the alpacas wanted to mate with the boys.

This suggests the alpacas have ovulated, and hopefully are pregnant. :-)

If any of the alpacas are not pregnant, they will have to wait until spring to be mated again as their gestation period is almost a year, and I would not want the cria to be born in autumn -- it's not good for the mothers, who need to have good grazing in order to make good milk for their cria, it's not good for the cria to be small when it is cold and wet, and it's not good for me to have to keep going out in the dark as the nights are drawing in to check on soggy cria covered in mud!

They are wearing their halters because I took them for a walk while we were waiting.

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Poodle diversity study

The results of the poodle genetic diversity DNA study undertaken by the UC Davis last year have now been published and you can read the paper here. My own dogs' DNA and that of a number of other dogs of uncommon bloodlines I organised in the UK were sent to the researchers.

Two 'poodle people' Natalie Green Tessier, the organiser of the study, and Lynn Brucker, the programmer responsible for the Poodle Health Registry, are authors on the paper. This is extremely unusual in the scientific world and not something I've ever seen before. Natalie and Lynn I hope will be very proud of what they have achieved.

EDIT: Since this publication came out, due to the somewhat 'dramatic' title and some phrasing in it, some people with no interests in the breed, who unfortunately it seems lack the capacity to understand it or investigate the work that went into it, have been trying to use it for scaremongering. I feel for this reason it is necessary to clarify that the research paper is about the incidence of two autoimmune diseases, and the reason these autoimmune diseases were studied were partly because of funding from poodle clubs wanting information on possible ways to reduce their incidence and also because this is the specialist area of the main researcher Pedersen, and research groups need publications to increase their prestige and attract funding -- that's just the nature of research. The main thrust of the study was to develop a test that poodle breeders can use to help inform breeding decisions to preserve genetic diversity in the breed and ensure long-term viability of the gene pool. The importance of this test or how it is used was not really touched upon in the paper, because it's not the sort of information that is published in scientific journals, and it's up to the laboratory that developed the test and breeders to disseminate this information (see my earlier posts about use of genetic tests, and also Natalie's presentation).

To put things into perspective, most of the autoimmune diseases mentioned in the introduction to the paper have indeed been found in poodles, but they do not seem to be particularly common. Indeed, they occur in dogs generally as a species, regardless of breed, and the risk to poodles to my knowledge (as a person with an interest in the breed, who researches bloodlines) is probably no more than for any other dog. The two diseases the paper studies, sebaceous adenitis and Addison's disease, do seem to occur more often in poodles than they do in dogs taken as a whole. Sebaceous adenitis is a skin disease that can occur in any dog, but it does seem to occur more in poodles and certain other breeds. However, in recent years its incidence seems to have decreased, which is probably a lot to do with breeders testing dogs with a skin biopsy for SA as a precaution, so we can identify dogs that are affected and know to breed lines where it has occurred carefully and effectively select away from it. If you are buying a poodle puppy, it's important to see evidence of this testing from the breeder -- although since dogs affected by the disease normally show symptoms by middle age, and the biopsies tend to cause scarring, this is probably less important in older breeding dogs tested clear in their youth, or dogs from ancestors who are intensely tested and consistently clear, so long as in these cases the dog has never shown any signs of the disease.

Addison's disease is a more common disease generally -- quite possibly it is the most common autoimmune disease in all dogs. It is, however, a very controllable disease if it is diagnosed promptly, and affected dogs can live a normal life with the help of medication. Whilst it is unfortunate that poodles are more at risk than other dogs, it does often happen that particular breeds have increased risk of certain ailments (just as some ethnicities in humans have increased risks of, for example diabetes or sickle-cell anaemia) and it is hoped that by assisting with research such as this, it may be that a genetic test is developed to help us breed away from it, which is the holy grail of this sort of work. Hence, DNA from lots of poodles affected by these diseases were sought out and sent in to the study, and the researchers so far as I know will still process them free of the usual charge. This is why data from poodles with these conditions, to compare with unaffected poodles, is well-represented in the paper -- the proportion of affected to normal poodles is not at all representative of the population as a whole.

The study did find some interesting information about these disease, for instance, that both Addison's and SA seem to occur mostly in the main group of genetically similar dogs, and that SA (but not Addison's) seems to be more common in more homozygous dogs, which means using the test to breed towards more heterosis along with information from biopsies should hopefully further decrease the occurrence of this condition in the breed.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Heritage turkey poults for sale

Up until the end of the year, I now have heritage turkey poults for sale, mainly bronze and red-bronze, but also some more unusual colours not seen often including proven breeding stock I am looking to sell on as I have new birds I have bred this year to continue my programme. I can offer unrelated starter groups for those wishing to breed or birds to grow on for the table or simply as ornamental pets for those who want to enjoy turkey eggs through spring and summer. Prices start at £12 for young unsexed birds a few weeks old and off heat.

Heritage turkeys are hardy and easy to care for. They are able to fly and mate naturally unlike the commercial birds, and produce a good-sized carcass that on even a small hen should make 8 decent meals and has an even distribution of flavourful meat. Because they do fly, unless you have a covered run I recommend trimming the primary feathers on one wing, and if this is done a simple fence about 4ft in height will contain them. At night they need to be shut away in a shed with perches for them to roost. Anyone who would like more advice or information about heritage turkeys is welcome to get in touch.

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Alpaca mating

 Di with Neptune in the alpaca touring caravan

Today we were visited by Di Davies of Alpha Alpacas and her stud boys. I have chosen to use Alpha for our stud services for our first year breeding alpacas because Di was recommended to me by Elizabeth (Motcombe) from whom I bought my alpacas, she provides a professional and friendly service, and most importantly, she has a good selection of unrelated stud alpacas of good temperament who have excellent conformation and fleece qualities and have been shown successfully.

We tried to mate Bess and Olivia earlier, in June. Olivia mated but Bess did not want to mate (Bess has had cria before, but has not been pregnant for a few years due to Elizabeth scaling down her breeding operation over the last few years, and her daughter was sold on before I bought her, so I think perhaps Bess may have been a bit hormonally off as well as upset because of her daughter, as she was also showing some behaviour which she has not shown since she moved in here and I now know not to be typical of her).


First we put Olivia and Bess into the pen and brought in the boy we have chosen for Olivia, 'Motcombe Amos'. Amos is a nice-natured fawn boy who should hopefully produce a fawn or brown cria with Olivia. Alpacas are induced ovulators who are able to mate any time they are not pregnant. If they are ready to mate, they kush (lie on the ground with their legs tucked under them) to allow the male to mount them. If a female is already pregnant, she will not kush and will spit at the male and try to escape from him. Well, as it turned out, although Olivia's earlier mating appeared to have worked, she must have lost her pregnancy since, possibly from the stress of the move to a new home, because she kushed and started mating with Amos!

'Jessamine Redlands'

Bess, who was in the pen with Olivia, was interested and sniffed Amos, and then she very firmly and obstinately kushed in front of Olivia, and had to be pushed to get her up and into a more accessible place. Olivia and Amos were now busy mating, so we brought in the boy we have chosen for Bess. He is 'Jessamine Redlands', a lovely small and gentle-natured grey boy, and this time Bess was very happy to mate with him, much to my relief.

Olivia with Amos (left) and Bess with Redlands (right)

Bess was sitting on a slope and Redlands kept sliding off, so apparently this is a special technique to keep his bits in the right place!

Both pairs of alpacas mated for about half an hour, and while this was happening, Poppy, who had been shut outside the pen because we hadn't been intending to breed her, had been showing a great deal of interest and poking her head through the pen to smell the males. Then she kushed outside of the pen close to where the others were mating.

You smell nice

Me next

Last time we tried to mate Bess and Olivia, Poppy was a yearling and still obviously smaller than the older alpacas, so of course we did not try to mate her. But Poppy seems to have had a growth spurt in the last two months and is now well filled out and about the same size as Bess (fortunately she is not the same size as Olivia, who has an appetite that more befits a pig than alpaca). It hadn't occurred to me to mate her, but it seemed she was ready and big enough now, and since it turned out Olivia and Bess would be having cria later next year than we had planned, it now seemed to make more sense to mate Poppy now as well. After a brief discussion with Di who agreed she was ready, we decided that we would show Poppy a boy and see if she would like to mate with him, and if not we would leave it until she was older.

Fortunately she did not think her sire smelt nice

Amos is actually Poppy's sire, so using him was out of the question. Redlands is not related to Poppy, but because grey is caused by a gene that can cause problems if it is homozygous or interacts with other genes that can be hidden by white colour, and Poppy is mostly white so this was not a good idea. Fortunately Di had some other boys with her as she was visiting some other farms in the area to check pregnancies, including this solidly built chestnut-brown boy from Australian bloodlines whose name is Neptune and she had bought recently.

'Green Park Neptune'

Poppy was a maiden and Neptune is inexperienced, so they are both still learning, but they did mate, so we shall see what happens. Poppy is a sweet-natured alpaca who wanted to nuzzle against Di while she was mating.

Poppy likes a cuddle

Making sure the parts are in the right places

Alpaca gestation takes around 11 months, so we will hope to have cria in July 2016. Di will be returning with the studs in future to see how the alpacas react to them next time, and this should give us some indication of if the matings have worked.

Friday 14 August 2015