Thursday 31 December 2020

Happy Birthday 'Stars' litter


Adhara is 7.

Adhara is still a nutcase. :-)
Happy birthday to her and her siblings!

Sunday 20 December 2020

The Species That Caused Its Own Extinction


Once upon a time, in a land called Pangaea, there lived some small slimy creatures. They are of little consequence to this story, but they lived in the hot humid swamp that covered much of the land. From the swamp grew trees, and the trees were enormous as plants in this land had recently evolved the ability to produce a protein called lignin, which gave them strong trunks and enabled them to grow tall. Another advantage of lignin is that it is very tough and stable, and nothing at the time could digest it. The trees were at the top of the food chain. When they eventually died from natural causes or from falling over due to growing too big, the dead trees piled up on the ground and didn't decompose. Even in death their armour was impervious.

Whether fungi that could break down lignin at this point hadn't evolved at all or they just weren't efficient at it at the levels it was found in these prehistoric trees, and whether such fungi evolved at the end of the Carboniferous period and played a part in the trees' destruction is debated, but what is  now pretty widely accepted is that the removal of carbon from the atmosphere and its accumulation in the trees caused climate change and this contributed very strongly to the eventual extinction of the trees themselves along with many other organisms in the ecosystem.

Carbon dioxide levels when these trees first evolved were around eight times as high as before the Industrial Revolution and atmospheric oxygen was 15% compared with 21% today, but at the end atmospheric oxygen was at a massive 35% and CO2 was down to the level it is today. Average temperatures dropped by 8 degrees and the land fell into an ice age. The previously warm and humid swamps were replaced by cold, arid desert as the now ill-adapted trees died out.

Artist's impression of the carboniferous rainforest. From an old book but unfortunately the name of the artist has not accompanied it.


The remains of all the trees that lived and died and piled up in the swamps never decomposed, and you probably put them in your car not too long ago. There's something ironic about the fossils of the Carboniferous rainforest being the fuel of modern anthropogenic climate change. There's also a lesson in that mankind is not unique in being an organism that drastically affects its environment. Extinction is the natural order and the vast majority of species that have ever existed are extinct, either from their own effects like humans or the trees of the Carboniferous, or from extraneous factors such as vulcanism or asteroid impacts.

Lycopod fossil, photograph by Kennethgass

Humans will, at some point in the future through whatever means, become extinct. Even if the species is able to adapt its technology to every challenge it faces, the sun will in the distant future die and the Earth will be uninhabitable, and if people manage to migrate to other worlds, eventually in the unfathomable future the Universe will collapse or all the hydrogen will be used up, etc. When humans become extinct, it will not be 'better' or 'worse' for the Earth, for other species -- it will just be 'one of those things'.

When we say, we need to halt climate change, what we are saying is, we want things to stay the same for a bit longer for the benefit of people who are alive today and some that might subsequently be born. That we don't want any given species to become extinct is more so that people can continue to experience that species firsthand or because its loss might have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem that our species benefits from, not because the endangered species cares about its extinction (few if any animals have the ability to comprehend the concept of their own mortality, let alone their extinction) or because a god/the Universe cares about that (unlikely given the vast amount of species already extinct and the vast size of the Universe). Ultimately, something else will simply evolve to fill the void. Thinking in this way is anthropocentricism (anthro = human, centric = focus).


Arguments for opposing climate change are anthropocentric for these reasons, just as much as are arguments for letting anthropogenic climate change run rampant like 'We need this shale gas now so that our citizens can have inexpensive electricity.'

We tend to think in anthropocentric ways in most of the things we approach, even when it superficially doesn't appear that way. It's the nature of what we are.

We are, however, the first species able to understand how we affect our environment. We are the first that is capable of doing something about it.


A human called David Benatar wrote a book about antinatalism -- the idea that suffering is inherent to life, and therefore it is morally wrong to produce offspring. There is a great deal of sense in what Benatar said, and as someone who has had to suffer through the misery of a childhood I am someone who could not in all conscience inflict that on someone else. The logical conclusion of this idea is that the only moral course of action is for the human species to voluntarily make itself extinct by not breeding. There are a few logical and logistical problems with this.

Firstly, it would be realistically impossible to get everyone to consent to voluntary extinction. The result would be a kind of dysgenics whereby cautious and caring people largely removed themselves from the gene pool, and the next generation was made up largely of the offspring of careless irresponsible people and religious fundamentalist zealots. This would impact society and quality of life for many would likely deteriorate. A better argument can be made in terms of reducing the population, producing fewer offspring, and trying to educate people to ensure that every person who is born is deliberate and genuinely wanted by at least one parent with realistic expectations, which would hopefully mean better quality of life going forward.

Secondly, if this is only applied to humans because of their capacity to suffer greatly on psychological terms as a result of being able to conceptualise their own mortality, there are a few other species where this self-awareness hasn't been ruled out -- mainly cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and other ape species. These would need to be prevented from breeding further also. If the ability to suffer is defined very broadly, then we would need to ensure the extinction of any species with a nervous system.

Thirdly, time and space are vast on a scale people cannot comprehend, and taking this into account, the attempt even if it were successful would be utterly insignificant and meaningless. If we remove the species we deem are capable of suffering and leave plants, fungi, bacteria, and very simple animals, this will leave an unbalanced ecology that will undergo rapid evolution. The system will likely produce after billions of years have elapsed (which is nothing in evolutionary timescales) more species that are capable of suffering, and ultimately will produce something similar to humans to fill the evolutionary niche. And that species, like ours, before it can reach the position where someone like Benatar can exist and write a book, will have to inflict and have inflicted upon it atrocities such as colonialism, the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, invasion and slavery by Romans and Vikings, and the countless unrecorded tribal conflicts and violences that preceded them.

The same will happen if we only remove humans, or humans and other apes, for example, only much more rapidly. If we destroy our entire planet so that it cannot support any form of life, we fail to appreciate that the Universe is vast and it is extremely unlikely that complex life and concomitant suffering does not occur widely throughout it, and it is unrealistic to assume it does not simply because we cannot see it.

If we invent nihilistic deathbots and deploy them on near-light-speed vessels to eradicate life and end suffering wherever they find it, the deathbots will only become outdated because of time dilation at near lightspeed, and other organisms/deathbots will outevolve and destroy them. Life and suffering will continue with or without humans. Antinatalism is thus also anthropocentric, like the vegetarian who thinks nobody should be allowed to eat meat because farmed animals suffer from being alive, while conveniently ignoring the wild animals that go on suffering simply because that person or other people are not involved with it.

Indeed the myopic idea that the human species can effect such a cosmically profound concept as preventing suffering via its own extinction is perhaps the ultimate anthropocentric conceit.


What all this is getting to is that all species are part of a system that exists in balance. Unbalance the system, and extinctions occur and evolutionary processes drive change. This change is part of the natural order, but we may not like the effects it has on us as individuals or a species. A lesson we should learn from the Carboniferous rainforests is that it's foolish to make up dichotomies like oxygen good, carbon dioxide bad; plants v. animals; humans v. anything else; wild v. domestic. We must consider them together, as a whole system.

There's an irrational tendency when talking about extinction for people to prioritise large vertebrates over insects, plants, and fungi -- which is particularly illogical in the case of efforts expended to conserve evolutionary zombies like pandas instead of something like a fungus, plant, or insect that may have far more significance in its ecosystem. The long-term viability of any system depends on it existing in balance and conservation efforts need to focus on the habitat and the species in it as a whole. Had there been slightly more advanced fungi in the Carboniferous and animals capable of grazing the vegetation properly rather than just fish and amphibians in puddles, it might have been sustainable.


This was a philosophical digression, but this is intended to be the first of a series of articles about sustainable grazing management!

Part 2

Saturday 7 November 2020

Carrots from Hell

Hemlock is poisonous
More hemlock

Cow parsley looks like hemlock, but is not poisonous. It's something that's beneficial to have in grazing for livestock. Properly maintained grasslands with diverse species (that hopefully aren't poisonous) store carbon, support biodiversity, and provide food for livestock.

This is neither -- it's called hogweed and you can eat it. If you eat the seeds green they taste like gin and are kind of disgusting, but when they're dry they taste like spice. You can also eat nettles, which tend to grow near it.

Trees and shrubs (that are not poisonous) store carbon, support biodiversity, and provide shelter and environmental enrichment for animals. 

Sunday 11 October 2020

Poodles in Autumn

 Autumn can be beautiful or it can be dismal. Today it was OK.

Thursday 8 October 2020

Scottish Orwellian Friday the 13th Loom

 I started doing spinning and weaving a few years ago, a hobby which stemmed from an interest in using fleece from my own alpacas in traditional ways. I found out that I enjoy repairing and re-engineering old looms almost as much as actually using them. This loom was given to me to repair with a lot of its original parts missing, and had apparently been stored in an attic for many years. Wrapped around the back beam was the newspaper in the pictures, which gives some hint about when and where it was last used, and explains the title of this blog post.

I've been reassembling it and working out how to replace missing parts for about a year to get it into condition it can be used. The most difficult part was the front beam, as the original was missing apart from the pawl, and finding a new ratchet that would match the original exactly proved to be impossible, and even sourcing one in a similar size was too expensive. By coincidence, the Nissen hut on the site and another outbuilding which had fallen to pieces needed to be demolished, and as it turned out, Nissen huts were constructed with wires and steel ratchets of a very similar size to the one used on the loom, which turned up during the disassembly. So I've remade the beam with one of these ratchets and a piece of drainpipe and a piece of old curtain pole, and hope that perhaps one day the original beam might be found. Most of the damaged or missing parts were replaced with wood from rubbish that would otherwise have been burnt or thrown away, and the only parts I bought in were the aluminium bars to rebuild the shafts and the heddles and tie-up.

As the newspaper suggests the loom has a connection with Scotland, and since a four-shaft counterbalance of this mechanism was probably what was traditionally used for weaving in most parts of the British Isles, I decided the inaugural project for this loom should be a tartan! The different colours of the tartan are made from wool from native British sheep breeds.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Naming Conventions

In the news recently was the removal of a stone from the grave of the Dambusters dog with the reasoning that the dog's name engraved on the stone, which was apparently not considered offensive at the time the dog lived, has now become a slur. Becoming historically significant is one way an animal's name might survive past its own death, but the main way animal names last through history is in pedigree records. In most breeds and species where registration records go back far enough, there are animals with the same word in the registered name as the Dambusters dog (at least 12 of them in poodles). Registered names are a permanent record and become an important part of the history of the breed. Breeders and other people who study pedigrees will be seeing the names that are given to animals today centuries into the future.

Male animals: Wywylwynd Checkmate, Brock-o-Dale Trident, Brock-o-Dale Zaphod Beeblebrox, Greenside Suri Marius.

An issue with choosing a name without care is that it can be inherently unappealing in some way even if not outright offensive, and this can act as a deterrent to breeders and contribute to the decline of certain bloodlines. Most breeders, when selecting a male to use, and having a choice of two, one with an unattractive name and the other with an attractive one, all else being equal would choose the one with the attractive name. 

Different things are offensive to different people, and it's often not possible to predict how language will be repurposed by posterity. However, when animals are registered, it's worth putting some effort into attempting to avoid having registered names that are inappropriate to large numbers of people now or in the future.

Do not name animals after any 'marmite' subject/thing/person that a large proportion of people by its nature are going to dislike. Philosophy, religion, and anything political and the people involved with them are prime examples -- Jeremy Corbyn, Ayn Rand, Anton LaVey, Pope John Paul etc.

If you want to buy an alpaca, a species that has evolved to produce a luxury fibre, would you want to buy an animal to start your breeding programme if its registered name or that of one of its ancestors was Grotcarpets Manky Ratbag? Would you even feel you'd want that name to show up in the pedigree of any animal you bred with your name on it?
What would you think if someone told you his bitch needed one more CC and then she would be Champion Princess Fluffy Cute and Cuddly?
Would you want to buy a ferret from an establishment whose affix was 'Theferretfactory' even if the breeder had a good reputation?
Would you like to take to a show to represent your breeding programme animals called Mediocrity Jane and Browntrousers Gary? Giving animals names that are commonly given to people never works very well, and conversely names that would be pretentious or silly on a person can often work quite well for animals. The famous case of Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii being one example that was given to a child who hated it and was given permission to change it by a judge, but would probably have been perfectly acceptable as a name for an animal.
Names should be appropriate for the breed or species and its original purpose -- if someone is breeding working terriers, Grotcarpets Manky Ratbag as a name might not be such an impediment.

Check carefully when registering. If you can't use a name because it's too long or the registry rejects it, choose something else and don't make up an 'alternative' spelling to get around it. A friend once intended to register a white animal with a phrase that included the word 'Arctic', but accidentally typed 'Artic' instead, as in a heavy goods vehicle. The animal was intended to be a pet and the mistake is fairly discreet and mildly amusing, so no harm done, but it reflects poorly when prominent breeding animals have grandiose names including words like vengeance and serendipity that have been misspelled.

Credit: Graham Richardson

Foreign and Wrong
There are many reasons why one might want to use foreign words or phrases as names, but 'to sound cool' is not a valid one. If you want to use another language and you aren't bilingual and don't have professional qualifications in it, ask a native speaker to check your names for grammar and syntax, otherwise you will end up looking like Del Boy.

This works both ways as I've seen affixes and registered names from dogs in other countries where someone who doesn't speak English well has tried to use English words and produced phrases that look weird and that a native speaker would never come up with. If you import an animal with a name in its breeder's native language and are allowed to add your affix and a joining word, it's appropriate to use the one from that language, but check the grammar of it with the breeder, e.g. von or vom.

Pop Culture/ Too Modern
A lot of things do not age well, and are either completely forgotten after a year, or are remembered as annoying pop phenomena or a manifestation of problems of the time. The other problem with referencing stuff that's too current is that living people can commit crimes or behave in otherwise inappropriate ways that can taint anything associated with them. A stallion being called Rolf Harris in 2005 might have been harmless at the time, but seen in a pedigree today it would likely be a source of shame. Using the name of a long-dead artist would have been a safer choice.
The Harry Potter children's books are a common example that often turn up as registered names -- and are already starting to be seen as trite and not really appropriate for adults wishing to be taken seriously at the best of times, and likely to wane further in popularity in the not-too-distant future because of the author's unfortunate commentary on social media along with the passive portrayal of women and girls and the unresolved elitism and genetic apartheid intrinsic to the books themselves.
Rather than using characters out of the Harry Potter books, look to the source material itself as most of the names were taken from mythological characters, older literature, and heraldry. Or choose more established and less controversial books such as Lord of the Rings (calling a brown animal Radagast or a grey one Gandalf is probably not terribly original, but would likely be considered tasteful to most people). Dead authors are less likely to embarrass themselves. Your collection of classic rock and metal may be a better resource than what Radio One was playing at the time her waters broke.
Strangely, there seems to be an arbitrary point in history at which behaviour and attitudes that are considered unacceptable today instead are written off as a product of the times. Ancient Egypt and the Roman invasion of Britain were both times where attitudes towards things like slavery and sex would be considered abhorrent by modern standards, and yet naming something Hadrian or Nefertiti isn't generally seen as offensive. Rightly or wrongly, taking names from ancient history seems to be a safer bet than using more recent history.

Most pedigree registries will automatically reject words and phrases that resemble expletives and slurs, but names that resemble or reference rude and insulting words should not be used even if they fly under that radar. Do not give an animal an official name of 'Betty Swallocks'. It's not funny and it's just not respectful to a living creature or the history of its breed. Don't use 'See You On Tuesday' or 'Carped My Pants' or anything else of that sort. Don't use phrases that look insulting to the animal or the person reading them, like 'Fat Smelly Sow' even if you're registering a female pig and it's technically an accurate description.
If you're worried that you're naive and you might inadvertently use something rude, we all have someone we know who reads innuendo into everything, so ask that person you know to check your names for you. True story, when I was a child I had a stuffed toy I innocently called 'Rock Hard Roger' (it was stuffed with rags or something and it was quite uncomfortable if you sat on it or threw it across the room and hit someone) and did not understand at the time why I was reprimanded for calling it that and told I had to call it Roger only. On the other hand, intentional innuendo and double entendre can work if it's kept mild and used subtly.

The Affix
Most registries allow breeders to register an affix, that is, a word unique to that breeder that is used in the names of all animals the breeder produces to identify who bred them. Some registries are notoriously demanding about what they will or won't accept for an affix. All of the rules above apply when choosing an affix in addition to whatever demands the registry might have, but there are some additional considerations. Make sure the name you choose is 'googleable' -- there should not be lots of competing results if you put the name into a search engine, which can potentially make the right one hard to find for someone looking for it. The obvious choice for an affix is the name of your farm or house, but if that's 'Oak Farm' this may be too generic as there are many Oak Farms about the country and a lot of them aren't even agricultural. It may be better to choose something else.

Male Animals
If a male animal might in future be used for breeding, special consideration should be put into making sure his name will be appropriate for this. If you name a male 'Tiny Tim' because he has a slightly low birthweight and he grows to be a spectacular animal and you'd like to breed him and let your friends use him, his name isn't going to do him any favours (unless possibly he's a Chihuahua or a mouse). Straightforward and suitably sexy choices include heroes from fiction and mythology, historical male artists and composers, fast cars, military aircraft, weapons, and traditional 'manly' career titles such as Sergeant Major or The Admiral.

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Olivia's cria

Olivia's beige boy born on Friday 31st is by Trident and looks just like him.

Unfortunately we didn't get any female alpacas this year, again. :-(

Saturday 4 July 2020

Camilla's Cria

I've not been able to write on my blog recently as I've been really busy because of the pandemic and Saffi's pups as well as everything that normally happens in summer. Camilla had a boy this morning, who weighs 21 pounds (!) and both are doing well.

Camilla's son is sired by a champion male, Snowshill Caviar, and is unrelated to every hembra here apart from his mother. So he hopefully has ahead of him the sort of future most boy things would likely aspire to. :-)

The pacas were all recently shorn and we and they are very grateful. Sadly in many ways I feel society is becoming less and less tolerant, and I am disgusted to have observed recently a hate campaign by an organisation of misanthropic anti-domestic-animal zealots against shearers. There are few people more vital to the farming community and to the welfare of alpacas and sheep and other fleecy beasts than shearers, and they do not deserve to be vilified based on some video of amateur hacks manhandling and mistreating animals in a third-world country. Sheep and alpacas have to be sheared; it is a vital part of their health and husbandry done for their own welfare. If they are not sheared, they will overheat and become matted, until eventually matting will restrict their ability to walk and eat and they will die. The cost of shearing from a professional shearer for most animals is more than the price that can be achieved for the fleece.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Spring Poodles

(Note Hobsey diverging)
Adhara, Saffi
Pan, Trilby, Cally

Monday 4 May 2020

The Pacas

The alpacas will hopefully be shorn this month. Before the government restrictions were announced, two of the boys born last year moved on to pastures new to be pets, and our male Costa was sold to another breeder where he can continue his stud career, as I decided his son Zaphod was a better prospect for moving my breeding programme forward.


I'm not entirely sure who is pregnant or not, as the two mature males I have don't seem terribly keen to mate at the moment. Marius is old and Trident is inexperienced, and Trident has a heavy fleece and always seems to be at risk of getting too hot at this time of year, so I'm hoping they will be shorn soon and he will be more comfortable. Marvin, the fawn male born last year, will be for sale as a pet to someone who has some other boy alpacas after he has been shorn and revaccinated.

Friday 1 May 2020

Rare Breed Crops

There's been a lot of work to draw attention to rare-breed livestock and better farm animal welfare with regards to leaving the EU -- which is good. But there seems to be less of an awareness of the arable side and rare-breed fruit and vegetables.

Historically, farmers would grow what are now known as 'heirloom' varieties and retain seed from their own crops for the following season. After World War II, businesses started trying to breed plants that produced larger crops, and unfortunately because there is limited profit in selling seeds to customers that don't return year after year, they did this by mixing different plant species together so that if farmers did keep the seeds the next year's plants would be inconsistent and unproductive. The problem was further compounded by laws forcing sellers of seeds to pay to 'licence' them in order to be able to sell them at all, making it even more unprofitable for people wishing to sell seeds from traditional varieties, and putting them at risk of extinction. This is why most plants sold are advertised as 'F1' -- it's not because they're any better on any objective measure of what they're like to eat than traditional varieties, but because they're more profitable for the people selling them and because of legal loopholes. I understand that this sounds really cynical and conspiratorial and capitalism-hating and business shaming... but this is one area where this kind of thinking is probably justified.

If you care about this, you should write to your MP to ask that DEFRA in future respects traditional rare-breed food crops.

Seed website with explanation of laws.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

Poodles and Personal Hygiene

With restrictions continuing, I thought I would post some more information to help people with questions about their poodles when vets and groomers are less available.

What's this thing I found on my dog?

It's probably a tick. Ticks are bloodsucking bastards arachnids that resemble horrid little spiders wearing repulsive backpacks in which they store their ill-gotten gains. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease so it's best to remove them, ideally with a 'tick twister' but if not to hand, with tweezers. They seem to particularly like to bite poodles on the eyebrows. A tick bite can cause the dog's coat to temporarily fall out around the immediate area, resulting in a hairless spot up to the size of a tuppence piece. The hair quickly grows back but for some weeks after can be a darker colour than the rest of the coat. If you find a lump on your dog that is part of the dog and not a tick, this can sometimes be local irritation, but should be investigated by a vet if it gets worse or doesn't go away within a week or so. The exception is any lump in a bitch's mammary glands, which should be treated by a vet as soon as possible (see later).

tick photograph by Richard Bartz

My dog's bum stinks!

Dogs have 'anal glands' inside the rectum that secrete a fluid that smells like week-old mackerels. These glands are fairly vestigial in dogs, but play a bigger role in some other species, skunks being the most notorious. Usually the glands produce a small amount of stinking fluid when the dog does a poo, apparently as a sort of identity signature, and the glands don't cause an issue. When a dog is badly startled or frightened, the glands can sometimes go off uncontrollably (typical scenarios involve dogs accidentally touching electric fences or being chased by aggressive unfamiliar dogs). Usually the smell in this case will go away after a few hours. If the dog has a constant bad odour it may be that the glands are impacted (blocked up) and you will need to go to the vet to have them emptied out. If this keeps on happening you should ask for the reason to be investigated as this isn't normal.

My dog's mouth stinks!

Brushing your dog's teeth and providing suitable chews such as cow ribs should help reduce dental problems. Nevertheless, a lot of dogs suffer from a buildup of tartar on the canines. You can buy tools designed to remove this but I've actually found the most effective tool to be 'foil scraper' art pens. If you buy one of these art kits for a child, ask the child if you can have the tool back once finished! Holding your dog's head carefully, put the tool at the top of the tooth on the gum line and press firmly against the tooth and scratch down, and the tartar should flake off.

My poodle has a bald spot on its tail and the skin looks unhealthy

This is probably the dog's violet gland. Like the anal gland, the violet gland is largely vestigial in dogs, but has a greater significance in some other species. It's on the dorsal side of the tail close to the body, usually just within the coated area on the tail in a traditional poodle trim. Some dogs have more prominent violet glands than others. The coat here is often thinner than the surrounding area and there appear to be large pores and what look like blackheads and waxy deposits on the skin. Most people notice it for the first time when drying the dog's tail. If there is waxy material stuck in the coat or on the skin, it's best to remove this with a fine-toothed comb. The violet gland is a normal, if not terribly attractive, part of dog anatomy.

While not attractive, this is a fairly normal violet gland

My bitch has had a season and now her tail is dirty and matted and I don't know what to do

Often this isn't a mat, but rather the coat is stuck together with dried blood and grot from her season. Try washing her tail twice using a shampoo formulated to remove heavy soiling, and in between washes encourage her to sit in a bath of warm water to soak the dirty fur. Work in plenty of conditioner and some detangling product and hopefully the coat should brush out when you dry her. Always wash your bitch as soon as possible after she has finished her season.

Private parts (is this normal?)

Please, before scissoring or using clippers on your dog, examine it and make sure you're familiar with its anatomy!
The leaf-shaped part of your bitch's bottom that she wees out of is her vulva (not vagina, that's an internal bodily part that will likely only ever be seen by a vet with an endoscope). The part your dog wees out of is his sheath (his penis is the brightly-coloured hairless thing inside it that you won't see unless he sits awkwardly or mates). Bitches have a mammary chain either side of their midlines, with usually 3-5 nipples on either side, but it's not uncommon for them to more on one side than the other or to have oddities such as two nipples in one place. Bitches can get mammary tumours which can be felt as a lump within the skin of her undercarriage, and it's probably quite common to see them in middle-aged standard poodles, and they are commonly benign, but they should be removed by a vet (who will typically perform a mastectomy on the whole gland) as soon as possible after they are noticed, as they can become malignant if they are ignored. Masses in older bitches are more likely to be sinister, but prompt surgery to remove them can prevent metastasis.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Poodles In A Time of Crisis

Grooming your Poodle at Home

Poodles have a coat that needs to be maintained as part of their welfare requirements. It is likely to be difficult to arrange grooming services from a professional for the forseeable future, and a few people have contacted me for advice on how to manage this at home.

I have some downloadable information about grooming on my website, including diagrams of popular poodle clips and information on how to clip and what products to use. If you don't already have them, you will need to mail order some electric clippers such as these and some additional blades, such as a 7F and a 15. For brushes and combs, I would buy this slicker brush and the coarse version of this comb.

If you have a young puppy, the pup will probably be OK for a while to have its face, feet, and around its bottom clipped with a 15 blade and the rest of its coat washed and brushed/blowdried -- with a puppy, you can probably manage this with two people, one holding the hairdryer and the other brushing the coat.

If you have an older puppy, from about 9 months to 2 years, the puppy is likely to be in coat change, and it will probably be easiest for you to clip everywhere else except the head with a 7F blade, in more of a German trim. This will stop the coat from matting and make maintenance much easier. If you leave the coat longer on the dog's head, you will need to blowdry it and brush as with the young puppy, and you will probably also want to comb it through and trim it (you can use ordinary hair scissors intended for people). It's also probably easiest for people with adult poodles who want to do something as easy and low-maintenance as possible to do this trim.

If you want to do a longer and more involved trim, you will need to use a stand dryer to dry your dog effectively instead of a normal hairdryer. It's also worth investing in some more professional scissors intended for use on dogs.

Your poodle's claws will need to be trimmed once a month or so. Take your time and give the dog lots of treats for letting you trim its claws. Only trim a small piece at a time to avoid making the claws bleed.

Poodles are (supposedly) prone to ear infections, although none of mine have had a problem with this. I find it helps to wash inside the dog's ears thoroughly with a dilute shampoo solution and rinse them out well with clean water to keep them clean, and to either use an earwash or a few drops of a solution of alcohol and plain white vinegar to help dry the ears after they get wet inside. If the dog's ears are excessively hairy, you should be able to tease out the hair in a loose clump with your fingers (don't try to put tweezers down your dog's ears or to remove all the hair). If your dog's ears smell unpleasant or the dog seems to find it painful for you to touch them, you should not put anything in its ears and you need to take it to the vet.


Please do not order or buy more food than you need. If everyone follows this rule, there will be enough for everyone.


You are allowed to go out to exercise once a day. If your dog is normally exercised more often than this, or you have to isolate yourself because you are unwell, make sure your dog has regular access to the garden and try to play indoors with your dog to give it some mental stimulation. You can train things like scentwork and search squares in the house.


Vets should still be open but general advice is to avoid going unless it's an emergency. Telephone your vet if you are concerned about your dog. If you have a puppy, it's very important it has at least one DHP vaccination (core diseases) at about 12 weeks old -- many breeders will advise giving an additional vaccination a few weeks before this to protect puppies whose maternal protection wears off earlier. It's worth trying to get a vet to do this if your puppy is at this age. If your dog is older than this and was vaccinated appropriately as a puppy, research has suggested that immunity derived from the core vaccines lasts for at least three years and probably for life, so this is less important.


Although we are living through difficult times, dogs are more vital than ever for the companionship they provide. One silver lining some of us may have is more time to spend with our dogs.

Monday 23 March 2020

Magnolia and Pandemic

Every spring I take a picture of the magnolia tree. This year I have taken the picture from inside the house through the window in support of the government's message. Help the NHS by staying at home unless you really need to go out in public.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

Registries and Parentage

Last year, the Kennel Club announced that from 2022 it would limit assignment of 'hereditary clear' DNA status of dogs it registers. What does this mean?

Modern DNA tests are now available for medical conditions that can occur in many breeds. These tests are of great benefit to breeds, as they enable breeders in many cases to avoid ever producing a puppy that will be affected with these conditions. Most such conditions are autosomal recessive, which means that in order to express the condition, an individual must inherit two 'copies' of the causative allele, one from each parent. All one needs to do to prevent such a condition from expressing is to ensure at least one parent in every breeding is tested 'clear' -- i.e. both alleles are the one not associated with the disease. 'Carrier' (one allele) and 'affected' or 'at risk' (two alleles, depending on the onset and severity of the particular condition) can be safely bred to 'clear' partners.

What follows from this is that where someone breeds two animals who are both DNA tested as 'clear', it's possible to declare the offspring also to be clear, as there is nowhere for any other allele to come from. Such animals are currently recorded by the KC as 'hereditary clear'. It's likewise possible to declare all the offspring from an affected/clear breeding as 'hereditary carrier', or in theory, if someone was stupid and uncaring enough to breed two affected animals together, to declare the offspring 'hereditary affected'. However, when a clear and a carrier parent are mated, the genetic combination of the offspring can't be inferred and they have to be tested, as statistically each has a 50:50 chance of being a carrier or a clear.

Of course, it then also follows that two 'hereditary clear' animals bred together should also produce 'hereditary clear' offspring. And in practice, assuming parentage is accurate, this is the case. Mutation rates make it extremely unlikely that a mutation will spontaneously occur in any given locus, and this method of determining the genetic status of individuals should be reliable for many generations.

Following the publication of a research paper, the Kennel Club have decided to limit the number of generations animals will be recorded as being hereditary clear in this way. Unfortunately, the research paper found that the recorded pedigrees of animals might not always be reliable, and for this reason this decision was made. There are only really two reasons why an animal's pedigree might be incorrect:

1. An accidental mating or sexual contact with a male other than the one intended. The risk of this is probably low since dogs do not usually mate silently and a mating usually involves a tie that lasts several minutes, so unless the dogs were left unattended together, this would probably be noticed. And if a responsible owner is aware that a bitch in season was unattended with an entire dog, the owner would normally be aware of this risk and do a parentage test. It's also possible, although unlikely, that someone might have two litters born at a similar time (which again, most responsible people won't normally do unless there's a very specific reason) and managed to confuse which pups came from which bitch, and again in this case the decent thing to do would be to DNA test the pups once they were microchipped to determine accurate parentage.

2. Fraudulent behaviour from irresponsible people. Unregisterable dogs being registered with whatever pedigree information the registerer has access to so they can be used for breeding. Dead animals' pedigrees being recycled to avoid paying a nominal fee to register others. Puppy farms might appear on paper to own several sisters from the same litter, whereas in reality there is only one bitch and she is bred every season and the false sisters used as registered mothers, allowing this unfortunate bitch to have more than the four permitted litters.

Unfortunately, if incorrect pedigrees are a problem, the issue of  'hereditary clear' animals should be the least of a registry's worries. If pedigrees are inaccurate, COI calculations and other factors to consider when breeding together animals are also likely to be inaccurate, and animals could end up being more inbred than their pedigree suggests. Testable genetic diseases are the tip of a very large iceberg: a microscope that allows us to see diseases that are otherwise invisible and untraceable unless we're unfortunate enough to combine two carriers and have some offspring express them. Understandably, animals who are not closely related in the case of most conditions, do not frequently share the same testable mutation that causes a problem. DNA tests are rarely an impediment for the choice of a mating partner in a breed unless the potential mating partners happen to be closely related. It's easy to forget the huge number of potential genetic diseases that can't be tested for, and that accurate assessments of relatedness such as COI are one of our only defences against these problems.

So limiting the recording of 'hereditary clear' animals is not the solution to this problem. The problem is that the pedigrees of some animals appear to be inaccurate. The only truly acceptable solution to this as I see it is to insist that pedigrees ARE accurate using DNA testing to confirm the parentage of all puppies at registration. This isn't something that's horrendously expensive, and is something that responsible people will routinely do if there is any doubt, however small, that the parents are the ones intended. It is not too much to ask any respectable breeder.

Meanwhile, the British Alpaca Society also made an announcement last year, that they were phasing in compulsory DNA identification of males intended for breeding at the point of registration, possibly because of anecdotes I've heard about problems with a particular individual or individuals and deliberate fraud, although I've no idea if this is true. I'm not sure what effect this will have, as alpacas don't currently have any DNA tests for diseases that affect them, and pedigrees in alpacas are a lot simpler than in dogs, as the foundation stock is often within 5 generations. Compared with the costs and income from breeding alpacas, and the fact that each female only has one offspring a year, the cost of testing both parents and an offspring in this case is proportionally more and might deter people from registering and using males if they only breed on a small scale and the male is only likely to sire a few offspring. This in turn could worsen popular sire issues in alpacas, with the numbers of males available for breeding being limited.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Plant Conservation

We are living through the Great Mud of 2020. Usually, the ground does not get this damaged until February, and if it rains any more I fear the valley will turn into a fjord.

What goes with mud? Plants and horticulture. This is a blog about animal conservation, but years ago, plants were what first drew me into breeding for conservation. Plant species can be conserved in a garden, greenhouse, conservatory, or even just a windowsill. Plant conservation can be done very cheaply, and is accessible to most people including children and university students.

Nepenthes pitcher plants, which can be grown indoors in windows that receive little sunlight

Plant conservation when compared to animal conservation can lead to some interesting philosophical debates. If we have room in the garden, should it morally be given to plants that are endangered in the wild, bought from hardworking breeders toiling to protect them? Should businesses with the facilities and knowledge like David Austin be ethically obliged to concentrate on conservation rather than breeding novelty plants? The answer to both is probably no, because of differences in plant and animal biology and the expense involved in keeping them. While plants have cultivation needs, they don't have welfare requirements, and while it's always depressing to see abused plants and not nice to have to destroy perfectly healthy plants, most people wouldn't consider it morally objectionable if plant breeders throw away surplus plants they don't have space for if they can't find people who want to buy them. Maintaining a plant breeding programme is nearly always cheaper than maintaining an animal breeding programme, and usually large numbers of plants can be managed in a relatively small area. Not everyone who gardens has the knowledge or inclination to breed plants, and most plant species are polyploid whereas mammals are diploid -- which means there is a large amount of genetic redundancy in an individual plant. An individual mammal has two 'versions' of each gene in its genome, whereas a plant may have many, and the same number of plants carry a larger amount of genetic diversity for the species.

So plant conservation is not as critical as rare breed and wild animal conservation. But with spring eagerly awaited, it might be something to think about for those with an interest.

Plants can be grown most cheaply from seed, mail-order venues for which can be found online, and there are other distinct advantages for using this method, chiefly biosecurity and the availability of rare species. Garden centres are generally not good sources of plants, as specimens are frequently misidentified and carry parasites and diseases. Pots for plants can be recycled, or you can even recycle plastic kitchen refuse by sticking drainage holes in it with a hot poker. Generally for most exotic plants that are grown indoors or in greenhouses, normal mud from outside is not suitable compost, and soils from garden centres are not much good either. For cacti and succulents, which are my main interest, I have found that a mail-order coir-based compost mixed with a load of flint chick grit works best.

Kew Gardens, home of plant conservation. If the fundamentalist extremists ever get their way and abolish zoos and farming and pets, they will come after this next.

One decision it can be very worthwhile investigating conservation options for is if you're thinking of planting fruit trees. If you choose traditional heritage varieties that were developed in the area of the country you live, they are likely to do better in the climate than generic modern varieties, and a lot of them just taste better than modern ones. If someone who lived 100 years ago saw how people today buy apples from supermarkets and eat them when they're hard and wet and acidic, one would probably be quite perplexed with that. Traditionally apples were picked in autumn and stored, and eaten after they had shrivelled up slightly. The flavours and sugars in the apple become more concentrated and mature and the apples taste better that way. Modern apple breeders seem to develop more for appearance than flavour, probably as a result of online shopping being capable of communicating only this trait. There is an apple tree in a wood on our land that produces very small green apples, which when squashed produce the best apple juice I have ever tasted. I assume considering its age and providence that it's a local variety of cider apple, but I keep meaning to see if I can post an apple one year to someone who might be able to identify it.

Not that kind of plant