This week marked what I think is our first big lesson about smallholding, to whit, that we had some very strong preconceived notions of what this would be like. I wanted to like the alpacas, I really did. They were so dainty, with their pretty eyelashes and their long graceful necks. I had visions of them protecting our free range chickens and ducks from marauding foxes and possibly even learning how to knit (the latter being a fantasy about me, not the alpacas, obviously). However, it was not to be. From the first, the alpacas made their rather unflatteringly intense dislike of me clear. Even on the first day we came to view the house, they were rather threatening (the previous owner of the house kept on shooting me sideways glances and remarking that they’d never hurt anyone before…). And since we took possession, they greet me every day with bared teeth and pulled-back ears, they hiss and they really don’t like the dog or our little boy. So we made the decision to let them go, and to replace them with extra sheep and pigs. A simple enough decision you’d think, and given that they’d started to make threatening gestures and various small creatures in our family, that I’d be glad to see the back of them. But today the nice people from a Dorset smallholding that had offered to adopt them came over to pick them up and the small, sad, distressed noises that the alpacas made as they were herded into the horse box really made me very upset. It occurred to me that this must be something of a paradigm shift for them. They’ve been here for most of their lives and suddenly they’re being whipped away in a horse box (which must be scary) to somewhere totally new. It made me feel enormously guilty, which is illogical. They’re going to a larger smallholding than we have, they’ll have a nice family to look after them and sheep to be friends with. But I suddenly questioned, if I find it this hard to let go of animals I don’t really want, how on earth am I going to send our animals to slaughter? I’m going to have to think about this and become a bit more detached I think.
On a more positive note, this week we got our golden retriever puppy, Maddie. Named for Madeline Bassett (all of our furry companions sprang from the pages of the great Wodehouse), she’s a lovely lump of fluffy nuttiness. She’s very eager to please and learning very fast. She’s unreasonably opposed to the presence of pheasants in the garden which is something we need to work on as their pompous strutting at speed delights me, but in general she’s been lovely. She’s also been a lot of work and if I’m totally honest, getting a new puppy that needs to be house trained within a week of uprooting the family and moving somewhere new where we know nobody was one of my stupider ideas. In addition to that, it turns out that the breeder didn’t believe in vaccinations in a Wakefield-esque sort of way so she’s had to be kept at home or hauled about in a shopping basket for socialisation outings which is a) ludicrous and b) back-breaking. She weighs 12kg for goodness sake! We have started to take her to puppy classes (another learning curve, it turns out that taking a toddler and puppy to the same class isn’t smart) and I’m sure she’ll be fine once we can take her out and about to meet people as at the moment we’re all a bit tied to the house and, until she’s reliably house-trained, the kitchen. I took her out for a coffee in our local lovely coffee shop and she was doing so well with everyone fawning all over her but the excitement of being exposed to so many humans was clearly too much for her and to my mortified horror (and my son’s gleeful delight) she weed copiously all over the cafe floor just as she was greeting a very friendly matriarch. Oh the shame. I honestly thought we’d broken the back of this house-training thing but I must be wrong. Socialisation of puppies is so important. Bit of a moot point as hopefully she’ll be our dog for at least a decade or two but in the future I won’t ever buy a puppy from a breeder that doesn’t follow a rigorous socialisation programme.
Anyway, the last week has been somewhat manic, what with the constant unpacking and meeting of neighbours and the planning for the garden. We are picking our chickens up this weekend so our smallholding won’t be devoid of livestock for long, but for now I’m quite looking forward to things slowing down a bit so that we can start enjoying the land!