A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

May 18, 2011

The Year of Unexpected Events

Phew!  Life certainly has been busy on the farm.  Time for writing has been scarce even though the desire is there.

I am beginning to think that 2011 should be renamed “The Year of Unexpected Events” – February brought record setting cold temperatures in the midst of a dry winter, March brought a houseful of unexpected guests when Ric surprised me for my birthday by flying in friends and family from across the world (which also solved the mystery of why Ric had taken a sudden interest in tidying and decluttering!), April brought us an unexpected large vet bill when our miniature Australian shepherd dog Blue decided to try and herd our horses and had to have a toe amputated as a result of her escapades (the vet said the horse did a good job of a surgical amputation and he just had to tidy everything up).

Blue tries to play with her cone on

Blue with her bandaged foot and her cone collar

The unexpected events continued in April when a nearby large grass fire propelled by the high winds that have plagued us this spring caused us to evacuate all of the alpacas from the farm.  We were fortunate in that the wind changed direction before the fire reached our property, but with 70 alpacas at the farm we knew an evacuation would take time and so decided to act sooner than later.  How fortunate we are to have many friends and acquaintances who showed up to help with the evacuation without being asked.  Having heard of the fire they made their way to our farm, some with trucks and trailers to help as they could.

Smoke from the Grass Fire April 17 2011

Smoke from the nearby grass fire rolls over our house - photo courtesy of our friend Barb McKenzie

May sees us in one of the worst drought periods in history, one of our hay suppliers has had his total crop of wheat fail and will not have hay for sale this year – a blow to us but an even bigger blow to him as his hay sales are a big part of his livelihood.   Thankfully another of our suppliers was more fortunate and has now delivered us 1450 bales of good looking wheat hay – good fortune has smiled on us again even in tough times.  What a year and we are not even half way through it!

Shearing is now well underway; we still have 25 alpacas left to shear but should be completely finished following another couple of shearing sessions.  Ric shears our alpacas and not being a professional shearer he cannot compete with the 7 minutes per alpaca that some of the professional shearers achieve.  There is something to be said though for our slower pace, our alpacas are calm and relaxed during the process and we can take the time to try and ensure that our fleeces are evenly sheared with few second cuts and gathered without contamination from short fibers from other areas of the alpaca.  We have a team of loyal friends who have shown up time after time to help us with shearing – to Joe, Becca, Kayleen, Keenan, Bethany, Terri L., Terri F., Darlene, Jeff, Don and Barb however can we thank you enough.

Our monthly Open Farm Days have been a great success, people love to come to visit the alpacas and learn about them during Ric’s circular tour of the farm.  We too have enjoyed sharing the farm with the community, it’s so much fun to watch the delight on people’s faces as they get to see or feel an alpaca for the first time.  For all who have come out to the farm on Open Farm Days we heartily thank you and hope you will continue to come out and visit us.  There is always something new going on at the farm and each month we hope to add a little something to make your Open Farm Day experience even better.

Ric Shows Off Roadrunner to our Open Farm Day Visitors

Ric Shows Off Roadrunner to Open Farm Day Visitors

And talking of new – crias will be here soon!  Yes we are watching and waiting for the first new cria to make his or her arrival.  Queen and Rosie are now both overdue, perhaps in part to the fire evacuation and the drought conditions – alpacas can and will put their pregnancies on hold if they feel conditions are not right for their survival or the survival of their cria.  Keeva too is getting close to her delivery date and TeQueely, Willow, Snow, Cinnamon and Gen are not far behind.  That will be quite the group of crias once they arrive – and with the way things have been going this year I would not be surprised if there isn’t something unexpected within the bunch too.  Let’s hope whatever that unexpected is it is something pleasant and delightful!

Hope to be back soon with more of our news – and there is more news to share so keep checking back for more posts and updates!

Rosemary

April 21, 2011

Don’t You Just Love Alpacas?

April Open Farm Day

Ric conducts a pasture tour during our windy April Open Farm Day

Well of course you do because after all they are adorable, but on top of that they are also adaptable.

Our last Open Farm Day was challenged by incredibly windy conditions, with sustained winds between 25 and 30 mph and gusts up to 60 mph.  All in all the conditions were really not the nicest, but we discovered that the alpacas have some pretty dedicated fans who were determined to visit the farm despite the wind and blowing dust – a big thank you to all those who braved the weather to come out to see us!

Of course windy weather is pretty much the norm in Clovis in the spring, but this spring has been particular windy and very dry.  Our natural grass that we planted in the back field has been a big help in keeping the dust down, but there is still plenty of dust and also tumbleweeds to blow around.

At one point in the day the conditions just became too poor for us to continue with the farm tours, but we didn’t want to disappoint people, especially when they had braved the weather to come and visit.  That is when the adaptability of alpacas came into play, using first Buck and then Champ for our “volunteers” we brought the alpacas into the farm store so that people could see them up close, be out of the wind and actually hear what Ric was saying as part of his presentation.  The visitors could even enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade and a cookie while they listened!

Buck Comes Into The Studio at Open Farm Day

Buck In the Studio on April Open Farm Day - He Saved People From Having to Suffer The High Winds And Dust That Day

Both Buck and Champ did well, Champ wasn’t too sure about lifting his feet to show people his soft pads and decided to cush (sit down) for a while, but apart from that the two boys behaved like stars – the beauty of alpacas!

So now with the April farm day behind us it is time to turn our thoughts to shearing.  We will be shearing this weekend and continue on shearing whenever we get the opportunity until the whole herd is done.  As warm as it is already I am pretty certain that the alpacas are more than ready for their cool summer do’s – mark your calendars for Saturday May 14 our next Open Farm Day and then you can see how different the alpacas look without their fleece – hopefully by then we will be rid of the high winds and Open Farm Day will be a pleasurable time for both humans and alpacas!

Rosemary

July 24, 2009

Keeping The Bugs At Bay

Natures Defender Alpacas and Llamas Insect Spray

Natures Defender Alpacas and Llamas Insect Spray

With our recent rains and warm weather the fly population is rapidly increasing. As we live in an area that is highly populated with dairy cows flies are a part of life. The dairies do their best to keep the fly population under control, many of them use fly predators and some spray for flies but the flies still manage to repopulate. The other insect of concern is the mosquito who is no doubt laying eggs like crazy in any water that has collected as a result of the rain.

We use food grade diatomaceous earth as a top dressing for our feed (it is most important it is food grade and not pool grade) and that helps not only with the flies but also with other internal parasites. For our stock tanks we use something called mosquito dunks which effectively kill mosquito larvae while leaving the water in the stock tank safe for our horses to consume.

With alpacas being fleece animals there is always the risk of lice getting your herd. We have unfortunately experienced lice in the herd in the past when some alpacas brought to us for shearing managed to pass them on to our herd. That was in the pre-quarantine days when alpaca owners would casually allow visiting alpacas to intermingle with their own herd. Now we know better and visiting alpacas are quarantined for three weeks prior to joining our herd and we are careful to clean our shearing mats and equipment after shearing visiting alpacas or llamas.

We are always on the lookout for new products that are helpful in keeping the bugs at bay and recently came across one that really has impressed us. “Natures Defender Alpacas and Llamas Insect Spray” is an all natural topical insect spray. Made from Cedar oil and Silane Fluid this spray is USDA approved and safe to use on most animals (it is not suitable for exotic birds). To us one of the best features of this product is that you can safely use it on pregnant alpacas and llamas.

Our past experience with lice in the herd has shown us how difficult it is to eradicate lice when you have pregnant females. Most lice treatments are not safe for pregnant and nursing alpacas which means that your pregnant and nursing alpacas cannot be treated for many months, preventing you from being able to treat the herd 100%.

The Nature’s Defender spray though allows us to spray pregnant and nursing alpacas if needed and as it is safe to use on crias we have been able to provide some fly relief for our crias whose beautiful young eyes often attract flies.

In addition to killing flies and lice the spray also kills ticks, mites, bacteria and fungal infections. You can also use it around the house to repel and kill insects. Actually we are finding more uses for this product every day – we have sprayed the alpacas, sprayed the dogs (including our puppy Blue), we have even sprayed Ric (well we sprayed his t-shirt before he did chores and the flies left him alone). We have also used the Nature’s Defender product on our alpaca products to keep moths away including lightly misting our fleeces that have not yet been shipped for processing. We didn’t experience any staining on our products as a result of using the spray and everything has a nice cedar scent to it.

You can read more about Nature’s Defender Alpacas and Llamas Insect spray at http://www.alpacasllama-insectspray.com/ and if you check out the distributors page you will see we are listed as distributors. We like this product so much we decided that we wanted to be able to supply it to our clients and friends.

** (August 28, 2009) You can now purchase the Nature’s Defender Alpacas and Llamas Insect spray through our AlpacaNation Farm Store at

http://www.alpacanation.com/alpaca-stores/03_viewstore.asp?name=11586

If you are looking to keep the bugs at bay try Nature’s Defender Alpacas and Llamas spray, I’m betting you will like it and will soon be using it for many things as we do!

Rosemary

June 1, 2009

All Done!

The Alpacas Enjoying Their Cooler Shorn Look

The Alpacas Enjoying Their Cooler Shorn Look

Time for celebration as the alpacas are now all shorn!  We do still have the three llamas to shear and one cria (whose owner wants us to wait a little longer so he can show her fleece), but all of the alpacas are done.  What a great feeling.

Things went smoothly this year, the first shearing session on April 25 was probably the slowest as we got back into a pattern of preparing the alpacas, stretching them out for shearing, trimming toenails, treating ears for ear ticks, having bags ready for fleece, bagging the fleece and recording weights on both fleece and alpaca.  Still within a short time we were back into the swing of things and each shearing session started to flow smoothly.

Ric’s shearing featured fewer second cuts this year (whoopee!) and our teenage helper Bethany proved to be invaluable as usual doing an excellent job of catching alpacas, helping us get them stretched out and being an excellent head holder, maneuvering the alpacas heads and necks as needed to keep them secure while allowing Ric to follow his shearing pattern.

Some of the fleece has already gone off to the Regional Collection Facility for NAAFP, the rest now needs to be sorted into which fleece goes where, but if we can steel ourselves to continue until that job is done there will only be the show fleeces to store for the upcoming year – now that’s a result!

It’s great to know that shearing is done for another year, now we can get back to our regular daily routine – well at least until the first cria arrives, when things will become a little distracted again!

Rosemary

May 27, 2009

What’s The Difference Between

Dream in Full Fleece

Dream in Full Fleece

 

This

 

 

 

and  This?

Dream Shorn

Dream Shorn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turns out to be about 4 ½ lbs of fleece (not including belly and lower leg fleece).  Young Dream who weighed in at 93.5 lbs with her fleece prior to shearing certainly did well in the fleece production department.  For a little alpaca she has a lot of fleece.

Dream comes from a line of good fleece producers, her dam Rosie now 5 years old and about ready to deliver a cria still produced just over 4 lbs of fleece in her blanket, leg and neck combined and she too is not a large alpaca.

We have been pleased with our fleeces overall this year and I now have 15 show fleeces ready to be skirted in preparation for show.

Atlas who has done so well in the show ring produced a really dense, fine fleece with a wonderful long staple length that proved to be quite a challenge to Ric’s shearing skills.  Looking at Atlas prior to shearing we knew he was carrying a lot of fleece but had not quite grasped just how much superfine, dense, high frequency crimp fleece he has. 

White Blast who did well in the fleece shows last year has produced another spectacular fleece which is fine, dense and bright with beautiful crimp style.

Even our smallest alpaca Little Man (aka Tonka) did us proud with his fleece.  Weighing all of 58.2 lbs with his fleece on Little Man produced 2.3 lbs of silky, shiny cria fleece that almost hangs in dreadlocks from his head to his toes.

There are still a few alpacas left to shear but this week will hopefully see the end of our shearing for the year.  Next the show fleeces will be paying a trip to the skirting table in preparation for showing and then we will need to decide which fleece will be going to which show.  Lots of fleeces to show and lots of shows to show them in – what fun!

Rosemary

May 18, 2009

Will She or Wont She?

That is the game we will be playing at the farm as spring cria season comes upon us.  With several girls due to have their crias over the next six weeks we will be watching for signs of impending labor.

The first girl to set us on our toes in anticipation is Rose Marie.  Rose Marie is due on May 30, but as I write this blog entry I am getting the feeling that we may well be seeing her cria before then.

Rose Marie was shorn this Saturday (May 16).  As she was so close to her due date we gave her some banamine to help prevent or stop any contractions and some Acepromazine to sedate her a little.  By the time we sheared Rose Marie she was definitely under the influence of the Acepromazine.   

With all of the pregnant girls we take extra steps to be careful when shearing them.  We lower them onto the mat as gently as possible and try and get them shorn as quickly as possible.  The pregnant girls may look a little less “polished” in appearance once they are shorn, but safety of the pregnancy is much more important than appearances.

Sunday turned into a great day for cria delivery, sunny with temperatures into the 70’s it was a beautiful day.

Shortly after feeding I noticed Rosie cush in front of one of the hay feeders, taking her time to lower herself to the ground.  Her actions were different from usual and enough to catch my attention.  I know from experience that with alpacas it is the subtle signs that give you a clue something may be happening.

Rosie didn’t get up to join the herd when we put out beet pulp shreds, which is not like her at all.  I kept a spoonful of the shreds for her and took them over to her once the other alpacas were all busy eating.  Rosie nibbled at them but not as heartily as she normally does.

The next odd sign with Rosie was her straining over the poop pile.  She did pass some poop but stayed at the poop pile a long time, even chewing her cud as she stood there.   Finally she took a couple of steps and then cushed close to the poop pile – hmm something was definitely going on.

Rosie stayed cushed for a while but then kicked her legs out to the side a little.  After a while she laid on her side, still chewing her cud, again an unusual behavior.  I stood close to Rosie and watched her for a while.  She was not groaning and did not seem to be distressed.  There was a little movement of the cria towards Rosie’s rear but no contractions that I could see.  Rosie didn’t look puffy in the rear end and so I started to wonder if she was just in the process of rearranging the cria.  I decided to give her a little longer to see how things progressed.

About 30 minutes later Rosie was happily eating at the hay rack and I was starting to think that perhaps she was not in labor at all, but at the next check (about another 30 minutes) while Rosie was still heartily eating there was another change.  Now Rosie was puffy under the tail and the other girls were occasionally sniffing her.

So who knows or as the title of this entry says “Will she or wont she?”  It is difficult to say, this is only Rosie’s second cria and with her first cria she showed no signs of impending labor and then delivered her cria at night.  Fortunately I do nightly checks on the pregnant girls and discovered Rosie in labor that time.

My suspicion as I write this blog entry (it is now just past noon on Sunday) is that Rosie may be in the early stages of labor and that we may have a cria this afternoon or tonight.  Then again perhaps what I witnessed was just a change that indicates the advancement of Rosie’s pregnancy.  Time will tell, and until the time the cria is born we will be playing the will she or won’t she game.

Rosemary

May 14, 2009

An Exciting Product Development

 

Alpaca Dream Wear Resistol Hat

Alpaca Dream Wear Resistol Hat

Alpaca Dream Weare Resistol Hat - Alternative View

Alpaca Dream Weare Resistol Hat - Alternative View

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While at the Great Western Alpaca Show in Denver recently I noticed some flyers on the walls advertising Resistol brand alpaca western hats for sale.  As I read the flyer I discovered that our friends and fellow alpaca breeders Tom and Judy Kania who own Our Field of Dreams Ranch in Earlsboro, Oklahoma were selling the hats.

I made a point to go to Tom and Judy’s booth at the show to say hello and also to see what their hats looked like and I was impressed.

 In our area cowboy and western hats are a big deal, we still have working cowboys in our area and with our hot sun and dusty conditions a good hat is an essential item.  Cowboy and Western hats can range from $50 for a low quality hat to many thousands for a top of the line hat.  So during my time in New Mexico I have seen my fair share of cowboy and western hats.

 Tom and Judy are marketing their hats under the name of Alpaca Dream Wear.  At the show they were joined by their farm manager Renee Mays, who was busy selling hats to customers. 

For me while it was exciting to see such a beautifully turned out product, what was more exciting was that Tom and Judy had come up with the idea of using alpaca fiber in a Resistol hat and had followed through on research and development of their product.

According to Resistol’s web site  they are “the largest manufacturer of headwear in the world”. Just think on that for a moment, the largest manufacturer of headwear in the world has just produced an alpaca hat (it is actually blended with some rabbit fur) made from alpaca fiber raised in the United States. That is definitely a step in the right direction for the future of the alpaca fiber industry.

 If Resistol were willing to develop and manufacture this hat is that not another indication that finally the North American Alpaca fiber industry is breaking into the world of mass production of alpaca products?

 Of course this is only the first run of the hats, but if sales at the Great Western Alpaca Show are anything to go by there will be many more runs to follow.  How wonderful it would be if eventually the Resistol Alpaca Dream Wear hat achieved world wide distribution.

 The Alpaca Dream Wear hat is a nice light weight with a smooth, soft texture, being made of alpaca it should be durable and stain resistant.  The light weight of the hat will allow those who prefer to wear a felt type hat to do so in the summer in comfort instead of having to wear a heavier felt type hat made from another fiber.

 I am sure Tom and Judy have put in a lot of time and effort into the development of the Alpaca Dream Wear Resistol hat, things like that don’t just happen on their own.  That time and effort will not only reward them but also will contribute to the future success of the alpaca industry.

 According to Judy, Renee Mays and her husband Phil (Tom and Judy’s ranch managers) have played their part in the development of the Alpaca Dream Wear Resistol hats.  Renee and Phil have provided enthusiasm and encouragement to keep going on the idea and have been a lot of help in bringing the hats to fruition.  Any time you are developing a product support from those around you is important.

 Naturally I had to buy one of the Resistol hats, not only to support Tom and Judy in their venture, but also because a certain husband has a birthday in May and is particularly partial to wearing a hat and I know he will be proud to wear an alpaca Resistol hat.

 Rosemary

May 12, 2009

What You Don’t Want To Happen On Shearing Day!

Braveheart sporting his half shorn look

Braveheart sporting his half shorn look

 

This past weekend our plan had been to shear a large number of alpacas.  We knew we would probably not get them all done, but felt we could make a pretty good dent in our shearing load.

We had everything ready to go, plenty of plastic bags for samples and the various grades of fleece, a shearing order printed out, the shearing area clean, supplies on hand to deal with trimming toenails, teeth and in case of any shearing cuts (we try to avoid cuts but once in a while they happen).  Our fiber sorter Troy Ogilvie and his wife Mary arrived on Friday afternoon and we had helpers lined up for Saturday – things were looking good!  Even the weather was cooperating by being a cool 70 degrees instead of the 90+ temperatures of the previous days.

 After a good breakfast (got to keep your strength up on shearing day) we all went to the shearing area and got started. Chief was first to get shorn and left the barn with his new summer do, complete with a toenail trimming and some ear tick treatment for good measure. We continued on but soon realized something was not quite right with the shears.

On Friday night Bob and Regina Dart had come out to shear some of their female alpacas who are boarded here. Bob had mentioned that the blades on the shears did not seem to be cutting right. When we started shearing on Saturday we started with a fresh set of blades and cutters thinking that perhaps the blades Bob had used on Friday were either not sharpened correctly or had been used and put back in the wrong pile. Initially the shears didn’t seem too bad although we were not getting the same smooth shear that we usually do. As time went on though we could tell something was wrong.  Ric took the shears up to his worktable and was in the process of trying to adjust them to make them run better when two pieces of the shear head flew across the room!  That was the end of the shears.

Fortunately Ric was away from all alpacas and people when those two pieces of metal came loose, they were red hot and traveling fast as the left the shears.  Imagine if that had happened when the shears were being used on one of the alpacas.

With the demise of the shears we had a dilemma, how to shear the remaining alpacas including poor Braveheart who was now only half shorn.  Several phone calls were made to various livestock supply stores both in the area and further afield but we had no joy in finding a replacement set of shears.  Fortunately though a friend of ours had his sheep shears available and we were able to collect them to use for the rest of the day.

We released Braveheart back in with the other male alpacas while we were waiting for Ric to return with the borrowed shears.  Poor Braveheart was quite the picture with his half shorn look and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of him  (see photo at the beginning of this post).

We sheared for the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday and now have 18 alpacas sheared – only 25 left to go and we will be finished. 

So this next weekend we will be shearing again, our broken shear head has been sent for repairs and in an effort to prevent our “no shears” dilemma again we have ordered another set of shears to have on hand.  Braveheart is now fully shorn and with two sets of shears in the future we hope we never have any half shorn alpacas again!

Rosemary

April 27, 2009

It’s a Start

Geraint - nicely shorn for the summer

Geraint - nicely shorn for the summer

 

Saturday found us making a start on shearing.  We didn’t plan on doing the majority of the herd, we just wanted to do a few to help Ric get back into shearing mode and make sure that our set up was good for when we do a larger shearing day.

 

Things went well, the pace was not a fast one and neither had we intended it to be.  One of the advantages of shearing your own alpacas is that you can set your own pace.  In past years when we have contracted a shearer to shear the herd, the pace of shearing was dictated by the need to get all the alpacas shorn before the shearer stopped at the end of the day.  Granted professional shearers are much faster at shearing than Ric is (they’ve had a lot more practice over the years), but we still had to keep things moving at a pretty good pace to get all the shearing done by the end of the day.  On Saturday we took our time and at the end of the day we still had calm alpacas and calm humans.

 

The pace of our next shearing will be a little faster, but we would rather take our time and do a good job than rush things and make a mess.  Believe me you can really make a mess with a novice shearer and a pair of electric shears.

 

Rascal, Echo, Zeus, Geraint and Orchid now sport their new sleek summer look.   We could feel how warm they were when we sheared them and I am sure that they are enjoying being cooler.

 

Surprisingly our fleeces were not as sand laden as we thought they might be.  The wind has been blowing frequently and hard for several months now and we were sure that out fine red dirt would have found its way into the fleeces but that was not the case.  There was some dirt, but nothing like a couple of years ago when little piles of sand accumulated on the shearing mats from each alpaca we sheared.  We did vacuum out our alpacas before shearing this year, so maybe that helped some.  Whatever the reason the lack of dirt helped our blades on our shears to keep going longer and made for cleaner fleeces to be sent to processing.

 

The majority of our fleeces I will have sorted by Troy Ogilvie of Timber Lodge Alpacas, who is a client of ours and also an apprentice fiber sorter.  The fleeces from Saturday’s shearing will have to be sorted from the bag when Troy arrives for our next shearing day, but those fleeces that are shorn on our next shearing day will be sorted and graded as they come off the alpacas and then the various grades will be ready to go to the Regional Collection Facility for the North American Alpaca Fiber (NAAFP) Co-op.  Sheared, sorted and shipped – that’s the way to deal with your fleeces!

 

While the majority of our fleeces will go to the NAAFP Co-op, we will also be sending some fleece to the Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA), the Alpaca Blanket Project, the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (NEAFP) and then of course there will be some fleeces kept for showing and for my own fiber projects.

 

We still have close to fifty alpacas left to shear, but at least we have made a start and have put ourselves in a shearing frame of mind.

 

Rosemary

April 25, 2009

Guilty!

Guilty Bjorn - her legs give her away!

Guilty Bjorn - her legs give her away!

 

Just look at those front legs, caked in mud from the knee down.  Looking at those legs I know that Bjorn has been sticking her feet in the water buckets!

 

Bjorn is not alone in her activity, Merry Me and Melody like to join in too and TeQueely just loves to splash in the water if enough is spilled.  It was only on Tuesday that Melody came around the side of the barn with a guilty look on her face.  Melody had not had her feet in the water buckets then but a short while later I caught her with her feet in the automatic waterer!

 

From the alpacas antics you can probably tell that our temperatures have warmed up.  The last few days have been in the mid eighties and for once the wind has not been blowing – perfect!

 

We have set the fans running in each shelter and they will now run for the rest of the summer.  Soon we will also put electrolytes in some of the water buckets to help keep the alpacas well hydrated.

 

Of course the biggest thing we can do to help keep the alpacas cool is to shear them, and it’s that time!  Today we will be shearing a few of the herd.  Our main shearing day will be in a couple of weeks time, but Ric asked for one day prior to that date for him to shear a few alpacas without spectators to allow him the chance to get back into the rhythm of shearing.  We will probably do no more than six alpacas but it will be enough for the first day of shearing.

 

I suspect though that even with fans, electrolytes and shearing we still will find that certain alpacas will be putting their feet in the water buckets and once more their mud caked legs will be labeling them as guilty!

 

Rosemary

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