Nigel and Ginny Cobb
There are three owners of alpacas in Spain and one of them, Xandra Gamazo organised an inaugural show and alpaca sale near Oropesa, in Toledo province, to the west of Madrid at the end of April.
She has about 100 alpacas and wanted to show the local farmers and Spanish land owners what these animals were about. We were invited together with German breeder Hartwig Von Kraft, his wife Katherine and son Philip, to show clothing, yarn and fleece, and to help organising things and explaining about alpacas.
Xandra and her family own about 12,000 hectares (25,000 acres) of pasture land in an idyllic location, nestling under nearby mountains. With a meandering river, wild flowers everywhere, wonderful holly oaks (an evergreen oak, one of the 200 varieties of oak), wildlife to die for, the setting could not have been more magical.
Her newly converted cortijo was the location for a lavish lunch, copious amounts of alcohol and a hospitality that matches the best in the world. A hundred of her friends including royalty and Spanish aristocracy and potential clients attended the event. Some of her alpacas were halter trained for the occasion by Claudio, her Chilean herdsman and by Katherine, but we all lent a hand leading up to the event.
Hartwig had selected the animals that Xandra was to try and sell. They were moved into pens near the cortijo and then we waited for the guests to arrive. After a wonderful lunch both Xandra and a vet, Amaro, who has lived in Peru and now practices in Seville, gave a short talk and we then showed off the alpacas and tried to interest the guests in considering owning such animals or buying their produce. There was much interest, not just in the alpacas, but also in the lovely coats that Katherine had designed and brought over from Germany, and in the alpaca clothing we had.
We, as one of the other owners in Spain, asked Tim Hey to come and help us interest local people in our alpacas here in Andalucia. We organised a shearing day in April hosted by Claire and Thom Pearson and asked Tim to bring his equipment. We invited all those we knew in Spain to come and see. We had guests from Madrid, Seville and Portugal and Lizzy bought her llamas from the Sierra Nevada. Tim and Tracey were really wonderful and were a great help at explaining everything and taught the local sheep shearer, Manuel, how to shear alpacas, so that he could handle it the next time. The week-end was a great success and started the process of telling all the locals about our alpacas.
The best event so far for us was the spring fair (feria) held in Ronda, in Andalucia (in the South of Spain). However, taking the alpacas needed the permission of the Director of Agriculture, Juan Luis Muñoz Roldán. He has been wonderful at helping us with the first ever alpaca farm in Andalucia and was keen to let us show our animals at the feria – which is not unlike a county show in England. Finally the nod came through and it was all systems go to get the alpaca stand sorted out for the show on 19th to 21st May. Everything had to be created from scratch – the pens, the publicity, leaflets in Spanish, selection of the animals and pricing. Not only that, but we also had a stand for selling our line of clothes, wool and fleece. With only two of us, it was a tough call, but we had wonderful help from our local friends. We made it and 40,000 people visited the show. Our alpacas were a show stopper – we got great publicity from it – TV and press. Incessant questions as to what these animals were – sheep with long necks was the most common misconception. We reckon that over 2,000 photographs were taken of the animals, especially Ella, our first born over here who stole the show as she walked around on a lead with Ginny..
The official opening party spent some time at the stand and the local commander of the Spanish Foreign Legion, Colonel Alfonso García-Vaquero Pradal took particular interest. We were to find out why, later!
So, the alpaca business has arrived in Spain, with Xandra’s work in Toledo and ours in Andalucia. We are confident that buyers will start appearing. We have now had two births out here – Ella and Toledo, both sired by Wiracocha and both look really wonderful – we now expect a further four births, including some of Xandra’s animals that we are looking after.
We were initially concerned about veterinary care, but needn’t have been. Alonso, the local horse vet has now become quite knowledgeable in alpacas and he is very keen to add this expertise to his portfolio of skills. We can’t give him enough praise for his work with us over the last nine months.
Grazing seems to be fine here. We just swap the seasons around and feed hay in the summer months. Clearly with only 200 or so animals in Spain the fleece industry is some way off being an earner and we have yet to find local spinners. But the climate is fine as the heat is dry and the alpacas seem to flourish in it
Last week we went to see the Colonel of the Spanish Foreign Legion, at his invitation. It turns out that he would like to have an alpaca as a mascot for the battalion. We thought this impossible, but it would nevertheless be great publicity. So, Ginny promised to try to train a couple of alpacas with the help of the corporal who looks after a lovely ram and three goats, the current mascots. Of course, their mascots travel everywhere with the battalion, on parades, on manoeuvres and recently to Iraq. The alpacas will, if we are successful, purely be used on ceremonial occasions. It makes the mind boggle to think of alpacas going into battle! We are not sure that they will handle the parade ground without being on a halter but we will have fun trying. The first time they will be required will be an important parade in Ronda on 20th September.
We had been eagerly awaiting our first birth here in sunny Spain and it came on 22nd February, on possibly the worst day of the winter with howling gales and torrential rain. Ester, a beautiful Peruvian female had been mated to Wiracocha and we had been expecting the birth for a couple of weeks. She was undercover, but had managed to give birth where the wind and rain were their worst. We thought initially it was a white plastic bag. It turned out to be a bedraggled, muddy, hypothermic cria with a very proud mum at her side. Claire and Ginny got her into the car, drove straight home and put her into a warm bath. An hour or so later, as we sat in front of the fire, rubbing and blow drying the cria, she was up on her feet and looking for her first feed. Ella was born. So far so good.
Ester had had problems with her milk production during her previous pregnancy and we were expecting to have to do a lot of topping up. So, we were prepared with all the necessary equipment, but no colostrum (goats). We had ordered some, but for one reason or another we had not got it. With the vet’s help we sourced a supply in a local village, but with limited Spanish and not knowing the area it was a bit of a wild goose chase. We eventually found someone in one of the bars who was able to supply us with a two litre bottle of what we hoped was colostrum. Ella was happy to feed from the bottle, so that was, we hoped one crisis resolved.
We then made a stable for Ester, her friend Tabitha and Ella in our garage and kept the afterbirth safe. We decided to bring Ella into the house for the night so Ginny could feed her every two hours. We gave an couple of injections of oxytocin to Ester to help her milk production, but they seemed to have little effect, though she certainly had some milk.
Ginny made up a bed next to the fire. Ella was as good as gold, using her ‘poo blanket’ when necessary. She took food every two hours and in the morning her mum, Ester re-bonded immediately with her. No need for the afterbirth and Ella went looking for her milk. Ginny kept her topped up during the day. This became the pattern for the next four weeks, until the time between feeds meant that Ella could be left with her mum overnight. We had lots of visitors during that first month, coming for a glass of wine to see Ella and have their photos taken. Ella, for her turn, felt that su casa es mi casa and did whatever she wanted. We used to carry her from the garage to the house. Later we drove her from the field which is in the village back to the house, with her in the front seat of the Smart car. She seemed to give the royal wave to the locals as she was driven past!
Arriving in the house, she would say hello to our two dogs and cats, push them away from the fire and then make herself comfortable in their place. That is until we went to bed, then she came upstairs and slept on the bed with the dogs and cats, her head resting on Ginny’s shoulder. Not a lot of room for us, though! We had no accidents in the house, she always got out of bed to use her ‘poo blanket’. She is an absolute treasure and at three and a half months a very good size. We are proud of her and her achievements. It hasn’t always been plain sailing for her, but weighing her every day for four weeks proved a good guideline for what we needed to give her. She certainly stole the show at the Ronda fair and she now has many friends here. She continues to love us as we do her. A very special alpaca in more ways than one.
So, we reckon that alpacas have arrived in Spain and hope that soon there will be more than the three owners of these lovely animals.
Nigel & Ginny Cobb
Alpacas de Andalucia
0034 653 306749