As I write this article I note that the French Government has just returned from the summer vacation. The Camelid world in France is therefore gearing up for a renewed campaign to change the totally inappropriate movement and testing restrictions arbitrarily applied this last spring. One good thing to come out of this, all the various clubs are at least talking to each other for the first time in their history. Whilst I cannot say love and affection has broken out all around at least they are uniting on this issue for the good of the camelid community. Let us hope it leads to longer term cordial relations.
Like the UK I am sure, the weather this summer has dominated everyones? lives. Fortunately we have not suffered the flooding experienced in the UK but we have had long periods of untypically cold and wet weather. This has made haymaking extremely difficult and chancey. A very old lady in our village told me the latest she had seen hay made was 18 July back in the 70s. We came close this year, the last of ours came in on the 13th July the eve of Bastille Day, our national holiday. Driving across the region last week (10 August) I saw many farmers still trying to make their first crop, the quality looked dreadful.
June saw our first Stagiere on the farm. Gaelle comes from Normandy and is studying agriculture as part of her BAC. Many students of skills, trades and professions are required to complete stagieres. This is a regular programme of hands on training and work experience running throughout their course of studies. A sign of the increasing awareness of the future of alpacas and llamas in France that Gaelle should have chosen Camalides as her speciality. Gaelle divided her time between ourselves and our good friend Joel Planteurs llama herd, as the photo shows, gaining practical experience of handling and health care across the two species.
Regular questions from both potential buyers and general visitors alike are « Are alpacas more difficult to sell in France than in the UK? » and « How do you go about selling alpacas in France, is it hard work ? » The simple answer is, Yes, it is harder than in UK, but this should not put people off entering this industry. It is only harder at this stage of our industry?s development, no different than the early years in the UK. France has the same population as the UK but is spread over a far larger country. As in the UK in the 90s, the alpaca is virtually unknown as a farm animal and so an effort must be made to intrduce it to the population in general. Obviously if you intend to sell to French clients it is a good idea to be able to coverse on the subject of alpacas with reasonable fluency in their language. This may seem obvious, nevertheless I have been asked several times by potential English clients « Of course I don?t speak french yet, will this present problems ? »
Is selling hard work and how do you go about it ? In the spring I met the mayor of the small town of Gondeville near Cognac. Monsieur Leonard is also a producer of Cognac and Pineau, the latter being a very popular aperitif in France. He told me that the cognac and pineau houses held an open doors weekend at the beginning of August and invited me to bring some alpacas along to display at his estate. The first Saturday in August saw me setting off with four of our young females for the 100 kilometre drive to the vineyards of cognac. A large enclosure had been erected for us immediately in front of the Maison de Maitre beneath a huge walnut tree. The tree was most important, in France it has the reputation of always providing cool damp shade. The weekend was to prove one of the few really hot ones of the year with temperatures reaching the high thirties.
Now you may be forgiven for wondering why I should bother to go to such a weekend in midsummer with alpacas. Firstly, it provided an opportunity to introduce the alpaca to a completely new set of people and potential market. Secondly I reasoned that if you could appreciate and afford to drink Cognac Fine Champagne Premier Cru, you could certainly afford to buy alpacas. This certainly proved to be the case, within an hour of arrival I had sold two alpacas.
But was it hard work ? I spent the weekend in delightful company in the shade of a beautiful tree amidst the rolling vineyards of the western Charente. My host provided superb lunches for family, friends and guests in the cool interior of the chai. These seemed to last forever with excellent wines, pineau and his marvellous cognac, coupled with delightful and amusing conversation. Yes, it was two long days and another inch on the waistline, depends on what you consider hard work I suppose.
The following weekend saw us at a huge horse and hound fair. The logic - if you have horses you have land and hunting hounds as well then you can probably afford alpacas. Again we sold two alpacas in the course of the fair. In truth the alpaca business is much like any other, the amount of reward reflects the amount of thought, time and effort put into the enterprise. We spend a lot of time and thought researching opportunities to expose our animals to the right markets. This does not entail any real physical effort and has lead to some delightful and enjoyable weekends and friendships. I firmly believe that with a little thought and imagination some very succesful alpaca businesses can be set up around France, and we have seen an ever growing demand for alpacas from French, English and Dutch alike. Indeed this last week saw our first French beef breeder arrive here to seriously discuss the possibilities for moving out of beef and into alpacas. A portent of the future perhaps.