Alpaca World Magazine
Beck Brow Alpacas of Cumbria
The International Alpaca Reference Library

Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

Who do you think they are?

Ken Freivokh Artwork Alpacas

Shock, horror! Shortly after moving into the 400 year old farmhouse which we had spent three years renovating, we found out that the fields flanking the access had been put on the market with the presumption of equestrian use?. A field adjoining our previous house had also been offered for equestrian use and eventually became somewhat of an eyesore. Once bitten, twice shy, we had to protect our lovely Grade II building.

Once the deed was done, Liz turned to ask ? ?what now?? Clearly, it made sense to put the fields to good use, but my thoughts regarding grazing animals were that I would rather not have to milk them, ride them or eat them.

Suddenly, the answer became obvious. I had lived 15 years in Peru, and had always admired the alpacas which seemed to be everywhere during my frequent visits to the mountains. Why not re-create a bit of that magic - those unusual looks, mysterious eyes, those beguiling creatures?

I did not, in fact, come into the world in Peru, but rather Los Angeles, California, from a French father and a Chilean mother?.. Confusing indeed. Seven years, however, was all my mum could take away from her family, which by then had settled in Lima, Peru, so the whole family was pointed back south. My engineering and artistic leanings ensured that I graduated with a BSc (Engineering) and a Master in Architecture, and my grades seemed to be good enough to be awarded a Duke of Edinburgh Scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. Delighted, I only found out later that whilst the trip was also included, it was on board a Pacific Steam Navigation Co. cargo ship. Twenty one days and four storms later, I arrived at Liverpool ? somehow, English did not sound the same as in LA.

I always thought I would return, but amazing job offers in London proved too tempting. Perhaps the most interesting was working as project architect for the new zoo planned for Kuwait - intended to be the largest zoo in the world, I spent months learning about the care of animals with the dedicated zoological team at London zoo - an experience I will never forget?. So much so that, on one particular birthday, I was gifted the sponsorship of one of London Zoo?s dung beetles ? the event included a trip to visit him in London, but I was never sure that I did see my particular beetle.

Trouble in the Middle East put paid to the new Kuwait Zoo but, by that time, I had developed a passion for sailing. Technically (or should I say legally) I was supposed to be hard at work designing a new extension to the British Museum, but I must confess that quite a bit of my office time was spent designing a sailing boat. This had not passed unnoticed by my immediate boss, and I was eventually summoned to his office. Prepared for the worst, it was with some relief that I heard: 'given the time you have spent designing that boat, perhaps we should order two'. Other customers must have thought the same, as the shipyard asked me to design the rest of their range, and a fourth phase of my life had started.

Long days at the office were followed by dashing to Chichester Harbour and later Hamble to meet my crew for the all too frequent cross channel races. At the most active, I was a keen participant on most Royal Ocean Racing Club offshore races, including the infamous 1979 Fastnet Race, when the return ticket from the Labadie Bank heading for the Fastnet Rock was by helicopter.

Designing yachts became the be-all and end-all for several years, and the projects kept getting bigger and bigger. Even the larger Sunseekers did not seem to offer the creative scope my design team yearned for, but the opportunities did arrive with fantastic projects such as the Maltese Falcon ? the world?s largest privately owned sailing super-yacht. Yachts currently in build or on the drawing board include a 150m and 141m sailing schooners, 145 and 107m motor-yachts.

As the work got more intense and the clients less understanding, the sailing suffered, and there was no way that I could keep running a fully crewed offshore racing yacht. The transition was made to classic day racing yachts such as the International Dragon, and I enjoyed many years of hands-on racing as a helmsman on such lovely boats. Whilst less time consuming than the bigger yachts, they still demanded time set aside to participate in the main regattas at Cannes, St Tropez, Palma, Douarnenez, Scotland and Ireland. It is certainly amusing when totally unexpectedly, different facets of one?s life cross over, and characters I met in the heat of racing suddenly appear at an alpaca show ? hello Neil Payne.

In due course, designing boats led to building them, and I set up a company next door to our design studio building tenders for the world?s top super-yachts. See . The range spans from a 5.5m SOLAS rescue tender to the latest 10m luxury limousine tender. Along the way, it was also a surprise to come across another alpaca breeder- Graham Jelly ? who started a similar leisure boat building yard.

Eventually, even the day sailboat racing had to give way. Fortunately, some of the yacht owners were more approachable than others, and I made good friends with the owner of the Maltese Falcon, which meant racing and scuba diving from his various racing and cruising yachts. That left some week-end time for side hobbies, such as radio controlled helicopter and glider flying, and some fun with cars, including the original Hummer H1, which has to be the most impractical vehicle ever on British roads. Almost as impractical was a collection of heavily customised Harley Davidson motorcycles, which I designed and convinced the incomparable Battistini team in Bournemouth to build. For a few years, bikes took over, and I even shipped them to the US to take part in events such as Daytona Bike Week. We made great friends, and they are still good friends to this day.

Whilst passionate about sailing, mad hobbies and my design work, animals always played a very important part in my life. I was always fascinated by them, and quite apart from many dogs and cats, as well as a lovely koi collection, my holidays were always geared to scuba diving and visiting animals in the wild. From photographing large hammerhead sharks and manta rays at Cocos Islands and the Galapagos to being totally amazed by nodding iguanas, I found animal life totally compelling, and fortunately Liz shared the same passion. It was only after many trips to Africa and regular diving trips that the newly born interest in alpacas lent a new interest to our travels.

We also found time to visit Peru. It was meant to be the re-instated Fiesta of 2011 which, very much to our advantage, got cancelled. We decided to attend regardless, and met some amazing breeders and visited the main experimental farms from Inca and Mitchell groups, as well as some of the top ranches, such as Rural Alianza. A real eye opener, and lovely to see the animals in their native habitat. Certainly a learning experience, even though I would not trust myself to shear my own alpacas, especially when I witnessed the result of trying under supervision during the visit to Malkini ranch.

With the core of my immediate family settled in Vancouver, it seemed just a hop to visit the Snowmass ranch in Idaho, and it proved to be a fascinating experience. Totally set on a clearly focused breeding programme, Snowmass has without question become the foremost alpaca breeder in US, and arguably the world.

At the time of our visit, they had decided to stop showing themselves, as their customers were all the top American alpaca ranches, so Snowmass progeny was winning at every show. Temptation proved irresistible, and with the help of top International judge Nick Harrington-Smith and in partnership with Pure Alpacas, Meon Valley Alpacas and Merryfield Alpacas we imported nine impressive herdsires, which are firmly at the core of our breeding programme at Artwork Alpacas.

With the availability of such amazing studs, and the guidance of Nick Harrington-Smith and Karen Oglesby we have been able to make good breeding choices, and we are now on the fourth generation using Snowmass genetics, which most definitely is paying off. It is always hard to make such breeding decisions guided strongly by fleece considerations when a designer?s instinct inevitably focuses on conformation, but alpaca breeding is clearly a steep and never ending learning curve.

Strangely enough, alpaca breeding has proved to be not only about the alpacas, but amazing people as well. We have made good friends ? some, like Ron and Linda Mackintosh seem to have been living in a parallel universe, breeding koi with a similar approach, and now building up an elite herd of black alpacas with a very focused improvement programme.

Which belatedly brings me to where we are now. Whilst still busy with both the design and the boat building work, alpacas seem to have the ability to draw attention and provide a feeling of peace and simple living. Topping the grass this week-end whilst looking at the antics of such amazing creatures transported me miles away from the yacht brokers seeking backhanders, the lawyers with their penalty clauses, the owners laundering ill-gotten cash ? for a brief moment, it brought me closer to where I started, when I enjoyed my first sailing boats ? perhaps even further back, when I would stop at a Peruvian rally stage to share the incredible landscape with some very strange and wonderful animals.