Laurence & Eric, Alpagas du Maquis
Laurence and Eric of Alpagas du Maquis in Belgium write about their discovery of alpacas.
It all started seven years ago when we decided to look for an isolated house with enough space to satisfy our mutual need for living and working in the great outdoors. When we finally found the place that matched our expectations, we fell in love with this cozy cottage full of charm and the undulating landscape and we looked forward to living with our children in this landscape composed of pasture and wooded areas.
We settled in the hamlet of Houyet (Ciergnon more precisely), where our King Albert II owns a magnificent castle as a summer residence.
The presence of the King in the area means that he owns a large majority of the surrounding lush forest which is inhabited by a rich game population. This environment often offers some mesmerizing scenery that make the change that we made worth it.
When we moved in, we were well aware that we'd have a lot of work to do within the property. The woods and pasture, as beautiful as they had the potential to become, had been abandoned for years and were going to give us a bit of a challenge. Challenge that we felt ready to overcome, whatever it took.
For the next few years, we cleaned, cut through the thick brush and raked during most of our free time in order to bring back to life this place that was long forgotten. Throughout those years, a great number of animals joined us in the effort of cleaning the place up : horses, donkeys, cows, sheep and goats but even by frantically chewing everything they could, they could not bring us the satisfaction of the perspective of breeding or bring out the passion that was latent within us. We both had grand-parents who were farmers and we've grown up fascinated by that lifestyle which is why we only needed a spark to bring it all back.
The magic finally happened when we discovered the alpacas, it was some kind of revelation, the spark long awaited. It was then that we decided we wanted to breed and care for them, even if our close relatives were flabbergasted by this new passion and the change in our lives. We were convinced that we had made the right choice.
After meeting those amazing camelids, we still needed a few months to adjust in order to work efficiently. We had to decide how to parcel the land to offer the best environment possible and to be able to work easily from one pasture to the other. We quickly decided on a corridor that linked the different parcels together, it was the easiest way to move different groups from one meadow to another without any of them mixing.
We weren't sure of what kind of fencing we wanted in place since concrete would not go well with the rest of the property. We finally decided on a wooden fence that gave us a bit of a challenge when we installed it along our (not so flat) ground. The fence had to be electrified to prevent the wild boar invasion that we'd been the victims of a few years earlier. The wooden poles we used were perfect for the insulators to be fixed on. The installation of the fence was the tricky part since we didn't have access to the outskirts with any kind of machinery due to the rather inclined aspect of the place. We had to build our own tool to place those wooden poles, that tool basically consist of a (slightly bigger than the poles) pipe closed at one end that we would use to ram the poles into the ground. That tool was efficient but I could barely lift it from the ground. The result is that the fence follows the rough terrain and gives an aspect really natural to the whole thing.
After all those days of hard work, we were finally ready to welcome our first alpacas in 2011. Since then, we kept on gathering or making new tools to work more efficiently. The small 4x4 tractor we recently got gives us access to the otherwise too steep slopes, we also got our hands on a vacuum that helps us keep the pasture clean and some other useful tools.
Talking with other breeders who are passionate and experienced taught us a lot and we realized that when breeding alpacas, quality is extremely important thing. We bought our first females in Belgium, the next ones came from different countries to diversify our herd and keep more varied bloodlines. We also had the chance to acquire an exceptional brown stud male which should give us an exciting future for our herd or he could even bring some new blood in another herd that would like to take a turn towards a coloured quality.
Now that our dream has come to life, we still have a ton of new projects and ideas that come up to better our new living space, working space and enjoyment. A new building that will be useful for our project is in construction and so many other things are yet to be done, for example we still need a shearing table but since we do almost everything ourselves, we feel as if the days are often too short.
We want to keep on learning and we have the intention of promoting alpaca fibre in Belgium, it is a shame that this material and it's warmth and softness is still unknown to most and that it is often forgotten in some bags somewhere in a barn or even thrown out or burnt. We think that it is important to make that material known and if possible, to develop the different products that correspond to the expectations of a population more and more interested in natural materials. We also noted a growing interest from spinners and weavers eager to use alpaca fibre.
We are aware of the colossal workload that the promotion will take but we are, along with the other alpacas enthusiasts, confident for the future of alpaca breeding and the other products that come from it.