Paul Shrimpton, on behalf of Paul and Kathryn, Nero Black Alpaca, found 'love at first sight' when they came across alpacas.
The most common question around the table as I serve breakfast at our 5* B&B is ?How did you get into the alpacas?? My stock answer is ?It?s not my fault ? but I can remember how it all started so clearly ? despite it being eleven years ago. We were at the Northumberland County Show, Kathryn came running down the busy aisle exclaiming ? Paul! Paul! You?ve got to come and look at these?! The rest, as they say, is history.
If the gathered diners still look interested I expand further. ?A chap had a small pen of white alpacas and for Kathryn it was love at first sight. We had always had an acre and a half of land attached to the house with no particular desire to fill it - but this suddenly changed. I was not against the idea so we immediately sought to start a small herd. However I found the market to be pretty immature at that stage, there were very few other herds in the area and our local vets had little or no experience of camelids.
Undeterred Kathryn continued to research keeping alpacas and four years later all my ?objections? had been answered. Not only that but Kathryn had now bought into to the idea of starting a small breeding herd not just pet. In October 2006 we took delivery of three pregnant females and two companion males and Nero Black Alpaca was born.
Without doubt that brief encounter in 2002 has changed our lives ? for the better of course ? and the alpacas are central to most of what we do. For 3 ½ years Kathryn was fully responsible for the animals as I worked in a national sales management role, based 150 miles away, so I wasn?t always even around. However in the spring of 2010 we took a big decision for me to give up the ?rat race?, to convert part of our house into a three bedroom B&B, and for us both to run the businesses together. Now the alpacas are a fabulous attraction to our guests and, as Kathryn works most on the housekeeping and food preparation, I spend more time with the herd than she does ? though she, of course, remains the boss!
That is probably quite right too as so many of the decisions Kathryn made over the four years of research have stood us in good stead today. The only one I can take any credit in was to breed rather than just have pets. That has led to us showing and making so many great friends in the UK alpaca world. With showing come the highs and lows of successful and less successful days ? both Kathryn and I are very competitive ? but shows are always great fun regardless.
Kathryn chose to breed black huacayas ? not just because she thought they looked best ? but fundamentally they had most scope for improvement in breeding quality. The numbers of blacks at shows are increasing but we?ve had a good share of winners and champions ? feeding our competitive tendencies of course! Also the value of darker coloured alpacas seems to be holding up better than the more common lighter colours in these tough economic times.
Despite our change in life style and consequent tighter purse strings Kathryn has always insisted that we continue to source the top stud genetics to develop our herd. We continue to breed some very nice animals and in the past year have sold as many animals as we have in the previous six years added together. Last year, for the first time, we believed we had a home bred stud good enough to cover some of our girls and as I write we are eagerly awaiting the first progeny.
We currently have just 14 alpacas with 4 maybe 5 ?in the oven?. We have no ambition to grow any bigger, preferring to find new homes for several animals each year, keeping manageable numbers for the two of us to care for, at the same time as running our other businesses.
That brings me nicely to the other inspired idea Kathryn had ? it occurred as we sheared for the first time in 2007. Kathryn decided she had to take alpaca ownership to its ultimate extent and produce knitwear from their fibre. She obtained a grant towards commissioning exclusive designs from a Hexham based lady and then set about recruiting knitters from the local area. In short order ?Wear Alpaca? was created and it has since gone from strength to strength.
We buy white fleeces from other top breeders and produce yarn in natural ivory, black and a range of greys (by blending the white and black in differing proportions). The yarn itself sells really well and we have a few stockists for our wide range of ladies accessories. In the autumn and towards Christmas, we also sell via various local and not so local markets.
So as you can see, that chance meeting with a pen full of alpacas back in 2002 has gradually transformed, if not taken over, our lives. Our three children have all played their part in looking after the herd and have grown to enjoy them as much as we do. We love nothing more than talking to people about our alpacas, particularly to guests at Fairshaw Rigg B&B, normally around the breakfast table. Most end up meeting the herd as soon as breakfast is over and maybe even buying a Wear Alpaca accessory or two.