By Joanne Dell of Abbotts View Alpacas
Well of course they aren?t. Most of the time. Although I have met a few who like to give the impression that they are, particularly when you want to shear them. But if you are a 4, 5, or 6 year old little girl (or boy) who has a fear of animals, then yes, actually, alpacas are REALLY scary!
I wrote this rhyming illustrated children?s story because I was so inspired by visits to our farm from children who arrived feeling quite anxious, but left feeling elated that they had overcome a fear. I have our 2015 orphaned cria, Dolly and Dot, to thank for their help and can?t take all the credit! Dolly was orphaned at 10 days old when her mum, Eclipse, died unexpectedly. The post mortem showed a calcium deficiency. Then 4 weeks later, Dot was born to Bambi, who had a difficult pregnancy which culminated in a caesarean section on the 1st of July, the hottest day of 2015! As a maiden, Bambi really didn?t seem to realise she was a mum and, despite our best efforts, she never allowed little Dot to feed. So Dot joined Dolly as a bottle fed baby and they had each other for company. We timed visits to the farm around their feed times and they would run over whenever we approached their paddock. Their small size meant they were less intimidating for children to meet initially and having the rare opportunity to bottle feed them was perfect for nervous children. It was also a great opportunity to explain how careful we were being not to ?tame? Dolly and Dot by over handling and fussing them, despite the fact that they were running over to us several times a day for their milk. And the temptation was HUGE because they were just sooo cute.
?And..... are alpacas REALLY scary?? is about a little girl who visits with her mum, and teddy to keep her safe, who would rather be anywhere else in the world than on a farm surrounded by animals. But, with gentle persuasion and encouragement, she bottle feeds Dolly and Dot and then feeds the older alpacas from a tray. The watercolour illustrations are taken from photographs staged here on the farm and are really quite special. I have written the book to be read to children aged 3-7 years by parents or teachers, and for early readers. It is educational and endearing, with a page of alpaca facts at the back. I have also put together a story sack which includes a brown alpaca soft toy, like Dot, and ?magic milk? bottles so children can act out the story. I am visiting local schools to read my story to the children and am hoping that the schools will be able to tie my book in with their studies of South America in the run up to the Olympics this year. It will be wonderful if children can learn about the native animals of South America.
But it hasn?t been that long since I found alpacas really quite scary too. My husband, James, and I, along with our three daughters, bought some land in a small Buckinghamshire village that had planning permission for an agriculturally tied farmhouse in 2012, as a radical life style change after my cancer diagnosis aged 39. Not being from a farming background but having a love of animals, we decided that alpacas were the way to go, and bought a herd of 26. Taking on 26 when you really don?t know much about alpacas at all, is, let me tell you, quite scary. I am a lover of theory so had done as much research as possible before our herd arrived, but the practical side of moving/herding/handling alpacas was much tougher than the books I had devoured suggested. And their dislike of touch meant I really didn?t know how to reward them or handle them at all. I am sure we all wanted to reach out and stroke the fluffy top knots of the first alpacas we ever met ? much to their disgust. We attended a Camelidynamics course three weeks after our alpacas arrived and it helped immensely in understanding them and having some practical hands on experience. It was also great to meet with other alpaca owners to share their enthusiasm and passion for these wonderful creatures.
We built an off grid eco farmhouse and have set our farm up to run as efficiently as possible, with rainwater harvesters collecting the plentiful rain we have to provide drinking water for our expanding menagerie of animals, and the top soil we dug for the house build has been dispersed in different paddocks so the alpacas all have mounds to sunbathe on ? their favourite spots! Our electricity is generated entirely by solar panels and our water is heated by the sun in the summer, and a log burner in the winter months. When we built our house we were the first and biggest off grid residential home in the country. To our knowledge, we still are.
In addition to our herd of alpacas we now breed rare breed sheep (Manx Loaghtan and Greyface Dartmoors) and have a wonderful rare breed Berkshire sow called Peppa. We are gaining quite a reputation for our rare breed free range pork ? certainly the most delicious I have ever tasted. Abbotts View Farm is also home to Buckthorn, an RSPCA rescue cob who has bought much joy and laughter to our lives as he is such a character. He is accompanied by a couple of miniature Shetlands and we also took on some pygmy goats from another local children?s farm that was closing down, who had their first kids here this year. We have Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner ducks who provide plentiful eggs for all of the cakes I make for our visitors.
Three years on and we are enjoying farm life, despite the dreadfully wet winter we have all experienced this year. We offer alpaca experiences, group alpaca walks, birthday parties, training courses, needle-felting workshops and have been visited by lots of specialist groups from Beavers and Cubs, to pre-schools, residential homes, WI groups, hospital groups with brain injured adults, MENCAP, charities, corporate groups and have even hosted a hen do. We will never be an open farm and all visits are booked in advance, but do open twice a year on Good Friday and Open Farm Sunday to the public. We now have a wonderful herd of 27 alpacas, a mixture of white, fawn and brown, who are a delight to be around ? very different to when we started 3 and a half years ago. They have all responded so well to calm and respectful handling and the difference we have seen in all of our animals, has been very rewarding. As we have trained them, they have trained us. It really is a two way thing.
We commissioned a young artist to paint some of our alpaca cria last year and as a result have some beautiful paintings which we have also had put on to bone china mugs. We are thrilled with them.
Both our mugs and my book ?And ...... are alpacas REALLY scary?!? can be bought via our website www.abbottsviewalpacas.co.uk and my book is also listed on Amazon, priced £6.99