Nigel Ashton and Yvonne Gardner of Bonheur Alpacas in France write about their alpaca venture in the Limousin.
Well off we go then, put the kettle on whilst I gather my thoughts, won't take long, there are not many coherent ones, and I'll whitter on to myself for a while. Right, first point of importance to know is that the 'pacas do enjoy themselves and don't seem to have a problem with the language, a hum is a hum in any country and they sniff and snort happily with our neighbour's French sheep to one side and the Portugese Sorraia horses to the other. It's only us English owners who seem to make fools of ourselves with our strange accents and appalling pronunciation......still, it makes the French laugh.
We found out quite soon after moving here to the Limousin in 2011 that there is a very healthy 'cottage industry' around the production of wool, be it merino, angora, alpaca, yak or anything with a coat that's spinnable, weaveable, platable or feltable.
We were invited to join 'their gang', the 'Laine Locale Reseau Limousin' the moment they spotted the 'pacas in the field and have been very friendly and helpful to us in marketing our fibre and introducing us to all the local fêtes and events. A lot of our 'prime blanket' can be sold directly at shearing to hand spinners and knitters and we increasingly have to fight to keep some back for ourselves to send to the mill to process into balls and skeins for us to sell.
Unfortunately France is somewhat devoid of mills for processing alpaca fibre but last year we were lucky enough to discover the superb mill 'Filature de la Vallée des Saules' run by Bertrand and Veronique Busin in the north of the country. They have done us a lovely job with our fibre and are now offering a fibre testing service using the OFDA2000 equipment. Previously we had to ship back to the UK for processing, not a major problem and no complaints at all about the mills we used but it is nice to keep it all in one country. Born, bred, sheared and processed here, from field to fibre so to speak.
As a little anecdote, you'll like this. When we decided to start a modest breeding herd with our first few alpacas we said we wanted to breed greys. Long silence, followed by tittering and comments like, "good luck with that one" and as we subsequently learnt and you probably already know, greys are the most difficult colour to breed and as a result one will find oneself with a very large herd of browns, fawns, beiges ,some blacks if you're lucky and more browns, in fact any colour bar grey. Ok, maybe not quite that bad, you will end up with a few....maybe. The upside is and there's always an upside, that out here in the 'France profound' wool circles, alpaca fibre in all these wonderful colours is sought after, even some of the discarded fibre from skirting goes into making toys and stuffing etc. Gawd bless all our local artisans beavering away, long may you continue.
Nigel Ashton, Bonheur Alpacas.