Anne Clifton Holt
My husband Robert, son in law Stuart, grandson Ollie and I went to the Kent Show in 2008, nothing unusual about that, but, hind sight has proved it to be a life changing visit!
We walked round the show, looked at all the tractors and talked to fellow farmers, then to please Ollie we went to look at all the livestock, the last pen in the livestock shed, there they were, white fluffy, smiling alpacas.. it was an aaawww moment. Now we are sensible (sometimes) intensive arable farmers, although I grew up with animals and have had a passion for animals all my life, at that time we had no live stock on the farm, so I knew I would have to conjure a plan to convince Robert and our sons that alpacas would be good for one and all.
We left the show having waited for the owners of the alpacas to return to their stand, sadly they didn?t return, but I had written the phone number down. During the following year I read up on alpacas and kept my own council on ?plan alpaca?
Thirteen months later on a sunny August Thursday I was reading the Kentish Express over a cup of coffee and there it was an advert, Alpacas open day on Sunday. The rest is history, Robert and I went, I was sold on them immediately totally besotted, before I had time to blink I had bought three pregnant females, ?plan alpaca? had been actioned!
I then did a husbandry course, bought all the equipment and got myself organized for the girls arrival, and it was magical moment. That was it we were set up? No, that would have been far too easy! Easy I don?t do!
Three alpacas in a field just did not look right, we have a farm shop, restaurant and a maize maze here and the visitors to the farm were very interested in the new arrivals. So back to Alpaca farm we go for three more alpacas, there was a number of these trips, ?I only wanted three alpacas? I would tell the owners, she always told me that she only ever supplied me with them in lots of three! We were given a great deal of support in keeping me on the right track, something that every new alpaca owner should have access to.
At this point my mother was dying and the alpacas were a big safety net to my sanity, the weighing, toe clipping general husbandry gave me an interest at a very tough time. After my mother died I found I had 18 alpacas! I really am not sure how the numbers had crept up, Robert would often walk past the paddock and comment that he was sure another alpaca had arrived in the last rainstorm!
Suddenly i had the reality check, 18 alpacas all munching away bringing with them vets bills and all the maintenance costs that go with an alpaca. So it was "plan B alpaca" plan B was making my growing family wash its face and perhaps even making a small profit.
I decided to hit the project from two angles, the retail side and try to improve my herd by breeding, something I find extroudanarly interesting. We have years to go before we even match some of our bigger breeders, but it's a fun road getting there!
I was lucky in once sense that we have the public visiting the farm for the shop, restaurant and Marsh Maize, so it made sense to capitalise on the visitors to the farm. So I started with adoptions, this proved to be very popular, with all ages, children love all the add on?s we do, young couples seem to give an adoption as a love token! The largest group of adopted parents though is our widows, many living with in a 30 mile radius of the farm, they will help halter trainer the alpacas, or just, sit in the field and just enjoy them, the alpacas seem to put something back into their lives, and provide a comfort to them. We all benefit from their visits.
Leading on from the adoption we started treks around the farm, this has proved hugely popular, the treks end with a picnic prepared by our restaurant, no two treks are the same each visitor leaves having had a unique experience, we had a radio station visit us this summer, the presenter was being given tasks by her listeners, her task for that day was to trekk with the alpacas, it was windy, so not the best of days to do a radio show outside, the alpacas doing the trek were all last years crias, things were going well, until the girls were walking past a field of stud males, the girls thought that this was the perfect moment to sit and wait for a mating, nothing was going to budge them, the presenter was nearly on the ground with hysterical laughter, apparently the listeners were equally amused, following that we had a large increase in visitors to see the alpacas.
We are doing all the obvious things with our fibre, socks, clothing, duvets, soap?s, teddy bears and I have Commissioned Liz Clay to make several pieces for me, one being an alpaca coat that was in last years futurity fashion show. We also bag up the poo and sell it at the farm shop, it seems to sell well, we have even had allotment groups bulk buying it! We sell products on line and in the farm shop, we will also go to charity fairs on request.
The herd is still growing and the farm is sowing three more fields down to grass for me, we now own our stud male and co own a stud male with Melford Green, Robert and I have found that people that we do business with in the alpaca world rapidly become friends which is a lovely bonus as far as we are concerned!
2012 I think is probably going to be the most exciting year to date, I am working on a project with in a newly formed llp which we are all extremely excited about, sorry it's a secret squirrel ( or should I say alpaca?) moment. They are fantastic rewarding animals to keep, I hope that we have many more exciting alpaca years to come.