BRITISH ALPACA

Meet Eros, something of a star in the Alpaca world and one of the cheekiest and friendliest of the herd of Alpaca that produce the fibre for our dinner suits. With an impeccable bloodline from his native South America, it sounds odd to say that Eros is British, but he was born and raised on England’s rolling green hills and is one of the finest examples of British Alpaca, the herd now producing the finest quality fibre in the world.

I met Eros and his fellows in the beautiful countryside of the Exmoor National Park, home to Anila and David, who run Weekfield Farm, where a herd of these South American camelids provide fibre for the finest British grown, British made Alpaca cloths. The growth of the business that now sets the standard for British alpaca cloths has been swift, but how did two highly qualified lawyers become leaders in such a specialist industry?

A very happy birthday

The story starts with an unexpected significant birthday present that David didn’t know he wanted. A piece of paper, face down on the dining room table signified the arrival of Champagne and Truffles, a gift from Anila. At a ‘beginner’s course’ the following week David was introduced to a one day old alpaca and its mother and two became four. A few months later, friends who were moving abroad wanted to sell their herd of twenty-two alpaca. David and Anila were presented with a dilemma that resolved itself fairly easily when they purchased the herd, eleven of which happened to be pregnant. The herd is now at a stable eighty, but has been joined by eleven Guanaco – a story for another day.

The Alpaca

The Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated fibre-producing animal that resembles the llama. A native of Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador, Alpaca are social herd animals that live in family groups. They were domesticated by the Inca and bred primarily for their fibre, which remains the main reason for farming them in South America and elsewhere.

Alpaca are gentle, inquisitive animals and it is quite something to hear them ‘cooing’ when they surround a new visitor or when something arouses their interest. Males are known as Machos, female are Dams, the babies are Crias and the 6-12 month olds are the undeniably cute-in-every-way Weanlings.

Meeting the herd

 

At Weekfield farm I met the dams and their young first. We drove into the field with my children in the back of the open vehicle cooing as excitedly as the herd of young Alpaca they were about to meet. We were immediately surrounded by the dams and their young and as David dismounted to catch up a cria (a baby alpaca), we were watched from a few yards away by an elegant trio of Guanaco, who share the field.

It is immediately obvious when watching Alpaca what a social and familial animal they are; they stay close to each other and communicate comfort and alarm with soft sounds. I wouldn’t want to lower the tone with toilet matters, but it was fascinating to see that they choose a single spot in the field for their communal latrine, all the animals in the herd using it, leaving the rest of the field clean.

The machos are a gentle group – it occurred to me how very South American it was to give them such a name when they are anything but macho. Perhaps I am being a little unfair to the boys, but seeing them recently shorn, with their mop top haircuts, cooing and sniffing, you couldn’t want for a friendlier herd. I think I understand a little of why David and Anila fell in love with them.