Farming Life: A Great Fibre Provider .
A SMALL part of South America exists in East Anglia . . . a 450-strong herd of alpacas has made Essex its temporary home and caused quite a stir with the neighbours.
These beguiling, loquacious creatures have a magic all their own, and it's not until you meet them that you can appreciate their undoubted appeal.
Bob and Sally Kirk, who farm at Mundon Hall Farm, have played a vital role in settling these wonderful creatures in Britain - and they've enjoyed every minute.
The herd actually belongs to Atlantic Alpacas (UK) Ltd, a specialist company that has selected and imported the alpacas, and a handful of Llamas, from Chile. It is the single largest shipment of camelids to be brought into the United Kingdom and will form part of an integral breeding and fibre production enterprise based at Glyndebourne Farm, near Lewes, in East Sussex.
Every animal has been screened and individually registered with the British Alpaca Society.
The consignment includes a number of new bloodlines that will hopefully increase UK herd numbers.
The aim is to capitalise on the growing demand for the high-quality, fine fleece produced by these exotic, yet easy to manage ruminants.
The Kirk's farm a 650-acre enterprise on the outskirts of Maldon. Primarily an arable farm, in the past Mundon Hall was noted for its award winning dairy herd. The departure from dairying left behind a host redundant cattle yards which have proved perfect for alpacas. The buildings are airy and once bedded with sand, provide a clean, dry and comfortable environment for housing the herd, which Bob has managed on a daily basis.
He says alpacas are easy to look after with a pleasant temperament and curious nature. ''Like any animal, once you get to know them things get easier. They have few ailments and have done very well here. It's been a real experience that I have thoroughly enjoyed'', he adds. So much so, the couple hope to be considered for further consignments in the future.
Alpacas will breed all year round, but unlike other ruminants females will only ovulate post mating. Each dam produces one Cria each year, which they then suckle for six months. Gestation is usually 11 months, but can be longer depending on environmental conditions. Life expectancy can be up to 25 years and the only routine health care requirements are similar to sheep, with the exception of tooth rasping. Handling is easy, as more often than not, they just lie down and let you get on with what you need to do.
Atlantic Alpacas stay in Essex has been part of an elementary isolation programme required by MAFF. All animals have been monitored carefully since they were flown from Santiago into Luton airport. Blood testing has been carried out regularly as part of strict quarantine procedures and no problems have been recorded. The herd is in prime physical health and appears to have taken its momentous journey from the foothills of the Andes to the flatlands of coastal Essex, very much in its stride.
Philip O'Conor, general manager of Atlantic Alpacas, says that they are very resilient creatures, and readily accept the challenge of a new environment. ''They just seem to get along in whatever situation. Nothing phases them, they almost rise above it,'' he explains.
The business began in 1995 with the company moving a number of camelids into the UK, Importing the sock take a huge amount of paper work and co-operation from MAFF and the Chilean equivalent, SAG. Selecting the animals to meet the exacting requirements for the British Alpaca Society's registration board is a lengthy process as South American breeders are only now beginning to understand what's required when breeding animals for export.
Philip says there is a huge potential for alpacas in the UK and Europe. The fine fibre produced by both the Huacaya, which has a soft, dense fleece, and the Suri, which has a longer, tousled coat, is very valuable. …