Being a family of animal lovers we’ve lovingly homed a wide and wonderful selection of pets across the years from cats and dogs to fish, birds, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and even a chicken. Whilst looking for fun and uplifting family adventures this summer we had a little family high-five when we came across an alpaca meet and greet and booked in for the very next slot at Abbotts View Alpacas.
Having never met an alpaca before we were unsure of what we’d experience in an alpaca meet and greet and merrily rocked up dressed in our weekend casual clothes with open minds and enthusiastic tickily fingers ready for some fluffy-wuffy fun! My daughter Millisent is 10yrs old and absolutely adores animals of every shape, size and texture and found them majestic, inquisitive and fascinating, so much so she’s requested we keep them as a pet ourselves! My 6yr old son Gabriele on the other hand is autistic and struggles to hide his excitement and energy, often jumping about whilst being loud and spontaneous – considering the more quiet and calm you are the more approachable the alpacas become I really didn’t think he’d be able to get close to them without scaring them away but he was surprisingly well behaved, gentle and kind and to see him beaming from ear to ear with pure happiness when he met them was just heart warming.
Abbotts View Farm is a family run eco-farm breeding alpacas, rare breed sheep and pigs. They also have pygmy goats, ducks, rabbits and guinea pigs which my daughter spotted immediately; as well as holding needle felting workshops, alpaca walks and group experiences of farm tours, alpaca meet and greets and adorable gifts and delicious homemade cakes in the on site gift shop and cafe. They have a whole host of information, books and alpaca gifts from teddies and pocket money toys to artwork and alpaca wool which is a natural allergen-free alternative to wool. Our visit made for such an eye-opening and immersive experience for all of the family – we literally learned everything there is to know about alpacas.
Before meeting the alpacas we were given a short safety briefing and history of the alpaca, introducing us individually to each quirky character by name and bloodline. The alpaca is part of the camelid family, which also includes llamas, and these beautiful creatures were domesticated around 6,000 years ago. They are very gentle and inquisitive animals which happily approach children and adults to be hand fed as their babies walk about like tiny fluffy Bambi’s with the most impossibly curly hair and great big smiles.
Originating from South America they are found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia and have a population of around 3.5million. Arriving in the UK in the 1990’s they’ve proved ideal pets for landowners and farmers and their fleece is ideal for craft and clothing as they need to be shorn every year or two just like a sheep. Alpacas measure about one metre tall and an adult female weighs about 65kg which is the same size as me! Males are a little bigger at 75kg (not as big as my partner) but nonetheless still bigger than a sheep. The alpaca fleece doesn’t contain lanolin which means it isn’t greasy, and being hollow fibre it traps heat with fewer scales than sheep making it less itchy too. Naturally soft, luxurious and hypoallergenic the desirable fleece is the main reason for breeding alpacas which can be spun into yarn for knitting or woven for suits and clothing with coarser fleece ideal for stuffing pillows, duvets or craft felting.
Perhaps a lesser known purpose for alpacas across the world is the fact that their meat is low in cholesterol and fat whilst being high in protein and is therefore likened to venison. However we came to hand feed the alpacas, meet the babies and walk them for which a halter and lead is used just like a big dog on a lead. Alpacas are very sociable souls and are happiest when living as part of a herd with 22 different shades and colours ranging from white and cream to biscuit and dark chocolate brown. They live on average for 15-20yrs and need vaccinations and worming just like any other outdoor pet. Cheerfully grazing on grass and hay the farm is beautifully wide-open in the stunning countryside, an idyllic haven for such furry wonders.
Hygienically, alpacas choose to use community dung piles which prevents grazing land from being contaminated and makes cleaning up a whole lot easier when it’s all kept together. It also meant that we could wander around the enclosures meeting each alpaca without worrying about stepping in any mess or getting dirty – although their dung makes an excellent fertiliser. Their soft padded feet are also gentle on pasture so they don’t destroy land, although when we visited it had been almost two months since rainfall due to the summer heatwave and the luscious green fields had charred to a dusky yellow hay which they didn’t seem to mind.
Baby alpacas are called cria and a single pregnancy takes around 11.5 months, as just like in humans, twins are rare. Babies weigh between 6-8kg at birth and fascinatingly can be bred all year round as alpacas are induced ovulaters so males and females are separated into different herds to ensure any offspring are born in the spring and summer months in order to maximise survival against the cold. And did I mention they’re really nosey? They perked up their ears as soon as they saw us and came running over – a tactic they also use to stay safe in numbers by keeping watch for predators and guarding sheep and poultry against foxes.
Despite being super cute and fluffy alpacas don’t actually like to be stroked, not in the sense of a cat or dog enjoying a really good belly rub, head pat or chin tickle. Instead they’re taught from a young age to tolerate being handled and touched for grooming purposes but it’s not something that they do for pleasure or affection like other animals who nuzzle, pet and cuddle. We were asked to stroke the alpacas on the neck instead of the head and they happily ate from our hands, sniffed us, walked around and allowed us to pet and be around their beautiful babies.
Before our visit we thought the alpacas might spit at us like camels but thankfully they only do that if they’re angry or scared as they much prefer to blow puffs of air at one another if they don’t want to share food or wish to express their dislike of something. They rarely puff or spit at people though and are generally silent creatures only humming or making an alarm call if they spot a predator or during mating. Because they only have lower teeth with a hard pad in place of their top set they don’t usually bite, but sometimes have a cheeky nibble on bags or clothing in order to get your attention. In the winter they need protection from the rain and wind but aren’t concerned by the cold, yet on hot sunny days they enjoy a pool of water to cool off in and are shorn to keep their coats short to stay as comfortable as possible in the heat.
Whilst alpacas can easily outrun people, if handled and cared for from a young age they are easily trained to eat from your hand and come over when called. They can’t be ridden like horses and ponies as their bone structure isn’t strong enough but their inquisitive cheerfulness is besotting to all ages and makes for a wonderfully affordable family day out in the beautiful British countryside. A great big
thumbs hoof up from the Kiss Family!