Why are alpacas growing in popularity?

PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 April 2015 | UPDATED: 09:39 30 April 2015

Brian in the grand parade with Town End Asterix supreme champion in 2010

Brian in the grand parade with Town End Asterix supreme champion in 2010

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If you’ve ever fancied farming these captivating animals, one of the north west’s finest herds is being auctioned this month

Kim with Magnus (supreme 2009) and Mahler (1st prize junior brown)Kim with Magnus (supreme 2009) and Mahler (1st prize junior brown)

Brian Raine has a simple explanation for the increasing popularity of alpacas in Britain. ‘It’s driven by the fact they look so nice,’ he says. ‘People become captivated by them. They really are very enjoyable to keep.’

Brian and his wife Kim should know - they have been running a top quality herd of these fascinating animals for almost a decade. ‘They are not like sheep,’ he adds. ‘They are inquisitive creatures and they can quite easily become pets. If you sit quietly in a field they will come up and nuzzle into you. Even the babies, who might be a bit timid at first, will come up to you.’

Despite being related to camels, alpacas seem to have avoided some of the more unpleasant traits of their bigger cousins.

Brian and Kim quit their high flying careers in 2005 - he was a biochemist and management consultant and she worked for major IT companies - and they moved to Town End, a farmhouse with 50 acres at Crosthwaite, near Kendal. Earlier in his career, Brian had worked for Glaxo at Ulverston so it was like going home.

Kim with alapaca productsKim with alapaca products

But how did they end up with alpacas? ‘It’s all my wife’s fault,’ laughs Brian. ‘She has always been allergic to wool and she bought an alpaca cardigan. One day she suggested we could keep alpacas and it really went from there. We started with 15 and, at our peak, we had 120.’

They went for the top end of the market, buying from the UK’s best breeder and later adding championship winning animals from Australia. It resulted in Brian and Kim’s animals picking up a host of awards at shows. They went on to breed animals for sale and they even exported some to Norway. Kim, meanwhile, produced much sought-after alpaca yarn in 22 colours.

As well as going for quality breeding stock they also decided to put health first, becoming among the first to have a herd TB checked using a new test approved by Defra late last year. .

Now, they have decided to retire from alpaca farming and that means their 75 animals are up for auction this month. ‘It was always my intention to retire,’ says Brian, who is 64. ‘It has been very enjoyable but I’ll find a lot of other things to do - walls and fences to repair and I’m going to enjoy walking the fells with my dogs. But I suspect it will be a strange feeling once they have been sold.’

The animals are being sold individually and they would suit anyone like Brian and Kim who wanted a small-scale farming venture. The sale coincides with a resurgence of interest in keeping the animals although there are still only around 1,000 in the Lakes .

‘They are on the luxury end of the scale when it comes to traditional farm animals,’ he says. ‘You can pay as little as £500 for a pet male to many thousands of pounds for a stud male or as much as £85,000 for one of the best breeding animals in the UK.

‘They are pets, grass cutters, companion and guard animals, quality fibre producers and profitable breeders. They can be a side-line or a highly rewarding full-time business .’

While they will be sad to see their herd go, they hope they will keep in contact with any new owners who might want practical help.

‘These are some of the best alpacas around. We can verify this by sharing the herd health plan, vet certificates, TB results, breeding pedigrees and fibre assessments.’

The Town End herd which includes 39 breeding females, stud and young males, and pet castrated males are to be auctioned by North West Auctions at J36 Rural Auction Centre near Crooklands, Milnthorpe on Saturday May 2.

Ian Atkinson, from North West Auctions, anticipates keen interest in the herd. He says females can change hands in private sales for between £1,000 to £18,000, and average at around £3,000. Those which are suitable as pets average around the £420 mark. On the morning of the sale viewing is from 9am with the sale starting at 1pm.

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