Alpacas up for auction

Fancy an unusual addition to the family? A herd of alpacas – the curious cousins of the camel – are being auctioned in Stirlingshire

Currently, in a branch of Asda in Milngavie, there's a severe shortage of goat's milk. That's because, at Campsie Camelid, an award-winning alpaca breeders based at Ballochruin Farm in Stirlingshire, there's been a new addition to their herd of these kinky-haired relatives of the camel family. Despite the fact that he was born only a couple of hours ago, junior is already on his feet.

However, as his mother was unable to lactate, this baby – otherwise known as a cria – is drinking supermarket milk instead. "He's a beautiful cream boy, but we haven't named him yet, as the first few days are critical ones," says Freddie Small, who owns this farm with his wife, Janet. They're both in their late fifties and originally from Edinburgh. "According to his weight, he'll need feeding six times a day, 100ml at a time."

Hide Ad

That's a lot of work, as is looking after the rest of their 55-strong herd. This, and the fact that Janet is currently undergoing a second round of chemotherapy, is why the couple are holding Scotland's first dedicated alpaca auction, today from noon, at their farm.

"What was to be a dream retirement, is no longer that," says Freddie. "We're having to scale down and reassess what we're doing."

Alongside 33 alpacas from other farms, the Smalls will be selling 30 of their pedigree animals, which will presumably be bought by other UK breeders. "This is not just a sale, it is a unique showcase for Scotland's alpaca industry and we are hoping that both purchasers and people who want to know more about alpacas will attend," says Richard Fennell, owner of Ravenshaw Alpacas, and chairman of Alpaca Farmers of Scotland, part of the British Alpaca Society (BAS). There will be 10 of his animals in the auction, but he is vague when discussing how much these lots might be worth.

"It's like asking, how long is a piece of string?" says Fennell, who describes himself as an "alpaca anorak". "They're in the same range as horses, and a thoroughbred racehorse might sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Realistically, a top pedigree female alpaca might go for anything between 4,000 and 8,000, while a reasonable female might be 800, and a male – to be kept as a pet – could be about 400. However, at a sale in California a while ago, a consortium bought a stud male for $500,000."

Despite the outlay, it seems that keeping these animals, which are native to Chile and Peru, is becoming increasingly popular. According to Fennell, although there is a concentration of alpaca farms in England's south west, there are already nine in Scotland.

"They seem to be becoming more interesting to people – probably because they're halfway between pets and agriculture," explains Freddie Small.

Hide Ad

According to him, the yarn created from the fleece – which the Smalls send to a micro mill in Wales to be processed – is "better than cashmere, because it has no guard hairs on it. You can wear it next to your skin and it's very good for making baby clothes." In fact, fashion designers such as Samantha Holmes specialise in making garments from this super-soft material.

Unfortunately, while the alpaca resemble cuddly teddies when they're fully clad, once they've been sheared, they look more like freshly plucked turkeys. It was not, however, their coats that originally attracted the Smalls to these animals, which they've imported from Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It was something more soulful. "I first spotted them in Country Living magazine about eight years ago, " Janet explains. " I just saw their big eyes and how beautiful they were."

Hide Ad

This was rather serendipitous as, at the time, the couple were working as chartered accountants in Edinburgh, and toying with the idea of a change of direction. Seven years ago they bought the dilapidated Ballochruin Farm, with its views of the Campsie Fells, restored it, and set up three self-catering cottages. As Janet says, "We've been townies and now we're very countrified." They also invested in a starter herd of three breeding females, named Suricaya Simone, Nichole and Arunvale Tajo, and two geldings, Jackel's Topsy and Rodney's Valentine. Their herd has been expanding into the 51 acres of land ever since.

According to the Smalls, keeping these animals, which live into their late teens, has been easier than caring for other types of livestock.

"An alpaca is more intelligent than a sheep," says Freddie. "They don't challenge fences. Once they know what their ground is, it's theirs and they'll stay there."

They graze during the warmer months and, in the winter, their diet is bulked up with hay, as well as special supplements which replace the minerals that they'd get from wild grasses in their natural habitats.

Considering they're used to the desert-like terrain of the arid Altiplano in west-central South America, it's surprising that alpacas are relatively uncomplaining about the Scottish weather. Fennell says, "They don't find the climate as adverse as you might expect." However, these animals don't like everything about this country. A couple of the alpacas that the Smalls imported from New Zealand had an allergic reaction to midge bites and had to be kept indoors, with a special cream applied to their itchy skin.

Luckily, they've now bred and their offspring don't suffer from the same affliction. Still, despite the midge sensitivity, they're pretty hardy overall. In fact, during lambing season, alpacas are like bodyguards. Although they are sociable animals who will happily make friends with horses, cows and sheep, woe betide you if you have a brush for a tail.

Hide Ad

"If you put a couple of geldings in with the sheep, you won't lose any lambs to foxes, because they chase them away," says Freddie. "If they catch them, they'll kill them. The alpacas have got these very long necks. They get their head at ground level, underneath the fox, throw it up in the air, then flail at it with their legs."

Like llamas, they also spit (a heady blend of raw grass and stomach acid), but mainly at each other. Not often at humans, and only slightly more frequently at dogs, who (after foxes) are their other mortal enemy. The Smalls have a couple of dogs and, according to Freddie, "There's a mutual respect. They keep apart."

Hide Ad

With all their exotic quirks and those big eyes, it's no surprise that the Smalls have fallen in love with alpacas. Will it be a wrench to see so many of them sold on? "Absolutely", says Freddie. However, they are keeping quite a few, including Campsie Lauren, named after one of the couple's granddaughters.

"I find it very difficult to sell my older girls, because they've grown with me," says Janet.

Also, we imagine that the newest addition – the beautiful cream boy – will be staying on for a while, to be cared for by the experts, and bulked up on goat's milk from their local branch of Asda.

• For more information on the alpaca sale, see

Related topics: