A day in the life at Charnwood Forest Alpacas
PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 September 2019
In search of exercise and relaxing company, Catherine Roth heads south of the county to Charnwood Forest Alpacas.
If life is getting hectic and you're looking for some time out, then a trip to Charnwood Forest Alpacas may be the perfect place to bring some calm back into your life.
Charnwood Forest Alpacas is based at Scamhazel Farm in Boundary, on the Derbyshire-Leicestershire border. A 110 acre farm, it is home to over 150 alpacas and offers people the opportunity to meet and walk the animals.
The popularity of the walks is perhaps due in no small part to the fact that alpacas, by their very nature, are so calming. Harriette O'Keefe is the Herd Manager whose role includes ensuring the health and wellbeing of the animals. She says, 'Alpacas are very placid, very chilled out and so relaxing. They'll plod next to you and give off a gentle hum every now and again. When people have finished a walk they feel calmed by them.'
Each walk begins with a 20 minute talk about the alpacas including how they differ to llamas, which is one of the most frequently asked questions. Harriette says, 'Alpacas grow to five foot two inches tall whereas llamas are a lot bigger at six feet. Their ears are tall and straight compared to the big banana shaped ears llamas have. Llamas are bred for carrying loads whilst alpacas have smaller bodies and have nicer fibre.' She adds, 'Alpacas are probably that bit more placid too. They can spit but they don't do it randomly like llamas. They're probably saying, "Stop annoying me" or they've got caught in cross fire as they're telling each other off - they have quite a sibling relationship!'
As part of her role as Herd Manager Harriette draws up rotas to decide which alpacas will go out on walks and which will spend time out in the fields resting. She says, 'They love food and attention and get quite upset when they get left behind. Alpacas are very much a herd animal and are not independent in the slightest - they always follow each other. There are probably four who like leading and the others will follow but they'll sort their own order out.' It's certainly more a case of the alpaca taking the person for the walk rather than the other way round.
In addition to the guided walks, visitors to the farm can also book onto the popular Cria (baby alpaca) Watch, which runs from May until October each year. These are aimed more towards younger visitors and their families who can learn all about the animals before meeting the alpaca mums and their babies out in the fields.
With 19 cria due this year and 50 next year, the farm prides itself on breeding pedigree alpacas. Owner Chris Deakin attends all the large alpaca shows and has won numerous awards for his animals, many of which he goes on to sell across the UK and Europe. Most of the alpacas at Charnwood are Huacaya. Unlike the Suri alpacas, whose fleece grows downwards in ringlets and is silk-like, the Huacaya's fleece grows outwards and is woolly.
Prior to establishing Charnwood Forest Alpacas, Chris worked in business management but wanted a job where he could make a difference to others and which wasn't all about money. Breeding alpacas came about almost by accident when, in 2011, he happened to watch a feature about alpacas on BBC Countryfile and realised he had found his vocation. He spent time researching to gain as much knowledge as possible of keeping the animals, resigned from his job, bought 55 alpacas and set up Charnwood Forest Alpacas. Just two years later he started the alpaca walks and five years after that moved to the current site which continues to expand and develop - this year it will become a wedding venue.
With a keen desire to teach, Chris has developed an education programme for all ages and abilities. The farm caters for educational trips, attends school fairs, and also runs Cognitive Alpaca Learning Methods (CALMS) courses, which use the calming nature of the alpacas to work with children and adults with special needs to help them become more relaxed and so more receptive to learning. He also runs monthly courses in alpaca care and ownership. These one day courses teach people how to catch, halter, herd, feed and check the condition of the animals as well as cutting toenails, worming, vaccinating and the importance of shearing to ensure the animals do not overheat. For those who would love to own an alpaca themselves but do not have the land or time required, the farm even offers its own alpaca livery service. Harriette says, 'People can buy an animal and keep it here. Alpacas have to live with a herd so we have friends for them and they even come on our walks so they stay socialised!'
Alpaca walks take place from Thursday through to Monday when the farm is open. Choose from the 90 minute 'Alpaca Experience' or enjoy a walk followed by a sparkling afternoon tea with Prosecco. Visit at particular times of the year and you'll find the walks are themed accordingly. On Valentine's Day the alpacas wear red bow ties, on Mothering Sunday mums can enjoy a walk followed by Sunday dinner and at Christmas the animals wear antlers and become 'reinpacas'.
Entry to the farm is free and visitors can meet the alpacas out in the fields as well as horses, a flock of Dorset Poll sheep and their lambs that are expected from July, pigs and chickens. There is also a large café with gallery windows that look onto fields, a great spot to watch the alpacas who will often walk right up to the windows. Head to the shop to buy alpaca food to feed the animals or browse products including socks, scarves and bags made from alpaca fleece, or purchase raw fleece - sold either separately or in craft kits - that has come straight from alpacas on the farm.
If you're looking for a back-to-nature walk with a difference, let an alpaca take you for a walk and rediscover an oasis of calm in a busy hectic world. u
For further details visit pukkapacas.com or phone 01283 552854