As the days grow warmer we are beginning to leave our winter coats at home, and a pair of woolly farm workers are set to do the same.
Fox-guard alpacas Burn and Carruthers of Baldersbury Hill Farm near Berwick are booked in for a hair cut next week.
Both intact male alpacas, they have just completed their first season’s work at Baldersbury for Nicola and Derek Waite after being bred by alpaca breeder and sheep farmer Jonathan Russell.
As well as looking pretty and providing fine fleece alpacas serve provide a valuable service protecting livestock from predators. “Alpacas use team-work to protect lambs, hens and other livestock from foxes, crows and other predators,” Jonathan explains.
“The ewes look at the alpacas with their funny long necks and the alpacas look back at the ewes with their weird short necks and each thinks the other has been the victim of horrible medical experiments – but they know they are all on the same side when there is a fox about!”
“They settled in really quickly and are part of the Baldersbury family now,” says Nicola. “They run with the sheep and have done a great job.”
Alpacas live for around 20 years, so Burn and Carruthers should be protecting the flock at Baldersbury for years to come. And to make sure they don’t get hot and bothered over the summer, farmer and alpaca shearer Jackie Waugh - who covers a patch of about 200 square miles - is due to visit them on Monday.
“It’s still only early June and I have already clipped over 150 alpacas,” says Jackie. “That won’t sound much to a sheep shearer – my husband John will probably clip ten times that many ewes at home this year and think nothing of it. But a lot of the jobs I do are in twos and threes, with a lot of miles in-between!”
Shearing an alpaca is a very different job from shearing a sheep. “The alpaca has to be stretched out on the ground and tied down,” Jackie explains. “It generally takes two people to get the alpaca down. Once it is restrained I need the owner to hold the alpaca’s head while I shear it”.
The whole job takes between 10 and 20 minutes per alpaca. “With the relatively low numbers involved it’s not about speed, it’s about being as gentle as possible with the alpaca, to keep the stress levels as low as I can,” Jackie says.”
So, what will Nicola do with the fleece? “There is a ready for blanket fleece at between £10 and £12 a kilo, which compares favourably with sheep’s wool!” says Jackie. But in addition to providing an annual yield by way of the fleece, it doesn’t take very many lambs saved to justify the initial outlay involved in buying a pair of alpacas as fox guards.