Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Fancy a walk with a pack of alpacas?

Fancy a walk with a pack of alpacas?

AN alpaca farm in Whitchurch is to open its gates to the public.

Mary-Jo and Ian Smith, who own Bozedown Alpacas off Hardwick Road, plan to let visitors walk the creatures on leads around the 100-acre estate.

They have picked 12 alpacas with the most relaxed temperaments and are now seeking volunteers to give talks about the business and supervise guests.

The couple came up with the idea because their farm is on a popular walking route so passers-by often admire the animals and ask whether they can look around. “We just wanted to give local people the experience of walking with the alpacas as it’s something we think they’ll enjoy,” said Mrs Smith.

“People are always looking for new experiences and it’s something similar farms around the country are starting to offer.

“We’ve got a pretty big site here and people can walk with them to the river and along the hillside. It’s a beautiful setting and this is a good way to make the most of it. We’ve had lots of interest from potential visitors but it’s still early days in terms of finding the right volunteers and we need to build up a team of people who can give a couple of hours at least once a week.

“Alpacas are generally pretty amenable to walking with people but they’ve all got their own individual personalities and some like it more than others, so we’ve trained the ones who will get the most out of it.

“I think children will enjoy it. We’ll have to set an age limit for actually leading them but my own children lead alpacas at shows and they’re fantastic with them.”

Mrs Smith’s aunt Joy Whitehead, who still lives nearby and helps with the day-to-day running, launched Bozedown Alpacas on land at Whitchurch Hill in 1998.

The couple later took over and still keep about 240 alpacas there but most of their 740-strong herd reside at the Whitchurch site, which they opened in 1998.

Every animal has a name and carries both an identifying marker and a microchip under their skin. The alapcas, which are in the same family as camels and llamas, are shorn every spring for their fleece, which is sold to be made into clothes. Each alpaca produces between 3kg and 5kg of fibre per year.

Mr and Mrs Smith also breed pedigree alpacas professionally and compete in shows around the country.

Last year they won one British Alpaca Society supreme champion award and three for the best sire, or breeding male.

Mrs Smith said: “I absolutely love it and can’t imagine myself doing anything else but that’s the thing about farming — it’s a way of life. I think the walks should be popular — the reaction from the community has been very positive and we have our ‘regulars’ who like to stop on their way past for a chat, especially when the babies are arriving every year.”

The farm made headlines in June 2014, when 20 alpacas escaped from the Whitchurch site and made their way up the B471 to Whitchurch Hill village green, where police helped to round them up and return them.

To volunteer, call 0118 984 3827 or send an email to Mrs Smith at maryjo@bozedown-alpacas.co.uk

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