Meet the Norfolk student who runs an alpaca farm in her spare time
ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434
A Norfolk student who nurtures a herd of alpacas in her spare time between exams and essays now hopes her work will pay off with prizes at a national show.
Lucy Ackers, 24, started her alpaca business at Stubbs Farm in Loddon with the help of her mother Sue and her partner Josh Stebbings – balancing the needs of the animals with the demands of her agriculture degree course at Easton and Otley College, outside Norwich.
The venture was launched a year ago after an essay on the operation of livestock reproductive units prompted a visit to a nearby alpaca farm, and an instant fascination with these charismatic South American camelids, highly-prized for their luxurious fleece.
Her growing herd is now 24-strong, with five of the younger animals being prepared for their debut performance at the British Alpaca Society’s National Show in Telford on March 24 and 25.
“This is our first time taking animals to the show, so we are throwing ourselves in at the deep end,” said Miss Ackers. “There will be tough competition, but to come away with any placing would be fantastic.”
Miss Ackers said she was usually able to strike a balance between her education and caring for her animals.
“For the most part it is not a problem,” she said. “For all our babies being born this year, we plan it so the first would be born after I have finished all my exams. But there have been moments when there has been some kind of emergency on site or a sick animal, and then that has to be the priority.
“It can be stressful, but I think I balance it quite well. The key is having time dedicated for both, and separating it completely. Sometimes I forget the farm and concentrate on essays, and sometimes it is the other way around. But they are mostly quite low-maintenance.”
“In general they just need food and shelter to protect them from severe conditions. Last week with the snow they were fine. The babies went outside and really enjoyed the snow, but the adults were having none of it. They went in their shelter and didn’t come out, as there wasn’t any grass to graze on.”
As well as selling some animals to other breeders, Miss Ackers has her alpacas shorn once a year, with the fleeces processed into yarn at the East Anglia Alpaca Mill at Beighton, near Acle.
This weekend will bring an added, more continuous, income stream with the launch of alpaca-trekking, allowing people to take the animals on walks along tracks and bridleways around the family’s 20-acre farm.
“Alpacas are pregnant for a year, so when it comes to selling breeding stock, it is a long wait between each generation of newborns,” said Miss Ackers. “And for the fleeces we only shear them once a year, so it can be a slow earner. That is why we introduced the alpaca walk, so it is more of a continuous income.”
The long-term ambition is to grow the herd to around 40 animals, and potentially add a glamping diversification on an unused patch of land.
“If it all goes well, the ideal scenario is to do this full time,” said Miss Ackers. “I am very lucky that we have got space. My parents own the land and wanted it to stay in the family, but I have got two siblings (Emily, 26 and twin sister Katie, 24) who are not interested in this kind of life.
“We have got 20 acres, which is small, but enough for alpacas. That’s part of the appeal – you can have a small number of them and still remain profitable, compared to sheep, for example.
“We have set ourselves a limit of about 40 animals. We prefer having a herd where we know every individual animal, so the personalities don’t get lost in the herd.
“They make me laugh all the time. It is just really funny watching the way they interact with each other, and with us. It is very hard not to fall in love with them.”
Alpacas originate from the Altiplano (high plain) in west-central South America, spanning the borders of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
They are a camelid species, closely related to the llama. It is believed that the alpaca and llama were domesticated from the wild species vicuna and guanaco more than 6,000 years ago. The alpaca was developed primarily as a fleece producing animal, with meat as a secondary product.
Alpaca fibre is one of the most luxurious in the world, and is inherently soft, with fewer scales on each individual fibre, compared to sheep’s wool.
There are two types of alpaca: huacaya and suri. Huacaya fibre is suited to a woollen process of manufacture, while the best suri fibre is more akin to silk.
At its finest it is used like cashmere to produce high quality, luxury garments.
The British Alpaca Society (BAS) has 1400 members representing 35,000 alpacas across the country.