The story of doomed alpaca Geronimo captured the nation. Gayle’s heart is stolen by dozens of the cuddly creatures when she visits an alpaca farm.
Gaining the trust of an alpaca is something of a huge honour. And not only have I gained the trust of several, I’ve been “kissed” by one, have had one sit down beside me, and have taken three for a trek.
“They’re the fluffiest, friendliest, cuddliest beasties on Earth,” says Imants Schneider, who runs Highland Alpacas near Balmedie in Aberdeenshire with his wife Mabel. “Everyone who comes here instantly falls in love with them.”
I am one of those people. It’s my first visit to the farm, which boasts 49 alpacas, and I’ve bonded with so many of them already.
Gorgeous Cleopatra flutters her scandalously long eyelashes at me and hums as I stroke her fluffy neck.
“She’s got her eyeliner and mascara on especially for the occasion!” beams Imants.
“And check out Skye’s impressive handlebar moustache!”
They’re a wee bit shy of me at first – alpacas take time to “accept” you and decide you’re not a threat. But the longer I spend hanging out with the creatures, the more curious, cuddly and friendly they become.
“They’re very inquisitive. Just stand still and they’ll come to you,” says Imants, and sure enough, they start to sniff, nuzzle, and “kiss” me on the head!
A sign they’re really relaxed is when they sit down beside you, and to my absolute delight, Crystal does just that.
It feels SO good to nuzzle in to her thick, soft fleece while she makes this cute humming noise; a fantastic, calming, soothing stress reliever which elicits smiles galore.
I’m reluctant to leave Crystal be but Imants has a plan – to introduce me to dozens of other alpacas and take a trio of males for a trek.
On the way to their fields, we meet Bertie the elderly Kunekune pig. He’s a friendly lad, grunting for treats and a scratch on the back.
We spot a few alpacas rolling in “dust baths” and watch as a group of females stop for a wee and a poo in exactly the same spot. “They’re like ladies on a night out going to the loo together!” smiles Imants.
“They’re clever like that. And it helps when we have to clean up after them!”
Imants also introduces me to Cass, a “punk” with a funky mohican hairdo who’s keen on massages.
And then there’s Octavius, the alpha male. He’s one of four stud males but he’s definitely the big daddy. “Just look at him!” says Imants. “He’s so impressive, standing there assertively saying, ‘I am the king!’”.
The difference between alpacas and llamas? Alpacas are smaller and fluffier and bred for their fleece rather than as beasts of burden.
“The fleece of an alpaca is finer and denser; llama fleece is coarser and their fibre is considered inferior,” says Imants.
“Alpacas have short, spear-shaped ears while llamas have more elongated faces with bigger banana-shaped ears. And llamas tend to be more aggressive.”
They’re all pack animals, huddling together to protect one another from predators and they’re increasingly used for guarding lambs and poultry.
And yes, they do sometimes spit to signal displeasure, fear or dominance.
The three boys we’re taking for a trek are Karlis (named after Imants’s father), Lewis and Ben.
I start off leading Karlis, as he’s the most chilled, and end up with all three lads. What an honour! We stroll down a grassy path through woodlands, pausing to enjoy views of the sea. Had it been a bit less windy, we’d have headed to the beach. Another time!
“I sometimes take myself off with the lads for a few hours for a wander,” says Imants.
“There’s something wonderful about being out in nature and resonating with the animals. It’s a special feeling.”
Back at base, Imants takes me into a shed where alpaca wool is bagged up, ready to be sent off to be spun and transformed into yarn.
Mabel, a keen knitter, keeps some back and works her own magic with it. She shows me a selection of her stunning creations, ranging from cushions to scarves, hats, clothes for babies, favour bags and more. Much of it is for sale.
The couple have lived at Pettens Croft since 1986 but it wasn’t until 1999 that they considered getting alpacas.
“We’ve always had animals – guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, dogs, cats, chickens, goats, pigs and horses – so when our horses died, we decided to bite the bullet and go for alpacas,” explains Imants, a retired oil company director.
“We went on a recce in 2003, visiting many as many alpaca farms as we could. After hundreds of miles and hours of viewings of the creatures, we were smitten.”
The couple invested in a shipment of top-quality alpacas from Peru and soon had a “starter herd” of three pregnant females. The rest, as they say, is history.
“They are our hobby and our pleasure,” says Imants.
“They’re such adorable, loving creatures. This is our lifestyle choice. We tend to focus our attention on the health, wellbeing and happiness of the alpacas rather than the commercial value.”
- Highland Alpacas are available for weddings, birthday parties – any special occasions. Farm visits, treks and trips to the beach are also available.
- See highland-alpacas.co.uk
- Geronimo the stud alpaca hit the headlines after being euthanised in South Gloucestershire on August 31 after a four-year battle to save him. He had twice tested positive for bovine tuberculosis.