Having the largest collection of anything in the Northern Hemisphere is impressive, but when that collection is black female alpacas, curiosity is all but guaranteed to be piqued.
Blackberry Alpacas is located off School Lane in Laneshawbridge and boasts around 120 black female alpacas - the largest herd of its kind this side of the equator.
Domesticated thousands of years ago, alpacas are smaller than llamas, and are kept as part of the fibre trade, with their yarn - which is naturally coloured, meaning is does not require dyes like sheep wool - harvested annually.
“Alpacas are incredibly gentle, intelligent and inquisitive animals,” says Blackberry Alpacas’ Farm and Enterprise Manager, Bec Chapman. “They also have an unbelievably soft, luxurious fleece similar to cashmere or angora, and look a bit like small fluffy giraffes with huge brown eyes.
“Originally from the mountains of Peru, they have an intriguing history involving ancient Incan royalty, and Spanish conquistadors,” continues Bec. “There are so many weird and wonderful things about alpacas; they hum to each other to communicate, the herd designates a toilet area in their field, and the male sings a lovesong to the female when they are mating.”
Alpacas live to about 20, and - contrary to common belief - do not readily spit, only doing so if provoked. Their offspring are called ‘cria’, and they are staunch herd animals not to be reared in isolation. Garments made from their fibre are also naturally hypoallergenic, moisture-wicking, and lightweight but warm; the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, recently sported an alpaca coat on a royal trip to Canada.
“We have had so many people stopping as they drive past our farm wanting to know more about alpacas,” said Bec. “I guess it’s a bit of a surprise to find there is Europe’s largest anything just down the road that you didn’t know about!”
Blackberry Alpacas are setting up an ‘Alpaca Experience and Walk’, which will be running over half-term, offering close-up exposure to these friendly creatures. More information can be found at http://blackberryalpacas.co.uk/alpaca-experience/.