Breeding alpacas in Brittany
Jayne and Steve Parker moved to Brittany to run g�tes but the need for a permanent lawnmowing solution led to the fulfilment of a long-held dream to breed alpacas
The decision to leave our family and friends and move to France was not one we made easily or quickly. There was a lot to take into consideration and sort out. We had a house and a half share in a successful furniture business to sell; two teenage boys to think about, one of whom was battling with obsessive compulsive disorder at that time; and we both had parents coming up to retirement age.
On the other hand, our eventual decision to breed alpacas to complement our g�te business, was a lot easier to make. When we first embarked on our life-changing adventure, we had no intention of having any animals – well, perhaps a dog – but not a herd of 30 alpacas! The farm we bought consisted of an old farmhouse with several outbuildings that we intended to convert to a B&B and two g�tes.
LAWN AND ORDER
It was situated just outside the busy market town of Pontivy, a town we were very familiar with, having relations there whom we had often visited. We liked the town and felt it had everything that we and the boys needed. The fact that the property itself came complete with 12 acres of farmland and forest was, at that time, completely irrelevant.
We just thought we would either have a very large garden or would simply ignore it. On arriving in France, Steve saw that his priority was the renovation of the g�tes and set to work straight away. I felt that my time would be better employed learning the language as it had quickly become apparent that my schoolgirl French wasn’t going to get us far.
Eighteen months into the project, we realised that ignoring the land was not an option. Brittany soil is extremely fertile, possibly due to the granite deposits, and everything grows at an alarming rate. Some sort of control was needed.
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After a brief flirtation with goats and sheep, which between them did a pretty good job at clearing the way, we had land that resembled pasture at last. It was then that alpacas came into our lives. We first came across alpacas years before when visiting Rutland Agricultural show and had thought, like most people, how cute they were with their long necks and eyelashes. But we had no land then so didn’t think any further about them.
Now, we considered them as an added attraction for the g�tes while at the same time they would help to maintain the land. However, after doing some research, we realised there were very few alpacas in France and we started to think more seriously about investing a larger amount of our money and buying a small starter herd.
We started with three young males sourced locally and later arranged a trip back to the UK to add a further three pregnant females with cria (babies) at foot. Unfortunately, we had to wait eight months until our girls arrived due to export restrictions put in place after the foot and mouth outbreak so most of our next cria were born before they arrived and the mothers were re-mated before departing.
All this waiting did at least give us time to concentrate on setting up the farm; putting in raceways to move the herd around, catch pens and weaning areas and, of course, we had to look into the logistics of running an agricultural business in France along with finding a local vet that was prepared to take on this largely unknown camelid.
All businesses in France have to register with either the chambre de m�tiers, which covers professional people, builders, plumbers, electricians etc; the chambre de commerce, which is for commercial ventures, such as chambres d’h�tes; or, in our case, the chambre d’agriculture for all agricultural activities.
Once we had done that, all sorts of paperwork landed on our doormat. Most of it with no boxes to tick in relation to alpacas. The industry here is largely unknown and it is for that reason that we consider ourselves lucky as they are not subject to the same rules and regulations that apply to other livestock.
The alpaca industry in France is developing at a rate of 15% a year with new French breeders coming into it all the time. We now have about half a dozen shows scattered around the country that are put on by enthusiastic and committed breeders, both native and expat, and two alpaca associations.
The AFLA (the French Llamas and Alpacas Association) is an association set up for camelids in general and the Association Alpaga Developpement concentrates on the professional development and breeding of just alpacas. Steve and I work closely with the Association Alpaga Developpement and organise courses and open days on their behalf here in Brittany.
A RIPPING YARN
What started out as a small venture to complement the g�te business has become our passion as our love and devotion to these animals has grown along with our business. We now offer husbandry days, spinning and felting courses, have open days and organise breeders’ courses presented by professional breeders from England who are willing to dedicate some time to this fledging industry.
This year we are putting our fibre though the mill and will have our own yarn available to buy on the farm; something Steve and I have been looking forward to for a long time.
When we took delivery of our first alpacas we thought the land we had was more than enough for our needs and didn’t expect the business to develop as fast as it has. So we are surprised to find that five years on, we are looking for a larger farm to feed our alpaca habit, and regrettably may have to move. I always warn people that alpacas can become addictive, and for us, that has certainly been the case. n
Jayne & Steve Parker
Quelv�hin Alpagas and G�tes