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A guide to alpacas at a farm in Hemley, Suffolk
By Linda Walker
BBC Suffolk

Helen Rose
Helen has been working with Alpacas for around five years

Suffolk wool farmer Helen Rose is looking ahead to a new year and hoping to share her passion for alpacas with local students.

In June 2010 she will host a course with Otley College which aims to give budding alpaca farmers a chance to learn more about the animal.

"We do a basic husbandry course which is essentially the a-z of alpacas and their history," said Helen.

"They're not aggressive in any way with humans and they're quite curious."

Alpacas have become hugely popular right across the UK.

Three thousand were introduced to Britain two decades ago, and their numbers have increased to 30,000, according to the British Alpaca Society.

Alpaca wool
Alpaca wool has become a popular material

Alpacas, which originally come from the high plains of Peru, Bolivia and Chile in South America, are slightly smaller than llamas and are normally bred for their wool.

"Alpaca wool is unusual because it's as soft as cashmere but it's as strong as silk and very, very light as well as being warmer than sheep's wool," explained Helen.

"It's a lovely wool to handle, I spin it myself and I know lots of weavers that like to use alpaca."

Keeping it green

Helen has been working with alpacas for over five years and found they were a great choice of animal to farm and to use to develop a business.

"Alpacas are very non destructive animals to have. They don't turn your paddock into a desert or a damp swamp and they keep things nice and green," explained Helen.

Alpaca eating grass
Alpacas are easy to care for and are fairly self sufficient

"They don't touch the fences and they are beautiful animals to look at, very passive and gentle."

As well as being great lawn mowers Helen has found that the alpacas have a inherently defensive nature which means that they are a great protector for any other livestock on the farm.

"An alpaca is an animal that loves babies of any kind so you can have them in the sheep pen and they'll look after the lambs and definitely chase off any predators.

"They're quite a quiet animal really but they do have a number of sounds which they make, for example when the mum has very young babies they cluck to them.

"If there is a predator they make an alarm call which is a bit like a cross between a pheasant and a donkey braying. It's an intermittent loud call.

"If they're not sure they make a humming sound to each other and they all have a different note in the hum."

The course that Helen's running in conjunction with Otley College will be taught from her farm at Hemley and covers all aspects of alpaca care.

Helen also teaches a form of horse whispering called Camelidynamics which helps with halter-training the animal.

"It's a very gentle way of getting the animals used to being moved around and handled," explained Helen.

Alpacas eating
Alpacas are used to a spartan diet and mainly eat grass

"To start with it works in a smallish pen and helps the animals get used to being moved away from you and then you move on to giving them a lovely head massage.

"From that they learn not to be frightened of the halter touching their face."

More information about Helen's farm can be found on her Abinger Alpacas website or for details of the course contact Otley College on 01473 785543.




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