Sunday 10 December 2023

Little Orchard Alpacas

This story actually began around twelve months ago. Wondering what to buy Mrs Wessex-Reiver for Christmas last year I stumbled across a lovely small alpaca setup near Axminster in Devon. The package I bought as a gift was a walking morning with their alpacas through woodland. To cut a long story short by the time we visited this July the woodland walking was permanently closed off to this enterprise so we and half a dozen other people on that day walked through the small fields and the orchard of the aptly named Little Orchard Alpacas. As a result Mrs Wessex-Reiver and I are completely hooked on these wonderful animals. I especially bonded with the alpha male Yorvik. Roll on five months then to last Tuesday when we visited again.

Mrs Wessex-Reiver and I had come to take part in an alpaca keeping session. There is a full day session, we however opted for the half day, four hours, and just the two of us this time. We learnt on the day the keeper course is mostly for those wishing to, you guessed it, keep alpacas. A kind of taster day before they buy if you will. I'm not sure what Vic the owner made of two people paying her for the privilege of picking up alpaca 'berries' on a winter's day. But we absolutely loved it and I caught up with my old friend Yorvik too.

After arriving our first job was feeding not only the alpacas, but two Vietnamese pot bellied pigs, and a couple of chickens (who kindly provided 5 eggs in return). And then as all good stock people do, we had a cup of tea and planned our chores. New bedding, poo pick (berries) the field shelters, clean out water buckets, body condition testing of the males, then the two key jobs, checking eyes for signs of worm infection and last but the most vital job, applying vitamins orally to the males out in the fields. More on that later.

It brought it all back to me, working outdoors with animals. I spend far too much time sitting Infront of a computer in my job. This session in the lovely Devonshire countryside was such a tonic and a perfect de-stress for a few hours. Of course if we did this every day of the year with wet snow running down our necks the novelty might wear off, but I doubt it. Berries cleaned up, water buckets thoroughly cleaned next it was to round the boys up for the testing.

Getting them in the pen was, while slow and like herding alpacas, relatively easy. Checking their eyes for signs of worm infections (pale or white membrane rather than bright pink) was something I found quite difficult. We did three tasks on one animal at a time. Eyes, fat, vitamins in that order. Firstly if you ever try pulling down the eye lid of an uncooperative alpaca you'll understand my trouble,  Actually Mrs Wessex-Reiver was far better at this than I. 

Next it was the body conditioning, much simpler, simply putting a hand over the back and gaugeing how fat or thin they are on a scale of 1-6 with 6 being tubby. Next the vitamins. Until recently Vic has injected vitamins but today she wanted to trial a vitamin gun, in essence a similar contraption to a grouting gun used in DIY. Each squeeze of the trigger dispensing 15ml of bright pink goo. Sounds simple. But trying to widely open an already lively alpacas mouth and getting the goo in the right place while the animal is wriggling was very entertaining. Vic had tried doing this herself before today and had more pink goo on her than in the animal. Even with two of us it was a bit of a hit and miss affair which is making Vic reconsider. But eventually we got all the boys checked and let them out into the field again, though what was funny was that each boy after treatment looked like they had pink lipstick on.

Main jobs completed, time then for a festive break, before we took three boys out for some much needed exercise around the orchard, where windfall apples were a welcome treat, with me taking Yorvik of course.

Walk over, the final task was to let the girls out of the barn for the afternoon. As Vic said often she'll let them out but after ten minutes they're back indoors where it's warm.

After four hours we'd finished. Actually we also made some alpaca fibre nesting material cages while having our hot chocolate. Those four hours passed in an instant and as Mrs Wessex-Reiver remarked we were smiling from arrival to departure. Alpaca have that effect I feel. They're very strong but very gentle and very inquisitive. I'm not thinking of having a smallholding just yet, but spending time with them down there is making me think about what's important in life. Yorvik is a great mentor for life, fascinating too and I recommend everyone should spend a few hours with these charming animals, I guarantee you'll not regret it.


  1. Another wonderful post Andrew and two lovely days out - a lovely idea for a gift. They are charming animals. My daughter went on one of those meet the alpaca and walk events :) Talking of orchards have you read "Orchard" by Benedict MacDonald and Nicholas Gates - not about alpacas but about nature through the year in an organic orchard. One of the best books I have ever read!

  2. thank you Caroline, those alpaca do get under the skin. We've decided to head back there in the spring to repeat the performance. How odd you mention Orchard the book. Mrs Wessex-Reiver is out shopping in Bristol and had just texted me about this - orchard the title sprung out at her while in Waterstones. I've not read it but it has now been purchased as a shared Christmas read when we're up in Northumberland staying on a farm with... alpacas. Did you know Orchards was the winner of the Richard Jefferies award in 2021 (even more embarrassing I've not read it then). Thank you for the nudge and recommendation.