We had a holiday home in Deux-Sèvres from 2003 and we moved permanently from London to France in 2009. I was a business analyst and Tony was an IT manager. We wanted to move for a change of lifestyle while our daughter Natasha was still young enough to pick up the language easily.
“We don’t have a farming background; I read about alpaca farming in a newspaper, and the original idea came from there! We did a lot more research and visited alpaca breeders in both the UK and France and, weird as it might sound, it seemed like the best solution for making a living once we’d moved.
“So we looked for a suitable house – close to a village as we wanted to be part of a community, but also with a decent amount of land. We moved in July and had already booked our first delivery of three alpacas for October, so there was plenty to do what with fencing the fields and getting things ready before they arrived. We registered as a farm with the MSA (Mutualité Sociale Agricole) after a few years once we had more alpacas than could be considered hobby farming. In 2010 our first alpaca babies, called cria, were born, and we also acquired a few more alpacas. We now have 59 which is about the upper limit for our seven hectares.”
The couple now sell alpacas to other selected breeders – a male fetches from around €500 and a female from around €2,000. The couple also sell or swap fleeces, as well as running workshops and visits to the farm. A guided visit to the farm costs €5 per person, while special arrangements are made for groups of 10 or more.
“We work with the tourist office to offer educational tours for both locals and tourists. We tour the farm, talk about how alpacas live, people can feed some of them from their hands, there are opportunities for cuddles and photos and in the summer, visitors can even help give them showers! We also offer workshops – if you add water to the fleece it can be moulded almost like plasticine, or the kids can make collages gluing things like fleece, sequins and buttons to the outline of an alpaca.
“They’re brilliant animals – they all have different personalities and looks. We’ve now got 59 and know all of them by name. Some like to be cuddled, others are too timid. We’ve also got a gîte and sometimes the guests like to take some of them for walks.”
The couple feel they have integrated into the community well and say they are simply known locally as ‘the alpaca people’. Kit, who learned French at school, has improved her language sufficiently to do the day-to-day admin and give tours of the farm in French, while Tony admits, “I mainly speak alpaca!”