Take a walk on the wool side with alpacas

As seen in the zoo and mountains of Peru – alpacas are now walking in a field near you ... and they’d welcome the company in Banknock.

Rather than take a walk on the wild side this summer, there’s a walk on the wool side available in the countryside around Banknock.

There are alpacas of various colours at Orchardhill Farm. This is Womble. Picture: Michael Gillen.

There are alpacas of various colours at Orchardhill Farm. This is Womble. Picture: Michael Gillen.

Caledonia Alpacas, based in Orchard Farm on the site of Pitcairn Engineering just outside the village has a herd of the mammals – more accustomed to the wilds of Peru than the fields of central Scotland.

And they love it.

From eating thistles to brushes with the long grass, Hamish, Valentino, Teddy and the gang have been having a great time this summer – after being sheered of their woollen coats.

They’ve also welcomed new friends to their fields as owners Jen Hone and Cameron Pitcairn, the proprietors at Caledonia Alpacas, have been leading walks with the alpacas this summer.

Getting to grips with an alpaca is easy ' just don't make eye contact . Picture Michael Gillen

Getting to grips with an alpaca is easy ' just don't make eye contact . Picture Michael Gillen

Groups can visit the llamas’ cousins and lead them around a sedate walk through the 65 acres of countryside while learning more about the animals, their coats and their current Soapy Soutar haircuts.

Their numbers will be boosted soon too with several females expecting babies after almost 12 months of pregnancy, so it was the herd of males that The Falkirk Herald led around a small section of the 65 acres.

“We’ve had school groups and youth groups up – and in fact, some of the teachers who have seen the kids enjoy their walks are coming up during their summer holidays for a staff outing too,” explained Jen.

“They’ve had their haircut because their fine wool would keep them incredibley warm – too warm in this current summer weather – and it’s their fleece which they are bred for.”

Caledonia Alpacas will show you how to get up close with the camel's cousin. Picture Michael Gillen

Caledonia Alpacas will show you how to get up close with the camel's cousin. Picture Michael Gillen

Alpaca wool is softer, lighter and finer than sheep’s wool. With eyes closed you can hold a ball of alpaca fluff without realising it is in your hand at the Banknock stable.

Some within the brood were bred and prepared for stud, particularly the black duo Valentino and Womble, but tiny white flecks in their coat reduce their allure, though most are almost pure alpaca – without much cross-breeding with their cousins, the llamas, which is prevalent in South America.

“Alpacas are much smaller than llamas,” Cameron explained before demonstrating how to catch one. Don’t make eye contact, even face the opposite direction then lunge and hold them around the neck, cuddling them until they relax.

It’s easy enough for an 11-year-old, (and a 33-year-old) though a five-year-old with an aversion to chickens (they’re on site too) wasn’t so keen. By the end of the short walk though he was happily leading Teddy through the tracks and the long grass.

The farm has 65 acres to walk the animals around. Picture Michael Gillen

The farm has 65 acres to walk the animals around. Picture Michael Gillen

“That’s exactly what we’ve seen from the groups we’ve had visiting us,” added Jen. “The progression the kids make with confidence around the animals is wonderful to see.

“It’s something different to do and the complete contrast to the Xbox and Fortnite.

“Alpacas are placid, and their feet are soft so farmers like them because they don’t cut up the ground.”

“They also have only one row of bottom teeth,” Cameron showed, “so they snip the grass, and they’ll eat from hands too.”

But like llamas and camels in the camelid family, they do spit – but not likely at human visitors.

“It’s a horrible green spit, but they only do it at one another,” Cameron added. “They are very sociable creatures. They like their company. They will stay together so long as you have one alpaca, the rest won’t be far behind.”

Picture: Michael Gillen.

Picture: Michael Gillen.

Blondie, the smallest of the pack walked quietly alongside our trek without a lead or rope, only leaping out of the group briefly when startled by a low-lying branch. They’re quiet too, only humming or squeaking once inside their pen.

As well as the walks, which can be arranged by contacting Caledonia Alpacas on Facebook, or by calling the farm, Jen and Cameron take the animals on tour to festivals and gala days, and are also breeding the animals for the fleece.

The black alpaca wool is particularly sought-after though more regular white or blonde colouring is still popular for dying purposes. Another of the animals, Teddy, is a rustbrown colour “and just looked like a teddy bear when he arrived,” said Jen. Hence the name.

Fluffy key-rings and other fairtrade products from South American Alpaca farmers are on sale in the stables and the six males – Womble, Chewy, Teddy, Hamish, Valentino and Blondie – who The Falkirk Herald – met will soon be joined by the expected babies and a few more arriving from Australia later this year to enjoy more visits and the green scenery around the fields of Banknock.
Contact Caledonia Alpacas at Facebook or on 07968 580929.

David Oliver, of The Falkirk Herald and Cameron Pitcairn of Caledonia Alpacas. Picture: Michael Gillen.

David Oliver, of The Falkirk Herald and Cameron Pitcairn of Caledonia Alpacas. Picture: Michael Gillen.