Report - The First Year
Chepstow Agricultural Show, on the hottest day of the summer, was this year held on Broadwell Farm where we keep our collection of poultry, waterfowl, goats and 17 Llamas. We were discussing the merits of llamas and Alpacas and our experiences and problems associated with setting up our Llama Trekking venture. Would I be prepared to contribute an article for her magazine? Well it was very hot and I had consumed a drop of essential refreshment, so I agreed. After all it was only our first year and that can't take too long. But where do you start.
It seemed that the obvious thing to do was to follow in the steps of Bridgette Jone's Diary, after all it had become a best seller and the format was simple. The trouble is that life isn't like that and you can't neatly put everything into its' own pigeon hole.
Severnwye Llama Trekking is Moira and Alastair Fraser. Moira is the General Manager of Speech House Hotel in the Royal Forest of Dean. Here we have stabling and grazing for the Llamas and are able to offer special accommodation rates for trekking customers. Speech House was and still is the administrative centre of the Forest and the Verderers meet there every 6 weeks to discusscide ldeocal issues. A high proportion of the guests use the Hotel for walking holidays. I am Alastair Fraser and along with Moira we are self confessed animal enthusiasts with a penchant for the unusual.
We were looking for animals to compliment our collection. We had discussed Alpacas and Llamas some time ago and then came foot and mouth. From our house, at the peak of the outbreak we could see 6 funeral fires. The mass slaughter of over 4,000 Forest sheep took place on the road 1 mile from Speech House. Several of our friends with rare breeds lost everything. We were lucky our collection at this time did not include any of the condemned animals, but we had already ordered the first goats, with more animals to follow. It soon became obvious that the whole affair was a badly managed fiasco and unlikely to happen again on such a scale. Once we were convinced that the disease was no longer a threat we started looking at Alpacas and Llamas.
It is not my intention to appear controversial but I have to say that we looked into the merits of Alpacas and Llamas and came down very firmly on the side of Llamas as a sensible addition to our collection. We wanted animals we could do something with. We spent hours on the internet visiting sites all over the world. A pattern built up in our minds and as we are both active outdoor people the attraction of Llama Trekking began to build.
I was and still am worried at the rather naïve attitude of some Alpaca owners, brought about by the overriding commercial motives of some breeders. There is no way that Alpacas are a sound commercial venture for the average person. We have been offered stock at prices that would have been considered ridiculously low only a few years ago. I fear that the prospect of many unwanted Alpacas languishing in paddocks all over the country could become a real possibility.
We have over the years visited many zoos, wildlife parks, farm parks, and community farms to get ideas for our collection. We have seen horrific examples of bad breeding and management but also some superb set ups with beautifully managed breeding programs. We knew what we were looking for.
We decided to purchase 4 young male Llamas from Paul Rose of Roseland Llamas in Devon. We knew they were too young for Trekking but our Llama Trekking business was never set up for quick profit. We also bought privately a lovely female with 100% Roseland breeding.
We had developed a connection with Cotswold Wildlife Park at Burford through our waterfowl collection and we arranged to take on 2 of their three year old geldings. They all arrived at about the same time and it was all systems go. Well almost. The boys were all named after Formula 1 world champions. So we now had Nelson Piquet and Emmerson Fittipaldi from Cotswold WLP Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakinnen, Keke Rosberg, and James Hunt. To date the fairer sex have yet to win a Grand Prix never mind a World championship so we called our lovely girl Miranda. Carmen followed shortly after.
Now Moira and I are experienced animal handlers!!! When we collected our 2 boys from Cotswold we stood back as Nathan and the keepers loaded them into our trailer but not without some difficulty. However when we got home I decided to release them into a paddock for the night. So far so good. Next morning I was up bright and early, just in time to see Emerson followed by Nelson climb up on a piece of old stone wall hidden in the hedge and walk out into a 15 acre field. On my own I was no match for two very fit Llamas. Eventually with some help we were able to get them into a stable and put on their head collars. The first lesson had been learnt. Now we always make sure that new llamas have their head collars on before we do anything with them.
Our 4 boys from Paul Rose were beautifully presented, accustomed to their halters and looking fabulous. They were partly halter trained and very easy to handle. Miranda was already accustomed to her head collar and being led.
The neighbouring farmers all came to see the new arrivals. Nelson and Emmerson were problematical, they had never been handled and they didn't appear to like me or anyone else for that matter. Gradually they began to come round. Now they are our best Trekkers, completely bomb proof and love human attention.
Encouraged by the success we had with them we have since taken on Nicki Lauda, Jody Schecter, Graham Hill and 10 years old Denny Hulme from Cotswold. Dennis is the father of Nelson and Emerson and a lovely Llama, he is gelded as Cotswold are very careful with their breeding. A new stud male will be introduced shortly.
A telephone call from Cotswold told us that they had heard of 3 adult Llamas whose owner had died and his widow was unable to cope with them. They had to go together so we agreed to look at them. Magnolia, Jupiter and Landslide renamed Fangio joined the herd. Magnolia has now produced Bambi our first cria. Our tallest llama is Jack Brabahm. He came from a community farm and was extremely overweight having been kept with several other Llamas in ridiculously cramped conditions. On our first training walk we had to rescue him as after 1 mile he was quite distressed. He now regularly participates in our standard 7 miles trek. However although the largest Llama we are careful never to overload him. He is a lovely chap and recently took part in Mitcheldene carnival walking on his own through crowds of people without a leading rein.
we had our Llamas. The numbers had grown alarmingly. We were aware that members of the Camelid fraternity were worried that we were trekking young Llamas. We were annoyed at the rumours as it had never been our intention to make young Llamas carry weights. By next year they will be over 2 years old and carrying our clients goods, but only if we think they are sufficiently mature and strong. They do however accompany us on our treks. Children love them.
Before we started Trekking commercially we trained the Llamas for 6 months using a group of volunteers obtained as a result of an article in a local newspaper. Without fail the Llamas were trekking for 7 to 10 miles at least 3 times a week. During this time we soon realised that our Llamas thoroughly enjoyed their outings. A bond soon developed between them and our intrepid volunteers or Llamarama as they named themselves and as we became a familiar sight in the Forest it was rewarding to see them described in the local press as the Forest's Llamas, we had been accepted. The icing on the cake was when they were modelled for the new Forest model village.
Publicity was no problem. To date they have appeared on numerous T.V. programmes having been seen as far away as Germany and Australia. Both local and National Press have featured them and several travel magazines have included the Forest and its' Llamas. The Forest has taken our Llamas to it's heart in a way that we never imagined possible.
We are often asked if training Llamas is easy. I feel it is rather presumptious of me to tell others how to do it, but I can say that we have been rather successful and I am very proud of them. We spoke to several different experts and very soon realised that everyone had very different ideas, in many cases they were diametrically opposed. Opinions were so varied that we decided to use our own basic instincts and common sense. Number one priority was to get the Llamas walking on their leading reins and accustomed to each other. This took time but I now regularly walk up to 10 Llamas on my own and can easily load 6 Llamas into our 2 horse trailer without any outside assistance. We do not use any verbal commands as it is totally impractical to expect our clients to remember them. Our Llamas are trained to walk at our pace on a loose rein and I always put one through it's paces showing how it will adjust from a slow walk to a gentle trot, stopping immediately I do. We confidently have very young children leading them. If they let go it doesn't matter as the llama will immediately stop and is easily recaptured, indeed we often leave them untethered when we stop for our picnic. Many hours of training have gone into this and it is only fair to say that we owe a tremendous amount to our volunteer helpers especially Ursula Soames who spent many hours both at the farm and walking miles in the Forest. Our Llamas have responded to a diet of kindness and affection. We never use raised voices and only swear at them under extreme provocation. Tit bits are taboo, we do not want our Llamas mugging clients. I am firmly of the opinion that the feeding of tit bits, and the inevitable competition to get their share leads to the curse of spitting. We have one Llama who very occasionally spits when I am packing him up, he is the only one to come from a community farm where the public are encouraged to feed Llamas in close confinement.
The first year has exceeded our wildest expectations. We are now training 2 llamas to drive and hope to be using them at the summer shows. We are expecting to take delivery of our first camel shortly and our reindeer should be fully trained for next Christmas. The llamas are in great demand at this time of year and we have raised lots of lolly for various charities. A recent day at our local Tesco store raised £196.00 cash and 2 large trolleys of dog and cat food for the RSPCA. The children and their parents loved them. The Llamas are at their best when surrounded by people.
Our web site www.severnwyellamatrekking.co.uk has been a great success and most of our bookings have emanated from it.
This year we have attended agricultural shows, village fetes, carnivals, garden shows, charity fund raising events, children's birthday parties and openings of craft centres. We even starred in a T.V. feature about a lost village, and yes we have gone Llama Trekking. It has been a super year, but our Llamas have been the stars.