On an open expanse of farmland in the Northumberland National Park, you may expect to see sheep grazing, but perhaps not alpacas, which are native to South America.
However, if you travel out past Elsdon to the tiny hamlet of Raylees, the land at Debbie and Paul Rippon’s Liberty Hill Farm is home to almost 100.
The couple run Barnacre Alpacas and the business has several strands including making products from the animals’ wool, selling animals, a stud service and showing them both in competitions and as an attraction at agricultural shows.
And as Debbie explained, it’s not so odd to find these creatures in the environment of Northumberland.
Native to the mountains of Peru, Chile and Bolivia, neither the weather nor the topography of the county bothers them.
They are used to temperatures that range from plus 20C to minus 20C.
“They are pretty easy to look after,” said Debbie. “They have vaccinations twice a year, get their nails clipped and get sheared once a year, which we usually do from the middle to the end of May.”
Around one to five kilograms of wool is obtained from each animal, although the black alpacas tend to have the least wool.
Their wool is hollowfibre and much warmer than sheep’s wool, plus it can be worn by people with allergies to sheep’s wool as there is no lanolin.
Barnacre was formed because Debbie decided she wanted to work with animals and was attracted to the fact that alpacas aren’t used for meat.
She also enjoys the creative side as she, along with help from her mum and friends, turns the wool into gloves, hats, scarves, baby clothes and more.
She uses one animal, or perhaps siblings, per item so buyers can know which animal their piece of clothing comes from.
And nothing is wasted as their faeces is used to make bricks that can be burnt for fire.
And while the herd has grown rapidly over the last six years, they are now just about at the maximum.
“Next year I’m hopeful that we will have up to 40 babies (known as crias) and I don’t really want more than that,” Debbie said.
“We are always introducing new genetics, but 110 is the limit really.”
The animals live for around 20 years and can ovulate whenever they mate, but Debbie controls the mating so that all of the creas are born between June and August.
The gestation period is around 11-and-a-half months, but can take up to 14.
And meeting the alpacas, it is clear to see the attraction, as they do seem to have different personalities and characters and the majority are happy to be petted and touched.
When the business was launched, they were originally based in Hartburn and got their first three alpacas in February 2007, but soon ran out of space as the herd grew. They have been at the current site , which has 200 acres of land, for just over two years.
They also keep Angora goats for mohair as well as more than 100 sheep. Visit barnacre-alpacas.co.uk for more information.