Andy and Lara Armitage have always had a keen interest in alpacas. As a vet, Andy had encountered them a few times during call-outs and Lara had met a couple of charming alpacas in passing over the years. The couple was very curious to become more acquainted with these distant (and decidedly more friendly and delightful) relatives of the camel. Moving to Birkhill House afforded them the perfect opportunity to realise their alpaca-owning dream and in December of 2018, they welcomed their first three girls - Jessie, Dolly and Agatha - from Sheriff Alpacas near York. From there, the herd quickly grew as new crias (baby alpacas) were born at Birkhill. The Armitages have definitely hit their stride and are loving life with their adorable alpacas. They thought you might like to meet the gang...
Starlight of Inca
Date of Birth: 1 January 2004
Star was one of the very early imports into the UK from Chile and it is easy to see why she was selected; her grace and presence stand her head and shoulders above a lot of other alpacas. She was imported by Inca Alpacas, Europe's largest breeder of black alpacas. She then moved to Nero Black near Hexham and then to Florens Alpacas, where she lived for years before arriving with us. Along the way, Star has had 12 cria! She is, as would be expected, extremely maternal and nurturing with other alpacas, particularly the cria. And yet with humans, she is aloof, preferring to stand off to the side and come in for feeding last. Now that she is retired from breeding, she very much enjoys her own space. You can tell that her instincts are very sharp; she is always watching and listening. Star walked the vast plains of Chile and brings this extraordinary "traveller's aura" with her. You can see her million-mile story when you look into her eyes and feel her majestic presence even from across the paddock.
Why Not Nina
Date of Birth: 23 June 2008
Fleece: Light fawn
Nina started life with the Cumbrian breeders Why Not Alpacas and then moved to Florens after an agistment on a nearby farm, where she made friends with Caramella and Stanstead (see below). She is a very smart and agile alpaca, who knows what you want her to do and cooperates as much as she can. She gets on well with the group and is generally relaxed, although she can be a bit dominating where food is concerned. Nina has had skin issues throughout her entire life, suffering from acute eczema and localised alopecia on her legs, chest and belly. Nina used to hum almost all the time, sounding very mournful indeed. Humming in alpacas can be a sign of nervousness. Coupled with her skin troubles, it may be that Nina is a naturally anxious alpaca. But since her arrival at Birkhill, these troubles have subsided. She definitely takes joy in the little things - like rolling in a dust puddle, feeling the cooling effect of the hose pipe on her legs and chest and snoozing flat out in the sunshine.
Date of Birth: 18 August 2008
Fleece: Medium fawn
Like Caramella, Stan originally came from EP Cambridge, a herd of over 500 alpacas in the UK and one of the largest alpaca breeders in the world, and they arrived at Florens together when they were young. Stan has had five cria in her tenure (beige, fawn, brown and black) and was a fabulously loving mum, who not only fed her cria well but played with them and the other cria as well. She is a masterful "pronker", showing off her jumping and skipping as though she is one of the whipper snappers. At Florens, when she was still breeding, she was often seen with all the cria sat round her after lunch, perhaps for story time. Stan is very much a creature of habit and it takes her ages to work things out, particularly if there have been changes - like a feeding station has been moved or a new gate has been put into the paddock. So we take our time with Stan, reassuring her as best we can and showing her the way.
Date of Birth: 10 September 2008
Fleece: Medium Brown
Caramella was bought by Florens Alpacas from EP Cambridge, along with Stan. She had two amazing cria (baby alpacas): a fawn female and a fawn male. Unfortunately, neither birth was easy, the first resulting in a ruptured placenta and the second fraught with complications caused by scar tissue from the first. And so the decision was made to retire her at four years of age. Caramella is exceptionally friendly, enjoying human company at any opportunity. She is one of only a few alpacas At Birkhill House (the others include Jessie and Percy) who are happy to be handled in the paddock, as opposed to penned/with a harness. She is cheeky and cheerful, resting her head on human shoulders, untying shoelaces with her mouth and following visitors about. She is best friends with Stanstead.
Date of Birth: 6 July 2015
One of Birkhill's foundation three alpacas, Jessie was exemplary and friendly from the start. Apart from a couple of unfortunate spitting incidents in which she clearly felt she needed to show a bit of dominance, she has shown us how best to work with alpacas (respectfully) and shared a lot of love as well. In terms of the other alpacas, she very quickly proved herself to be matriarch of the group - a title she still holds, as head of the female herd we have now. Apparently, her mother India was a bit of a quiet leader as well. Jessie was pregnant with Pepper when she arrived and had an uncomplicated birth, producing lots of milk for her baby and lots of love and care as well. She did the same a year later with little Percy and we were so keen to see what she would produce with Stanley, who was first-time sire in summer of 2020 for Jessie, Dolly and Agatha. Little Jude arrived happy and healthy in July of 2021, and is a lovely addition to the herd. Jessie became very ill in the Spring of 2022, receiving a blood transfusion from super trooper Tobias and ultimately losing the fourth aria she would have birthed at Birkhill. This was probably a blessing, given that her health was so poor but it was difficult for her watching Dolly, Agatha and her daughter Pepper birth and care for their crias that summer.
Date of Birth: 6 June 2017
A sprightly and playful cria, Dolly grew into a demure and delicate lady with soft features and an extremely fine fleece. She was pregnant with Tobias when she arrived and had an uncomplicated birth in June of 2019. Like Jessie, she produces a lot of milk and takes great care of her cria. Jackson (2020), Emmy-Lou (2021) and Ernie (2022) have been delightful additions to our herd.
Dolly is a follower, always checking to see what Jessie thinks, bringing up the rear of the herd and eating second to last (just before Star). This wariness marks her out as one of the most contemplative of the herd. Her actions are measured and considered - more so than anyone else.
Willowbank Sir Stanley
Date of Birth: 6 July 2017
Fleece: Medium fawn
Stanley is a massive, beautiful fawn boy with the most amazing top knot, who keeps himself to himself. Everything about him screams alpha male and yet he is also incredibly gentle to handle and his fleece is one of the most delicate of the herd. He lives on the other side of a fence from Hector, Tobias, Percy and Jude, due to some aggression issues but seems happy in his bachelor paddock. He does not play or interact nearly a fraction as much as the others. He stands aloof and is very watchful, guarding the herd and keeping an eye on the girls, two paddocks up. He can be a bit stern with Hector, in the interest of maintaining the pecking order. He was first-time stud to Jessie, Dolly and Agatha in summer of 2020. It took him a little bit of time to work out what he was doing and which end was which but he figured it out and became a master very quickly. As of Spring 2023, he has fathered five crias at Birkhill and they are all just as gorgeous as he is.
Date of Birth: 30 July 2017
If Agatha is bold and brash it is only because she was so well-handled as a cria at Willowbank, where she started life. She was only at Sheriff briefly, before coming to us as a yearling. We had her for a year and a half before breeding her to Nero Black's Mountbatten, with whom she produced the most lovely little fawn girl, Lilidh (pronounced Lily). However, as it turned out, Agatha was a terrible first-time mum. She would push Lilidh away if she wasn't in the mood to feed her, abandon her in the paddock when she was napping and tend much more to her own needs than those of her cria. We had hoped she would have a chance to improve her parenting skills in 2021, but sadly her cria came too early and was stillborn. Agatha mourned intensely and we were all heartbroken for her. Luckily, she was able to welcome a second cria, Annie, in the summer of 2023, at which point we discovered her mother skills had not improved even slightly. Both little girls got enough milk to grow strong but both are also very enterprising and resilient.
Date of Birth: 14 June 2018
Hector is a sensitive soul. Bought as a stud boy, he may never achieve his potential in that respect, as he seems overly comfortable in the beta male position (to Stanley's alpha). He was relieved when Tobias joined him in the paddock after weaning in 2020 but started getting a bit uppity with with the addition of Percy and Jude and sometimes requires some alone time. He reports every happening to Stanley and is very much his deputy in all things alpaca.
Here's hoping we may be able to pair him with someone at some point, as his line (Popham Dominator) and genetics are amazing. He carries beautiful fleece and a lovely, approachable, affable personality. We'll see!
Date of Birth: 27 May 2019
Pepper was the first cria born at Birkhill. She arrived on the very same day that we lost Trudy, our old Bloodhound girl. She definitely helped to pepper the heartbreak with joy, hence her name.
She is black like her mama, Jessie, but much bigger with a lot more soft, dense fleece. She is super curious and likes to be very close to humans (eg; within sniffing distance) but does not like to be touched at all. Also like her mama, she is extremely nosey - particularly where hats and umbrellas are concerned! We were so pleased for this larger-than-life girl when she welcomed her first cria, Obi (see below) in the summer of 2022. She was a great natural mother from the get-go, like everyone else in her lines before her.
Date of Birth: 22 June 2019
Tobias' mama Dolly did a fantastic job feeding him and raising him and it shows. He is more extroverted than Dolly, following humans closely and allowing his neck to be stroked with the back of a hand. His close friendship with Hector disintegrated when Hector began an unfortunate campaign of bullying against him but he managed to make new friends with Percy & Jude, although continues to be the underdog in this trio. We are not sure if this has to do with the loss of his original best friend and brother, Jackson, who died in February of 2022 due to a gastric issue. Ever since then, he has seemed a bit more wary and afraid to get close with other alpacas. He is still very trusting of his humans and seems to get by in a bit of a stoic fashion.
Date of Birth: 28 June 2020
Fleece: Light brown
Percy, born to Jessie in June of 2020, is arguably one of the most friendly and handleable alpacas at Birkhill. He will run from the other side of the paddock to greet you when you come in - with or without food bucket. He will be stroked and cuddled outside of his pen without a halter or lead on, which is highly unusual alpaca behaviour. Sometimes, friendly alpacas like this can be a bit too friendly but that is not the case with Percy, barring the odd overexubernt pronk or two. He respects the boundaries but is overflowing with love and isn't afraid to share it. He has developed a divine chocolate-y fleece and a winning smile.
Date of Birth: 5 July 2020
Fleece: Light fawn
We felt sad for Lilidh (pronounced Lily) when she was tiny because Agatha was such a terrible first-time mum but it actually turned her into a real spitfire, who isn't afraid to push her way into the centre or stand her ground. When we weaned 2020's three babies, Lilidh took up the role of mother figure for Jackson and Percy with zest, looking after them and keeping them right. She relished her elevated status. Today, back with the female herd, she loves her food - pushing in before some of the bigger girls - and the company of the other alpacas. She is the first on the scene should there be even a hint of drama and acts as town crier, letting everyone know if there is a cat in the paddock or a snack on the way. Her fleece is beautiful and spins well into gorgeous soft yarn.
Date of Birth: 28 June 2021
Emmy-Lou was Stanley's first born (with mum Dolly), making her the first alpaca born to parents who both live on Birkhill, and she carries the best of both of their traits with aplomb. She is still very close to her mother and helped a lot in bringing up her little brother Ernie, who was born a year after her. In fact, she, Dolly & Ernie make a tidy little trio wherever they go. That's not to say she won't push him aside and steal all his food when Dolly isn't looking.
Her fleece has developed beautifully, despite the fact that she has no interest in looking after it. Most of the time, she drags half the paddock around with her, all wound into her gorgeous locks. From a fibre processing standpoint, this sort of behaviour is inexcusable but she is so darned cute and sweet that we endlessly forgive her.
Date of Birth: 10 July 2021
Jessie's third cria, Jude was a mamma's boy. The weaning was difficult. Heartbreakingly, he cried and hummed a lot but he had help from his pal Emmy-Lou, who looked after him and coached him through the process.
He has one of the softest fleeces in the whole herd and he loves to pal around with Percy and Tobias. He is entirely unfazed by Hector's antics, boldly facing up to him and chasing him. He's a bit of a bucking bronco, especially when he sees the breakfast bucket so we tend to steer clear of his back end.
He is a playful guy and we are certain that he will lead the pack in looking after Ernie and Obi when they join the boys' herd later in 2023.
Date of Birth: 06 August 2022
Dolly was the first of three expectant mums to have her 2023 cria, who we named Ernie. He is an uncomplicated little guy, feeding well and settling into herd life quickly. He pals around with Obi and tries to keep up with long-legged Annie. His fleece has come on a treat and his confirmation of form is amazing. He has picked up his big sister Emmy-Lou's propensity for loading his cria fleece with half the paddock's vegetation so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to skirt his first fleece in the summer of 2023.
Date of Birth: 17 August 2022
Obi for short! We were initially very worried about this little guy when he was born, as he was very reluctant to stand or walk. Then we realised he was just very lazy and enjoyed laying in the sun a bit too much. However, he did eventually start running about with Ernie and Annie, his 2023 cria cohort and proved that he is on his way to becoming a big strapping handsome boy. He has a bit of a furrowed brow so always looks an inch away from being either cross or clueless. We think this is to hide his cleverness.
Date of Birth: 21 August 2022
Annie was the opposite of Obi when she was born - straight out of mum and racing around the paddock within 15 minutes of entering the world. She is by far the fastest little cria we have welcomed, with exceedingly long limbs and a very slight frame.
Her mum Agatha is a bit selfish and doesn't always commit herself to being the best mother she can be but Annie pushes her way in and demands more of her and the two seem to have struck a balance.
She looks up to big sister Lilidh and is similarly strong-headed.
Gone but not forgotten...