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. They now have ten females and five males. With three more cria (baby alpacas) due in the 2021 season, the Armitages have definitely hit their stride and are loving life with their adorable alpacas. They thought you might like to meet the gang…
The Foundation Three
In December of 2018 our first three alpacas, Jessie, Dolly and Agatha, arrived from Sheriff Alpacas near York. It was a steep learning curve for us – getting to grips with jags and toenail clipping and harnesses – but they handled it with grace and dignity. As we got to know these three girls, and then their delightful cria, we knew we had made the right decision.
Date of Birth: 6 July 2015
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. 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 ten-strong female herd we have now. Apparently, her mother India was a bit of a quiet leader as well. She 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 are so keen to see what she will produce with Stanley, who was first-time sire in summer of 2020 for Jessie, Dolly and Agatha.
Date of Birth: 6 June 2017
A sprightly and playful cria, Dolly has grown 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 produced a lot of milk and took great care of her cria. Her 2020 cria, Jackson, benefitted from the same solid birth and care as his brother. 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.
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 are giving her one more chance this year to see if she has learned better ways! We’ll see how she goes with her Stanley-sired cria in 2021.
The First Crias
Jessie and Dolly arrived from Sheriff Alpacas already pregnant, and in the summer of 2019 we were so excited to welcome our first Birkhill cria (baby alpaca). Pepper and Tobias were definitely one of the highlights of the summer. It was lovely to be able to begin handling them and getting to know them from the very beginning, and to watch their individual personalities develop!
Date of Birth: 27 May 2019
Pepper was the very 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 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 are thinking that this larger-than-life girl might be ready for mating this year. It seems like she would make a great mother, 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. He is besties with Hector and is good at diffusing Stanley’s rage if he is in a particularly bossy mood. He does this by putting himself between Hector and Stanley and standing his ground – no easy feat, as Stanley towers over him. He has been a great comfort to Jackson and Percy, who have joined the boys’ crew after weaning, serving as a kind of hall monitor and dog’s body, answering all of their questions with a knowing nod and a playful approach.
The Stud Boys
Hector and Stanley came from Sheriff Alpacas in November 2019 to join our small herd of girls. Originally Hector was to be the primary stud, with Stanley as his wingman, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
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 and now that Jackson and Percy have added to his circle of friends, he has come out of his shell a bit more. It turns out he’s a fairly sociable 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!
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 with the other boys – Hector, Tobias, Jackson and Percy – but 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 but he figured it out in the end and became a master very quickly. We can’t wait to see his babies in the 2021 season!
The 2020 Crias
In 2020 we were so happy to welcome three cria from Dolly, Agatha and Jessie. Watching our Sheriff girls tend their cria, the difference between the more experienced mothers and first-timer Agatha was stark. Poor Lilidh tried so hard to win her mother’s affection, but Agatha was just not interested.
Date of Birth: 11 June 2020
If truth be told, Jackson is a little bit clueless. He is affable and well-meaning but he is slow to catch on and a tad bit stubborn. For instance, while Percy and Lilidh got the hang of harness and lead training after about a week, Jackson was still lagging behind or bucking and jumping or laying down in the mud with a confused, slightly petulant look on his face. He is keen on Tobias, following him around, and I wonder if it is because he knows that’s his brother (they are both from Dolly). It was evident, even at six months of age, that he is carrying an amazing fleece. It will be lovely to see it spun into yarn.
Date of Birth: 28 June 2020
Fleece: Light brown
Percy, born to Jessie in June of 2020, is arguably the most friendly and handleable alpaca at Birkhill. Or perhaps he is tied with Caramella in that respect. (Interestingly, both are brown – our only two.) 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. He respects the boundaries but is overflowing with love and isn’t afraid to share it.
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 last year’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. Her confidence with humans, shaky when she was little, has grown enormously since her halter training started in January of 2021. Her fleece is beautiful and will most likely spin well into gorgeous yarn. We will keep an eye on little Lil with regard to breeding but for now, she is a happy, healthy, gorgeous addition to our herd.
The Florens Five
Starlight, Caramella, Nina, Stanstead and Precious came to us in July of 2020 from Florens Alpacas in Cumbria. We found out there were five non-breeding girls looking for a peaceful retirement home, and we knew we had to add them to our herd. They have fully integrated with our Sheriff and Birkhill girls, after a few months of contemplation from neighbouring fields, and they all get along beautifully.
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 adjustment on a nearby farm, where she made friends with Caramella and Stanstead. 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 hums almost all the time, sounding very mournful indeed. It is just her way. 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 she definitely takes joy in the little things – like rolling in a dust puddle, feeling the cooling effect of the hose pipe on her sore 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 two alpacas At Birkhill House (the other being 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 and is grandmother to Precious.
Date of Birth: 2 July 2013
Precious is a big, lively, lovely girl. Bold and playful, she is into absolutely everything. A true extrovert. She is super friendly and inquisitive, preferring to be right in the heart of the action at all times. Presh was never bred from, as she has a malformed vulva, so she has to content herself with playing auntie to the little ones. She is reverent to Caramella, her grandmother, but bossy with the others, throwing her weight around and swinging her neck haughtily. She is a very greedy girl and so we have to be careful with portion control at feeding time. Given the opportunity to steal food, she would do it in a heartbeat. Her winning smile is noticeable, as her teeth jut out, and her gaze is made all the more curious by the fact that she is a blue-eyed black alpaca. This is a rare combination and she wears it well.