City boy BEN FRAMPTON put down the pen and notepad to spend a morning out in the countryside with alpaca breeders Peter and Glenda Stoneman.

BEFORE I set foot on the Amazing Alpacas farm you could write what I knew about the animals on the back of a stamp.

They kind of look like llamas, but aren’t. That’s it.

I had seen them on the car adverts before films on Channel 4 and got the idea for the feature when I saw two alpacas on show at the Shirenewton fete.

So I was the metaphorical blank canvas when I made my way to Earlswood for Peter and Glenda Stoneman to teach me about keeping alpacas.

Mercifully the sun was shining after several weeks of consistent rain, and when I rang Peter to arrange when to come I was doubly relieved that this was not ‘up with the larks’ farming and the start of the day was 9am – much more agreeable.

As it transpired, it was Peter and Glenda’s alpacas I saw at Shirenewton, but the camelids are not the only animals on their smallholding.

The couple also keep and breed chickens, as well as running what I can only describe as boarding coops – they look after other people’s chickens when they are away.

It turns out chickens are more work than alpacas, so the first port of call was filling up the feed for the young chicks still being reared indoors before heading out onto the land and letting all the free-range birds out of the coops and collecting any eggs the hens had laid.

Then, we squelched our way across to where the cockerels are kept to let them stretch their drumsticks, but I was not entirely prepared for what emerged.

As I squatted down to let them out of their overnight accommodation, I wasn’t expecting what came swaggering out of the coop – the biggest chicken I have ever seen, and I swear, when I was on my haunches, we were eye to eye.

He was shortly followed by his bunkmate, and the two started to do what cockerels inevitably do, they started scrapping. Eager not to get in the middle, and no doubt come off second best, we left them to it and made a beeline for the much friendlier-looking alpacas. Keeping them by the chickens scares foxes off.

As we walked across the farm Peter told me two of the females were pregnant and due within the next few days – gestation in alpacas is 11 1/2 months and mothers tend to give birth to only one cria – twins are very rare.

We let the males out of the patch of land they stay in overnight and into a different field before moving on to check on the females and offspring.

As we turned the corner, Peter and Glenda pointed to the far side of the field where one of the females had given birth just moments before – I was going to see some action!

When crias are born they are dried, weighed, given an antiseptic spray on the umbilical cord to prevent infection and vaccinated – this all has to be done straightaway, and it’s fair to say the mothers are none too pleased about strangers encroaching on the baby.

As we put on surgical gloves Peter advised me to tread carefully as we walked towards the mother – they, like llamas, have a penchant for spitting.

Apparently, it comes in three stages – first, I’d get a warning, the mother would make a hissing/spitting noise to let me know I was not welcome.

Should that go unheeded, the next step is a proper spit in the direction of the intruder (me).

Should I be stupid enough to continue my foray into her space after this, Peter told me the pièce de résistance is the alpaca’s ability to bring up its stomach contents at will and gob that at us.

This revelation brought a glint to the eye of Mike, the photographer, who quickly asked “how far can they spit?”

I could see him formulating the picture in his mind’s eye of me with a face full of halfdigested breakfast while he gleefully snapped away from a safe distance. Glenda was in charge of holding onto the mother while Peter tended to the cria while I did as I was told and firmly kept one eye on the mother’s mouth.

To say she was displeased may be putting it mildly; as Peter and I put a thermal coat on the new arrival and carried out the necessary checks there was a fair amount of hissing and struggling.

That only took a few moments before we left mother and baby alone to bond while the rest of the herd were let out so I could change their water, re-stock the hay and even feed a few of them by hand.

New arrivals on the farm are named in alphabetical order – today was T, so the nipper I helped tend was named Amazing Tallulah, which brought the alpaca total to 24.

With that, the morning jobs were all but done – the animals get free roam during the daylight and Peter and Glenda carry out the same jobs in reverse in the evenings. After a very welcome cup of tea and several biscuits (my body is not used to physical exertion in the morning) I made my way back to the office.

Seeing new life come into the world and not getting spat on – that’s a successful morning in my book.

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