Alpaca means business at Wokingham farmBy Victoria Corbett
January 19, 2009
Launching a new business amid fears of a recession is brave for any entrepreneur.
But moving from a life in IT headhunting to running a farm is a gamble, a fact the owners of a new venture to breed an unusual type of animal in Wokingham know all too well.
Jeff and Sheila Easter have brought a strange new herd of animals to the borough, with luxuriously soft coats, long necks and origins in Peru, they are bringing a touch of the exotic to the borough.
The Easter-Wood Alpaca Stud Farm launched in June last year with 21 alpacas, a creature described by Mr Easter as “like a sheep but with a long neck”.
Since then the flourishing venture has welcomed its first cria, the term for a baby alpaca, which arrived on Armistice Day in November – earning her the name Poppy.
Mr and Mrs Easter bought their farm in 2006, planning to use their seven-and-a-half acres to keep horses.
However, after stumbling across an article about breeding alpacas, they decided to deviate to a new career path.
Mr Easter, 60, runs an IT headhunting firm in Camberley, however he hopes when the business takes off this year, he will eventually be able to move to working at the stud farm full time.
He said: “We set up the business primarily to provide high quality genetics to other breeders, so we have a core herd of five Australian high quality genetics, in addition we have a second herd of 13 that are mid-range and they are all pregnant.
“In 2009 we are expecting about 12 crias to be born, of which we have to sell a certain amount.
“The objective is to move away from the IT business to agricultural, it is a big difference and the passion is in the love of the countryside and love of animals.”
Mrs Easter, 56, has a background in retail and a life-long love of horses and the countryside, making this a venture of dreams for both.
Setting up such a business is by no means cheap, breeding alpacas sell for up to £14,500 for the best quality animal.
They need careful looking-after to ensure they are getting the correct diet for their complex bodies – they have three stomachs – and of course there is the time that must be spent maintaining their wellbeing and the farm’s paddocks.
The key to creating a successful alpaca business is picking the right area to concentrate on.
Although the fleece alpacas produce is described as even more luxurious than cashmere, it fetches only around £200, which is not much considering the cost of a high quality alpaca is around £10,000.
And so Mr and Mrs Easter have decided to focus on selling high quality genetic alpacas for other breeders, a venture they hope will prove successful, despite the current economic downturn.
Mr Easter said: “My reckoning is there will be more and more people wanting to get out of the rat race, out of corporate and into an agricultural enterprise, where there is a lot of freedom.
“We are in an ideal position to encourage and sell a core herd. We wanted to maximise the use of this land and move redundant agricultural land into an enterprise.”