Breeder Interview with Mark Steele of Patou Alpacas (UK)

Hi Mark, talk to me. Why and how did you get in to alpaca breeding?

Good morning Alan, or Buenos Dias (or something like that)

We got into alpaca breeding about 7 years ago. It was all Sue’s fault. We decided over several glasses of wine that when we retired from our day jobs we wanted something new to do, something completely different (I’m a Village Bobby and Sue is a midwife). Sue went to an alpaca farm open day with a friend and was smitten. I visited a few days later and also fell under their spell. Not only that but we could see the business potential too. 6 months later and our first three females turned up.

Blast those alpaca farm open days  A friendly bottle fed cria is all it takes!

Tell us a bit about the business where you live.

We live on the eastern edge of the South West Alpaca Region which has a large proportion of the UK alpaca breeders. We have been slowly building up the herd for the past seven years and now have a herd of 40 alpacas. We decided to pursue the dream of breeding a herd of brown alpacas with qualities to match the best of any colour. It is a pretty tall order but each year we have seen an improvement in quality in the cria and we now have more brown females than the other colours put together. Brown is beautiful! The alpaca business is very competitive down here in the south so you have to keep on your toes and work hard!

Aww we love the coloured animals!! What are your main objectives as a breeder?

We have been breeding for brown alpacas for about five years, which is not easy, they don’t always come out brown! What we are doing is breeding brown with brown (or black in earlier years) to fix the colour. We have also been concentrating on conformation and obviously fleece qualities. I have, in my mind, a picture of my perfect alpaca, and I have a picture in my mind of a whole herd of my perfect alpacas. As I said it is a tall order and slowly but surely we are getting there. We imported a brown male from Australia three years ago(Van Diemen Qjori of Patou) and we are very pleased with his cria. Not only that but we have just sold our first home-bred young potential herd-sire to a breeder in Holland which is very exciting for us. It’s all about breeding brown alpacas for us.

Wow, that’s amazing. Congratulations on selling your first potential herd sire. Half way there now Mark  Does the area you live in provide any specific difficulties or challenges?

We live on very wet land which does have its ups and downs. It means that we have very lush grass for most of the year which is great. However, after the absolutely awful weather this summer we are very water logged in places. This has meant that we have had foot problems, which we have never had before and we have had to treat the herd against Liver Fluke which is prolific this year on wet ground. The other negative is that as the ground never truly dries out (certainly not this summer!) when it is warm it is the perfect environment for all sorts of bugs, mites, flies etc. We have had our work cut out this year but as we check our alpacas regularly we have been able to tackle problems early as they manifest themselves.

I can see the ups and downs there. We had about 18 months with no rain, you can imagine the state of the ground after that time. But this year the winter rains arrived big time, a car even got washed away!!

What do you do with your fleece?

Well I can tell you that we have enough hats and scarves for each of us to have one for every day of the week! We have processed our fleece at mini-mills and sold the yarn at agricultural shows, it sells very well. We have also sold whole fleeces to hand spinners. We are getting more and more good quality fleece every year so we need to think hard about the next few years, we certainly have enough hats and so do our friends!

I could do with some paca socks right now, I’m freezing!! Last one – What are your plans for the next year?

Next year is a big one for us as hopefully I will be in a position to retire from the ‘day job’ in November. If that is possible I will be throwing myself into the alpaca world on a full time basis. Prior to that we hope to attend as many alpaca shows as possible with the Mighty Patou Show Team. We will continue to spread our name as far and wide as possible and establish ourselves as the breeder of the best brown alpacas in the UK. No, Europe. No, THE WORLD!.

Excellent, good luck with the retirement  Thanks so much for joining me Mark. Do you have a web site where people can find you?

Of course, I thought you’d never ask!  www.patoualpacas.co.uk

Thanks Alan.

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