An interview with Rack and Ruin Alpacas01/11/21
With increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and the challenges of an uncertain market having an impact on traditional farming, many land owners are looking for ways to diversify their land to continue to make it profitable.
From turning unfarmed hardstanding into camping and glamping sites or areas for storage, to providing the opportunity for fun countryside pursuits and experiences, or taking a more ecological approach and allocating areas for rewilding, there are a multitude of options for farmers and landowners to maximise and profit from finding a new use for their land, and branch into new business ventures.
Keeping alpacas is also becoming an increasingly popular way of making use of land in an attempt to diversify. Many enjoy finding new ways to monetise their alpacas, with their wool and walking opportunities a popular draw for the public.
We spoke with Steve Parry, the owner of Rack and Ruin Alpacas in Cheshire, to discover how he began working with alpacas, and his business plans for the future:
What did you do before keeping alpacas?
I worked in maintenance at the Land Rover/Jaguar car factory in Liverpool. This involved fixing any mechanical breakdowns in the factory. I worked there for 30 years, however, due to ill health I decided to take early retirement. I wasn’t quite ready to give up working though, and I wanted to do something different, preferably outside.
What made you decide to keep alpacas?
Alpacas are very hardy and easy to keep. They are very friendly and inquisitive, making them lovely pets. They are also calm and nice to be with. I bought two alpacas, Rack and Ruin, in August 2018, to care for as a bit of a hobby. I then bought four more, and it really snowballed from there. I have 16 alpacas now, with three more babies, or crias, on the way!
How did you find the land?
I have been a regular at The Chester Fields Country Pub in Cheshire for 9 years, as my in-laws live nearby. I was speaking with the owner, and he offered me the land adjoining his pub to keep my alpacas on and do business from, and it’s a great partnership.
How did you come up with the name ‘Rack and Ruin Alpacas’?
A family member called them ‘Rack and Ruin’, and it stuck. It just sounded catchy to name my alpaca business after them, especially as they were my first alpacas. We then launched the business at the end of October 2019.
How did you develop keeping alpacas into a business?
It was always at the back on my mind to turn owning alpacas into a business. I first started offering my alpacas for walks around the surrounding countryside, with petting and feeding a separate offering. We then experimented with other ideas from there. The pub also hosts weddings, and happy couples can choose to have a few alpacas attend their wedding to meet and greet the guests. We’re pleased to have attended half a dozen weddings so far this year.
Did you seek any professional advice before setting up the business?
I spoke to another local alpaca farm, Cheshire Alpacas, for advice on how to care for and train them to walk with people. They also advised on what to look for when buying an alpaca. They have been invaluable sources of information, and I’m still learning from them.
What’s the best thing about working with alpacas?
Alpacas are very calming, and very easy to work with. They were the perfect business ideas for me. I love animals, and it’s great to be in a very different profession to what I had done before, and it’s in the great outdoors, which is a bonus. Alpacas are also good for the land, as they don’t damage or destroy grass. They keep it trimmed but when they eat, they don’t tear it from the roots.
What do you think makes alpacas so popular?
I think they have become popular because they’re so approachable. They are good with kids and adults, especially people with special needs and learning difficulties. They all have nice and friendly personalities, they’re enjoyable to be around, and they’re very calming and soothing.
Do you have any plans for growing the business?
I’m looking into having our alpaca’s sheared fleece processed into wool to make knitted goods to sell at our onsite shop. We are also considering taking our alpacas offsite for weddings, as well as for visits to nursing homes for the elderly and special needs, children’s nurseries, or for kids’ parties.
We have previously held team building training days for work, such as for the NHS, which was a success. Festive events such as alpaca walks for Christmas parties are also popular. We held a spooky ‘Alpacalypse’ event our launch party for Halloween October 2019.
This all may mean that we will need to buy more alpacas for the future, but this will depend on available land to use.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of setting up a similar venture?
Try keeping alpacas as a hobby first, to help you understand these amazing creatures. I would say that it is best to keep them on land nearby, either attached to or near your home, as this makes it easier to keep tabs on the herd. Make sure that this is good dry land and isn’t prone to flooding, but has access to running mains water. You’ll also need to provide hard standing and shelter for them.
Choose the best male to breed from, and castrate any other males. This diminishes aggression in the herd, with full males usually vying to be the leader. This helps them to become more gentle, and you can also keep the castrated males with the females, so this is easier for land management.
Only buy from professional breeders. That way you know exactly what you are getting as you can often meet the mother and father alpacas. I bought Rack and Ruin locally, and the others are from certified breeders from all over the UK.
Lastly, make sure you get the most from your alpacas by letting nothing go to waste. Alpaca poo is a fantastic fertiliser, and I’ve been told that it’s better for plants than horse manure! Our alpaca poo is used on local allotments; the bags usually sell out in minutes.