Beck Brow Alpacas – 10 years
As 2019 comes to a close, I have been reflecting, not just upon the last 12 months, but also about the 10 years since our alpaca journey began.
March 2009 saw the birth of Beck Brow Alpacas of Cumbria. Well, this was when I choose to leave behind my critical care nursing career and become someone who bred a few alpacas (alpaca breeder sounds too formal for where I was). This wasn’t done with a firm business plan in mind. I had no idea at this stage that six alpacas could turn in to 160. That the five acres allocated to my small herd would become 50 acres. That field shelters would be popping up as frequently as rabbits, and that each one would necessitate being bigger than the last. Let’s just say Beck Brow Alpacas evolved organically and beyond all our expectations (if we had any to start with).
We have had many exciting moments over the past 10 years, but one of my most memorable was the purchase of EP Cambridge Lady Gaga at the British Futurity Elite Auction in 2010. It was such a hard-fought battle to secure her (at way over the price we were DEFINITELY not exceeding). I believe I was still dancing and singing ‘Bad Romance’ alternating with ‘Poker Face’ weeks later. It was very early days for us as alpaca breeders, but Gaga has proven herself to be worth every penny. Her pairing with Waradene St Patrick produced for us Beck Brow Snooty Boots and Beck Brow Cat’s Pyjamas. Both these females have produced multi-champion winning progeny and have produced our best two coloured cria of 2019. Gaga herself still looks like a supermodel and was National Light Female Champion at 9 years of age. When I am especially happy with something, the saying is “that’s the best thing since Lady Gaga” …. you can keep your sliced bread thank you!
The Good Fortune
Of course, we all need good fortune. We can invest in top genetics. We can do our research to the point of nerdiness (I can take that!) but when purchasing a pregnant female, no one can be certain of the progeny quality, or indeed if there will definitely be one. We purchased Cambridge Camilla early 2010 (a good year!). She was purchased pregnant to EP Cambridge Navigator, an outstanding male who had been sold for £75,000. A male who was about to get his first progeny on the ground via Camilla. But Camilla made us wait…and wait…and wait. She was vet scanned as empty, but surely a maiden couldn’t be so large otherwise? Eventually, at 385-days gestation, she gave birth to Beck Brow Explorer (our average for spring births is 345-days). Whilst he had a rocky start, it soon became apparent that we had an exceptional male.
Beck Brow Explorer has gone on to prove himself to be very pre-potent in producing progeny with extremely uniform fleeces (micron) with low primary fibre diameter, not forgetting density, fleece length and brightness on a robust frame. However, we have sought out quality females for him right from the start. One of his most successful pairings has been with Morden Hall Honaria (another Futurity Auction purchase in 2009). These two have produced; Beck Brow First Edition, Bottom’s Up, Bedazzle and Ditto as well as a female for our 2020 show team.
Another great source of top-notch genetics for us was The Alpaca Classic (another elite auction/money pit/investment bank … call it what you wish!). Seriously, even Paul has to agree that our investment in top females has paid us back very well. These include the Bozedown females; Celestrial (dam to Beck Brow Trendsetter, Fashionista and By Design – All Supreme Champions). Campari (dam to Beck Brow On The Money, Back Of The Net and Hit For Six – all stud quality) Anything Goes (dam of Beck Brow Reno and No Nonsense – both champions) Delphi (dam of Mykonos – stud quality and show winner). Our success with these genetics when crossed with Beck Brow genetics had us invest in four more Bozedown females at the beginning of the year.
I know reading the above might make it look too easy. You purchase a quality female. Mate her to a ‘top stud’. Bob’s your uncle (or Fanny’s your aunt – whichever you prefer) you have prize-winning progeny. Thankfully it does often take a bit more skill than that (or I wouldn’t be so obsessed). Okay, you can get random success stories, but that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to know my trade. During the past 10 years, I have been on so many courses and attended so many seminars, that I have lost count. I have looked at thousands of alpacas over the years. The good, the bad and the not so pretty. The main thing that I have learnt is … you never stop learning. This obsession with training lead to my certification as a British Alpaca Society Judge in 2017 and re-certification in 2019. It was never really my intention to judge (it was to learn), but I now see what a privilege it is to assess alpacas in the ring.
Okay, so that’s a plug for the females. A plug for training. But we owe a lot to our stud males who have really shaped our herd:
Beck Brow Explorer.
Waradene St. Patrick (now owned by Pottery Alpacas)
Timbertop Goldmine of Beck Brow (now owned by Acton Hill Alpacas)
Viracocha Black Sabbath
Gilt Edge Samurai of Beck Brow
Kurrawa Crusader of Beck Brow
The progeny of these Huacaya males make up much of our core herd, both breeding females and stud males
The Young guns:
Beck Brow First Edition
Beck Brow On The Money
Beck Brow Vidal
Bozedown Blaze of Glory
These young males, who have passed the most rigorous of selection processes to meet our standards, feature strongly in our future plans.
It has been interesting looking back, to see how our overall herd quality has improved over the years. However, it is also noted that those first top-notch females are still producing show winners all these years later. What has really changed is the depth and breadth of quality off-spring being consistently produced by our females. Not just a couple of stand-outs but the majority considered to be premier division. Although, there will always be a curveball or two!
The Cria and welfare
Like any farmer, we have had our ups and downs in 10 years. Thankfully we have an excellent veterinary practice and also the Veterinary Laboratory Agency close by. We have been fortunate not to lose many adults over the years, but do always get a full postmortem done by the VLA. Learning about all things alpaca has also included reading as much about health and welfare as I can as well as attending courses. However, nothing beats experience and learning from it. Having had approximately 300 cria born on the farm (including agisted) the birthing season is no longer daunting (as it was that first year). In 2009 we registered three cria. By 2010 we had nine to register. Ten years later (2019) it was 37. Still very manageable and allows us to easily provide individualised care for each alpaca (yes every single one is pampered).
The Show Ring
We have had a great time in the show ring over the years. Our first outing was to the Northumberland County Show in 2009, where we took two males who were later castrated (to be fair they were pets but we enjoyed the experience). At the same show in 2011, Beck Brow Explorer took the Supreme Championship. Our Championship winning sash tally is approximately 185 to date (co-owned alpaca results are separate hence may have missed some!) and 59 reserve championship sashes. However, whilst recognition of our breeding programme is very satisfying, showing is amazing fun and we have made some great friends in the alpaca industry. We compete against each other during the day and then, win or lose, enjoy ourselves together in the evening.
The Suri herd
The post so far has been all about our Huacayas who make up the majority of our herd. We do however have a small herd of Suri (17) a slow growth as the first two years we only had male cria. This year we have had three females born, all sired by our imported male; Kurrawa Hell Raiser of Beck Brow.
Our family take an interest in the alpacas with son Ben providing farm sitting whilst we attended shows this year. Robyn and Craig live 10 minutes away with grandchildren; Hettie (5) Theodore (3) and Tobias (1). Hettie, especially, is a big fan, helping with fleece shots and trying for alpaca kisses at any opportunity.
It has been an amazing 10 years for us. Breeding alpacas has been truly life-changing. Both of us now work full-time on the farm and enjoy working with the herd every day. I first started writing a blog (on Blogspot) in 2010 and it has been fun revisiting this to see how we have grown Beck Brow Blogspot (2010 onwards)
As with most alpaca breeders, I am constantly planning at least five years ahead. I will be mating X with Y next year. They will have XY in 2021. In 2023 XY will be ready to be mated with A. How exciting will it be to see what XYA looks like when born in 2024. Hopefully ready for the show ring in 2025. Yes, that’s exactly how you wish your life away!
The UK alpaca industry is thriving as interest in alpacas grows year on year. The show circuit has seen more fleece and halter shows emerge each year, and with 620 entries for the BAS National Show, it looks like the 2020 event will be another great success.
Our plans for the next few years is to work with the wide-ranging choice of top genetics already within our herd, with the aim to produce that perfect alpaca (well you have to have a goal!). The excitement of seeing the results of breeding decisions never wanes for us, nor does the joy our alpacas bring to us day in and day out.