Emma & Stuart Collison, Moor View Alpacas, Cornwall
When Stuart and I signed the papers for the Farm, most of our friends and family thought we were mad, and most of them also thought a Farm was the last place they would find me, especially as I had done Theatre and Performance at Uni - not Agricultural Studies.
However, we were living in Plymouth and the council decided to put an incinerator opposite our house. After campaigning against it for 2 years, we put the house on the market and started working on finding some land. We had done a lot of research on what animals we would like to have on the farm and it was always a given we would have some pigs and some tame lambs to provide ourselves with meat, and that we would grow our own veg. However that hasn’t been so successful as I can only grow stinging nettles - so glad that our parents can help on that front.
We had been looking at a great book called 'Field to Farm', that is often said to be the Bible for smallholders and farmers who are starting out. After reading this we had decided we wanted to go for either Ostriches or Alpacas. Not being able to find any Ostrich parks around to visit, and after finding that we needed a dangerous animals licence and very high fences, we thought Ostrich’s probably weren’t for us.
In August 2011 we found a lovely couple who were selling their Alpaca herd. Adrian and Sajla Armstorng from Thistledown Alpacas invited us into their lives, and after meeting the Alpacas for the first time I was in love... I am sure all people who have animals remember the first time they saw them and fell in love with them. Stuart was also very keen on them, and having spent some time with the animals, we were really lucky that Sajla and Adrian agreed to sell us their animals. We put down a deposit pretty much straight away and then spent most of our summer at their house. So we had a herd of 16 Alpacas and nowhere to live with them.
After spending a long time searching the Cornish countryside for an affordable piece of land that we could also live on, eventually we found some land. 10.5 acres with a small barn and a lovely Park home on it which meant we had somewhere to live.
We moved into the farm on Bodmin Moor on the 28th October 2011, well actually our 4 pigs moved in first then we moved in. On the 22nd of November the Alpacas moved onto site amongst a lot of drama, as Stuarts mum fell over and broke her hip first thing in the morning. However, we got all of the animals on site and managed to get Stuarts mum to the hospital.
Moor View Alpacas was born.
After moving in we applied for temporary planning permission so that we could build our business, this meant we had 3 years to make a financially stable business which would be able to support one of us working full time.
We spent most of the first 6 months putting up fences and shelters, and quickly discovered we needed more space, so put in an application for a new barn that we could fit the Alpacas in on those horrible winter days.
Our intention when we brought the Alpacas was to sell them for thousands of pounds and make some nice money. However we quickly discovered that this probably wasn’t going to happen, the price has dropped in Alpacas. Although some breeders may disagree, we have found that mostly people want alpacas only as pets and for not a huge amount of money.
In October of 2012, Emma went full time on the farm and started to work hard on new products and new animals. We invested in our own flock of sheep so that we could produce our own lamb. Rather than buying in tame lambs, we were able to breed our own sheep and pigs which meant we could lower our costs whilst still being able to sell our meat. However we knew that a lot of farmers markets already had people who could sell lamb and pork so we thought Alpaca meat would give us a unique opportunity to break into the markets.
We needed to diversify - we had the pigs for pork and we had our tame lambs which we sold very quickly, so we started to investigate Alpaca meat. We found an abbatoir nearby that already had a licence for Alpaca, so we decided to get one done and turn it in to sausages. The meat is very lean and low in cholesterol and has a similar taste to venison.
The sausages flew off the farm and we very quickly found ourselves putting another animal into the abbatoir. We found a couple of markets and started doing those on a regular basis, and then we did our summer events and agricultural shows as well. We found ourselves doing an animal a month and realised we would need to find a supply of animals to help us out whilst we build up our own herd.
We added a kitchen into the design of our barn as well as a workshop / shop area where we could display the knitwear, bringing the whole enterprise together.
Things really came through for us when we ended up with our sausages on the BBC Countryfile show - we were very lucky to win 3rd prize in their food competition.
Since then we have been very busy selling our products and sales have been great. We have been approached to do some more TV appearances and hoping to expand our range of food products as well as our knitwear.
The most important thing is that our animals are well looked after and have plenty of space - we enjoy spending time with our animals and watching them run around the field. We have been given a great opportunity here and we hope we can continue to expand our business and our lifestyle to achieve what we have always wanted, self sufficiency and a happy life.