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News article  2005-08-08 - Visitors to country show enjoy a taste of the exotic


RETIRED greyhounds and alpacas from Peru were among the more unusual attractions at the 88th Emley Show alongside the more traditional sheep-shearing displays. The Retired Greyhound Trust, which cares for and rehomes unwanted racing dogs, has found new owners for nearly 30,000 animals since it was set up in 1976. On Saturday, at Emley, near Huddersfield, trust volunteers were on hand to explain why greyhounds make perfect family pets.

"We have rehomed 2,000 greyhounds each year for the past four years," said a spokesman. "But we plan to double that in the coming years."

The trust, which has branches in Huddersfield, Sheffield, Hull and other parts of the county, says that of the 9,000 greyhounds that come to the end of their racing career each year, many are abandoned and some are simply put down.

But the animals with the biggest "ahhh" factor were undoubtedly the llama-like alpacas, especially popular among children at the show. Half-a-dozen of the animals were on show courtesy of Sheffield-based business Mayfield Alpacas, run by Elaine Sharp, 41, in partnership with her husband Nigel.

Mrs Sharp has a herd of 65 alpacas with 25 more due to arrive shortly following ten months in quarantine in Switzerland. Alpaca breeding can provide a very good income for farmers looking to diversify, she said.

She breeds them to sell on some can fetch over 10,000 but in the long term there could be an alpaca wool industry in the UK, she believed. Many people just buy them for pets and the cheapest go for around 500.

"You can buy them as pets if you have an acre of land. They are more exotic than sheep and you can take them for walks. There is a real opportunity to set up a business breeding alpaca," she said.

The wool is the second strongest natural fibre in the world, known for its softness and does not irritate the skin.

The Sharps set up in business a couple of years ago after a few years breeding them as a hobby. The business has won several awards and last year made 65,000 profit. To date Mrs Sharp has sold around 40 animals. One customer, from Sheffield, recently paid 8,500 for a pregnant alpaca imported from Peru. The customer, with a background in horses, is planning to set up a breeding herd.

"The money is made in selling them on," explained Mrs Sharp. "You can quickly recoup your outlay and there is a huge market. We have 47 acres now and the business is expanding. We have only been to a few (agricultural) shows and we don't advertise but we have had quite a bit of serious interest from prospective buyers. The growth of the business has just snowballed. The UK is going to see a huge change in the alpaca industry in the next few years."

To make commercial spinning a possibility will require a UK alpaca population of around 100,000, compared to the existing population of less than 10,000, she said. Her business, in the Mayfield valley on the Sheffield-Derbyshire border, passes the wool to local hand-spinners who make their own garments. She employs only one member of staff and her husband has his own day job in engineering. Next year she is planning to open a visitor centre.

Despite the early morning starts and long days, she does not regret giving up her job as an office clerk at Sheffield Magistrates' Court. "I absolutely love what I do," she said. "Making a living out of what was a hobby is fantastic."

Andrew Robinson. This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post



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