Jam and Jerusalem: All creatures great and small

Vicky Aspinall's alpacas at home in Painswick

Vicky Aspinall's alpacas at home in Painswick - Credit: Archant

New County Chairman Anne Turner reveals that there are more alpacas in the Cotswolds than in the Andes

I have recently been elected as Chairman of the Gloucestershire Federation of WIs, which is a great honour for me. I have lived and worked in Gloucestershire all my life and although now retired, I was head teacher at Ashleworth Primary School for many years. I have been in the WI for 45 years so I am delighted to be able to bring you Jam and Jerusalem.

Yes I know. WIs make cake and jam and sing a lot but we are family members too. So for this Cotswold Life special edition on pets I thought it would be intriguing to ask one of our members to let you know some of their ‘pet secrets’.

Painswick is not exactly at the same altitude above sea level as the Andes but the two do have something in common - alpacas. Yew Trees WI member Vicky Aspinall has four. Vicky and her husband Richard, both veterinary surgeons in Gloucester, moved to Paradise, Painswick, a few years ago and into a property with two acres of land. In order to keep the grass down they bought four Cotswold sheep. While they did a good job of cud munching they thought they were at a POW camp and kept escaping. Vicky decided on some decisive action so the sheep were sold on and the alpacas arrived.

The four alpacas are all castrated males and all different colours. Basil is mid-brown, Hugo is cream, Marble is brown and white and Panda is black and white. They are all about seven years old and she has had them since they were quite young. Their lifespan is 15-20 years. Vicky says that alpacas have adapted to life outside of the Andes very well. There, the grass is sparse while here in the Cotswolds the grass is rather lush and the alpacas can tend to be a little more overweight than their South American relatives. Grass is the staple diet during the summer so Basil, Hugo, Marble and Panda are doing as good a job on the mowing as the Cotswold sheep they replaced. During the winter their feed is hay and also a type of alpaca muesli. You won’t find that in Waitrose!

Vicky tells us that there are more alpacas in the Cotswolds than in the Andes, with a large herd at Cowley and another near where I live in Tirley. Alpacas are becoming very popular, perhaps because of their lovely temperament, and so much so that even the Royal Three Counties Show has an alpaca class.

Although Vicky and Richard are very competent vets there is specialist alpaca vets that they can call in if treatment is needed. The same goes for the shearing of the fleece and in the summer Vicky has to book a spot with a specialist shearer from the USA or Australia. A sheep’s fleece invariably comes off in one piece. It is however a lot harder to do this with alpacas as they are usually shorn lying down (the alpaca that is, not the shearer!). A fleece will fill approximately one-and-a-half black bin liners of wool. Vicky tends to give this away to local people who use it for spinning because, unlike sheep’s wool, it has no lanolin naturally in it and so is wonderfully soft. That probably reflects the typical cost of an alpaca jumper at around £200.

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The WI is of course well known for its craft skills etc and I’ve just had a great idea. I do possess a spinning wheel. Now where is that bag of alpaca wool?

This month we have:

• A walk around Whitminster followed by a lunch provided by Whitminster WI

• A Singing For Joy workshop in Moreton-in-Marsh

• The finals of our 2013 Skittles and Plate competition

• The GFWI Racing Club attending Open Sunday at Cheltenham races

• A meeting at Gloucester Guildhall to discuss proposals for next year’s AGM resolutions

• A visit to the Birmingham Christmas Market

• An exciting day of taster classes in partnership with Adult Education


This article is by County Chairman Anne Turner from the November 2013 edition of Cotswold Life.

For more information of the WI in Gloucestershire visit: www.thewi.org.uk/gloucestershire

or telephone: 01452 523966

Twitter: @GlosFedWI