Alpacas in Tuscany – Breakfast!

Breakfast time for my alpacas in Tuscany

Breakfast time for my alpacas in Tuscany

Alpacas in Tuscany? Oh yes! These animals are rare in Italy an certainly the locals in my little village didn’t expect me to provide them with a mini petting zoo in this neck of the woods!

I have now got seven lovely alpacas. They live in my back garden, very close to the house. This means I can keep an eye on them easily. I check them three or four times a day and enjoy just watching them amble around to be honest!

My original idea was to have a little alpaca breeding programme, so I bought three pregnant females plus a companion female who, for various anatomical reasons, can’t be mated. Champagne, my big Suri female, ended up not being pregnant after all. The other two, Emilia and Diana, both huacayas, had two lovely boys, Brunello and Dolcetto. Watching  an alpaca being born in my garden was a wonderful experience. Sadly, Diana died from unknown causes when baby Dolcetto was just four months old, but he was big and strong and survived brilliantly.

Emilia went on to have another boy, Pomino and Champagne also had a boy, Merlot. (Can you see the wine theme going on here?) The boys were born within a day of each other, but one is Suri and the other huacaya so they are very different in temperament and size.

The alpacas' breakfast plus seed for the three handicapped pigeons

The alpacas breakfast plus seed for the three handicapped pigeons

Twice a day I take them their dishes of diced apples, carrots, Camelibra alpaca supplement, alfafa pellets and sugarbeet soaked in water. It is really sweet how they all run to their individual dishes and tuck in! Strictly speaking it isn’t necessary to give them anyof this except the supplement, but a) it is winter so they need a bit extra and b) I like doing it and so do they!

The Cycle of Life and Death

baby alpaca Pomino

The new baby alpaca, Pomino.

On the morning of May 17  a brown rabbit bolted from a group of trees and ran across my friend Judith’s foot before disappearing. The dogs were far away in the opposite direction, so it had nothing to do with them. I told her it was the first time I had ever seen a rabbit in almost ten years of living here, although I had seen about everything else, from porcupine to wild boar. Considering the circumstances, I knew it was some kind of sign. Judith and I returned from our walk to find one of my very pregnant alpacas had given birth while we were out. A quivering white woolly creature, all big eyes and endless wobbly legs was struggling to stand, surrounded by five curious alpacas in a scene that appeared almost biblical in its charm and timelessness.

A few hours later we were in Intensive Care at Arezzo hospital, a place I had got to know all too well over the previous 17 days. My husband Alan lay motionless in bed 10, hooked up to iv’s and tubes, so sedated that he didn’t even know we were there. The doctors had already warned me that they had lost the battle and that it was just a matter of time. I told him about the baby alpaca and the rabbit, chatted on about what we had been doing as usual. It was something I’d resolved to do even though he was unresponsive, talk to him as if he could hear and understand. I told him I’d see him later and kissed him goodbye. We drove back in silence, both trying to take in his dramatic deterioration. At home, surrounded by dogs we had a cup of tea, then checked the baby alpaca. The phone rang. It was the hospital asking us to go straight back. I was astounded by my calmness as my worst nightmare unfolded, I didn’t drive too fast, I didn’t cry. We rang the bell of the dramatically named ‘Reanimazione’ ward to be greeted by the motherly doctor who had been so kind to me. She took my hand. ‘I’m so sorry, Signora.’

On the drive home we both noticed one dead magpie lying by the side of the road – ‘one for sorrow.’ In the evening of that unforgettable day I looked up the symbolic meaning of the rabbit. One interpretation was ‘the cycle of life and death’.  I had had a feeling, a premonition which I barely wanted to acknowledge, that Alan would die on the day the alpaca was born and it had happened as I thought it would.

The second baby was born the next day, but the gods were determined that I should be tested even further. The mother had a retained placenta, which meant an emergency call to the vet, a life or death intervention. My diva Suri alpaca, the very definition of Miss High Maintenance, was struggling to breathe and in shock from the birth and the proximity of strangers and the inability to move or escape. The vet was very concerned, gave her an injection to help her breathe and stayed on to check that she wasn’t going to die. Fortunately, she didn’t, but I had to give her antibiotic injections for the next five days. The universe was determined I should be immersed in medical stuff for some reason.

And although I never wanted to see syringes, tubes, medicines or anything connected with illness ever again, I knew I had to face yet more. My elderly labrador ZsaZsa was diagnosed with leishmaniasis while Alan was in hospital. The treatment (not cure) is two daily injections of Glucantime for 30 days and three tablets of allopurinol daily for a year. I delayed doing anything while Alan was in Intensive Care, but I started the therapy a week ago, crossing off the days on a chart. I cried my eyes out as I gave her the first injection. ‘I don’t want to do this!’ But then I got a grip and it’s getting easier. It’s too early to say if it’s working or not, but I will keep you posted.

It has been a testing time and I’m not sure what it all means. But one thing I am sure about, despite the traumas and the dramas, I couldn’t have got through this without my animals. My friends – particularly the wonderful Judith –  and my family were there at the end, but the animals were there from the beginning, when I was on my own. They alpacas listened gently as I raged and screamed at the unfairness and the horror of it all, the dogs licked my tears away after yet another desperate visit to the hospital, tails wagging as they struggled to understand why they were being left alone for hours and why I was now sitting crying on the floor. They are what kept me going and they are keeping me going now.


My Alpacas in Italy

My alpacas in ItalyWell, I am now the very proud owner of four beautiful female alpacas. Their names are Nicola, Emilia, Champagne and Diana. Two are huacayas (the teddy bear kind) and two are suri (the dreadlock-haired kind). They arrived almost three weeks ago and have already changed my life in the best way!

The three white ones are all pregnant and their cria (baby alpacas) will arrive from the end of August onwards so I am in for a busy autumn.

I have wanted alpacas since reading an article about them in a UK magazine and although our first house in Umbria wasn’t big enough to accommodate them, the land we have now is just about Ok, so has all been fenced and a three sided shelter added.

I have got a new website for this venture so check it out: