Many readers will have read the obituaries in the broadsheets for General Sir John Wilsey; only those who were in the alpaca business in its earlier days will have known of his significant involvement in the development of the industry.
After a long and very distinguished career in the Army, in 1995 Sir John retired to a small farm on the Wiltshire/Dorset border overlooking the lush green Blackmore Vale, the area of the novelist Thomas Hardy’s ‘little dairies’. Looking out over his 50 acres of grassland he rang for advice from John Gaye, his ex-adjutant from days of commanding the 1st battalion of his regiment, The Devon and Dorsets, who had since retrained as a land agent.
John Gaye was about to set off for a visit to the Royal Show at Stoneleigh (now sadly no longer in existence but in those days the country’s premier agricultural show) and he promised to consider the options available. After a long day traipsing round the various ‘alternative farming’ stands, which in those days included ostriches, various goat enterprises and a few rare breed stock animals, John came across an Aussie with the usual Akubra drover’s hat talking up his newly arrived herd of alpacas. This was Kelvin Maude manager of Arunvale Alpacas in West Sussex.
At that time farm diversification was in its infancy, not being helped by various recent get-rich-quick livestock schemes that had garnered considerable negative publicity. It seemed that, although the cost of alpacas was considerable, by going into a brand new agricultural enterprise an alpaca breeder could influence the industry towards developing a product whose value was already well established in the fashion trade and ensure that the enterprise was founded on reality and focused on the product.
So, on returning home and after long discussion together, they decided to each purchase 6 pregnant alpacas and join together to form a new business called Blackmore Vale Alpacas. There was much to learn, not least about the husbandry of these novel creatures, fortunately there were already a few longstanding and experienced alpaca breeders in the UK and of course existing and developed alpaca industries in both North America and Australia/New Zealand from which to learn.