A FARM specialising in alpacas has taken the innovative step of setting up a crowdfunding project to help fund the welfare of their animals during the pandemic.

Teesdale Alpacas, based just outside Barnard Castle, is owned and run by husband and wife team, Doug Steen and Samantha Whitehead, and is the only alpaca trekking company in Teesdale. They breed and show their alpacas and, very occasionally, sell them.

They usually run alpaca trekking and farm visits, as well as attending weddings and events at Beamish Museum. However, the Covid-19 restrictions coincided with the start of their busy season and has resulted in no income, while the ongoing expense of looking after the well-being of their 65 alpacas and llamas continues as normal.

Their recent shearing bill was more than £1,000, for example, and a poorly alpaca has cost more than £800 in vets bills.

Doug said: "These costs are simply unavoidable – the animals need to be looked after and they don’t care about our human problems. We are passionate about the welfare of our animals."

In order to raise much-needed funds, they have set up a crowdfunding project to sell their alpaca products and combine them with vouchers for visits and treks, which can be used when things get better.

They also hope to have the opportunity to attract additional funding support through the North East Local Enterprise Partnership Pay It Forward scheme.

Doug, who recently received the Benavides Trophy, an award given in recognition of his contribution to camelids (llamas and alpacas) in the UK, was instrumental in bringing the Pay It Forward scheme to the North East LEP's attention. The scheme is set up to allow qualifying projects an amount of matched funding to help support businesses affected by Covid-19.

Samantha said: "We are fortunate in having a good range of quality products already and are hopeful they will prove attractive to customers who may not be able to shop as usual and who wish to support small local businesses." They have won awards for their products at the National Alpaca Show, which include hats and caps, throws, scarves and luxury alpaca bedding.

As has been the case for many small businesses, Teesdale Alpacas fell through the gaps in the support offered by the Government. Not needing to be rated for business rates means no support under that grant scheme and as they have been working on building the trekking business any income has been reinvested rather than taken as profits or salary.

Doug served four years on the board of the British Alpaca Society, before stepping down last year to focus on the business, as director in charge of welfare. He is still active in the society and works with a small group liaising with Defra and APHA on disease management.

He recognises there are people much worse off. He said: "We live in a beautiful spot, there is no denying that, but we stand to lose virtually an entire year's income and there is a limit to how much we can avoid spending. The future is definitely not looking too bright but the crowdfunder does offer a glimmer of hope for the business."

For more details or to donate, see their website at www.teesdale-alpacas.co.uk or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TeesdaleAlpacas.