Our Farming Week on Thursday described the emergence of a new woollen mill in South Molton and its part in an international sock trade. Fibres extracted from local livestock are at its heart, and part of the story belongs to a creature still viewed as a curiosity, as Richard Howe reports.
Alpacas are a growing farming sector with their roots in South America but their destiny in places all over the world, including North Devon.
These smaller relatives of the camel have gained ground across the South West, with more than 3,000 animals in herds ranging from half a dozen to 300 or so.
No longer farmed for their meat, it's the alpaca's fine fleece and easy temperament that have won over new breeders, among them Lorraine and Bill Tucker of Combe Martin.
Their farm is tucked away in a hillside just outside the village, and the closed herd is in an orchard beside the farmhouse and in fields beside the Bristol Channel.
They sell their wool at markets in South Molton and Barnstaple as well as to the Fibre Harvest company featured in the Journal's farming pages last week.
"We've enjoyed breeding them the last seven years," said Lorraine, who looks after the herd while Bill manages his own fencing business.
"We chose them because they're hardy and easy on the land. They have pads rather than hooves and they don't churn up the pasture.
"We discovered that no elaborate fencing was needed as alpacas don't challenge boundaries.
"They're stocked at around five to an acre and can stay outside all year, just needing access to a field shelter in the harsh weather."
Lorraine described the fleece as "amazing in its luxury" and explained there are two types of alpaca: (their own) Huacaya, which has a dense, fluffy and fine crimped fleece and the Suri, which has a silky fleece that hangs in long locks.
The animals have a gestation of nearly year and their babies are known as cria.
She added: "They're very gentle and that makes them popular with the public.
"They're herd animals and mustn't be kept alone. They thrive in a calm environment."
The Bella Alpacas have won a number of show prizes and Lorraine explained: "We've developed and improved our herd with selective breeding and we operate a closed herd.
"We have our own stud males which we choose carefully to enhance the characteristics of the new babies."
Lorraine sells some pedigree breeding stock, while customers also buy them to be halter trained and they're recognised as excellent guard animals.
"They'll protect chickens and lambs by deterring and seeing off foxes." Some even keep alpacas as field pets.
The Tuckers have the Bella herd shorn once a year so the fleeces are processed into luxury yarns and then made up into garments.
Unlike sheep wool the alpaca fleece doesn't contain lanolin and is smooth and suitable for sensitive skins. It comes in 22 natural colours.
Lorraine said: "All of our fibre is processed locally, we have raw and washed fibre suitable for spinners and crafts and the remainder of our herd's fleece is processed by John Arbon at his mill in South Molton."
All the products can be found at the pannier markets at Barnstaple on Wednesdays and South Molton on Thursday mornings.