Saturday, 11 July 2009

Time to blog at last!

Sorry for the abscence again folks the day job has been pulling me around by the ear all week which is highly irritating. Nothing would give me greater pleasure to turn round and tell it where to go but that's life I suppose.

It's all good news here in the magical world of Patou though. The latest addition to the herd, Patou Polly, is in fine fettle and looking lovely, as you can see. Her mother Connie will be introduced to Columbus in a week or so which is fantastic news. He now has a bit of a queue forming so better sort himself out soon.

He is going to say 'hello' to Priscilla today, which we hope will sound in his mind like 'Ding dong!' The lights will be dimmed, the music will be on and fingers will be crossed. I will try not to stand within earshot shouting 'COME ON BIG BOY!' as that will no doubt put him off. Think about it fellas, big pressure, nobody needs that!

The other good news of the week is that little Belle, who spent two rather expensive days with the vet is now home and improving by the day. She is charging around with her brother Sebastian and behaving like a kitten should do. She still looks a little spaced out at times but hopefully she will continue to improve.

Sebastian himself is a real tearaway but likes nothing better than to go to sleep curled up on a shoulder. Yes folks that is my ear.

I was asked to write an article this week for inclusion in the South West Alpaca Group (SWAG) newsletter about how you can be successful and be a small alpaca breeder. I have copied it below, it may be of some help to someone. It does big us up a bit but hey, if we don't do it no-one else will!

Making a success of being a small alpaca breeder. (No-one said it would be easy, but it is possible.)

Sue and I formed Patou Alpacas when we bought our first three female alpacas in February 2006. Three and a half years later we now have a herd of 18 alpacas, 13 of which are females (including this year’s cria).

We are classified as ‘small breeders’. It’s not a phrase I particularly like but by virtue of numbers alone it is the category that we fit into. We are small breeders. There I’ve said it.

When we started we had a vision of where we wanted to be in 5 years and ultimately in 10 years. We formulated a breeding plan and decided how we wanted the herd to look. We were determined to use the best herd sires we could find that fitted in with our breeding plan. We wanted colour, our foundation females were black, light brown and dark fawn and that is how we saw the herd. I would stand and look at our little herd and imagine it much larger, 20 alpacas, 50 alpacas, a field full, all coloured, all with the Patou prefix to their name. All running up for a cuddle when I whistled, ok maybe that’s a bit too far, they are alpacas after all.

We predicted that we would need 5 years of growing the herd before we would be in a position to start selling our own alpacas. In the meantime we needed to generate some income for stud fees.

First of all we needed to get established, we needed the herd name known, and we needed people to know that we were here. Patou alpacas had arrived on the scene and I felt the world needed to know about us. If no-one knew we were here there was no point, it was a non-starter; it would be like whispering into a dark hole.

In November 2006 a computer literate friend of mine designed a website for us. He taught me how to update and change it, a time consuming process for someone with a technology aversion, but we couldn’t afford the set up fees of a website designer so it was a do it yourself job. We used Moonfruit ( a ‘design and maintain your own website’ company that allowed us to put as much or as little effort in as we wanted. The website has moved on a long way from where it was and it is now something I am quite proud of.

We advertised in ‘Alpaca’ and ‘Alpaca World’ magazines and we had some ‘corporate’ clothing made up with the Patou name, logo and web address printed on. We had some banners made, some business cards and an advertising leaflet. All done relatively cheaply. We then splashed out on a small marquee type thing, only 3m x 3m but emblazoned with the Patou web address and in ‘Patou green’, in fact everything was green, it was our chosen colour.

Once we were equipped with all that we entered as many shows as we could go to. I work full time and Sue works part time so we were a bit restricted but we entered every eligible animal we had into the Bath and West Show and the SWAG Spring Show, later came the Futurity. Our show team was basically anyone who was eligible; it was a short selection process! Our first year’s cria, Lily and Henry both took rosettes as juniors, one in each show. We were up and running. Since then we have taken at least one rosette at every show we have been to, bar one, grrrrrrrr. Testament to the commitment we have of sticking to our breeding programme.

We also took our alpacas to agricultural shows, village fetes, anywhere people wanted us to go basically. It was and still is great fun, everyone loves alpacas. It is a great feeling when everyone who comes up to see them thinks they are fab. If you haven’t tried it you must. It is an uplifting experience.

So back to this money we needed for stud fees. We were lucky enough to have the help of Tim Hey at Inca Alpacas who encouraged us. He asked if we wanted to take on some animals to sell on behalf of their owners on a commission basis. It meant more responsibility and more work but the way I looked at it was that if we wanted to get on in the alpaca world we had to work at it. No-one else was going to do it for us. If we wanted to make it work then we had to move up a gear mentally and start thinking, not like a small breeder, but like a big breeder.

Taking on alpacas to sell meant that the website had to be seen, it had to be interesting and it had to attract people. We thought long and hard about when we were researching alpacas and what had attracted us to certain websites. We also thought about what put us off certain websites. It had to be personal, it had to be friendly, it had to be honest and it had to be fun.

In my job as a country bobby I had written a monthly newsletter which was very well received and it was something that I enjoyed writing. It was drivel really but drivel with a message about crime prevention or about being nice to each other. It made people smile and I figured that was the key. People like to smile, people like to be amused, and it makes things interesting.

I decided to delve even deeper into the internet world and started to write a blog. Patou Patter, Ramblings from an alpaca farm in south Wiltshire, was born and a link was posted on the homepage of the website.

At the same time I had to get the website seen. Initially a Google search revealed that Patou Alpacas appeared on page 42! Not good, you need real stamina to flip through 42 pages of alpaca sites. So various measures were taken to improve this standing and we now pop up on or near the front page most of the time, I still don’t understand how it works but it does. In fact I have just had a look on Google and we are on the first page today, fantastic! The website now gets in excess of 50 hits a day and the blog is read by people from all over the world. Seriously, it is! I have a thingy on it which tells me where people are that read it, how cool is that?

So back to this raising money malarkey. In 2007 we took on some alpacas from other small breeders (who wanted to stay small) and some from EP Cambridge (not a small breeder!) and marketed and sold them on their behalf. We sold 7 alpacas that year, the commission paid for all of our stud fees. Last year we sold 6 alpacas, again on behalf of other people. Again the stud fees were covered. This year so far we have already sold 7 alpacas and summer has only just begun. It is the best start to a year we have had since we began selling and we are apparently in the middle of a credit crunch.

So why have we been able to sell alpacas? I don’t really know the exact reasons but I think I know several things that may have helped.

1. People need to know who and where you are. You need to make this happen because no-one else will do it for you. Seriously, they won’t.
2. You need to connect with people. Why buy from you? What makes you different from everyone else?
3. Honesty and integrity, without that you are not doing anyone any favours least of all yourself and you will be found out.
4. Think big, our motto is ‘You don’t have to be big to be mighty’.
5. Think outside the box, be different, be brave.
6. Get out there and make it happen, have faith and be positive!

So there we have it, I hope it helps. We have massive faith in our alpacas and huge faith in the future. Doom and gloom have no place amongst the mighty Patou herd.
Alpacas are fabulous animals and they produce a fabulous product. People need to know about them. We as alpaca breeders, small or large, have a duty to spread the word. So what are you waiting for?

Mark Steele, Lord of Patou, Chief of staff to the Mighty Mrs Steele of Patou, Holder of the Order of Spit, Orgler in training, Highly trained in the ways of poop scooping avoidance, Chief trumpet blower to the mighty Patou, Drivelmaster, Chief tantrum thrower and last but by no means least Berk of the Highest Order.

Ok the last bit was just for the blog!


Lucy said...

Now I don't know whether to leave comments on here or Facebook - it's getting confusing! Or do i just copy them over? He he he, I notice you said abscence - only alpaca breeders spell absence this way because it is very like that other word.... abscess!!!! Great article but I feel you should have left the description of yourself in! And finally, why is it, if you only have 18 alpacas, there seem to be literally thousands on your blog. We demand a family tree because we are thoroughly confuzled! They are looking great though.

Mark said...

Old Policicng trick, make them run around a lot, makes it seem like there are more of them.

Trevor said...

A very well written article Mark. Hopefully it will inspire lots of new alpaca keepers.