Fiona Tankard and her alpacas

Me and my four alpacas

Hello, my name is Fiona Tankard. I’m a British writer living in Tuscany, Italy and I have just bought a little herd of alpacas.

You know when you get an idea in your head and it just won’t go away? That’s how it was with me and alpacas.

I read an article back in  2005 in the UK magazine Country Living. It was about a lady called Hilary Shenton and how she had left the corporate world in London to start an alpaca business called Zarza Alpacas. Apart from the fact my labrador’s name was ZsaZsa, I was very drawn to the whole idea and set about researching alpacas in Italy, where I have lived with my husband Alan and various animals since 1994, when we moved from Bournemouth, UK into an old Umbrian famhouse.

I found a nearby herd which, as it turned out, was the first and biggest alpaca herd in Italy, Maridiana, and went to visit. The owner Gianni Berna was incredibly hospitable and very proud of his lovely animals. I was intrigued that they hummed! I’d never heard anything like it! Even Alan was more than a little caught up in their spell.

I contacted Hilary Shenton and discovered to my amazement that she was relocating to Italy! Che coincidenza! I emailed her a couple of times, we even discussed doing a feature on her in Italy magazine, which I was editing at the time. I told her of my alpaca plans. It all seemed possible, even though our land in Umbria was really too small.

Then life intervened. We moved to Tuscany, I left the magazine, my Mum got ill, Alan got ill, things went a bit to pot really and 2012 was, quite honestly, a year that I would like to blot out completely.

The Return of the Idea

But the beginning of 2013 felt different. I don’t quite know why or how, but alpacas started to get to me again. I knew after our annus horribilis that I wanted to do something enjoyable and that could perhaps become a business. I needed to have a balance to my computer-based writing job. An alpaca business looked like it had the lot – fun, animals (duh!), a product (I love knitting and hand crafted goods), babies (I have never seen a baby anything being born) and the chance to get more involved with local people. In our area of Italy many people have never heard of alpacas and most definitely never seen one.

I got back in touch with Hilary again and she came over. We had lunch, we looked at photos, I asked questions. I thought a lot after she had gone. Would our rescue English Setter be OK with them, even on the other side of a fence? Was I crazy to be spending quite a lot of money on this? Would I be allowed to keep them in the garden, even if the garden is about an acre?

To cut a long story short, after a great deal of faffing on my part, I decided to go ahead and bought my “girls”.