Meet the Prehistoric Chickens at Barnacre Alpacas
An English Animal Attraction with Chickens
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Barnacre Alpacas in rural Northumberland, England, is a small alpaca farm run by Debbie and Paul Rippon, who breed and sell friendly pet and champion alpacas. They do alpaca walks, training, knitwear, and holiday cottages. They also have rare breeds and fancy hens! The hens get on well with the alpacas, and like to be in on the action during the visitor experiences!
Barnacre Alpacas is open to the public by appointment for alpaca walks and talks — it is not a petting zoo, but the people who visit do see the other animals while they’re there, including the farm’s flock of 11 chickens.
Debbie and Paul first started keeping hens 14 years ago, choosing brown hybrids for their prolific egg-laying habits. As time passed, and their interest in different breeds of chickens grew, they decided to get some other breeds including Crested Cream Legbars and Welsummers.
Today they have a 110-acre farm with around 300 alpacas, as well as donkeys, goats, sheep, cats, and a flock of hens. They don’t sell the eggs, preferring to use them in their cooking and to put them in the holiday cottages that people rent for their summer vacations.
One of their most recent and most popular acquisitions are the Golden Brahma hens, a rare breed, which they spotted at an auction three years ago. They instantly fell in love with the birds’ impressive plumage.
Debbie says, “We got the Golden Brahma hens when we went to a local Feather and Furs Auction to get Legbars, which we like for their blue eggs. We saw some Golden Brahma hens on show and thought they were really interesting. We read about their docile nature, thought they looked very nice, and decided to buy three of them. They’re on rare breed lists and we are hoping to breed them eventually, but we don’t have fertilized eggs at the moment — we’re trying to get a Golden Brahma cockerel.
“The Golden Brahma hens are a favorite with visitors too. They look like prehistoric birds, with fluffy feet. People are interested in them because they look a bit different from any other chicken they’ve seen. They lay brown eggs.”
Sticking a Beak into Alpaca Walks
During lockdown in the UK, the Alpaca Walks and Talks were postponed, but they have now resumed, with Covid-19 security measures and social distancing in operation for the foreseeable future. Hand sanitizer is a “must” at the start and end of each walk, and until the pandemic is over, numbers on each walk are limited to six people.
Debbie says, “When we take people on the alpaca walks and talks, the visitors feed the alpacas carrots and some drop on the floor. The chickens are there like a shot, eating the carrots. The alpacas won’t pick them up off the ground, so they don’t mind the chickens sticking their beaks in/
“The hens get on well with the alpacas, who keep foxes away. The chickens run around the alpaca field, pick through their poo for nuggets of nutrition, and forage in the alpacas’ food troughs. They’re funny when they run. They look hilarious flapping and running at the same time, but they’re not as daft as people think they are — they know when it’s alpaca feeding time, and they’re there to clean up!
“We have 11 chickens now — one Crested Cream Legbar, three Welsummers, three Brahmas, and four ex-battery hens. We’ve got a newborn chick who’s a cross between a Legbar and a brown hen, just five weeks old. We also had a Welsummer once who laid green eggs, which was a bit of a novelty.”
How it all began
Barnacre Alpacas opened in 2007, after Debbie and Paul decided to make some dramatic lifestyle changes, inspired by a television documentary they’d seen. The film was about alpaca farming and the lifestyle appealed to them. They both had traditional office jobs in the Nottingham area, so going into farming was a massive change to their way of life.
“We spent three years researching these enchanting animals and the way of life they bring,” says Debbie. In 2006 Paul took a job in Northumberland, enabling Debbie to give up work as an insurance broker and turn their dream of opening an alpaca farm into reality.
They started keeping chickens as soon as they moved to Northumberland, starting with the best laying breeds and then keeping more exotic varieties as her interest in hen keeping grew.
“In February 2007 we took delivery of our first three pregnant alpacas,” Debbie explains. “We called them Duchess, Blossom, and Willow.” The couple immersed themselves in the new venture, learning new farming, construction, and self-sufficiency techniques along the way. Soon, they were taking on other animals too. Their menagerie grew to include goats, sheep, and donkeys.
In 2017, Paul, Debbie, and their collection of animals moved to Turpin’s Hill Farm in the beautiful Tyne Valley, less than a mile from the historic Hadrian’s Wall Path. They’ve since improved the facilities on the farm, with new buildings and better parking for visitors.
“With no farming background the learning curve has been very steep and we still learn something most days,” says Debbie. “With over 400 births and a variety of purchases and imports, our herd has grown to around 300 alpacas.”
The chickens have been there for the whole journey, sharing the alpaca’s feeding trough and getting along well with their woolly friends! The hens’ funny antics brighten Debbie’s day!
Originally published in the October/November 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.