Meet the North York Moors farmers whose 'diva' llamas are a big hit with visitors

When Aidan Foord returned to run the tenanted family farm in the North York Moors he little suspected llamas would become a part of its future.

Aidan and Ella Foord with their llamas

The fourth generation to run Lawnsgate Farm near Lealholm, which boasts beautiful views over the Esk Valley, it was Aidan’s wife Ella who introduced llamas into their lives.

Tina, Debbie, Dolly and Cher are now part of the family business which has branched out into llama trekking.

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“I wasn’t really interested in the idea of having the llamas,” Aidan said.

The Foords now have four llamas and offer trekking for visitors

“But then for Ella’s birthday, we went on a llama trek and I actually really enjoyed it. I also realised there was some potential in introducing llamas to the business.

“I am a farmer first and foremost, but we also have a campsite and I could see how the llamas would be able to earn their keep.”

The first two arrived from Devon in 2017 with two more in 2019.

“They are the Northern Argentina llama which is slightly woollier and smaller than the better-known llama from Peru and Columbia,” Aidan said.

The four new additions proved a hit. Aidan said visitors “love them” and the trekking which takes place around the farm or across the moors.

“Trekking with our ‘divas’, as Ella calls them, is another experience we have added to the business.”

But Aidan said everything still primarily revolves around their small beef and sheep farm, which also boasts hens and pigs.

Seven years ago, Lawnsgate Farm was added to the family’s Wild Slack Farm where Aidan’s parents Martin and Andrea still live. This addition gave the farm a 120-tenanted acreage with a further 100 acres rented.

“The farm is essential to everything. We rely on our additional diversification into leisure, but it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t a farm as well.

“People come here because it is a traditional working farm. They don’t expect to see a show farm when they come to the North York Moors. They want the beauty of the countryside and we know that we are amazingly lucky to be able to live and work here.”

Aidan said the family has been farming at Wild Slack for 90 years since his maternal great-grandfather took on the farm.

“My grea- grandfather moved here in 1932. My grandma, Mary Sanderson, married my grandad, Robert Foord, and my dad took over the farm from him.

“We used to have a small dairy herd, milking them in a six-a-side parlour, but we changed to a beef herd 20 years ago.

“Being able to take on Lawnsgate was the perfect land marriage for us. Working on the farm was always my plan and I work well alongside my dad.”

As well as looking forward with the llamas Aidan said they are also moving back, shifting their focus onto a cattle breed his grandad worked with in the 1950s.

“We have just started a small pedigree herd of six Beef Shorthorns and have a young pedigree bull which we bought from Pete Turnbull in Kildale. We already have a couple of pedigree heifers in addition to the cows.

“Our main herd is 75 Shorthorn cross sucklers put mainly to a Charolais bull with spring calving from mid-February to April.

“We also use a Shorthorn bull on the heifers or if one has lost a calf. We don’t use a lot of AI.”

Aidan said sheep had not played a part in the Foords' farming methods for a number of years, but the acquisition of Lawnsgate Farm has led to his setting up two flocks, and this year, he said, signals the start of his own moorland sheep.

“We are now working on a scheme with Natural England and our flock of 75 Scotch Blackface ewes will lamb on the moor for the first time from mid-April.

“It is definitely going to be a year of learning for us. They’re on the moor already and we are looking forward to what we hope will be a healthy crop.

“Our other flock is 65 Mules of which 40 were shearlings.

“They are all put to a Texel tup and everything is homebred. We start lambing in March at Lawnsgate and we are well under way. We scanned at 183 per cent and had a set of quads early on.

“All of our fat lambs go to Ruswarp as well. It’s a useful market being so close to us.”

With Covid restrictions in place Aidan said it had affected the business but the sheep were some help towards the shortfall.

The hens and pigs also provide an attraction for visitors.

“People love watching all of the animals on the farm, but they seem to have a particular fascination for the pigs and will watch them for ages.

“With my farming hat on, they also offer us the opportunity to sell pork, bacon and sausages, and along with the eggs our hens lay, we are able to supply a good, hearty meal or two.”

Tourism has been a valuable diversification stream for the farm and Aidan said his parents, who he farms in partnership with, realised long ago the potential the farm location had to attract visitors and holidaymakers.

“They started out in the 1980s with what was a very basic campsite with no electric hook-ups for caravans and no toilets on site until the 1990s,” he said.

“But holidaymakers still came because of the beauty of this wonderful area of the North York Moors.

“You can see too much tarmac, as I did when I was studying at Leeds University!

“We certainly wouldn’t want to live anywhere else and farming up here is certainly where my heart lies..

“We are constantly busy with the farm and making sure we look after our visitors, who love coming to see and walk with our ‘divas’.”