LIKE his award-winning alpacas, Mike Coghlan says he is getting a bit “long in the tooth” – so he’s selling off half his herd.

The first person to import Peruvian alpacas into Britain, Mr Coghlan owns Blenheim Alpacas, in Ewelme, near Wallingford, with his wife Kate, and has spent the past 15 years breeding an elite herd with exotic names such as Olympia, Bathsheba and Don Lorenzo.

But now aged 75, and a grandfather, Mr Coghlan says he needs to downsize his business and will be selling off about half of his herd – 46 animals – in a special auction.

He said: “I adore alpacas and have done since I first saw them at the Royal Bath & West Show back in 1997.

“At that time I had just sold my packaging business in Wheatley and was looking for a new challenge. I saw these animals and fell in love with them.

“I bought six alpacas for £50,000 – they were much more expensive then.

“But I quickly realised they weren’t from great stock, so I went to Peru, where the animals originate, and looked for really great animals.”

Mr Coghlan imported his Peruvian alpacas in 1999, including a stud male and five pregnant females from the Accoyo herd in the Andes mountains, owned by leading alpaca breeder Don Julio Barreda.

Mr Coghlan said: “They gave a huge boost to my own herd and several others. And since then we have won award after award and produced first-rate animals throughout the county.

“Each year we have named our babies after a letter from the alphabet and this year we are on the letter P. Our first baby in 2012 was Purdetta.

“It’s not been easy naming them, though. We had 22 girls and 10 boys born last year.

“Do you know how difficult it is to try to find 22 girls’ names beginning with O?”

Alpacas evolved 3,500m (11,500ft) above sea level on the high plains of the Andes.

A domesticated species of South American camelid, they resemble a small llama and are bred primarily for their wool, which is used to make clothes and blankets.

Mr Coghlan added: “They don’t take an incredible lot of looking after. They feed once a day, they need checking over a few times a day and there is an annual shearing and the occasional toenail and tooth trim.

“But apart from that they are perfect animals to keep. Their wool is valuable and they have one baby a year, which they more or less give birth to unaided.”

He added: “Unfortunately, I’m getting on a bit and need to slow down a little and while my wife Kate does a lot of the work, she has other things to do too – she is professor of flute at the Royal Academy of Music, when she isn’t tending the alpacas in her overalls, that is.”

Mr Coghlan will be selling his animals at auction along with 40 alpacas from Apollo Alpacas, near Banbury, and eight animals from Chiltern Alpacas, near Henley.

A stud male can fetch about £8,000 and a female anywhere between £1,500 and £3,000.

The auction takes place on Friday, at the Warwickshire Exhibition Centre, near Leamington Spa, the day after the closing of the three-day World Alpaca Conference 2012, which is being held at Oxford University’s Keble College.

Mr Coghlan said: “I am sponsoring the Champagne reception at the conference in Oxford and hope to interest the cream of the alpaca world in my herd there.”

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