A Sheffield woman who battled cancer then went on to pursue her dream of starting an alpaca farm has written about her incredible life story in her new book Fight For Your Dream.
Now Elaine Sharp is looking to expand Mayfield Alpacas to become Sheffield’s first zoo.
The alpaca farm, which sits on a hill at the edge of the Peak District in Ringinglow, has become one of Sheffield’s most loved attractions since it opened in 2001.
Elaine has been surprised by the course of her own journey.
She said: “I never started out trying to turn alpacas into a business. I just wanted them as pets. I was besotted with them.”
Elaine says she became fascinated with llamas when she first encountered them at a pleasure park in Blackpool at the age of four.
When Elaine was faced with a breast cancer diagnosis three decades later, the thought of the llamas came back to her.
Looking to distract herself from chemotherapy, she drove around the country with her husband Nigel and came home with an alpaca and a llama.
She said: “They were absolutely fantastic for me. The treatment was quite nasty, and I was quite sick, but no matter how bad I felt, I could always wander out to our paddock at home.
“They always managed to make me smile.
“They were my responsibility. Everything they needed was dealt with by me.”
Naturally, when Elaine purchased two more pregnant alpacas, she took on the task of birthing the babies, known as crias.
She recounted the emotional experience of helping the first cria emerge in a ‘relatively easy birth’.
Before she had time to celebrate, however, her second alpaca began going into labour.
Forty minutes later, there had been little movement, and Elaine knew she had to step in.
She said: “I knew if I didn’t help this animal, we were going to have major problems. I just had to remember what I’d been taught.”
Elaine pulled the cria every time the mother had a contraction and successfully birthed the animal.
She said: “That’s when I knew I was going to be okay. I thought: ‘This is the life I want to lead’.
“From then on I was confident with anything that was going to be thrown at me.”
With the two new alpacas and their crias, her pets had tripled in number.
Space was quickly running out, so when a 42-acre plot of land went up for sale, Elaine and Nigel remortgaged their home to buy it.
She said: “It worked. You don’t get a dress rehearsal in life, so you just have to go for it.”
From fencing the entire plot to erecting the barn in minus seven-degree weather on Boxing Day, the couple did everything themselves.
Elaine said: “We’ve never been handed anything on a plate. We’ve had to work for it.
“Neither of us had been brought up with a farming background so there was a lot to learn.”
More than 15 years later, Mayfield has grown to include a cafe, exhibition centre and shop. The farm is now home to 85 alpacas, as well as ferrets, mice, ducks, pigs, sheep and goats.
Andrew Jonas, a trained zoologist, has been managing the farm since Elaine decided to focus on her health more than a year ago.
He’s also the driving force behind the expansion of exotic animals at Mayfield as it awaits a zoo license. In the meantime, he has brought in meerkats, wallabies, and coatis, a nocturnal mammal in the raccoon family.
A reptile collection is also in the works, although Elaine is most excited about the arrival of marmosets.
She said: “The most important thing about anything like this is that the animals come first. It’s a massive undertaking, but I like the idea. I’m able to have more time enjoying my animals.”
Looking back on her life, Elaine said: “If it hadn’t been for my diagnosis, I wouldn’t have bought alpacas, and if it weren’t for the alpacas, I wouldn’t be leading the life I am now.
“The last 18 years have been an incredible journey.”
After countless people suggested putting her life down on paper, Elaine got to work and emerged three years later with Fight for your Dream.
The book is an ‘emotional and humorous’ account of how she overcame her struggle against cancer, OCD and depression, with the help of her four-legged friends.
n Fight For Your Dream is available from Amazon, priced £6.99.