Family life in lockdown involves looking after animals of a cute, and sometimes agressive, kind for Rotherham Titans rugby player Jamie Cooke. DAVID BEDDOWS reports
LIFE in lockdown has a distinctly woolly twist for Rotherham rugby player Jamie Cooke.
Well away from the rough and tumble of a typical rugby match at Clifton Lane, Jamie can be seen dealing with beasts of a four-legged kind at his family home down in Norfolk.
That's because it runs as a farm for alpacas, those cute, woolly and sometimes hostile animals known and loved by many.
It's a hands-on job for the Cookes and while normal life has been brought to a standstill by the pandemic, Jamie has been able to give more of a helping hand, sometimes willingly, sometimes less so.
“The alpacas are just pets really,” he says. “They're a bit of a tie but whenever I'm home I help out. I muck them out every day, clean up all their poo and feed them and give them hay, especially in these cold conditions.
“I try not to make myself available when summer comes and we get them sheared because my job is to get in there and get stuck in. You pin them down on the floor and get absolutely battered. It feels worse than 80 minutes of rugby!
“I try to stay up north when I get a call from my mum for that one!”
The alpaca farm is near Diss, close to the Norfolk/Suffolk border, and is the result of an idea Jamie's mum had about 15 to 20 years ago.
“We got a little bit of land and my mum originally wanted some donkeys,” explained Jamie.
“Then we came across alpacas at a country show. They were quite rare in the UK back then but we had an idea to get some and so we bred a load ourselves. We had over 30 at one point. Now they've thinned out a little bit and we've got about 25.
“It's more a hobby to be honest. We get them sheared every year and my mum sells all the fleece to mini mills. It gets spun up and she gets wool from it.
“She has a website and ebay page and manages to sell a lot of the fleece, which is quite popular.”
Jamie has played around 50 matches for the Titans since joining them in 2017 and the alpacas have made for some interesting chats with his team-mates and friends.
“I've mentioned it to a few of my friends and they find it quite amusing. They wonder why you have them and what they're all about.
“The first thing they normally say is 'don't alpacas spit?'
“The answer is that they can do and they kick if you get behind them, but if you are friendly enough and you feed them then they are normally OK.
“Having said that, they can get a bit aggressive if you go around their young ones.
“There are also two who, if you have the food bucket and you give the food to the others, they'll also spit at you.
“Also, alpacas don't like you when you sheer them. You can get bitten and spat and kicked and all sorts.”
Life with the alapacas is just one part of Jamie's busy life.
He works with the Titans Community Foundation, helping with its sterling work in Rotherham communities. He's helping launch an app to encourage healthy eating and tackle obesity among local school kids and is also taking a degree in nutrition.
But what life down on the farm has given Jamie is a renewed zest for rugby and to mix with mates back up in Rotherham.
“I have missed rugby and getting down to the club on a Saturday, it is a nice atmosphere,” he says.
“It was quite nice to have a rest in the first lockdown because as a lot of rugby players will tell you, the game does take its toll on the body.
“We never really got going in the summer, it was very hit and miss whether the season would go ahead. I'm looking forward to September hopefully when it all re-starts.”
Still only 26, Jamie has plenty of rugby to play before he finally hangs up the boots.
So will his future involve farming, or even alpacas?
“I'm interested in fitness and nutrition and doing something around that but my dad has got very interested in farming now, so it might be an option.”