WE’VE seen the various farming fads come and go.
Who could forget the boom time for ostriches when eggs sold for $500 each, or the rapid expansion in boutique vineyards and the drive to develop deer as a sought-after food source?
What about Alpacas? How are they doing in the small-scale farming space?
Quite well, according to Steve and Kerry Mooney, of Sandy Park Alpacas, up Ameys Track at Foster North.
But, as well as the quality of your stock and farming practices, you’ve also got to be prepared to promote your business to be successful and that’s exactly what the Mooneys were doing at the Foster Show last Saturday.
“We’ve been breeding Alpacas for about 16 years now and we have about 75 in the herd. We’re looking to get it up to 120,” said Steve.
“We breed for fleece and to sell the live animals but we don’t eat them and we don’t sell them for meat production although there is a growing market for Alpaca meat,” he said.
“We shear them once a year and the fibre has a variety of uses depending on how fine it is. The higher quality, finer fibre goes into garments and things like blankets and doonas, while the courser style goes into carpet, insulation things like that… it’s pretty versatile.
“They’re easy to farm, good natured and easy to handle.
“They get up to about 75kg when fully grown and the stocking rate is the same as sheep.
“Actually there’s quite a growing demand for Alpacas in China with regular shipments going over there as they seek to build the size of their herd. Once again it’s mainly for the fibre,” he said.
“But as good as the quality of your stock and fleeces are, you’ve got to do your own sales and marketing to be successful.
“We’ve got our own website, we go to events like this and we’re looking to sell both the fleeces and the animals themselves.
“Typically, the hembras (females) and machos (males) will sell for between $1000 and $2000 but we’ve seen them sold for a lot more and a lot less of course.
“The most valuable are the white Huacaya, which we breed. They produce a soft, crimpy fleece which is ideal for knitting.”
Alpacas produce a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fibre, which while similar to sheep’s wool, is warmer, not prickly, and has no lanolin making it hypoallergenic.
The Huacaya grows a soft spongy fibre with a natural crimp that can be spun into a naturally elastic yarn. Suri have no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods.
While the designer Armani has used Suri alpaca to fashion men’s and women’s suits, Alpaca fleece can be made into various products from very simple and inexpensive garments made by indigenous communities to sophisticated, industrially made and expensive products such as suits.
What’s the story with Alpacas?