Al­paca farm­ing is all about fleece

Al­pacas grow valu­able fleece and are rel­a­tively easy to farm. Jenny Ling talks to farm­ers Jenny and Mar­tyn Ell­wood-Wade about their herd.

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS -

It started with three al­pacas to ‘‘ keep the grass down’’.

Now Jenny and Mar­tyn Ell­wood-Wade are in­un­dated with the love­able crea­tures that hail from high al­ti­tudes in South Amer­ica.

They have 110 on their 40-acre prop­erty Cuesta Al­pacas in Hunua.

The cou­ple’s in­ter­est in the an­i­mals started nine years ago.

‘‘We had a bit of grazing and got a cou­ple of al­pacas to keep the grass down,’’ Jenny says.

‘‘We started with two girls and a boy.

‘‘We rather rapidly got to about 12 fe­males, which is when we re­alised we had to move.’’

Al­pacas, along with lla­mas, gua­na­cos and vi­cu­nas, are part of the camel fam­ily.

But un­like lla­mas, they are not beasts of bur­den but were bred for their soft fi­bre.

There are about 2.5 mil­lion al­pacas in the An­dean Alti­plano re­gion of Peru, Chile and Bo­livia.

The Ell­wood-Wades’ herd in­cludes about 20 ‘‘ba­bies’’ aged about eight months old and a mix of male and fe­male adults.

They are the hua­caya breed and have fluffy, dense fleece.

The cou­ple had never been in­volved in farm­ing be­fore but now breed some al­pacas to sell, some for their fleece and also take tourists on farm tours of their prop­erty. Jenny, a for­mer IT con­sul­tant, cre­ates blan­kets, gloves and scarves which are sold from their farm shop.

Al­pacas are ‘‘nat­u­rally wary’’, in­tel­li­gent, adorable and easy to man­age, Jenny says.

They hardly ever spit – ‘‘only when you’re do­ing some­thing that they don’t like’’.

‘‘They don’t need any spe­cial fenc­ing and don’t get footrot or fly strike, they don’t mush up the pad­docks.’’

Al­paca As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand pres­i­dent Greg Char­teris says there are about 30 al­paca farms in Auck­land.

The av­er­age farm is a life­style block with 20 to 30 an­i­mals but there are herds of up to 200.

‘‘There’s some peo­ple start­ing to farm al­pacas as main­line farm­ing, as a ru­ral in­dus­try rather than a life­style hobby,’’ the Karaka res­i­dent says.

‘‘The value of their fleece is con­sid­er­ably more than sheep.’’

Al­pacas cost any­where from $500 to $20,000 for ‘‘elite’’ an­i­mals.

They adapt well to var­i­ous New Zealand cli­mates, Char­teris says.

Farm­ing them for their meat is still fairly rare – there is only one com­mer­cial meat­works that pro­cesses them, lo­cated in the Hawke’s Bay.

The Ell­wood-Wades’ al­pacas are shorn once a year be­fore sum­mer.

They get about 2.5kg of ‘‘re­ally nice fleece’’ from each an­i­mal.

It may sound idyl­lic but it’s not an easy life, Jenny says.

‘‘It’s dif­fi­cult to make it pay its way.

‘‘After five years we’re just

to get an in­come start­ing re­ally.

‘‘You have to have a num- ber of streams of in­come to make it. But they’re lovely an­i­mals to work with.’’

Fleece farm­ers: Homer is one of 110 al­pacas Jenny and Mar­tyn Ell­wood-Wade farm for their fleece.

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