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.
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.