We have a great af­fec­tion for our al­pacas.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Cuddly, Delightful & Delicious - Source: New Zealand Al­paca As­so­ci­a­tion

They are in­tel­li­gent, easy to man­age, and have a light en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print. We farm al­pacas be­cause we like them or we wouldn’t be do­ing it, but at the end of the day, they are an­i­mals and we are farm­ers who are in busi­ness to profit from our farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

One as­pect of al­paca farm­ing that has great po­ten­tial is their meat. Al­pacas are fun­da­men­tally no dif­fer­ent in this re­spect from any other farm an­i­mal. They are in­tel­li­gent, they are beau­ti­ful, but it is their over-pro­duc­tion of fi­bre and off­spring that en­ables us to make an in­come from them.

Like all live­stock, they pro­duce more males than we can han­dle, and both sexes reach the point where they are no longer able to pro­duce vi­able off­spring or qual­ity fi­bre con­sis­tently. While al­pacas are one of the most ef­fi­cient con­vert­ers of grass into pro­tein, even­tu­ally the in­ter­play of cli­mate and soil fer­til­ity makes it risky for us to try to carry in­creas­ing num­bers of stock.

There are sev­eral ways that al­paca farm­ers man­age this prob­lem. One way is to dump them for rock bot­tom prices on Trade Me. This may make some farm­ers feel bet­ter about not hav­ing to kill them them­selves, or it may pro­vide a quick way out of the in­dus­try for oth­ers.

But dump­ing al­pacas is not that dif­fer­ent to dump­ing sur­plus roost­ers on the side of the road. It de­val­ues the live­stock of oth­ers, and there is a strong sus­pi­cion that the wel­fare of the dumped an­i­mals is also placed at risk.

The best course for the fu­ture is to ex­pand on what we are al­ready do­ing, de­vel­op­ing mar­kets for breed­ing an­i­mals and fi­bre, con­tin­u­ing to sell pets to re­spon­si­ble own­ers, and pro­duc­ing value-added prod­ucts such as cloth and gar­ments.

But I would add meat to the equa­tion. So far, we have not reached any­thing like the po­ten­tial of the al­paca as a farm an­i­mal. Some farm­ers in NZ have made a lot of money out of al­pacas by breed­ing top qual­ity an­i­mals and selling them, oth­ers have turned their fi­bre into val­ueadded prod­ucts and found prof­itable mar­kets for them.

How­ever, there are only a rel­a­tively small num­ber of al­paca farm­ers who are util­is­ing their meat. One ex­cep­tion is Tessa and Peter Mckay of Mesa Mills (www.mesamill.co.nz). Their com­pany, just out­side Hast­ings, sup­plies al­paca meat as a gourmet prod­uct to su­per­mar­kets, restau­rants and cafes around NZ.

How to eat your al­paca

The laws around home-killing an­i­mals for meat in New Zealand mean that only the an­i­mal’s owner and fam­ily can eat it, and it is illegal to sell, trade, or barter the meat to any­one else. It can­not be served to pay­ing cus­tomers, raf­fled, or do­nated for use as a prize. Home-kill can only be un­der­taken by the an­i­mal’s owner on their prop­erty, or by hir­ing a listed home-kill or recre­ational catch ser­vice provider.

There are only two abat­toirs in New Zealand li­cenced to kill al­pacas, one in Feild­ing and the other in Ash­bur­ton, and another five pet food abat­toirs. My view, and one shared by oth­ers I have talked to, is that freight costs and stress on the

an­i­mals may rule out trans­port of al­pacas for all but those within a rea­son­able dis­tance of ex­ist­ing abat­toirs.

All the al­pacas I have killed have been two-year-old en­tire males. We don’t have a cool room to hang slaugh­tered stock so we take them to Gary Krom of Kaimai Range Veni­son who hangs them in his cooler for 4-5 days. Gary charges us about $125 to bone out and vac­uum-pack the meat.

We find the best com­bi­na­tion for us is back steaks, fil­let, rump and Den­ver steaks, four sea­soned rolled roasts, neck chops, and mince or sausages.

From a live weight of 70-75kg, we end up with about 30kg of meat (boned out). If we had to buy 30kg of beef of a sim­i­lar qual­ity we would be look­ing at around $20/kg so the value of that home-killed meat to us is around $500 from one an­i­mal once you deduct the cost of butcher­ing and pro­cess­ing it.

The meat is ten­der and has a mild flavour. Neck chops can be tough so we cover them with wa­ter and cook them on low in our slow cooker with gar­lic and a mix of root and other veg­eta­bles for 12 hours or un­til the meat is sep­a­rat­ing from the bone. At that point we dis­pose of the bones; the meat and veg­eta­bles can be eaten ‘as is’ or thick­ened and made into pies.

Den­ver steaks are a ver­sa­tile meat, with a slightly stronger flavour than the finer cuts like back, fil­let and rump steaks. They are great for ke­babs or can be cubed and used in stir fries. An al­ter­na­tive is to thinly slice it, then mar­i­nate and bar­beque it, or use it in Asian dishes. We like a Korean bul­gogi mari­nade which uses soy, sugar, green onion, minced gar­lic, sesame seeds, oil and black pep­per.

We also make a finely tex­tured and flavour­some al­paca burger us­ing fresh herbs from the gar­den, a bit of flour and gar­lic, some tomato purée and 2-3 eggs.

I can’t tell you yet whether there is a de­cline in meat qual­ity as an­i­mals age. Those who have tried it say not, and if this is the case then it is most for­tu­nate for a po­ten­tial al­paca meat in­dus­try. Na­tional al­paca num­bers in­creased by about 3000 be­tween 2012 and 2015. How­ever, the more an­i­mals there are, the faster the growth; the in­crease in stock num­bers is likely to fol­low an ex­po­nen­tial growth pat­tern un­til such time as the mar­ket is sat­u­rated and the rate of culling matches the rate of re­pro­duc­tion.

Ex­ist­ing abat­toirs ask for 200 an­i­mals to be killed at a time to make it worth­while switch­ing their killing chains from other live­stock to al­pacas. We don’t know how many al­pacas are avail­able for slaugh­ter in any one year, but if we make an as­sump­tion that there are 5000 an­i­mals avail­able each year for killing, that these an­i­mals are evenly dis­trib­uted in both is­lands, and killing would take place for six months of the year, then there would be suf­fi­cient an­i­mals to sup­ply two abat­toirs in each is­land, pro­vided that the in­fra­struc­ture and mar­kets were in place.

Those 5000 an­i­mals would yield around 150,000kg of boned meat which would rep­re­sent around 0.04% of New Zealand’s an­nual meat con­sump­tion. To pro­vide 1% would re­quire around 120,000 al­paca car­cases, 24 times the quan­tity of an­i­mals that may cur­rently be avail­able.

Ini­tially, pro­mo­tion of al­paca meat as a healthy al­ter­na­tive to beef and lamb seems like a promis­ing way for­ward for the lo­cal mar­ket, but where it gets re­ally in­ter­est­ing is in the as­tro­nom­i­cal po­ten­tial for al­paca meat in­ter­na­tion­ally. OECD pro­jec­tions are that up to 2022, 80% of the de­mand for meat pro­duc­tion will come from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

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