Alpaca on the menu

Alpaca meat looks sim­i­lar to lamb when pro­cessed, but of­fers a milder-flavour.

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE - BY RHYLL McCOR­MACK rm­c­cor­mack@ ne­me­dia.com.au

FIVE years ago, the Hyde fam­ily owned 30 show al­pacas – but, after years with be­low av­er­age rain­fall, they no longer had the grass to sus­tain them.

Based out of Tal­la­rook, the drought had hit hard.

In­stead of an­i­mals sur­rounded by lush green growth, the al­pacas were liv­ing on bought-in feed.

Feli­cia and An­drew Hyde, who started off with four al­pacas as pad­dock pets, were caught.

“We had spent years grow­ing our flock, had poured so much time and ef­fort into breed­ing show an­i­mals, and then we had the drought and we had no way of feed­ing them,” Ms Hyde said.

“All the main­stream farm­ers – beef and sheep – could de-stock; but no one wanted al­pacas in a drought.”

Look­ing for ways to man­age the prob­lem, the Hy­des found an abat­toir in Western Vic­to­ria that would process al­pacas for meat.

“We were at a stage where we had to sell them and get out, or we had to find an al­ter­na­tive way to use them.

“So, 18 months ago, we de­cided to give it a go and mar­ket them for con­sump­tion.”

Alpaca meat has long been a sta­ple in South Amer­ica, but is largely re­stricted in Aus­tralia by the “cute” mar­ket­ing that has been part of the hobby farm scene since alpaca breed­ing boomed in the 1990s.

In Fe­bru­ary this year, the Hy­des launched Tal­la­rook Meat Co – a business that re­volved around not only sell­ing alpaca meat, but also in chang­ing the pub­lic per­cep­tion.

“The big­gest bar­rier, with­out a doubt, has been cus­tomers who can’t get past the idea that they are eat­ing some­thing cute,” Ms Hyde said.

“Those that do try it have been re­ally pos­i­tive – we have a num­ber of recipe cards we hand out, and that helps peo­ple feel con­fi­dent in the prod­uct they are tak­ing home.”

Know­ing the health ben­e­fits of their prod­uct, the Hy­des took their meat to DTS Food Lab­o­ra­to­ries for test­ing back in Jan­uary.

The re­sults were clear: alpaca meat has up to half the sat­u­rated fat of beef, and in a 100 gram serve has 474kj, 24.8g of pro­tein, and 1.2g of fat - 0.5g sat­u­rated, 0.3 mono un­sat­u­rated, 0.4g Polyun­sat­u­rated and 0.1g Trans fat.

“There are a lot of health ben­e­fits to eat­ing alpaca, sim­i­lar to kan­ga­roo,” Ms Hyde said.

“It is very lean, high in iron and pro­tein but doesn’t have the gamey flavour.”

After orig­i­nally of­fer­ing tra­di­tional meat cuts, the Hy­des branched out into smoked ham, sausages and the aptly named al­paca­bana.

Sell­ing only at farm­ers markets across Vic­to­ria, Tal­la­rook Meat Co is slowly mak­ing in-roads with their in­creased prod­uct range.

“It’s a lovely tast­ing meat, with a lot to of­fer – I think it’s about ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic,” Ms Hyde said.

Of course, there is still some tweak­ing to be done on-farm.

Each alpaca has a ges­ta­tion pe­riod of 11 months, with the an­i­mals not pro­cessed un­til 36 months – a to­tal turn­around time of al­most four years.

“We are try­ing out dif­fer­ent rates of turn-off – if we send them to the abat­toir at two years of age, in­stead of three, there is around a 20 per cent re­duc­tion in the car­cass,” Ms Hyde said.

“But we have to weigh that up against the ex­tra 12 months of feed­ing.”

At three years old, each alpaca has a car­cass weight of 35–40kg – with a 62 per cent re­turn on meat.

The Hy­des are chang­ing their breed­ing fo­cus as well – grav­i­tat­ing away from fi­bre se­lec­tion and in­stead try­ing to de­velop an an­i­mal that is heav­ier-set with a quicker mat­u­ra­tion.

“We still get three wool clips from each an­i­mal, which is great, but the qual­ity of the fi­bre is no longer our driv­ing fo­cus.”

In the spirit of value-adding to their line, Ms Hyde has also started mak­ing felt, as well as of­fer­ing hand-spun fi­bres.

Re­tail­ing starts at $20 per kilo – a small price, Ms Hyde ex­plained, for an an­i­mal that takes al­most four years to make it onto the ta­ble.

“As a com­mer­cial propo­si­tion, al­pacas can’t com­pete with sheep or cat­tle,” she said.

“They only have one cria each year, are slow to ma­ture and re­quire spe­cialised han­dling and shear­ing.

“De­spite that, the price per kilo is sim­i­lar to lamb.

“We are mind­ful of the fact that this is a niche prod­uct within an al­ready niche mar­ket,” Ms Hyde said.

“At the end of the day, we breed sheep and cat­tle for meat; why wouldn’t we do it with alpaca?”

For more in­for­ma­tion, or to find out where you can buy Tal­la­rook Meat Co prod­ucts, check out their Face­book page of the same name.

FLEECE TO FORK: An­drew Hyde, to­gether with his wife Feli­cia, own and op­er­ate Tal­la­rook Meat Co – a new busi­ness that wants to see al­paca be­come a sta­ple on the ta­ble.

LOVE YOUR PROD­UCT: Even though she con­cedes al­pacas make cute pets, Feli­cia Hyde knows that ev­ery an­i­mal must have a fi­nan­cial place on a work­ing farm.

TAL­LA­ROOK MEAT CO: The Hyde fam­ily are proudly tak­ing their al­paca prod­ucts to five farmer mar­kets each month.

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