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see West Melton

Alpaca Articles

Nic and Linda keep up-to-date with the latest in alpaca information, by reading widely, being a member of the New Zealand, Australian, British and American alpaca associations, and attending conferences worldwide.

They share this knowledge with others through holding industry training days and workshops, writing articles for industry magazines in New Zealand, Australia, UK, and USA and also through articles on this website and other websites.

Click here for more articles  
 

ALPACAS ACROSS THE WORLD                          

By Tracey Knowles

Tracey came from the UK to spend a few months on an alpaca farm in New Zealand. Here she talks about her farming experiences in the two countries.

 

 

As I flew into New Zealand, I looked out on brown fields, spread along the Canterbury plains. The retired sheep farmer sitting next to me said the dry weather had started early this year, as it was only the beginning of summer.

The weather took a bit of getting used to, as it was winter when I left, and the sun was rarely seen in the UK, even in the summer.

I had always wanted to travel to New Zealand and here I was making my dream come true. And what better way than experiencing it with alpacas, staying with Nic and Linda of Southern Alpacas Stud.

 
 

The Alpaca Bug

I am relatively new to alpacas, getting involved in July 2006, when I came across these amazing animals on a Young Farmers Club farm visit to Popham Alpacas in Cornwall UK.      

Coming from a farming family, and having worked in the agricultural industry all my life, this was a real change. Alpacas were being bred for fleece and breeding stock, with no meat production in sight. I soon learnt why not - they are individuals. Alpacas are such inquisitive, placid, striking animals, each with its own unique character, and all of them individually named.

 Tracey at Popham Alpacas

I made the change from sheep farming to alpaca breeding, and that was it. I was bitten by the alpaca bug and totally hooked. I have talked to people in New Zealand who said just the same thing!

 
 

 

Hemiccoyo Highlander

Hemiccoyo Highlander

aka "Richard"

Working with Alpacas

At Popham Alpacas in the UK we breed both huacayas and suris, with numbers reaching up to 100 this year. As well as my interest in breeding these animals, I also have a growing interest in the fleece and showing side, having completed my Stage 1 Judge training and fleece courses with Cameron Holt.

"Richard's" fleeceWithin 12months I had purchased my own alpaca. I also have ponies, a goat, a dog, a cat, and the rest of the farm animals; a complete menagerie, like many lifestyle blocks have in New Zealand.

And I found that Popham had a link with New Zealand – we have the alpaca NZ Southern Highland Mist on our farm. She was born and bred at Southern Alpacas in New Zealand, as was her son. I discovered when I got to NZ that he had been called Highlander, and was now called Richard!      

Richard's fleece
 

Alpaca Management

And so my journey in New Zealand began. Alpacas being kept in paddocks or as us Brits would call them fields, were kept in similar numbers, although the pasture is somewhat different. Alpacas can thrive on rougher ground, as they come from South America where lush grass is unheard of.

In the UK with our heavy rainfall the fields are normally green, but we daily supplement these animals with hay, as well as small amounts of concentrates, mainly to pregnant and lactating females. Over here concentrates are almost never used. The paddocks provide the alpacas with all they need with supplementary feeding being hay or a chaff mix, for the needy, or in extreme conditions.

 
 

I wonder if we overfeed these wonderful animals, not just in the UK but also here in New Zealand and many other countries. Larger breeders are becoming more aware of the problems from over feeding, or feeding the wrong things. 

The alpaca’s purpose is for fleece production, breeding or as a pet; none of which requires these animals to carry excess fat. Sheep and beef cattle are breed for conformation, for good meat production, and are fed to achieve high carcass weights quickly. Alpacas are not in the meat production line yet, and have no need to be good meat producers. They are naturally lean animals. The tendency to over feed is purely to make us feel better.

On the other side of it, an alpaca like any animal needs a good amount of body fat to see it through the winter months. We all love to see a fleeced alpaca, thinking how warm it must be.  However, that dense fleece can be quite deceptive, as underneath could be a skinny alpaca, revealed only when shorn. This is where body scoring becomes a must. You need to get hand’s on to feel their body condition.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

sheep in a barrow

Similarities and Differences

Tracey assisting at shearingShearing methods both here and in the UK are very similar. I was amazed with the number of shearing tables over here, as they are not very common in the UK. I was looking forward to seeing one in use, so imagine my disappointment when shearing started and out came the rubber matting for shearing on the ground, just like we do. For large herds, it is quicker on the ground, especially if two shearing bays are set-up.                                                                                  

I assisted one lifestyle block owner with their alpaca shearing, and then he had one sheep to do. The poor sheep was slightly overweight and suffering in the heat with its heavy fleece. It did one lap around the paddock in a bid for freedom then collapsed in a heap. We had to use a wheelbarrow to transport it!

 
 

Stud male and TraceyI have been helping with the matings, which are done here daily. In the UK we tend to do most of our alpaca matings on a Saturday, when all hands are on deck to help. Over here stud males are usually used for one mating per day, whereas in the UK our stud males would be used more than once, with a break in between for them to catch their breath.   
 

Southern Alpacas Stud has an isolation facility and alpacas from New Zealand (and Australia) are exported from here to the UK and Europe. Maybe alpacas I have worked with here I will get to work with in Britain when I return.

The people over here are always opening their homes to you and never get tired of discussing their livelihoods. Neighbours have been very welcoming and kind enough to show me around their lifestyle blocks, and one even lent me her horse to ride. I have joined the local Young Farmers Club over here, and have great enjoyment in discussing different farming methods, from tube bailing to rotary milking parlours. With any type of farming each farmer does things slightly differently, doing what suits that farm best.

 

Updated July 2009

Nic Cooper and Linda Blake
Main West Coast Road, West Melton, RD1, Christchurch, New Zealand
Phone 0064 3 318-1917 | fax 0064 3 318-1927 | email alpacasnz@xtra.co.nz