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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
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
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!
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.
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!
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
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
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.
Similarities and Differences
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
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
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