Written by: Kit Johnson, Silverstream Alpaca Stud. www.alpaca-stud.co.nz

Some history

Alpacas were first introduced to New Zealand in 1986 when Ian Nelson produced an environmental impact report that led to alpacas being reclassified from zoo to farm animals. Murray Bruce was to later establish a protocol with Chile that led to several large importations of alpacas and llamas into New Zealand. The share market crash of 1987 aside, alpacas have continued to thrive in New Zealand.

Alpaca Association New Zealand

Today there are approximately 5000 alpacas and 270 registered breeders throughout New Zealand. Alpacas are registered through an international database in which the name, age, colour, owner’s name and farm code and lineage of both the dam and sire are recorded. The Alpaca Association New Zealand is very active in the promotion of the breed, the fibre and the fashion garments produced from this amazing South American animal. Apart from glossy magazines, a tabloid and newsletters, the Association promotes the industry through a website www.alpaca.org.nz , an annual conference, field days and the A & P shows.

Origins of the Alpaca

Alpacas originate from South America and in particular Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They are part of the Camelid family that comprises the llama, camel, vicuna and guanaco. Alpacas were domesticated by the South American Indians over 6000 years ago and have endured the test of time. They are grown for their fine, lustrous, soft handling fleece whereas the llama is bred as a pack animal and is larger and broader. There are about three million alpacas of which about 120,000 live outside South America.

Why are alpacas so appealing?
In New Zealand alpacas are raised for their lustrous, soft handling fleece and for the enjoyment of their delightful personalities. Alpacas require limited care, are small and easily handled - they do not get flystrike or footrot and they do not require tailing or crutching. Their enchanting good looks, their soft hum and their friendly disposition make them a popular choice of livestock for families with lifestyle blocks.

Alpacas do not require lush fertilised pasture and require minimal shelter. A standard five-wire fence, preferably without barbed wire is all that is required to restrain the animals. Occasional grooming, trimming of toenails, annual shearing and regular worming and vaccinations are advised.

Alpaca farming is economically viable on small lifestyle blocks and therefore qualifies as a farming business in the eyes of the Inland Revenue Department. Tax losses incurred on the farm can be offset against other income.

Are they profitable?

Unlike other exotic animals, alpacas have not gone through boom and bust times. They have been in New Zealand for sixteen years and whilst prices have come off their dizzy heights of the late 1980s, the prices are stable. Animals at the top end are in fact attracting higher prices now than before.

There is no artificial insemination or embryo transplant and the cost of importation is high, especially in South America. Alpacas live to about 20 years of age and produce an average of 11 crias (babies) during their breeding life. Gestation is 11.5 months.

The alpaca is rare and as can be seen, supply will be limited.

Alpaca fibre is fine and has a soft handle and is sought after by the fashion houses of Europe and Japan.

Breeders working on a business plan who market themselves well and who keep abreast of developments in the industry will be well recompensed for their efforts.

In conclusion, alpacas are fascinating and incredible animals that are ideally suited for both the lifestyle farmer and as alternative livestock for the traditional farmer.