Alpaca farmers count on nature
South Canterbury alpaca farmers Ineke and Jacob van Neuren are facing a busy time in the next few months.
Ten of their alpaca females are pregnant and will produce their crias (babies) in February and March ahead of the arrival of the cooler autumn weather.
The crias are born very conveniently between 10 in the morning and 2pm and this follows the regime in South America where their bodies must be dry before the onset of lower temperatures when the sun goes down.
The van Neuren's began their association with the breed in 2003.
"Our daughter had a horse and when that went, we were left with lots of grass, so we brought two alpacas as pets," she said.
"Now we have around 20, plus the babies when they arrive."
Each year, the new group of babies is assessed, especially those males who may later be destined for stud duties.
Ineke van Neuren says any prospective stud animals are assessed again at around 12 months of age and males which are likely to be sold as pets are wethered and sold on.
Coloured animals are usually more expensive and the demand for young and adult stock (both male and female), is growing.
The new crias are weaned between five and six months of age and unlike animals such as cows and horses which have definite breeding cycles, putting the male alpacas in with the females induces ovulation and all going well, a cria will be produced between 11 and 12 months later.
The real value of the alpaca is in the fleece.
Low micron fleece is the desired outcome and it is all in "the handle" according to Mrs van Neuren.
"The alpacas are shorn in late November or early December," she said.
The van Neuren's primarily sell their fibre to the craft sector where it is highly sought after by those people who spin, weave or felt, or to New Zealand's Alpaca Fibre Pool.
"Very low micron fleece, 18 micron or less, will sell for around $60 per kg," says Mrs van Neuren, who also spins, weaves and knits alpaca fibre.
"The fibre is also used in the fabric market where it is blended with other fibres, including wool and possum."
The Waimate couple have shown their animals with success and generally exhibit at shows in Fairlie, Oxford and Winchester.
Alpacas are easy to care for, requiring a nail trim once a year (alpacas have two nails and a pad on their feet) and can also be taught to lead. Ineke and Jacob ven Neuren's herd have ad-lib grass in their paddocks, plus hay and lucerne in the winter. They are also great at cleaning up the prunings, including branches off the trees.
Alpacas originate from the Altiplano in South America and are used to very intense sunlight, which creates a high level of vitamin D for them.
Mrs van Neuren says part of the care programme for their herd is the need to supplement their vitamin D.
"They live in a different climate here in New Zealand with less sunlight so we give them vitamin supplements."
New Zealand has around 12,000 alpacas and Australia more than 100,000, the largest population ouside South America.
They were first imported into New Zealand in 1989 by Murray Bruce of South Canterbury and many of the animals in New Zealand now are descendants of these first arrivals.
- © Fairfax NZ News