May has been designated as Australian Alpaca Month for the Australian Alpaca Association.

To celebrate, two local alpaca breeders will open their doors to the public and invite anyone interested in alpacas to come and learn about these fascinating creatures and how they are managed on small acreage. Gunnamatta Stud (open May 13 and 14) and Woolpaca Farm (open Sat May 13 only). Both studs are members of the Hawkesbury-Blue Mountains region of the Australian Alpaca Association.

Alpacas are recognised as the all-round environmentally acceptable livestock. With their soft-padded feet, they are very kind to our fragile Australian soils as well as being adaptable to most conditions. Alpacas are easy to manage and, in addition to producing a soft-handling fleece in a range of colours, they are also extremely appealing animals to own. Most people who start out with a couple of alpacas, even as grass-eaters, are soon on the lookout for a few more to complement their herd. The fibre is in high demand overseas and is also very popular with hand spinners. The great range of natural colours means that dying is unnecessary, leaving the fibre with its original silky handle.

In addition to the open farm days in May, the Alpaca Association is conducting a ‘Getting Started with Alpacas’ seminar on Saturday 20th May. The seminar will cover a wide range of subjects, and will be presented by experienced farmers from the region and include ‘hands on’ experience with alpacas. You will receive advice on how to choose your farm, what you need to farm alpacas, how to select alpacas, how to look after them, when to shear your alpacas, breeding assistance, and what to do with the fleece. This seminar is always well-received and includes lots of practical information.

While Australia flirted with alpacas in the 1800s, it has been in the last 20 years that has seen Australia become a world leader in the alpaca industry.

Alpacas are farmed for their fleece, a product used in the luxury end of the high fashion market competing with cashmere and superfine wool. The key benefits of alpaca fleece are handle and lustre with alpaca having a soft silky feel, being ideal for woven garments that are worn next to the skin – like scarves, tops and pullovers.

Alpacas are an exciting niche market – after all, with only 4 million alpacas worldwide, it is difficult to be anything but. There are also niches within niches – for instance, studs specialising in a particular colour or the suri type of alpaca. This is where the benefits of small farming comes to the fore – a stud with a relative small number of animals can be cutting edge in their breeding program and a leader in their niche.

More information on alpacas and the Australian Alpaca Association can be found at www.alpaca.asn.au or by just coming along to the Open Days in May. For phone enquires please contact AAA – HBM secretary Sue Maynard on 02 9653 2277