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Alpacas a valuable addition

Ten years ago, Neville and Leonie Walker complemented their 350ha traditional sheep and beef hill country farm by adding alpacas.

With the traditional farming model and land use changing, the alpacas opened up new opportunities for their farming operation.

Alpacas sharing a cuddle. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Alpacas sharing a cuddle. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Since these soft-footed animals have been farmed on a large scale, the sheep numbers have reduced with the cattle numbers stable.

Every animal has a purpose and contributes to the feed and pasture management plan. Mustering is a dream – even with more than 700 alpacas, calling them is all that’s needed.

The Walkers are particular about health care and manage by knowing their animals, their environment and being well-organised.

All livestock are checked regularly and TB tested. Trees provide natural shade and shelter.

An alpaca friendly set of yards is useful, with larger pens giving way to smaller pens and some holding paddocks nearby.

Alpacas are ‘pen mated’ allowing accurate birthing dates and the ability to manage the arrival of more than 350 ‘cria’ to suit the seasons.

Neville and Leonie choose to mate alpacas so that their peak birthing period is from November to April.

The pregnant females (confirmed by scanning) are brought down from the hills to the ‘birthing paddock’ near the house 5 to 6 weeks prior to birthing (unpacking).

The Walker family still get excited by the arrival of the new cria.

Neville shears all the alpacas on the farm as well as a couple of hundred off the farm for other alpaca owners.

He has his own preferred process. Getting through over 900 alpacas is no mean feat.

The goal is to produce a cleanly shorn animal that will be comfortable in the summer heat and have no contamination in the fleece.

Unlike sheep wool that is sold through a wool buyer, the quantity of alpaca fibre produced means that the Walkers can deal directly with the wool scour and spinning mills.

This allows valuable feedback on the quality of the fibre, ensuring that the breeding program is on the right track.

For the Walker family, it was always about the wonderful alpaca fleece that just cried out to be turned into beautiful garments.

Selling alpaca products began from a cardboard box progressing to a now well-stocked shop.

The alpacas in the paddocks (on state highway 4) drew the attention of passers-by and more visitors to the farm, that farm tours can be booked online.

The Walkers are passionate about alpacas and would like to encourage more large-scale alpaca farming.

They feel that there is a great future for alpacas as a livestock business and the growing alpaca fibre industry is going in exciting directions.

The Walkers love showing their animals.

You can meet and talk to them at the National Alpaca Show, Manfeild Events Centre, Feilding, September 22-24.

See more than 330 alpacas, 200 fleeces and nearly 60 fabulous creations made from alpaca fibre, all for a gold coin donation entry fee.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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