LaViande – Australian Alpaca

Alpaca Farming in Australia

Alpacas are a new farm species to Australia, having arrived from South America for the first time in only 1987. They have, however, a long and noble history on the latter continent, where they have been domesticated for over 6,000 years, and have established themselves as an integral part of the culture, history and economy of South American civilisation.

The history of the Spanish Merino, which was imported into Australia a little over 200 years ago, is well known to all Australians. Those initial imports grew to become the basis for a modern Australian industry which has established new international standards for wool and meat production.

Australia is now poised to exercise the same nous and know-how in developing this new exotic import, by applying to alpacas the same techniques, technology, breeding practices and veterinary science that have been developed and refined for the sheep industry. Beginning with just a handful of animals in 1987, barely more numerous than their owners, Australia today is rapidly approaching a national herd of 100,000 alpacas, arguably the biggest national herd outside South America, and has over 1200 registered studs and 1500 registered breeders.

Increasingly, the focus is on accelerating genetic improvement, aiming for improved fertility, higher fleece weights, finer fleece, and robust animals with higher carcase weights. Whilst the market has focused on stud sales during the establishment phase of the industry, there is increasing emphasis on production traits as the industry moves towards commerciality. Ultimately, as in their native home of Peru, alpacas will be bred for fleece, meat and skins, and Australia seeks to position itself as an international market leader in all production traits.

The alpaca is highly suited to the Australian climate and environment, arguably much more so than the sheep. It is a very efficient browser and grazer, estimated to be 30% more efficient than the sheep in feed conversion, and does well on native grasses and unimproved pasture. Like its cousin, the camel, it can tolerate drier climates better than most livestock, and its soft, padded foot produces minimal compression and compaction on Australia’s fragile soils. The alpaca is not normally prone to fly strike, due to the low oil content in the fleece (which also produces higher yields from scoured fleece) and the fact that they are naturally mulesed around their anus and genitalia. Alpacas are inclined to give birth only during morning daylight, an adaptation to the harsh climate of the Andes where late afternoon or night births render newborns at risk of dying from exposure or preying pumas. Add to those features the observation that alpacas use only dedicated patches in the paddock to deposit their dung piles, thereby lessening their susceptibility to worms, and it can be easily understood why these ecologically sensitive animals are often referred to by their owners as “designer green”.

As the Australian alpaca industry celebrates its 20th birthday, there are exciting prospects ahead of the industry. For more information, contact the Australian Alpaca Association at PO Box 1076, Mitcham North, Vic 3132 [+61 (0)3 9873 7700], or visit their web site at http://www.alpaca.asn.au/index.shtml .

Dr Ian M Davison
Chairman, AAA Ltd.

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