Diary of an Alpaca Farmer

Our regular column from Roger Clarke, an alpaca farmer from Tyrone in Northern Ireland, will chart the goings-on on the farm throughout the year. We’ll hear all about the exploits of Roger’s herd of alpacas.

As Autumn unfolds around us, the not so welcome onset of falling temperatures and reduced hours of daylight are softened by the beautiful palette of colours presented by the picturesque landscape that we are fortunate enough to call home.

As Autumn arrives and we reflect on the summer that has passed, we feel truly blessed to have had another year of healthy births on the farm. In total we had 14 cria born altogether; three suri and 11 huacaya but most unusually, the balance of males to females weighted very heavily in favour of the boys, with a ratio of 10 boys v 4 girls! In all our 12 years of breeding, we have never had such a year of boys.

That being said, with the introduction of new genetics the previous year, we couldn’t be happier with this year’s cria. With this being the first crop of cria from our stud male; Popham Kane of Amberly, we couldn’t be more impressed with the advancements he has made.

Of all the progeny we have on the ground, one of the most notable attributes that Kane has passed to his cria is density. In essence, the denser the fleece, the greater the yield in fibre. This is a trait that can be difficult to reliably breed into a herd and is something that we have been focused on achieving for a number of years, without compromising our fleece fineness.

Unlike last year, we decided against cria shearing this year and instead, decided to take our chances with the youngsters becoming walking hay racks as the season goes on. To date and whilst we shouldn’t have favourites, I have a definite top pair! One is a solid white male named ‘Amberly Raise the Stakes’ sired by Kane and out of our Multi-Championship female; Honeyfield Simply Sizzling. The other is a fawn male named ‘Amberly Showdown’ again, sired by Kane out of a homebred dam; Amberly Showtime. We look forward to seeing how these two as well as all of the others grow out as the season goes on.

Remaining on the subject of reflecting, you’ll remember from my last blog that this summer marked the launch of the first ever ‘All Ireland’ Fleece Show, as part of Tullamore Agricultural show and I’m pleased to say, it was a huge success.

Organised by the AAI, the show was judged by BAS judge Mary-Jo Smith, who did a sterling job assessing and critiquing each of the 60 entries in turn. In each of the classes, the quality was very, very high and it was a pleasure to see representation from so many farms both North and South of the border. 

On a personal level, we couldn’t have been more pleased with our results and the whole event served as the perfect climax to what has been a tremendous show season for us as breeders and for our alpacas. In short, we won colour champion and reserve in each of the categories we entered and were awarded both Supreme Champion Huacaya and Suri as well as ‘Judges Choice’ best fleece in the show. It doesn’t get much better than that! 

Anyway, back to the now and with the changing of the seasons and as the cria continue to grow, we continue to monitor the health of our herd by ensuring they are all in good bodily condition and by maintaining faecal sampling to test for parasites. It is also at this time of year, that we pay particular attention to our husbandry regime, for not only are many of our annual vaccinations due at this time but it is also now that we begin our annual vitamin injection regime. 

As natives of the Andes, alpacas really benefit from two monthly injections of Vitamin A,D&E which we begin to administer from October to April. With the Irish altitude being much lower than that of the Andes, our alpacas are not exposed to the same level of UV light and that coupled with the density of their fleeces, makes it difficult for them to naturally absorb the level of sunlight required to maintain the synthesis of all necessary vitamins. 

This is particularly true of pregnant dams, as maintaining the correct levels of vitamins and minerals is crucial to the healthy development of the growing foetus, helping to avoid conditions such as; rickets in the cria due the following year. 

As well as focusing on our own herd health, this year, Elaine and I were very fortunate to qualify as ‘BAS Training Affiliates’ in the first tranche of this new scheme and so, are accredited with being able to deliver BAS certified courses for new owners and experienced breeders on all aspects of alpaca ownership and running an alpaca business.

This is a very exciting prospect and an excellent opportunity for the alpaca industry in both Northern and Southern Ireland. We plan to host our first stage of training in January 2019 and will keep you all posted on dates and progress.

Until then however, it’s back to grindstone. The grass is still growing and so, paddock maintenance continues. With the onset of the worsening weather, we have already made a dint in our hay supply so, maximising grazing is always a priority at this time.

2018-10-12T09:37:25+00:00