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.

Greetings from Costa Del Amberly! With Spring now a distant memory our summer has well and truly arrived, bringing back-to-back sunshine and temperatures to rival that of the Mediterranean!

As you can imagine, summertime on the farm is a particularly busy time, when jobs come in thick and fast and many being done at the mercy of either contractors or the weather. That being said, it really is one of my favourite times and this year our list of ‘must dos’ kicked off with one of the most pertinent jobs for any fibre farm; the task of shearing!

Now, shearing day is a day that is planned with military precision here at Amberly and I must confess that that is all down to the meticulous attention to detail of my wife Elaine. With her list in tow, Elaine always makes sure that everything we could possibly need is set up ahead of the shearers’ arrival and as the process begins and the day goes on, we shear in routine, from the light coloured animals to dark, avoiding any colour contamination and have all of our fleeces skirted and individually bagged by the end of the day. Our saddle and neck fibre is skirted together to constitute the prime ‘firsts’ whilst the remaining areas are bundled together as the ‘seconds’.

Here on the farm, we utilise all of our harvested fibre. Our firsts go off to the mill for processing into yarn and our seconds are used to create our luxury alpaca bedding range. As you know, Elaine is an avid crafter, and so when the yield of yarn returns from the mill, it’s like all of her Christmas’ have come at once! If it isn’t knitting, then it’s weaving, if it isn’t weaving then it’s felting! As she often exclaims; “there just aren’t enough hours in the day!”

That being said, we don’t skirt and bag all of our fleeces on shearing day. Those that are going to be entered into a fleece show, undergo a slightly different handling process and are individually rolled in brown paper or large material sheets, in a process called ‘noodling’. These are then stored and skirted just before being shown.

This year, we are particularly looking forward to the first ever All Ireland National Alpaca Fleece Show, which is being held as part of Tullamore Agricultural Show on 12th August 2018. This show marks the first occasion that members of the Alpaca Association of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group will be able to show collectively and really benchmark the quality of the ever growing national herd.

Fleece judging is a very specific science, involving a detailed critique of a wide range of fibre characteristics. Each fleece is marked out of 100, with points being awarded for fineness and handle, uniformity of micron, length and colour, character and style, staple type/density, brightness (huacaya)/lustre(suri) lack of guard hair, lack of impurities/damage and the overall clean fleece weight. As a consequence and as you can imagine, entering a fleece show allows you the opportunity to receive very detailed feedback on your alpaca’s fleece, information that can be invaluable when it comes to making future decisions for the direction of your herd. I’ll be sure to let you know how we got on in the next issue of Olann and.

As well as shearing, there are of course lots of other jobs to be getting on with on the farm, topping fields, bringing in the hay, strimming and mowing to name but a few! There is however, one particular job that I absolutely relish during the summer time; the job of birthing!

For us, welcoming new life onto the farm is both a privilege and a blessing and with a gestation period of 11.5 months, the long awaited cargo is very precious indeed. Alpacas are what we call induced ovulators and so, as opposed to coming into a direct ‘heat’ cycle, it is the actual act of mating that induces the female to ovulate. This in itself has its advantages, one of which being the fact that you can select and time matings and births according to a time that suits you.

At Amberly, we carry out what is known as pen matings. Our practise is to keep stud-males separate from the females until the day of mating, when the selected pair are brought together to mate. Again, this is a considered practice and our decisions, which are based on many factors, have been known to cause many a hot debate in the Amberly household!

As fibre producing animals, the majority of our breeding decisions are based on the desire to develop particular fleece traits. Whilst it’s not a straightforward approach, each female is considered in terms of how she could be improved and herd sires are selected accordingly. Then the waiting game begins.

As I’d mentioned in a previous issue, last year we introduced a new herdsire Popham Kane of Amberly to the farm and in early June, we welcomed the very first of his cria: a beautiful white female out of one of our best dams. From the moment of her birth, the little one had that ‘look at me’ persona and was aptly named; Amberly Vanity Fair. We look forward to seeing how this little one grows out and how her fleece develops.

In addition to births, and whilst I said that I would behave myself on the ‘making purchases’ front, I must confess that I have fallen off the wagon and have purchased two new herd-sires to complement the direction of our herd and in particular, with a view to covering Kane’s daughters in the future. These two boys; ‘Bee’s Knees’ and ‘Hey Now’ came from Beck Brow Alpacas in Cumbria and we thank Barbara and Paul Hetherington of Beck Brow for releasing such high quality males.

The final little input I have for you is an update on our participation in the Northern Ireland Alpaca Group’s annual judged show as part of Armagh Agricultural Show, on 9th June 2018. I had mentioned this show in my previous column and am very pleased to announce that we did indeed do the double, taking Supreme Champion and Reserve Champion in both Huacaya and Suri, as well as many of the colour championships. This included Champion Brown Huacaya with our little bottle fed star Amberly Reckless Behaviour, whom you’ll remember from my previous column. We couldn’t be more elated.

Anyway…time for me to return to the birthing paddock and waste even more of my time, watching the twitching of backsides and swooshing of tails as I will my females to hurry up and give birth!

2018-07-12T20:35:48+00:00