How do you become an alpaca farmer? Tim Hey grew up on a small farm on the Australian island of Tasmania. When he was 16, his parents bought their first alpacas. For Tim it was love at first sight. After school he studied natural sciences with a focus on agriculture. At the same time, the local alpaca farm and interest in the gentle animals grew throughout Australia. In addition, Tim lived with a couple who had long been regarded as the pioneers of alpaca breeding in Australia. He learned a lot from them about breeding the rare black alpacas they called “Inca Alpacas”. A job offer in Great Britain finally got the ball rolling. Tim then decided to set up his own farm there. To follow in the footsteps of his mentors and to continue alpaca breeding under the same name was an important concern for the animal lover. Today the expert also works as a judge for the British Alpaca Society and judges alpacas at shows all over the world.
Tim’s alpaca farm is located in West Dorset where, according to the expert, ideal conditions for alpacas prevail thanks to fertile, dry land. His business model includes the breeding of alpacas, the sale of alpaca wool as well as shows to have these tested and evaluated by a jury. Tim also offers a program for prospective breeders to help them build their own herd. “At Inca Alpaca, we are committed to the long-term success of the British alpaca industry. We have been breeding alpacas for over 20 years and have helped many new owners to start and develop their own business.” The Peruvian Incas focused on breeding white alpacas. Black alpacas are rare and have only been bred for 25 to 30 years. “So, in a way we are pioneers in this field.”
“The Sprinter is an important part of our business and we use it all the time. Whether it’s transporting food for our alpacas, transporting hay from A to B or our wool.”
Alpacas originate from South America and live predominantly in the Andes region. They are perfectly adapted to the climate in the cold altitudes and are mainly bred in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. This makes them very efficient feed converters, i.e. they absorb as many nutrients as possible from their feed. “It is helpful that we have far better grazing areas in Great Britain than in South America, because the alpacas grow much faster here.” What makes the animals with the long neck so interesting for Tim? “They are very individual and all have their own personality. Some are very trusting and seek human contact, others are more reserved.”
The animals are known above all for their warm and soft wool, which, along with silk and cashmere, is one of the highest quality fibres in the world and is referred to in South America as the “fleece of the gods.” What is so special about wool? “It is available in 22 natural colours, ranging from pure white and cream to brown, grey and pure black. And it’s the only black fiber that doesn’t have to be dyed.” The be-all and end-all for beautiful alpaca wool is the optimal state of health of the animals. After shearing, the fibres are divided into different groups: From ultra-fine to extra-strong. These are the internationally recognised categories for alpaca wool. When the wool leaves the farm, it goes directly to a factory in Manchester, where it is processed into yarn. Some of it is woven into fabric for suits and other garments. The rest is spun into knitting yarn.
1. Alpacas are herd animals: To feel good, they need other alpacas around them. Therefore, they should never be kept alone.
2. Alpacas usually keep their distance: Even among themselves, contact is rare. They rather clean themselves and rather keep their distance.
3. Alpacas do not have any high demands regarding food: They feed mainly on fresh grass and in winter on hay. One alpaca needs 2.5 to 3.5 kilograms of fodder per day.
4. The life expectancy of alpacas is about 20 to 25 years.
5. 80 percent of alpacas live in Peru.
6. A fully-grown alpaca can grow up to one meter (back height) and weigh up to 75 kilograms, stallions even up to 80 kilograms. Compared to llamas, the animals are much smaller and lighter.
7. If an alpaca feels threatened or if the ranking has to be clarified, it begins to spit.