WHILE alpacas might still resemble strange camels crossed with sheep to some local observers, the industry is now well established on the Northern Rivers.
Rous Mill alpaca farmers, Myrelle and Peter Hurst, of Waterview Alpacas, believe it is on the cusp of another boom.
In just four years, the Hursts have built up their herd to 31 suri alpacas and are hoping to encourage others into the industry with a series of open days at their farm next month.
“After capital expenses, we have our heads above water and we’re now just holding our own, even with the fleece price being a little low at the moment,” Mr Hurst said.
“The national herd is now at 100,000, but we need to get that to 400,000 so the industry can start taking serious international orders.”
Where a breeding alpaca cost up to $100,000 a few years ago, good stud males are now priced at between $8000 and $15,000.
The Hursts, who were semi-retired, first ventured into the business as a hobby four years ago on their previous property near Murwillumbah, and they haven’t looked back.
“They’re a beautiful animal, easy to look after and kind to the environment with their soft hoofs,” Mrs Hurst said.
“They have tons of character and are quite intelligent.
“We’ve named them all and some will even do what I tell them to do.”
The Hursts shifted their venture to the Lismore area last November, re-establishing their farm at Rous Mill after running out of space on their Tweed Valley property.
“We were on a steep block at Murwillumbah and we didn’t have enough flat grazing land for breeding females,” Mrs Hurst said.
“We didn’t want our babies falling down the hill – which does happen,” Mr Hurst added.
Prized for its fibre, the alpaca’s fleece is considered by some to be better than fine merino or mohair.
Mrs Hurst said alpaca wool had no scratch factor – unlike sheep’s wool.
“It is an absolutely beautiful fibre and makes the finest suits,” she said.
The South American alpaca is related to the larger llama and has been domesticated for thousands of years, although none remain in the wild.
While predominantly farmed for its fleece, since being established in Australia and New Zealand in 1989 there is also a slowly growing demand for alpaca meat from trendy restaurants in the capital cities.
“The meat side of the business has just started to pick up and we’re now actually classed as a livestock industry,” Mr Hurst said.
“It’s a bit slow because about 90 per cent of alpaca breeders are middle-aged women who don’t want their babies going to the abattoir,” he added, only half joking.
The Hursts will be throwing open the gates to their farm next month during National Alpaca Week from May 3 to 9 and can be contacted on 6629 5652.