Farming for fibre in Victorian high country
Originating in the harsh climate of South America’s Altiplano region — high in the Andes of Southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile — and domesticated for more than 5,000 years, the exceptionally soft fleece of the alpaca has been sought after for fine clothing for centuries.
Although alpacas first arrived in Australia way back in 1858, those first imports died out and it wasn’t until a little more than 20 years ago that breeding stock were again imported into the country. Farming these South American animals for their wonderful, and valuable, fibre is still in its infancy and there are still relatively few alpacas in Australia — a little more than 40 thousand, not many set against our 72 million or so sheep.
Most alpaca farms have herds of less than 10 animals and the objective is still to improve breeding stocks as much as to harvest the fine fibres these animals produce. Their ability to readily adapt and thrive in our climate, and the fact that they are relatively undemanding has made them a popular choice for smallfarmers and hobby farmers in our region.
Although they can be an ‘easy care’ animal compared to some other domesticated species, they do have their problems and specialised health care needs. In this section we cover some of the health and welfare issues the new alpaca farmer is most likely to come across.