• April 10, 2019
New Zealand alpacas at the annual Kumeu show. Photo: Hayley Twort
New Zealand’s quickly-increasing alpaca population is making strides in the farming industry.
Statistics from the International Alpaca Registry show that between 2008 and 2012, the number of registered alpaca in New Zealand increased from 12,000 to 18,000. Since then, that number has grown to approximately 26,000.
The nation’s sheep industry has been facing a drop in recent years. Once peaking at 70 million in 1982, the sheep population is now less than 28 million.
As environmental concerns within the farming industry become more common, farmers are seeking opportunities to preserve the land.
Kerri Campbell, from Blueridge Farms in Cambridge, said alpaca have a unique and sustainable way of life.
“Because of the way that they were bred in South America where they were right up in the high country, their system of converting food to energy is really economical.
“They are great converters of energy.”
Ms Campbell also said they don’t cause erosion like other farm animals.
“They’ve got a soft padded foot with two toenails so they are really good for the environment. They don’t cause erosion and they don’t dig up the ground.”
However, Brenor Alpaca manager Brenda Gainsford said the industry is still in its early stages.
“The whole alpaca industry is in its infancy stage because we need to breed alpacas to have numbers and the quality we want.”
Alpacas are primarily farmed for their lightweight fleece, which has similar properties to sheep’s wool.
Alpaca wool contains less lanolin, a wax that can cause itchiness, which makes the fleece a popular choice for infant clothing and people with allergies.
Ms Campbell said that many companies specialising in alpaca fleece buying and distribution have only been established recently to manage the growing demand.
“They are getting this critical mass that they can then sell which means the price they are receiving for the fleece is increasing all the time…it’s starting to be more commercial.”
Because of New Zealand’s land quality and low exposure to disease, the alpaca fleece is highly sought after internationally.
“Our fleece itself is being sold for a much better price than sheep wool. Some speciality buyers will pay up to $25 a kg for alpaca fleece,” said Ms Campbell.