Catherina Cunnane, That’s Farming editor, in conversation with Alpaca Lodge in this week’s Farmer Focus.
Orla, a UCD agri-business graduate who is training to become an accountant and Caitriona, who studied veterinary bioscience at AIT and works in the hospitality sector, are the seventh generation of the Mordaunts to farm the land at Wells, Gorey, Co Wexford.
They discuss their long-standing family farming tradition, how the Covid-19 pandemic sparked their recent venture into alpaca farming and plans to tap into agri-tourism.
“Our father is currently working full-time on the farm as a suckler and sheep farmer.
Our father got us both involved in farming from a young age, so we developed a huge passion for animals and farming over the years.
We especially have a love for sheep, and we have diversified into many different breeds in recent years ranging from Charollais, Llyen, Black Face Mountain, Jacobs, Easy Care and Soays.
Due to our huge interest in animals, we began to research alpacas. Alpacas are great at protecting sheep and hens.
Seeing as we have both sheep and hens, we decided first to purchase two male alpacas; Alpaca Lodge was born.
Since they were young, these two boys had been together, so it was perfect. As alpacas are a herd animal, they must not be purchased alone.
Since a young age, we have dreamed of owning alpacas. This is an exciting new adventure, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for Alpaca Lodge and the alpaca industry in Ireland.
We learned a lot about alpaca behaviours from these two alpacas.
We completed a training course in alpaca husbandry, which we found hugely beneficial. As alpacas are exotic animals, many practices in caring for alpacas are different from other animals.
We would highly recommend completing an alpaca husbandry course to anyone thinking of purchasing alpacas.
We established our alpaca farm during the Covid-19 pandemic in May 2021. Currently, we have six male alpacas, but we hope to expand our number in the future.
We have Huacaya alpacas. There are only two breeds of alpacas, the Huacaya and the Suri.
The main difference between the two breeds is the fleece type. The Huayaca can be described as looking like a teddy bear, whereas the Suri has a dreadlock-type appearance.
We turn alpacas onto grass during good weather. We have set out an annual health plan for our alpacas to ensure they get the correct doses and injections throughout the year.
Our daily feeding routine consists of feeding the alpacas hay and a small quantity of meal while also ensuring they have clean, fresh water.
Our alpacas are halter trained, and we spend our spare time either before or after work walking alpacas.
Alpacas: Interesting facts
Alpacas are domesticated camelids originating from South America. They are curious, docile, and intelligent animals.
They are herd animals and require the company of multiple alpacas. Alpacas are modified ruminants and browsers, and their diet mainly consists of 85-95% of long forage, including grass, hay and haylage.
They will eat 2% of their body weight in feed per day; this equates to two bales of hay per animal per month, and they weigh between 50-90kgs.
Supplements with pelleted vitamins and mineral supplements are advised as alpacas come from a South American climate that is rich in minerals essential to them.
Alpacas produce 10- 12 crias (young alpaca) in their lifetime. Unlike sheep and cattle, alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning when a female animal ovulates due to an externally derived stimulus during, or just before, mating, rather than ovulating cyclically or spontaneously.
You need to keep alpacas in single-sex groups as the mating practices of males. Even castrated ones, wethers, are very intrusive and repeated mating may cause serious injury to a female.
Their gestation period is 343 days. Ideally, crias are born in late spring to early summer.
We shear our alpacas every year. Alpaca fibre grows in 22 different colours. Alpaca fibre is a luxury product and differs greatly from sheep wool.
Here on our farm, you will get an opportunity to feel the difference between sheep wool and alpaca fibre. Around the world, alpaca fibre is a niche market.
Alpaca farming is highly enjoyable. Alpacas are gentle and curious animals and are relaxing to be around.
Walking with our alpacas, we have found particularly enjoyable. We have found the alpaca pace is soothing.
Walking with the alpacas gives you a unique insight into their personalities. We have created good relationships with our alpacas, and we have enjoyed getting to know our alpacas. Like humans, alpacas have their own personalities.
We have found it fascinating learning about each of our alpaca’s different personalities. One of our alpacas likes to be the leader, and he likes to be at the front of the herd.
Other alpacas like to be at the back of the herd and walk at their own pace.
Some alpacas like to seek mischief, occasionally spitting, while others prefer the quieter life.
We have shared many videos of our journey with our alpacas. Our followers and visitors will have a good insight into our alpaca’s various behaviours.
Since embarking on this venture, there is no doubt that we have experienced challenges alongside our rewards.
In the beginning, we found it difficult to obtain information about alpaca husbandry because alpacas are exotic animals and are not plentiful in Ireland.
Alpaca husbandry courses are essential when considering setting up an alpaca farm.
In the next few months, we are venturing into the agri-tourism industry. We have been preparing our farm to open to the public in June 2022.
We will be welcoming members of the public to our farm to enjoy a full alpaca experience.
Members of the public will have the opportunity to get close up and personal with our alpacas, learn about alpacas and embrace the scenic countryside in Co. Wexford by going alpaca trekking on our farm. Booking online will be required.
We want to purchase some female alpacas and begin to breed alpacas in the long term.
In the future, we hope to research and develop other sources of income by increasing the number of alpacas on the farm and buying females for breeding.
We also hope to add to the trekking experience by adding new features.
Alpaca farming in Ireland
Alpaca farming is known for having many benefits and can provide income through fibre production, breeding and agritourism.
Their fibre is softer, warmer, and lighter compared to sheep wool, and the fibre comes in 22 different shades.
Alpacas have a low carbon footprint. Alpaca farming is believed to be more environmentally friendly. They have no significant impact on the land compared to farming cattle or sheep due to their soft, padded feet.
However, alpaca farming is not a quick solution as this is a long-term investment.
You must prepare to wait to reap the rewards before getting into alpacas.
We highly advise you to conduct research on alpacas or attend a training course as they are not your traditional farm animal and require different needs.
Members of the public can keep up to date with the ongoings of Alpaca Lodge by following us on Instagram.”
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