That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Long Acre Alpacas, an alpaca farm and tourist attraction based in Ardee, County Louth, run by Catherine & Matthew Myles, in this week’s Farmer Focus segment.
“We initially bought two alpacas, Cecil & Harry, as lawnmowers for our garden in 2017, and we now have seven boys and two girls.
Neither of us are from farming backgrounds, but both love animals in general.
Shortly after buying our first alpacas, we noticed the positive impact the animals were having on us in terms of reducing stress and motivating us to spend more time outdoors, so we decided to buy more with a view to setting up an agri-tourism business.
The health benefits are very important to us as a family, as Catherine was diagnosed with MS in 2014, and stress is a contributing factor in flare-ups and relapses.
Alpacas are effective therapy animals and have a calming and centring impact on people.
So, what started as lawnmowers developed into a small family-run Alpaca trekking company.
Treks and farm visits
We have two services we offer on the farm, and we also offer off-site services, such as weddings and nursing home visits.
A trek is a 3km walk through fields with the alpacas, followed by hand feeding them and meeting the other animals on the farm, who are all very friendly and interactive.
A farm visit is an activity that is suited to young children and people who can not do the 3km trek.
You still get to walk the alpacas, but the experience is much shorter and can be tailored to suit the customer’s abilities.
We do a lot of farm visits, but we are not an open farm, so when you make a booking for a 1-hour visit, there will be no other visitors there at your time slot.
We find this makes the experience more relaxed for clients and carers alike.
Weddings and nursing home visits
Wedding experiences are where we go to your wedding venue with two of our alpacas, Perky and Proudlock.
We greet your guests and allow them to interact with the alpacas and get some photos taken with them. They also can be in whatever bridal party photos as required.
Nursing home visits are self-explanatory in that the boys turn up at the nursing home and interact with the residents.
Again, we use Perky and Proudlock for this as they are more tolerant of larger groups of people.
ProudLock will go into the bedrooms of any residents that are unable to come out to see the boys. We find this experience gets a great response from staff and residents alike.
In 2020, Catherine gave up her office job to run the business full-time after we inherited a farm. It is very important to us to preserve the memory of the family who owned the farm as we develop our business.
Types of alpacas
We have both Suri and Huacaya alpacas on our farm.
Huacaya alpacas are the most common type; they have a rounded and bulky appearance (much like a teddy bear), and their fibre grows perpendicular to the body and is bulky, smooth and dense.
Suri alpacas have lustrous fibre that grows in dreadlocks hanging down by their side.
Alpaca fleece is soft, durable and silky. The fibres are hollow, which makes it warmer than sheep wool. The characteristics of alpaca wool are it has no lanolin (unlike sheep wool). It is hypoallergenic, comes in 22 natural colours and is naturally fire retardant.
We have to shear them annually, but this is not something we do ourselves; our shearer comes from Derry.
Breeding and general maintenance
We plan on breeding our two females this year. Alpacas do not have a breeding season, and provided they are receptive, they can be mated at any time of the year.
The gestation is eleven-and-a-half months, so we are planning for a birth in June 2024.
Births are generally trouble-free, and most occur during the day – good news for us. The pregnancy test for alpacas is called a spit-off and happens ten days after mating.
The male is reintroduced to the female; if she will not sit but instead turns and spits at the stud, she is pregnant – this is the only time we are happy to spit on.
Alpacas are primarily grazers and eat small amounts of a wide variety of plants and will eat approximately 2% of their body weight per day.
They have to be vaccinated regularly against liver fluke, mites and worms. We also give them vitamins A, D & E during the winter months. We house our alpacas in times of extreme cold and heat.
Alpaca manure is considered a rich soil conditioner; it does not need to be aged or composted before use. You can spread it on garden plants without burning, and also, it is virtually odourless.
In 2022, we ran a Christmas experience on the farm with Santa & Mrs Claus in attendance.
There was a small craft market with local crafters selling their goods. The event ran in conjunction with a local church committee and involved local teenagers as helpers.
It was very well attended, with over 400 families over the three days, and this is definitely something we plan on doing in 2023.
This year, we have started the process of looking for planning permission to add a small glamping site to the farm.
We have had visitors from all over the world who come to do the experience on the farm, and we hope that if accommodation is available, they will stay and enjoy the health benefits of being with animals and out in nature.
The feedback we have had from our customers is amazing, and people leave the farm feeling calm and relaxed, which we all need.”
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