DID you know that a baby alpaca is called a ‘cria’? Alpacas live up to 20 years, and the gestation period for a cria is approximately 11 months. Another fun fact: alpacas are shorn every 12 months, usually in the spring.
The Gazette learnt a lot about alpacas while visiting breeder Emma Timmony of alpaca stud, Dunbar’s Run – not least of all, that there is a market for alpaca meat in Australia.
But Dunbar’s isn’t part of that industry. Instead, they breed their alpacas for their fleece and genetics, and all 114 members of their herd have names!
“Every one has its own personality,” said Emma, adding that they also use a handy tagging system to keep track of who’s who; every animal has a number and these are all posted on a national database run by the Australian Alpaca Association.
Emma’s (35) and Sean’s (40) goal is to breed elite alpacas in two types: suri, which has longer dreadlock-type wool that hangs from the body; and huacaya, the wool of which is more like that of a marino.
They attend regular shows, and their animals recently won a swag of awards at the Australian Alpaca Spectacular in Bendigo.
“Other than the Sydney Royal it’s probably the most well-renowned show in Australia, which showcases alpacas to a global audience,” said Emma.
Dunbar’s Run entered seven alpacas at the show in August, and came away with four awards – First Mature Grey Female Huacaya, Second Intermediate Light Fawn Female Huacaya, Third Adult Black Female Huacaya, and Highly Commended Adult Black Female Huacaya.
Alpacas don’t need much preparation for a show, other than having their fleece combed and their nails clipped.
“When we’re preparing the animals, we bring them in and keep them stabled. We use a fibre wand that uses static electricity to take any debris from the fleece, like dirt or vegetation,” said Emma, adding they are showed in ‘paddock condition’.
Dunbar’s Run is based over two farms, one in North Richmond (where Emma and Sean live) and another in Ebenezer, where Sean’s parents live.
Sean helps-out Emma at the shows and spends his days running the Dunbar’s Run farms. He is also a professional alpaca shearer at Pacashear, and shears fleece not only at the Dunbar’s farms but for other farms around the Hawkesbury and Hills districts.
Emma works five days a week in construction. “It keeps me out of trouble!” she said. But eventually, the duo hope to be able to take their work with alpacas full-time.
Sean’s family had farms in the Hawkesbury area while growing up, and while Emma didn’t grow up here, her love for alpacas began as a 15-year-old when her parents toyed with the idea of buying a farm and importing them. Alas, the plan didn’t come to fruition.
Then, years later, while living on her parents-in-law’s farm where they kept horses, Emma fell in love with two alpacas she saw at the local ag show.
“I’ve always loved alpacas and thought they were beautiful. The horses weren’t really my speed - they were too big,” she said.
“I saw two alpacas at a farm expo at the Hawkesbury Show and then spent two weeks talking my mother-in-law in to buying them!
“My passion grew, and then my passion became my husband’s passion.”
Dunbar’s Run Alpacas was named for Emma’s grandfather, and also the shape of the land on their farm at North Richmond.
“Dunbar was my grandfather’s middle name and we wanted to give the stud a family name. When we bought the farm at North Richmond we didn’t know what to call the stud, but the way the property is shaped it looks like a run, so we settled on Dunbar’s Run,” said Emma.
The two wethers (desexed males) Emma talked her mother-in-law into purchasing all those years ago were just pets. But shortly afterwards, they decided they wanted to get into the breeding game.
“We got our first females from a local breeder in the area. In 2013 we officially became a stud,” she said.
Dunbar’s in drought
Like most farms, the drought affects how Dunbar’s Run operates.
“With the drought we’re hand-feeding,” said Emma.
“We’re buying in feed and stock-piling feed, which is a bit of a challenge but Sean’s doing a great job sourcing it.”
The animals are fed a mix of lucerne and oaten hay. They are also fed a mix of cracked lupins and an ‘alpaca blend’ with a vitamin mix.
“Droughts can affect the fleece due to lack of feed, as well as fleece length and the alpaca’s body condition. We need to make sure they have the right amount of food so they can support their young and themselves, and also so we can keep a good position on the breeding stock for when the drought breaks,” Emma said.
“If it’s a severe drought you can stop the breeding program, but we’ve kept some of our females in breeding condition and some are pregnant, but we’re very selective about the animals we’re using at the moment because of the dry conditions.”
Dunbar’s Run recently welcomed two crias to its herd, Orion and Kenzie, born early September.