Well we made it through our first year, association intact, lots of decisions made and loads of work still to do. Not a bad report I suppose on what will in time become a viable, profitable and enjoyable alternative farm enterprise in Ireland.
The Alpaca owners in Ireland made a decision a couple of years ago to set up our own Association and Register. I got the job of getting everyone together which I thought no problem arrange a meeting and that’s it, back to Connemara and get on with the day to day tasks of a very complicated life of farming with a few sheep even less Alpacas, working part time in a local hotel, starting a payroll business from home, being a dad and running the home whilst my very patient wife goes out to work and gets some real money. Life is never straightforward as I end up leaving the meeting as the Chairman of the Alpaca Association of Ireland.
Coming back from that first meeting I was wondering how from just wanting to buy a couple of geldings to see how they got on I seem to have taken a leading role in the Alpaca industry in Ireland. It started around four years ago when I kept coming across articles about alpacas and the brain began to tick away figuring out that these lovely animals would potentially work well on our very small hill farm in Connemara. Due to all kinds of restrictions we had been kept back to just 30 ewes and this had been reduced even further so if the farm was going to survive without just relying on the “cheque in the post” I had to do something else. Then we saw them on the television and shortly after a visit to Xandria Williams in Co Kildare we were confronted with the real thing. After that and with some detective work I tracked down what was the first alpaca herd in Ireland owned by Anna-May Driscoll and Damien Dyar who had a small herd in Co Clare. A couple of visits later the business plan was into the bank and a loan arranged to buy 3 females and one cria from an Australian partnership who had been agisting some animals on this farm.
I have to say that I’d read so much about alpacas and I don’t remember any articles on animals having problems and they all pointed towards this easy to care for, potentially very profitable animal. Well after nearly three years of being an alpaca owner I have at times really wondered was it all just a clever marketing scam. We’ve lost one animal with pneumonia, one refused to get pregnant and one of them aborted her cria last year so the business plan went out the window. Hopefully now we have had our run of bad luck and things will start looking up with our two remaining females both expecting and due around the end of July. So all going well we should be making progress, but if I ever hear or see anyone saying alpacas are as easy as sheep they’d better duck. Despite having taken a hammering we’ve figured out solutions to some difficulties with the conditions here and now armed with this knowledge I’m confident that it was and will be a good move to get them.
Sounds like a pretty miserable first three years but we’ve also had loads of fun. In particular meeting people from all over the world who stop at the gate wondering if they are seeing things. They have some strange looking sheep over in Derryrush was the talk of our local bar and news has travelled throughout Connemara of our enterprise. Yes they are lovely gentle animals I keep telling my wife who somehow seems to have the unfortunate knack of being spat at and kicked on several occasions much to the amusement of our daughter age seven who keeps saying “but Mum they don’t do that to me”.
We’ve now got around twenty owners in the country I’ve been busy tracking each one down and encouraging them without breaking any bones to join our little band. (I might even start my own Alpaca owner tracing agency as I’m getting quite good so if there’s anymore out there I’ll find you). We’ve set up the basics of the Association and we’re now working on our register and a screening process which we hope to have off the ground sometime next year. I believe our register will be unique in as much it will be a “two tier” system, the idea being that all the alpacas in the country will be listed and then it is up to the owners if they want to have them screened the screening details will be added to the animals registration.
I have to admit it is a bit radical as alpaca registers go but by doing this we will be able to keep details of all the animals and not just those that are deemed to be the best. This I believe should help us not only to have a top quality national herd by having a good screening process but by keeping data on all the animals it should help with other issues such as trends in health problems, fibre and to have a viable tracking record of animal movements in the event of future disease outbreaks.
We’ve also decided to approach the Dept of Agriculture to have alpacas recognised as livestock, the immediate effect of this will be to advertise them to thousands of farmers in the country as an alternative option as they wonder what an alpaca is and why does it appear on the livestock section of the forms. I’m getting fed up of changing all my forms to include alpacas I’m sure our local office thinks I’m crazy. The other advantages will hopefully develop over the coming years but as it is going to be a farming enterprise there is no harm getting in there now rather than later.
With around 200 or so animals in the country we have a long way to go but there are more on their way from Australia and of course I would guess at least another 50 cria due this year, the numbers will start to go up. Like anywhere the quality of the animals varies with some excellent and others not so good but the good thing is that you can always improve by breeding up to the better males that are now becoming available here. We have a long way to go still but it is certainly going to be an exciting journey.
So an exciting year and successful year and guess what I’m still the Chairman and despite the hard work it is great fun, just hope I’m not saying this in 2025 as I think I deserve to retire by then.