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Articles by Alpaca World Magazine:

Long Live the Oakbank Five

Alex Harrington Smith



Australia is a country well known for its production of wonderful wines, it is perhaps this shared love that has led me to develop such an affinity for a country I have known a relatively short time. Now personally I cannot abide eating lamb which is perhaps why I developed such an affinity with the Oakbank 5. These poor unfortunate lambs were for one reason or another left motherless and raised on the bottle. Cute, cuddly and loveable without an ounce of malice in their hearts they have fondly grazed the lawns of EP Cambridge for many months. Meryl Sheep, Shauna Sheep, Brittney Shears, Starvin Marvin and my personal favourite woolly wonder, little Poppa Smurf. Unfortunately not all at Oakbank could feel the love for this merry band and it is with heavy heart I write this article imagining my poor adopted children in the cold, vast Australian landscape (sounds more bleak than a paddock out the back), condemned to a life alien to them and all because of an unfortunately timed penchant for garden shrubs. Tyranny rules my friends.

Fortunately the winter has not been entirely desolate. The camera crews arrived in mid July and filmed a segment for Landline, a programme not dissimilar to the UK show Countryfile. EP Cambridge was the focus for the piece, chosen for its position in the alpaca industry. For the producers EP Cambridge provides an excellent example of alpacas fitting in with other forms of agriculture and the profitable diversification opportunity they offer. The producers of the show have covered everything from embryo transfer to the rigours of the show circuit. This kind of exposure for the industry should bring huge dividends both for the continued vibrancy of the Australian industry but also for its credibility in the wider agricultural sector. The show is due to air later in September so watch this space.

I also made a trip back to the Motherland to judge the North Devon Show and pay an overdue visit to the UK herd. Much as I am growing to know and love the herd in Oz it is hard not to witness firs thand the continued growth and improvement of a herd you know so well. When the magnitude of its positive progression hits you all at once it is quite overwhelming. Not to mention satisfying. It hardly seems two minutes since I was in Switzerland with the 2002 import and yet here I am in Oz and Killawasi’s first cria are back in the UK producing cria of their own. 11 months always seems such a long time to wait and yet the time flies by. Birthing finished here in late May and already three cria are on the ground and a nasty rumour about commencing the mating programme has been heard on the winds. The quiet time here is both anything but quiet and very short. Like the wines, Oz has 24/7 nailed.

Adelaide hosted the AAA conference 2006 and it was an impressive event. The AGM was staged on Friday and saw the election of a new president, Ian Davison. The Friday night presentation was a breath-taking fashion parade put on by a South Australian breeder. It was a refreshing catalogue of designs, diverse and contemporary in style yet on the whole exhibiting versatility and wearability. It was the kind of innovation that will be key to the continued success of the Alpaca industry. The talents of young designers had been harnessed to great success. A lot of inspiration was evidently drawn from the 1940s and as the pictures show this was something a little bit special. Saturday and Sunday saw a vast and inspiring array of lecturers and lectures to be heard. In particular the presentation on the links between ADE and phosphorous deficiencies would have greatly interested many UK breeders, particularly those whose breeding programmes run later in the season. Having been with one well known and respected vet at midnight on the eve of her lecture I remain to be convinced that all the lecturers enjoyed the experience of presenting the lectures as much as the delegates enjoyed receiving them. That said some delegates were not exactly firing on all cylinders!

Since last writing we have attended a few shows including Royal Adelaide and Bendigo. Now correct me if I’m wrong but for most of us taking away a champion would be the icing on the cake, the cherry on said icing – quite simply marvellous. Well not here. Its at least 50% of the championships and that had better include progeny and supreme or it just isn’t worth the fuel. Fortunately showing has gone well so the stud males and I can rest easy – for now. The show season is much longer here. Many of you will believe this to be due to the climate and the benefits this reaps. Let me dispel the myth. The Adelaide hills are like little England, it can get surprisingly wet and muddy yet the show team survives as does the eagerness to participate. Next time you balk at a 4 hour journey to show your alpacas in summer remember the inhabitants of the less clement portion of Australia will trek days to show alpacas no matter the weather. Whilst the Australian industry is further on in its development than our own in the UK it is still experiencing its share of problems. I have noticed time and time again though that there is this drive and determination which is steely in its resolve that seems to enable them to get past just about anything. Perhaps if it adopts no other philosophy the UK should adopt the can do attitude seen here. On that note the British Alpaca Futurity is causing great comment here, all of it positive. My guess is that if it were being held here there would be people coming in their droves to be part of an industry first, to drive a positive concept forward.

On the subject of disparities between the UK and Australia I have noted a particularly big one. The Australian nation is proudly Australian; it eats, sleeps and lives Australian. Every time you go in a shop and buy some product it will be stamped with the words PROUDLY MADE IN AUSTRALIA. They put the pro in being proud. Now like the English they are probably very proud of their roots though on that subject I must digress slightly from my point and dispel another myth – there were no convicts sent to Australia. I can after extensive questioning tell you categorically not one. Now I know many historians have written many books on this subject but believe me there is not one Australian so far who descends from convict ranks. So those and I don’t wish to exaggerate, rather big ships full of small time thieves must have landed somewhere else, some other distant land. At one show a client, who is Australian through and through warned me that this is an insular country that looks to itself for everything it needs or desires. In many respects this is an admirable quality. This is quite foreign to me coming from a country and more specifically an Alpaca industry that will look anywhere but its own door step for the next purchase. Next time you are looking at an Alpaca imported from Oz I’d look bloody closely because I bet that somewhere, under the tail, on its left testicle or perhaps the inside of its eyelid someone, some proud aussie breeder will have tattooed those words lest you should forget.

Anyway that is about all for this instalment – the next few months are set to be equally busy with the Royal Melbourne, The Nationals and of course births, breeding and shearing.