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Background to New Zealand alpacas

 

Alpacas have now been farmed in New Zealand for nearly 25 years, but for those outside our industry, there is still very little known about them.
Even for those who have been farming alpacas for a long time, we continue to learn more about these animals every day.

With the arrival of the first imports into New Zealand, research was carried out at Invermay and Flock House. Much of this research showed for the first time how alpacas responded under conditions outside South America. Many of the NZ Alpacas have pedigrees that go back to animals bred at Ag Research and Flock House.

Once the status of alpaca in New Zealand was changed from a zoological animal to an agricultural animal in 1985, imports began from South America. Initially these were from Chile, but the later imports have been from Peru, and now are mostly from Australia.

In November 2003 there were 4,000 New Zealand alpaca on the International Alpaca Registry
(IAR) and an estimated 5,000 - 6,000 total in New Zealand.
The number of animals on each property ranges from two wethers at the lower end, up to 300 plus animals in the larger herds.

Alpacas have been selectively bred for their fine fleece, and the South Americans have been processing this fleece for 6,000 years making alpaca the oldest domesticated animal around.

There are two different fleece types that are found in alpaca – the ‘merino style’ fleece of the Huacaya alpaca, which is by far the most common, and the silky ‘dreadlock style’ fleece of the Suri alpaca.

History shows the Spanish invasion destroyed the population of alpaca in their natural home.
Before the conquest, there were 50 million alpacas and llamas, but 100 years later 90% of the animals had been wiped out.
In this period of history, stringent breeding standards and programmes were abandoned, and thousands of years of selective breeding were disrupted. Without fences or corrals, hybridisation of the four different species occurred.

The challenge for breeders in New Zealand is to now try and breed those qualities back into the animal that was previously achieved in the days of the Incas. The one thousand year old remains of mummified alpacas found in the Al Yarral desert in Peru show the extent of their sophisticated knowledge. The combination of fineness and denseness of the fleeces could be bred today, but it is the uniformity (SD of only 1 micron) that would be virtually impossible to find amongst today’s alpacas.

Alpacas are by no means a “get-rich-quick” scheme, but with carefully planned strategies, they offer opportunities that will challenge and tantalise those breeding and farming them.

 
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