During my recent visit to New Zealand I was lucky enough to meet Brenda & Stewart McLean of Windermere Alpacas & Llamas, www.alpacasbreeders.co.nz.
I love when things click into place and you find yourself meeting great people, here’s what happened.
I brought some wool to start creating some baby jumpers for our store here in Korcula and the next day there was an article in the newspaper about Brenda and Stewart and their alpacas. The wool that I brought is lovely soft, alpaca wool – so I decided to phone and see if I could purchase some more wool direct from the breeders. I received a very warm welcome to my enquiries over the phone and an invite to come and meet the alpacas. Fun! Brenda & Stewart are about an hours drive from where I was staying with my Mum, we choose a date to visit. It was a glorious sunny morning when Mum and I headed south towards Milton and onto meet the Brenda and Stewart.
We knew we were getting close when our view started to look like this;
Mum and I had a wonderful afternoon with Brenda and Stewart. We were shown around the farm and saw some of Brenda’s lovely knitwear (www.alpacababywear.co.nz), and introduced Brenda to our lovely filigree jewellery!
Brenda and I have since been in email contact and below are a her answers to some questions I asked, we are both happy to answer all your questions – leave your comments/questions/feedback below and we will get back to you as we can.
How long have you been involved in farming?
Stewart has been farming all of his life – he was a 3rd generation dairy farmer on the family dairy farm in the North Island of NZ when we met. When we moved down to the South Island 20 years ago we changed to sheep & beef farming and dairy grazing.
When did you make the switch to Alpacas & llamas?
Because of Stewart’s health problems, we had to sell the farm about 12 years ago and downsize to a 50 acre lifestyle block. This is when we got our first alpacas. We found them so easy to work with and such a pleasure to have around that we gradually decreased our sheep and cattle numbers and increased our alpaca numbers. We introduced the Llamas three years later.
What is the main attraction of these fabulous creatures?
Both alpacas & llamas are very intelligent and lovely to work with.
Unlike sheep, you only need to shear them once a year and you don’t need to crutch them.
I love to see the fleeces coming off the alpacas when they are shorn. The colours are amazing, and the fibre is so soft to touch. Over the last couple of years we have been trying to breed alpacas with a red coloured fibre. Its not a bright cherry red colour, but a lovely rich mahogany colour. To our delight we had 2 crias (babies) of this colour born this season.
We run the females in 3 separate herds, with the llamas in one herd and the alpacas in 2 separate herds.
Each herd is family based, with a number of different family groups, so that you have grandmas, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, cousins etc all together. We have noticed that when a female has a cria (baby) her young daughter from the previous season will help babysit the new baby.
Unpacking, (birthing) is another time we really enjoy. With an 11.5 to 13 month gestation, it’s a long wait until the cria (baby) is born. And you never really know what colour you will get. A white mother could have a white or a brown or a grey or even a black baby! And even if you repeat a mating you could get a different colour cria each time! For example, Vivien Rose, a dark brown girl, had a black boy last year, and this year to the same male she had a golden brown boy!
Both the alpacas and llamas are generally very healthy animals and easy to care for and they also have the most amazingly soft and warm fibre, really luxurious.
How do you remember all their names?!
Although we have over 230 alpacas & 30 llamas, to us they are all individuals. They each have their own personalities. When we go into the paddocks to check them, or work with them in the yards we talk to them and call them by name.
Alpacas& Llamas tend to live long lives, and our oldest girl, Cuddles, is over 22 years old. This gives you plenty of time to get to know them, and for them to get to know you.
Why do you prefer knitting with Alpaca wool?
Alpaca wool is so soft! I suppose the easiest comparison to make would be the difference between working with string and working with wool. In this case wool is much softer to work with than string. Alpaca yarn is much softer and nicer to work with than wool. Its also warmer and lighter than wool, and doesn’t have the ‘prickle’factor that wool often has. This means that people who can’t wear wool, often find that they can wear alpaca.
Alpaca is ideal for babies clothes because of this. Alpaca is a natural, sustainable fibre and comes in an amazing variety of natural shades. Colours range through white, cream, caramel, chocolate, black, grey (silver grey through to dark grey) and the rare rose grey.
((visit Brenda’s website, www.alpacababywear.co.nz to see her fabulous range of Alpaca knitwear)
What is the main market for the wool?
Alpaca yarn is sold both in New Zealand and overseas. With only about 4 million alpacas in the world, alpaca yarn is relatively rare. There are 2 different fibre types with alpacas – huacaya and suri. Huacaya are the “fluffy”alpacas and their fibre is used to make knitting yarn, clothing, duvets etc.
Suri are much rarer. They are amazing looking alpacas with their fibre hanging in long silky, shiny dreadlocks. On a windy day they look stunning! Their fibre is ideal for weaving, and garments made from suri have an incredible ‘drape’.
We have both huacaya and suri alpacas.
What is the funniest question you have been asked about the animals by visitors to your farm?
I actually can’t think of any!
The 2 questions we generally get asked are;
Do the alpacas/llamas spit?
Yes – but not generally at people. Both alpacas & llama will spit as a part of communicat ion and body language. One will spit at another to say ‘ get out of my space’,or ‘stay away from my food’. A pregnant female will spit at any male who comes close to her, and depending on how grumpy she is feeling, it might be a little spit, or the full green smelly spit that stinks. After an alpaca or llama has spat the full green smelly spit, you see them standing with their mouths open, dribbling green spit. They don’t like the taste!
Can you ride them (the llamas)?
Unlike horses, you can’t ride llamas. In South America llamas are traditionally pack animals, and carry loads in packs on their backs. You sometimes hear them referred to as the ‘ships of the Andes’.
Thanks again to Brenda & Stewart for a fun visit and for taking the time to answer our questions, we look forward to meeting up again later in the year and introducing you to the jeweller!