Alpacas more than a pretty face on farms across Nova Scotia
Cute new animal steals show at Valley Ex
By Lacey Sheppy
For The Spectator
It may be the descendant of a camel and look like a llama, but the alpaca has a style all its own.
The alpaca, a domesticated animal originating in the Andes of Ecuador, was a new addition to this year’s Annapolis Valley Exhibition in Lawrencetown. “Alpacas are farm animals that are becoming really popular in Nova Scotia,” said exhibition manager Rachel Taylor. “We wanted to reflect the fact people are branching out and keeping agriculture alive in different ways.”
Oona Porter, who owns The Atlantic Seaside Farm Company in Bayport, and Carol Begin of the Atlantic Canada Alpaca Farm in Oxford, said the animals are a popular choice for farmers because they’re less expensive than horses, require less room and less food than cows, and their fleece is more valuable than that of sheep. “It can be profitable,” said Begin of alpaca farming. “There is definitely money in being a breeder and, when you have the finished product made, you can get a really good return.”
Canada is home to almost 100 alpaca farms, the majority of which are in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.
According to Alpaca Canada, the majority of the first imported alpacas went to farms in Alberta and B.C. and the industry has been gradually moving east ever since.
Adult alpacas stand 85 to 90 centimetres at the withers, weigh between 150 and 200 pounds and can live up to 25 years in captivity.
There are two main varieties of alpaca – the huacaya and the suri. Huacaya alpacas have short, dense and crimpy fleece, while suris have silky, dreadlock-like fleece.
Suri is the most rare variety, making up only three per cent of the world’s alpaca population. “No one really knows why this is,” said Porter, who has owned her farm of 70 alpacas for nine years. “For the last 50 years, there has been a two-year waiting list for males.”
All alpacas are bred for their fleece, which is hypoallergenic and softer than that of sheep. Alpaca fibre is spun into everything from clothing to slippers to blankets, rugs, and wall hangings.
The price per animal ranges from $1,000 to $20,000. The most valuable animals are ones that consistently breed good stock with excellent fibre and confirmation.
Begin began raising alpacas eight years ago after she and her husband bought a farm and wanted to do something with the land. “I didn’t want anything for slaughter,” she said. “I did some research and came up with alpacas. The quality of their fibre is much nicer than sheep.”
Today, Begin has 30 alpacas that she breeds and sells.
She wanted to be part of the Annapolis Valley Exhibition to raise awareness about the animals, something she seems to have accomplished, said Taylor. “The response has been really positive,” she said. “A lot of people have said it’s great to have a new farm animal at the Ex.”