FROM humble beginnings, a Wimmera alpaca stud is now learning to adapt to a growing market.
David and Pam Pratt own Rosehaven Alpacas at Laharum and say the alpaca industry is one that is still developing.
The couple first wanted to buy an alpaca about seven years because Mrs Pratt wanted to spin the wool.
"We started investigating and realised we probably needed more than one for wool, so we bought three to start with," Mrs Pratt said.
"We then became addicted."
It wasn't long before the family owned their own alpaca stud, offering services ranging from shearing to hiring out herdguards.
"We started leasing our male weathers out as herdguard," Mr Pratt said.
He said herdguards were leased throughout the region, usually between February and December.
"They might go out three or four times over the season.
"We are starting to ramp up now, and then they will come back in July before going out again in time for spring lambing.
Many farmers use alpacas to protect sheep from predators such as foxes and wild dogs.
Mrs Pratt said alpacas acted on instinct to protect sheep and lambs.
"Some people don't believe they work but others swear by them," she said.
The breeding process for alpacas is more labour-intensive than it is for other livestock.
"We used to outsource the breeding but now we do our own," Mrs Pratt said.
The gestation period for alpacas is 11.5 months.
"Alpacas don't go into heat like other animals, the ovulate on demand," Mrs Pratt said.
"They can breed all year round.
"We aim to breed them in autumn - we used to do it in spring but that's when David was always busiest with shearing."
The couple individually mate each female by pairing it with a hand-selected male.
The stud has about 30 females and four to five males.
"It's a timely process because the boys can be really boisterous," Mr Pratt said.
"We also like to keep track of who is with who so we can try to improve our genetics each year," Mrs Pratt said.
Mr Pratt said tracking genetic lines could be complicated.
He said breeders could go back six to seven generations on both sides, but could still get a cria that was a different colour to its ancestors.
The couple try to breed coloured alpacas, rather than white.
Mr Pratt said coloured fleece was becoming increasingly popular in the clothing industry as it doesn't need to be dyed.
"Different coloured fleeces are blended together to make different colours, whereas white always has to be dyed," he said.
"Many buyers are now requesting coloured fleece and there is a growing commercial market for clothes that are not dyed."
Fleeces from the Laharum farm are exported to countries such as Germany, Italy, Canada and France.
"There is also a massive demand in China for alpaca wool," Mr Pratt said.
This year the farm sold half a tonne of fleece.
"We sold every scrap we had," Mr Pratt said.
The stud's alpacas are sheared once a year between September and October.
Sometimes they will be your best friend, but other times they won't come near youRosehaven Alpacas owner David Pratt
Mr Pratt also shears alpacas across the state.
"I've learnt to do our own first - when I do everyone else's first, ours never seem to get done," he said.
"When you are working full time shearing, the last thing you want to do when you get home is shear your own livestock."
Mr Pratt said while alpaca shearing wasn't as physically demanding as sheep shearing, it took more people.
"You have to tie them out on a table - you can't hold an alpaca on its back like you can with sheep, it can hurt them," he said.
The stud hires a team of people to help with shearing each year.
"We can shear about 50 to 60 in a day," Mr Pratt said.
Mr Pratt said the alpacas were generally well-tempered animals.
"They aren't dogs though, they don't like to be patted, but they will let you rub their necks," he said.
"Sometimes they will be your best friend, but other times they won't come near you - especially if they are pregnant.
"But you can walk into the paddock and the alpacas are fine - if you walked into a mob of sheep, it would be mayhem."
Mrs Pratt said the pair often go out in the paddock and have their morning coffee among the alpacas.
"They will come up to you, especially the little ones, they can be very inquisitive," she said.
Mr Pratt said alpacas was still a growing market.
"The industry as a whole is getting bigger and more commercial," he said.
"People, like us, are now being taken a lot more seriously as a major breeding operation.
"Alpacas are a very healthy animal.
"There aren't many issues with diseases and they don't get fly struck, so they are a very simple farm animal to manage."
Mrs Pratt said the couple would continue to grow the business.
"We are just hooked," she said.
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