The baby alpacas don jackets to protect them from the wet weather.
The baby alpacas don jackets to protect them from the wet weather.

Alpacas not just cute and cuddly

JULIE HOCKINGS' Dalveen property is home to 130 alpacas, and she knows each of them by name.

There's Bridget, whose big brown eyes implore you to give her a pat; Rosie has the pretty face and Connor seems to be following the camera, poking his head into every shot.

Julie started out with only a few alpacas, so the naming process was easy.

But it has become harder in recent times, with more than 100 animals now roaming the yard.

"At first we had a system, where the bub's name would start with the first letter of the mum's name," she said.

"It worked for a good while but it got to the stage where we had that many with names that started with 'B'... I just got stuck.

"I have a baby names book now."

The alpaca breeder has just welcomed some new additions.

They're easy for a woman to handle on her own, whereas so many animals are too big or too strong. Plus they've got more brains than a sheep.

The young alpacas teeter around the property wearing jackets to protect them from the rain.

Primarily, Julie breeds alpacas for their fleece.

But it is easy to see they have become part of the family.

She said these unique creatures have more to offer than fleece - they can be affectionate pets or fierce protectors.

"They vary in personality, just like humans," Julie said.

"Those not suitable for fleece are often sold to farmers as herd guards."

Julie said alpacas had proven very useful to protect sheep from becoming prey for foxes and dingoes.

"One farmer was losing 30% of his lambs each year," she said.

"He got an alpaca and the next year he rang me and said he hadn't lost one."

If allowed time to bond, Julie said alpacas would protect lambs, as if they were their own young.

"It's best to put them in with the herd about one month to six weeks before lambing starts, so they have time to bond," she said.

"Once they've become part of the herd, they become the protector.

"However, alpacas don't stand a chance against big domestic breeds of dogs.

"In areas where dogs like that are around, we don't recommend them."

Julie said the key was picking the right alpaca for the job.

"Not all animals are protectors - some of them are sooks," she said.

"You have to choose an animal with the right protective instinct."

Growing up on a farm in Maryvale, the self-confessed country girl was not always an alpaca expert.

Julie said she was living in Brisbane but yearning to return to the Southern Downs, when she saw a picture of an alpaca on a magazine cover.

"I showed it to my husband and said 'I want one of those'," she remembers.

The pair set up with a few alpacas on a Warwick property, where Julie quickly learnt a lesson now adopted as her slogan: "alpacas are addictive".

After 15 years breeding the animals for fleece, trading under Alpaca Gear, Julie's affection for the animals remains as strong as ever.

She pats Bridget, a particularly demonstrative animal that nuzzles her hand persistently, as Julie shows us where the alpacas are drenched and shorn.

"They're easy for a woman to handle on her own, whereas so many animals are too big or too strong," Julie said.

"Plus they've got more brains than a sheep!"

Julie said she worked to improve the quality of her alpaca fleece every year.

She said she is searching for the perfect combination of fineness, length, lustre, quantity and density.

She said one alpaca could produce between one and four kilograms of fleece.

 To get a feel for alpaca fleece, visit the Village Artisans display at the Jumpers and Jazz Festival, July 18-28.

Julie Hockings and Fiona Henderson with Supreme Champion Alpaca at the Tenterfield Show 2006.
Julie Hockings and Fiona Henderson with Supreme Champion Alpaca at the Tenterfield Show 2006.


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