Lexie McNaughton (11) has had alpacas in her life as long as she remembers.
Her maternal grandparents, John and Judith Flynn, raised alpacas in Invercargill for 20 years before handing off the herd to their daughter, Angela, and her husband, Clark – Lexie’s parents – about five years ago.
All the family were on deck last week at Drysdale Alpacas for a full day with the 37-strong herd as they were shorn of their winter fleeces.
Mr Flynn said alpacas were lovely animals, and each had a unique personality.
Although the family said the alpacas were not exactly pets, each had a name, most chosen by Lexie, and they were not treated quite as livestock either.
“I certainly wouldn’t eat them, and you eat livestock,” Mrs McNaughton said.
Each animal is registered by name on an international database.
Alpaca wool is finer than that of sheep with fine-fibre fleeces turned into yarn and coarser wool used to stuff duvets.
There was not much money in selling the coarse fibre at present, so they were looking to selectively breed for a finer fibre, Mrs McNaughton said.
“We try to sell enough to cover the winter food.”
Alpacas are a herd animal who tend to stay in family groups even after the young – known as cria until they become yearlings – reach maturity.
“We try to sell ours in family groups,” she said.
Cass Young, a handler working with shearer Nigel Wood, said alpacas were easier to shear than sheep, and also much smarter.
The animals were tied while shearing, both to prevent them from cuts and for the safety of the shearer, she said.
“If you tried to shear them like sheep, they’ve got really long legs and they would kick you in the face.
“I’ve seen shearers knocked out.”
Like Lexie, Ms Young grew up with alpacas and also said each animal had a distinct personality.
“They’re cool. They’re trainable.
“They’re like dogs but bigger.”
While the animals were tied down for shearing, Ms Young trimmed their nails and gave them two injections – one a vaccination and the other containing Vitamins A, D and E, which she called “liquid sunshine”.
“Because they’re from the Andes mountains, they’re usually exposed to much more sun, and New Zealand has lots more cloud cover than in Peru,” she explained.
As for the alpacas themselves, most expressed their displeasure quite vocally at being tied down for shearing, but showed no ill effects afterward as they scrambled back to their feet and went off to join their families.