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Published September 26th 2016
All about Alpacas
Did you know that in South Australia, down on the Fleurieu Peninsula near Mount Compass, (60 kms south of Adelaide) there is an alpaca farm known as Ambersun Alpacas, which is believed to be the 4th largest alpaca farm in the world outside of South America?
The farm, all 250 acres of it, is set in beautiful surroundings off the main Victor Harbor Road at Mount Compass and has been established as an alpaca farm since 1992 when the first six animals were bought. These days the farm has around 1,500 alpacas of the Huacaya breed.
Its owners, Chris Williams and Adrienne Clarke and their family are South Australian, and lots of hard work has developed the property from its original use as a dairy to its current use as alpaca breeding and sales.
Adrienne was South Australia's first ever female firefighter, with Chris working in his family's outdoor camping business for many years.
On taking a ride around the farm with Chris, you can't help but be impressed with Chris and Adrienne's vision of how they see their farm being further developed in the future, especially to cater for an ever growing Chinese market.
With 3 new direct flights to Adelaide expected to commence around December this year from Guangzhou in China, the potential is there for an upsurge in Chinese tourism, and it is well known that the Chinese market is looking for something unique and different when they visit places like South Australia.
Ambersun are currently in talks with a Chinese inbound tour organisation based in Adelaide about bringing regular tour groups out to the farm, which would allow tourists the opportunity to learn about alpacas, get up close and personal with some and try some alpaca meat, fast becoming a delicacy.
Chris and Adrienne have a vision down the track of building further infrastructure on the property including provision for a restaurant, shop, auditorium with video presentation about alpacas and rotundas with a boardwalk, particularly catering for special occasions including weddings.
The extra infrastructure will have views out to an existing large lake (4.5 hectares) on the property, which is believed to be the 2nd largest piece of water outside of Myponga Reservoir.
Ambersun also have a few llamas on the property, which have a nice straight back line and a high tail, compared to the alpacas, which have a rounded sloping rear end with a low tail set.
As Ambersun stock the Huacaya breed of alpacas, these are most ideal for meat, and the demand for the meat is growing enormously in Australia. Alpaca meat is known to be a very lean meat with 94-95% fat free so certainly has great health benefits.
The alpacas traditionally were never bred to be "beasts of burden" but for their fibre and meat.
It's amazing to think that in Australia, alpacas come in approximately 12 classified natural colours, including white, cream, black and brown, as I discovered roaming the farm. Some of the other shades include grey, fawn, honey and red.
For those of you keen to try the meat, Ambersun are represented each week at both the Willunga Farmer's Market as well as the Adelaide Farmer's Market at Wayville. Samples of the meat are available to savour and purchases can be made. The taste of the meat comes somewhere between lamb and veal.
The Willunga Farmer's Market is open from 8 am to 12.30 pm every Saturday and the Adelaide Farmer's Market from 9 am to 1 pm each Sunday. Further details are available via the links above.
Some of the cuts of meat available include strip loin, rump, shoulder roll, back straps and neck rosettes, all very high in iron and protein and low in cholesterol.
The meat normally is at its best from the male alpacas aged around 2-2.5 years, whereas the females are bred mainly for fleece/fibre, as well as selling.
Ambersun have just had another successful year at the Royal Adelaide Show receiving the Most Successful Exhibitor Award, with at least 11 championship winners in varying categories. Overall Ambersun have achieved over 1,000 broad ribbons, including over 100 Supreme Championships, a testament to their successful breeding programs.
When you feel the fibre from alpacas, you notice immediately how soft it is, ideal for clothing and bedding, including jumpers, blankets, scarves, hats, as well as underlays and quilts.
The Alpaca Shop at Hahndorf has a great range of alpaca fibres, pre-made or you can buy fibre to make your own range of clothing/goods.
At this stage the fibre available at the shop is not directly taken from alpacas at Ambersun but there are plans for production to occur direct from the farm in the future.
You can find the shop on the main street at Hahndorf and their opening hours are 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Sunday.
Being a large farm, Ambersun have been developing their markets both domestically and internationally, and have for example exported some 200 alpacas to Europe. There are also active orders for China and the first shipment was arranged recently for Turkey.
For fleece, Ambersun normally carry out the shearing at the beginning of December of each year, which lasts for around 10 days. The fleece is prepared and sold to a growing market both local, interstate and overseas.
For supplementing income and helping to establish and forge good business relationships in Europe, Chris spends around 3 months in April of each year shearing over in that part of the world. As mentioned, the business is very much a family affair with both daughters being involved, one with The Alpaca Shop at Hahndorf and the other at the markets.
It is interesting to observe the behaviour of alpacas first hand as I discovered when I ventured up close to the fence to see them better. Initially their reaction was to shy away, but when I turned away to return to my vehicle they all started following me down the fence line. Luckily for me, contrary to what you read about the spitting habits of alpacas, none carried out the unsavoury habit in front of me. Apparently they are more likely to spit only at other fellow alpacas, thank goodness!
Those of you who may be interested in finding out first hand about alpacas and seeing them up close and personal, Ambersun are more than happy to host groups around the farm, and tours can be arranged via contacting Chris or Adrienne with details on Ambersun's website.