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Episode 20: Alpaca Allure


Country Calendar on TVNZ Ondemand

July 23 on TV ONE:

Alpaca Allure

When Hawke's Bay couple Pete and Tessa McKay were given a farm-warming gift of two alpacas 10 years ago, they had no idea they would end up farming them.

The McKays had owned horticulture and viticulture blocks before buying a 235 hectare property in the Maraekakaho Valley, south of Hastings.

Pete and Tessa weren't born to farming, but say it has given them the freedom to try new things.

These days, alpacas run alongside sheep, cattle and deer on the farm. "We just fell in love with them," says Tessa.

Numbers have grown and the property is now home to 35 breeding females, stud males and 16 baby crias.

"My favourite time on the farm is when the crias are born. Alpacas are intelligent and peaceful animals to be around," says Tessa.

The McKays see exciting potential in alpacas and have set a goal of using every part of the animal.

They run a mill which processes alpaca and llama fibre sent to them from breeders all over the country.

They imported the mini mill because of demand from breeders who often require individual fleeces to be processed in single orders. At times Tessa works seven days a week to keep up with demand.

Recently, the McKays have been exploring ways of using alpaca skins as rugs and high fashion cushions and throws.

"They have a rarity factor, which makes them sought after on the international market," says Maurice Callaghan who is experimenting with the skins at Napier's Classic Sheepskin Tannery.

The McKays have also secured permission to kill surplus alpaca stock for commercial use.

"There is already a lot of interest in alpaca meat from chefs in high-end restaurants around the country," says Tessa. "Alpaca is lean and tastes similar to lamb and venison. Chefs are using alpaca in the same way they use venison."

The McKays know it is a big ask to get people to try alpaca on restaurant menus but Pete says it makes sense to develop a market for the meat.

"If these animals can no longer get pregnant or produce high quality fibre, they should go.  Alpacas can live 19 years. That is a long time to be feeding an unproductive animal on any farm."

Pete and Tessa are already buying in surplus alpaca stock from around the country. They plan to finish them off on good Hawke's Bay grass before sending them to market.

The McKays hope their innovative farming venture will ensure they can stay on their property where they have been able to give their two children, Kendra and Luke, a truly rural upbringing.
 
"Perhaps one day," says Pete, "we'll be able to have a whole farm of alpacas."

For more about Mesa Natural Fibre Mil, www.mesamill.com

For more about alpacas, www.alpaca.org.nz

Credits:
Camera
Richard Williams

Field sound
Don Paulin

Offline editor
Brent Whitwell

Online editor
Alex Wright

Sound mixer
Ian Leslie

Research
Vivienne Jeffs

Network executive
Jude Callen

Consultant producer
Frank Torley

Associate producer
Dan Henry

Production manager
Robyn Best

Director/reporter
Kerryanne Evans

Producer
Julian O'Brien


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