For a few years now alpacas have been increasing in popularity, mainly because of their sought-after fleeces which are much softer than sheeps wool, and you have to admit, they are beautiful looking animals to have around too. The popularity of alpaca wool is largely thanks to Sir Titus Salt, a Yorkshire born entrepreneur who joined his father in the wool trade at the age of 18, who discovered the fleece for sale at Liverpool docks. He went on to create garments with the fleece which were popular with the upper class and from this went on to build his own mill.
Today there are many small scale producers of the wool, and some of these sell the fleece through websites making it more accessible to those who don’t have the space to keep their own alpacas, but love the quality and lustre of the wool and wish to use it for spinning or weaving, and to make homemade items from shawls and blankets to socks and hats and even super-soft fluffy teddy bears.
But it’s not only the wool that makes alpacas popular, as viewers of BBC1’s Countryfile broadcast on Sunday 15th March found out (programme repeated 01:25 on BBC1 on Friday 20th March for early risers or those who want a chance to watch the programme in full). The programme followed Debbie Rippon at Barnacre Alpacas and as well as introducing some members of their family of alpacas and the items Debbie creates from their wool, showed how the manure can be used as a fuel.
The droppings, which are similar to goat or sheep droppings in that they are pellet or pebble like, are collected and put in a designated box. If squashed by putting them under pressure with a weight or by standing on them, the droppings become a solid ‘brick’. This can then be stored until it is completely dried out, and can then be burned as a biomass fuel which will burn for 2 hours. So although alpacas may not be a cheap investment in the first place, they do their bit to cut the fuel bills! Now I know you’re thinking doesn’t burning manure in bricks have the negative side of emitting unpleasant smells. Well that’s where another fantastic advantage can be attributed to the fuel. Alpaca poo does not smell! At least not to humans – if you have a dog, you may find that they are attracted to piles of droppings!
If you don’t fancy using the manure to make fuel, or don’t live in an area where you can have an open fire, the manure is still excellent for use as a fertiliser. Unlike other manure from goats, sheep, horses or cows, alpaca manure contains a much lower level of organic content, it is suitable for use all round the garden or veg plot as it is a much gentler material to use.
You can even put it around tender plants such as tomatoes without any problem because of the lower organic content, which is what causes other manures to burn plants if it comes into direct contact. An added bonus, is that because of the efficiency of alpacas’ three stomach digestive system (and they do a lot of chewing the cud!), you will get a lot less weeds than with other manures.
So as you can see, the alpaca is a multipurpose addition to the smallholding or hobby farmer that just keeps on giving! Look out for our guides for more articles and tips on keeping your own animals, including housing, breeding, feeding and general advice.