Inca Alpaca: prize-winning alpaca wool from southern England.

Alpaca farmer Tim Hey has specialised in breeding rare black alpacas. He keeps his fluffy "Inca alpacas" at Amberley Farm in West Dorset.

A passionate alpaca breeder.

How did you end up becoming an alpaca farmer? Tim Hey grew up on a small farm on the Australian island of Tasmania. When he was 16, his parents bought their first alpacas. For Tim, it was love at first sight. After finishing school, he went on to study natural sciences with a focus on agriculture. In parallel to that, the family's alpaca farm grew and so too did the interest in the gentle animals across all of Australia. In between, Tim spent some time living with a couple who had been seen for a long time as pioneers in alpaca breeding in Australia. He learned a great deal from them about breeding the rare black alpacas which they dubbed "Inca alpacas". A job offer in Great Britain set the wheels in motion. Tim then decided to set up his own farm there. Following in the footsteps of his mentors and carrying on the alpaca breeding using the same name was an important aspect for the animal lover. Today, besides his day job, the expert is also a judge for the "British Alpaca Society" and judges alpacas at shows the world over.

Showtime: this is how alpacas are bred in England.

The wool of the black alpacas is one of only a few natural materials which is entirely black without the need to be dyed. Australian-born Tim Hey has specialised in breeding these rare alpacas. With his alpacas, he takes part in a prize-giving ceremony during which the wool of these amiable mammals from South America is being judged. In the thick of things is his Sprinter with which the sheared wool is transported to a factory for further processing. The chances are good but will it be enough for first place?    

Amberley Farm – the home of the Inca alpacas.

Tim's alpaca farm is located in West Dorset, which offers ideal conditions for the alpacas thanks to the fertile, dry land. His business model comprises the breeding of alpacas, the sale of alpaca wool and visiting shows to have the wool adjudicated and analysed by experts. What's more, Tim also offers a programme for budding breeders which helps him to build up his own herd. "At Inca Alpaca, we feel committed to assuring the long-term success of the British alpaca industry. We've been breeding alpacas for more than 20 years now and have helped many owners to set up and develop their own business." The Peruvian Incas concentrated on breeding white alpacas. Black alpacas are rare and only started to be bred in the last 25 to 30 years. "So we're sort of pioneers in this domain."

The Sprinter is an important part of the business.

"Whether it's for transporting feed to our alpacas, bringing hay from A to B or for moving our wool."

Unique characters from abroad.

Alpacas originate from South America where they tend to live in the Andes region. They are perfectly adapted to the cold climate of high altitudes and are often bred in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. As a result of this, they are extremely efficient at getting the most out of their food: they take as many nutrients as possible out of their fodder. "It's a great help that we have much better pastures here in the UK than in South America – here, the alpacas grow much more quickly." What makes the long-necked animals so appealing to Tim? "They are very individual and all have their own personality. Some are very trusting and seek contact with humans, but others are a little more reserved."

 

7 interesting facts about alpacas.

    1. Alpacas are herd animals: in order to feel good, they need to be surrounded by their own kind. That's why they should never be kept alone.
    2. Alpacas tend to keep distance: even among themselves, it's rare that they touch each other. They prefer to clean themselves and favour a bit of distance.
    3. Alpacas don't have specific requirements when it comes to their fodder: they primarily eat fresh grass and hay in winter. Per day, an alpaca needs between 2.5 and 3.5 kilogrammes of feed.
    4. The life expectancy of alpacas is between 20 and 25 years.
    5. 80 percent of the world's alpacas live in Peru.
    6. If an alpaca feels threatened or if the hierarchy needs clarifying, it will start spitting
    7. An adult alpaca can grow as much as a metre in height (up to its back) and can weigh up to 75 kilogrammes; studs can even weight up to 80 kilogrammes. In comparison to llamas, the animals are much smaller and lighter.

Really fluffy alpaca wool.

The animals are known above all for their warm and soft wool which, alongside the likes of silk and cashmere, has some of the highest quality fibres in the world. In South America it is even known as "The Fibre of the Gods". But what's so special about the wool? "It's available in 22 natural colours, ranging from pure white and cream to brown, grey and pure black. And it is the only black fibre which doesn't require additional dying." The ultimate way to ensure top-quality alpaca wool is an animal in optimum health. After shearing, the fibres are divided up into different groups: from ultra-fine to extra-thick. There are international categories in this respect for alpaca wool. When the wool leaves the farm, it is taken directly to a factory in Manchester where it is processed into yarn. Part of this is then used as material for suits and other items of clothing. The rest is spun into knitting yarn.

Optimum conditions.

The juicy green pastures of southern England prove to be advantageous in helping alpacas thrive.

A special type of wool.

With the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Tim transports the alpaca wool directly to a factory in Manchester.    

Winner in all categories: 

Tim can be proud of his work with the alpacas.    

Photos:

Louis Cieplik

More links to discover:

Inca Alpaca – www.incaalpaca.co.uk, @Facebook

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