Alpacas raised to sell as watch-camels for sheep flocks
ALSTONVILLE alpaca farmer Roland Schwertner has discovered an innovative use for his flock - using them as herd protectors for other farm animals.
He's building an alpaca stud that sells desexed males to sheep and goat graziers to counter opportunistic predators such as foxes or wild dogs.
It was when he first deployed a male alpaca into a paddock of sheep that he discovered the Andean mountain camel's unique protective instinct.
"There were two separate herds of six sheep on either side of the field, and he went straight to the two separate herds and herded them all together," Mr Schwertner said.
The protective behaviour also extended to sheep birthing season.
"Whenever the herd had babies he was standing over there watching over the mother as she was giving birth.
"As time progressed he was standing there with all the babies around him while the mother was off eating.
"I had an experience where there was a fox running along the fence line and the whole herd was standing around the babies, and they never let up their guard.
"There was also an incident where there was a possum running through the paddock and they thought it was a threat, and they trampled it to death."
"I've noticed when other dogs come in they watch that dog thoroughly, and if they get too close they will chase it away."
Mr Schwertner bought his herd not long after he moved to Alstonville from Sydney in 2009.
He started with five alpacas and now has 11. He is focused on building up his flock of females and breeding males as herd protectors.
"I love them," he said. "The way they look at you, the way they act - they are just a really nice animal to own."
He is also their biggest ambassador, taking them to events across the region including Primex, the Las Balsas raft anniversary dinner to meet the Ecuadorian ambassador, visiting nursing homes and even walking through the Ballina CBD with three alpacas.
One elderly blind man at Ballina's Crowley Retirement Village had a particularly wonderful experience while reaching out to touch one of the animals.
"The expression on his face when his eyes lit up and he knew something lovely was there ... it was an experience you had to see to believe," Mr Schwertner said.
During Alpaca Week, on the two Saturdays of March 29 and April 5, Mr Schwertner is opening up his Alstonville stud Erwin Alpacas to give free alpaca walks and teach basic alpaca care from 10am-2pm.