Pride of the Macleay Series
Written by Julie Woodrow
Coordinator Healthy Communities
Kempsey Shire Council
Pride of the Macleay showcases the stories of leaders throughout the Macleay
When Alastair and Karen Smedley emigrated from the UK, they made their home in Sydney, but it didn’t take long before they realised there was something missing and that was their connection to the land. A move to the Macleay Valley in 2003 not only fulfilled that need but saw the beginning of a passionate commitment to the advancement of alpacas in Australia.
“Shortly after we arrived we saw an article about alpacas and instantly knew that was what we wanted to get involved in. We purchased our first alpaca from a local breeder and soon after bought another five from the Southern Highlands. It wasn’t long before we realised that we wanted to specialise in the suris because of the rarity of the breed and their beautiful fleece that hangs like dreadlocks” said Alastair.
Their learning curve was quite steep at times but Alastair reflects positively on the support they received from other breeders and the Australian Alpaca Association.
“Coming into the industry green, we have met a huge number of really knowledgeable people who were prepared to share information informally and through workshops. We joined the Association very early on and they have been very helpful in our development as breeders.” said Alastair.
The Network runs the annual Kempsey Alpaca Show in July that attracts more than 100 entries from far afield and helps to raise the profile of the breed within the region. When asked why alpacas appealed to people Alastair identified a range of reasons this unusual animal seems to be gaining an increased following.
Alastair said “There are people who are passionate about genetics and shows are often important to them as it’s a way to have their breeding strategy recognised. Others see shows as purely social events where it’s a chance to catch up with likeminded people. Then there are the people who own two or three alpacas to mow the grass because they don’t graze it right down like sheep do, they are easier to handle than cattle, they are smarter than sheep and don’t require special fencing like goats.”
With an emerging meat market being developed and the recent completion of the world’s largest export of finely fleeced alpaca breeding stock to China, the industry appears to be gaining strength nationally and internationally.