Is meat the key to a sustainable Australian alpaca industry?

The Australian Alpaca industry has been growing steadily over the past two decades. Bred predominately for fleece, the industry has been focusing on maintaining a consistent high quality product through excellent breeding animals, a commitment to research and development and the fostering of future generations with the introduction of fleece classing courses in selected TAFE colleges.

But how sustainable can the industry be if it relies so heavily on producing fleece? Would it make sense for the industry to follow in the footsteps of merino sheep and create a viable meat industry?

And there lies the question… Could the future of Australian alpaca industry lie in the meat market?

Alpacas are a relatively new addition to the Australian livestock industry. The first attempt to introduce the species was back in the 1800’s, however it wasn’t until almost 200 years later in 1987 that Alpacas were re-introduced and a livestock industry actually started to come to fruition.

There are approximately 200,000 alpacas in Australia, most of which are bred for fleece. However a new market is slowly emerging for alpaca meat, which Margaret Dorsch from The Australian Alpaca association believes holds the key to creating a sustainable and viable future.

“To me, that is where building a meat industry is key because we can’t just have hundreds of Alpacas living out their lives in paddocks as fleece animals.” Mrs Dorsch explains.

As it stands, the Alpaca meat industry is in the preliminary stage with most of the meat going straight to restaurants and only a number of speciality shops in Sydney and Melbourne stocking it.

“It’s very much a niche market in the meat side of things” Said Dorsch.

“A lot of top end chefs in Sydney and Melbourne are now starting to ask for it, but similar to the introduction of kangaroo, it will be a process of educating people.”

Described as a cross between chicken and veal and containing virtually no fat, alpaca meat is ideal for weight conscious markets and a welcomed change to the Australian staples of lamb, beef and chicken.

At a recent display at the Canberra Royal Show, workers were run off their feet serving Alpaca meat samples. “The public were very curious to try it!” Muses Dorsch.

The Australian Alpaca Association aspires to reach the stage that merino sheep breeders achieved, whom with a 200 year advantage, have accomplished a highly uniform fleece as well as a profitable meat industry. However not everyone is so keen on the idea of Alpaca and three veg…

“I’ll be honest, there are a quite a few Alpaca breeders are totally opposed to the idea, but our association would really like to see a meat industry develop because without that it is quite hard to have a viable livestock industry.” Explains Dorsch.

“We are very keen to promote a high quality Australian product. We see Alpacas as clean and green, they are really good for the environment.”

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