BY JACLYN HOLLAND
Long before llamas wandered onto our pencil cases and YouTube feeds, Monash University alumni Jenny McKenry had fallen in love with their adorable smaller cousin, the alpaca.
Favoured for their fine wool and ability to guard sheep from predators, alpacas are common to the rocky terrain of Central Victoria.
The attraction to alpaca breeding, for Ms McKenry, was the suitability of their wool to be used as yarn and the fact they are not bred for meat.
“They’re so gentle and each one has different personalities,” she says.
Having worked in Canberra in the public sector for thirty years, Ms McKenry and her husband Keith decided fifteen years ago it was time for change.
They came across a small farm in Harcourt, when Mr McKenry travelled to the area to perform in a folk festival.
“As he walked out the door he said ‘I will find us a farm here’ and I was like ‘aw, yeah right’,” she recalls.
“Anyway, he did!”
In 2005, the couple packed up their lives in Canberra and moved to Harcourt with a small herd of alpacas.
While Ms McKenry initially knew very little about alpaca breeding, she quickly learned the ropes and now the couple own a successful alpaca stud, named Dandura Alpacas.
Every year the couple raise young cria (baby alpacas), to be sold as guards, pets, studs or breeding females and regularly compete in shows across the country as well.
June is mating season, which meant it was time for a routine unique to alpaca and llama breeders – the spit-off.
For the event, the McKenrys reintroduce a male and female alpaca for the first time, 14 days after they have mated.
If the female is pregnant, she immediately starts spitting and kicking at the male to indicate she is no longer interested in his attention. She is then quickly ushered into a separate yard.
The spit-off is used by alpaca breeders to provide an early indication of how many crias they can expect the following year.
Ms McKenry tracks the sires and dames’ pedigrees and wool types, using this information to determine which alpacas should be mated together to create finer quality wool.
“Before I would just mate animal with animal without thinking strategically,” she says.
“But as we get older, we get better.
“By the time we get to where I want to be, I’ll be on a Zimmer frame!”
While increasing the wool quality is rewarding for the financial benefits it brings to the business, Ms McKenry also enjoys crafting using her own wool.
This hobby was passed down to her from her mother and grandparents.
“Getting your own fleece and seeing it transform from the animal into a product that you can wear…that’s lovely,” she says.
At the end of the day all that is left to do is feed the crias from last year’s breeding season, who happily welcome Ms McKenry and her wheelbarrow of hay.
“They’re good therapy,” she says, and stops to cuddle one of the more inquisitive ones.
“We didn’t come here with the intention of building something which would be passed on.
“We came here for the lifestyle and to be able to smell the roses ourselves for a little while – and it’s certainly been able to offer us that.”