On many a Friday evening Jade Lamson leaves our Slater and Gordon Lawyers Brisbane office where she works as managing clerk in our MVA team to travel four hours south to her 2,000-acre farm in NSW to run the GrayLeigh Alpaca Stud. Here she joins her mother and sister in the monumental task of caring for their 200 alpacas. Jade takes great pride in breeding these unique South American Camelids and has won a number of highly acclaimed awards for her efforts.
‘This is my fourth year I’ve personally been involved in breeding alpaca and I absolutely love it,’ she says. ‘Each of the 200 alpacas we have on the farm has their own name and individual personality. They are quirky and funny. In terms of breeding, you get such a thrill from winning awards for an animal that you’ve either purchased or bred. It’s quite exciting.’
Breeding alpacas began for the Lamson family when Jade’s mother moved onto a small acreage block and her sister purchased two pregnant female alpacas as pets. Within 12 months the two-acre property had become too small for their growing heard of alpacas so they relocated to much larger property nearby of about a thousand times the size.
When not at work Jade likes to spend every waking moment on the farm where her mother and sister live full time looking after the alpacas.
Setting aside their gentle nature and cute appearance, Jade says the main purpose for breeding alpacas is the quality of their fleece. Their fleece is much less prickly than other wools once it’s processed but the real appeal is its natural colour; there are 16 recognised colours of Alpaca fleece in Australia and 27 in Peru where the animal originates from.
The type of fleece varies depending on the breed of alpaca it comes from. Suri alpacas have long pencilled dreadlocked fleece that is likened to silk once its processed while Huacaya alpacas are fluffier with fleece more like sheep’s wool.
Jade has her hands full at the best of times but especially during sheering season in around late October. Shearing 200 alpacas in three to four days can be quite a challenge, she says.
Breeding alpacas is not for the faint hearted. ‘Like any livestock you have to watch them constantly,’ she says. ‘There is the breeding, vaccinating, worming, trimming of toe nails, general health checks and feeding. Usually, alpacas are known as browsers and foragers of the land but we are finding with the drought they need to be hand fed; we use a mix of pellets, chaff, hay and different grains, sunflower seeds and other supplements.’
The Lamson family has sat through the births of many of her alpacas, although she says as a breeder it’s a long time to wait to see the end product. Alpacas are pregnant for 11-and-a-half months before giving birth, which is the same gestation period as a horse.
Alpacas ordinarily give birth before lunchtime; a birth in the afternoon or evening usually indicates a complication in the pregnancy. Jade's GrayLeigh Alpaca Stud experienced one such complication with the birth of their first alpaca, Grace. The baby alpaca was born prematurely weighing just three kilograms – the average size of a newborn alpaca is between 6 and 8kg. They had to hand-raise her until she was strong enough to drink by herself.
Between March and October is show season, when Jade hits the road to show the fruits of her labour. The highlight of the calendar is the annual Australian Alpaca Association National Show where more than 600 animals from all across Australia vie off for prizes. She says the alpacas are judged on more than just the quality of their fleece but also whether they are well proportions, have good teeth, eyes and ears, and devoid of any genetic problems.
Jade has tasted success at national level last October in Bendigo when a young potential stud male of hers took out best Best Black Huacaya in Show. GrayLeigh alpacas have won multiple other prestigious awards in each class including the Supreme Suri award last year at the Brisbane Ekka. The financial incentives are not great; the biggest reward is the accolade of winning and stud recognition.
Last week as part of a promotion for national alpaca week two of GrayLeigh alpacas were officially named outside parliament house in Canberra. Jade’s sister and mother accepted the honour in an official naming ceremony attended by federal politicians Barnaby Joyce and Joel Fitzgibbon who did the naming.