How sheep farmers are now protecting flocks from lurking predators
Alpacas are fast becoming one of the most efficient, cost-effective ways of protecting sheep flocks from lurking predators on farms nationwide.
The furry, domesticated species, which hail from South America where they live on the high plains of the Andean Mountains, are now owned by about 150 people across the country, including some sheep farmers.
The social animals warn flocks about intruders by making a sharp, noisy, high-pitched shriek. They also attack smaller predators with their front feet, and can spit and kick. Foxes are a particular pet hate of the alpaca.
Joe Phelan, vice chairman of the Alpaca Association of Ireland, based in Greystones, Co Wicklow, says farmers are running up to three alpacas with their sheep.
"Alpacas hate foxes and foxes hate alpacas. If a farmer has a fox problem, they will essentially eliminate that problem. In some cases they will fend off a single dog but not multiple dogs," he said.
Their ability to protect sheep from foxes was originally discovered by farmers in Australia where the animal is more established.
"We're not sure why, it's just a fact of their nature. First, they will give a screech out as an alarm, they are always on the look out for danger because they themselves are prey animals."
"Their method of survival is to actually spot danger coming and flee so there is always someone on duty with the alpaca," said the banker and alpaca owner from a farming background.