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'Why we gambled everything on setting up an Alpaca farm'

Paul and Liz MacDonnell took a leap into the unknown in 2010 by opening an alpaca farm in the midlands. A decade later, the enterprise is thriving - and Andrew Hamilton finds out there's a lot more to these exotic animals than meets the eye

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Big attraction: Alpacas at Hushabye Farm, near Tullamore. Photo: Brian Sheridan

Big attraction: Alpacas at Hushabye Farm, near Tullamore. Photo: Brian Sheridan

Big attraction: Alpacas at Hushabye Farm, near Tullamore. Photo: Brian Sheridan

It was a case of sink or swim. When Paul and Liz MacDonnell opened an alpaca farm in the midlands in 2010, they knew they'd have to plot their way forward alone.

While alpaca farming came to the UK more than 20 years ago, the MacDonnell holding at Hushabye Farm was the first major venture with the South American animals in Ireland. So the MacDonnells had to learn every part of the business for themselves.

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Paul MacDonnell with an award-winning alpaca

Paul MacDonnell with an award-winning alpaca

Paul MacDonnell with an award-winning alpaca

"It was a steep learning curve," says Paul, who now farms 70 alpacas just outside the village of Killeigh near Tullamore. "Sometimes when you are thrown in at the deep end, it can be the best thing for you. We didn't have anyone to turn to for help so we had to build up a lot of experience on how to run this alternative farm enterprise ourselves.