Meet the alpaca farmer - whose hobby led him to owning the largest alpaca herd in Ireland
It’s a sector in its infancy in Ireland but alpaca farmer Paul MacDonnell believes it’s one that offers real potential for Irish smallholders.
He runs Hushabye Farm Alpacas in the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains near the Offaly border in Co Laois with his wife Elizabeth and four young children.
Paul says he got into alpaca farming by accident after buying two alpacas-one a pregnant female or Hembro - from the UK to keep for a hobby on two acres 10 years ago.
“We literally fell in love with them and then decided to just give it a go,” he recalled.
In order to expand their operation, Paul purchased another 26 acres where he now farms around 60 alpacas. “They are very easy to handle. We don’t need any big machinery or sheds,” he said.
He farms the alpacas for their fleece, which he said is hypoallergenic, 10 times warmer than sheep’s wool and more valuable than cashmere. Aside from selling alpaca fleece and products, Paul also sells the animals a wide variety of people.
He views alpaca farming as a good alternative farming option for those with 20 or 30 acres, but advises people to grow their business gradually.
Alpacas are docile animals. They live for around 25 years and are suited to the Irish climate. Alpacas don’t require winter housing as they are accustomed to temperatures of between -40 and + 40 degrees celsius in their native South America.