Banking on Alpaca farming

Meet Joe Phelan one of the new breed of mature entrepreneurs who is quitting his job as a banker after 37 year to follow his dream of setting up his own business.

I am as excited today about the future as I was when I started working straight out of school. I’m not the type of person who is happy to sit back and spend my retirement gardening, hiking, enjoying good food and the odd drink. With my kids through college and independently on their way, I’m suffering a bit from empty nest syndrome. This got me thinking about what I’d like to do for myself. My roots can be traced back 10 generations, almost 400 years, to 1650 to a family farm in Kilcraggan, Co Kilkenny in Ireland, about an hour and a half from Dublin. The farm was a traditional farm with milking cows, drystock, pigs, horses and tillage. It was famous for its butter. It was a community then, but that kind of farm life is long gone and the farm is a shadow of its former self. It has been rented out for the last 15 years. While looking at the next chapter in my life I started researching how I could re-establish the family farm. I found that traditional farming activities required significant capital investments with returns that would be questionable at best. Then something a lot more unusual (in an Irish farming context at least) caught my attention - alpacas.

Alpaca farming, Ireland

Why Alpacas?

Alpacas are easy to manage, gentle on the land and you don’t need a background in farming to do well with them. They are mild natured, intelligent and inquisitive animals who have been domesticated for over 6000 years. Alpacas are of the camelid family bred primarily for their wool and They come in 22 natural colours. The fibres’ unique thermal characteristics keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. It is lighter than sheep’s wool yet three times warmer. It does not contain lanolin and so is hypo-allergenic and can be worn next to the skin. It is highly water resistant and is great at wicking moisture away. Alpaca offers a natural, eco-friendly alternative fibre for active wear clothing. It is a highly versatile fibre and has a lower tendency to shrink and pil (ball) than wool and cashmere. It is more flame resistant than plant or synthetic fibres and in case of fire it does not melt onto the skin like synthetics do. Alpaca jackets and coats are hardwearing but keep their luxurious looks and feel. They become heirlooms such is their enduring nature. For sheep and poultry farmers Alpacas act as guards against foxes, They reduce losses to these predators and increase the birth rates amongst sheep. The Alpacas will stand up to and trample any foxes who might be looking for a tasty lamb or chicken dinner. Farmers have found that the problem with foxes disappear once Alpacas are run with their flocks.

" Alpaca fibre is called the 'Fibre of Gods'. "

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