Taking the taboo out of alpaca meat

Josh NymanCountryman

The taboo of eating alpaca meat could soon be overcome if the future of farming the fluffy South American animals is to continue surviving in the Great Southern.

According to Futura Alpaca Stud owners Judy and Greg Smith, the industry has reached a crossroads where growing herd numbers translates directly to higher maintenance costs.

But with no meat industry to cull animals and difficulty selling older show or stud alpacas, breeders are faced with footing the growing cost of keeping unwanted animals in the herd.

The Smiths bought their first alpacas in 1993 and moved to their Redmond property eight years ago.

Since then their herd has grown to 130 animals and Mrs Smith said the only way for the industry to "get up and boogie" was to cull animals, and the only foreseeable way to do that was doing it for human consumption.

"We would definitely be conducive (to producing meat) and if we could market them for meat we would do it," she said.

"We are at that point where we would like to be able to cull… usually with having cows or sheep you cull by sending them to market, but we don't have that luxury."

Mrs Smith said while the stud was able to sell up to three animals a year, sometimes fetching upward of $25,000 per animal, it failed to put a dent in their ever-growing herd and she supported a cohesive effort to establish an alpaca meat market for WA.

It wouldn't entirely be a first for the State, with York-based breeders Isi and Keith Cameron having made meat production and supply inroads last February.

Their animals are slaughtered at a Corrigin abattoir and sold to the Naked Butcher in Mundaring, with deals to supply butchers in York and Toodyay around the corner.

They are also tanning hides in the eastern states to make wallets and purses. "We push and promote whatever we can, it is also a business for us," Mr Cameron said.

"We've managed to offload quite a few animals for the butcher.

"But you have to know how to cook it and one of the things Isi has got going at the moment is a little instruction page to give to the butcher about how to best cook the meat."

However, Mr Cameron said the supply of alpaca meat was entirely dependent on a fledgling demand and meat producers in WA could easily "get burnt" if they over-bred or were unable to meet demand.

It is a sentiment shared by WA-based Australian Alpaca Association export trade development group chairman Steve Ridout, who in 2006 set up the alpaca meat industry in Australia by developing trading brand Laviande.

He said added difficulties of finding willing processors, a lack of domestic demand for the meat and seasonal demand for lesser cuts, were all hurdles a potential alpaca meat market in WA would have to overcome and has already investigated possible export channels.

"If I were to set up the export side here and look at an air freight of three to four cubic metres … if we were able to do one (freight) a fortnight or a month up to a consolidator in Asia and they were to then farm it off to certain restaurants, then we could do it out of WA," he said.

"But finding that person that would actually slaughter and do an export accredited line for us is going to be hard.

"What we need to do as an industry is to push all things alpaca, both live for breeders, and the products including the meat."

Mr Ridout said there was hope for an alpaca meat industry to be established in WA, but producers had to be selective with their target markets.

"We can't just go to the marketplace and say 'here's alpaca meat', we've got to go to collective wholesalers and gourmet providers," he said.

"What we're looking at is a model for the industry and the meat to say growers can supply an export company.

"The export company can calculate all their overheads and on sell it at a price that is going to make that company money."

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