Controversial subject warning...
I wrote this last week but have been in two minds about whether or not to post it because, if there is one subject that is guaranteed to polarise alpaca farmers, it's the subject of selling our animals for slaughter.
Personally, it's not something that I can see us ever doing here at Prados.
Of course, they've been eating alpaca in South America for thousands of years but here in Australia, the sums involved are only just starting to make sense.
Females are definitely off the menu for the foreseeable future, their value alive far exceeds what they could reach for food. It's the males that are the issue. Trouble is that there is only a finite market for pets and guardians and, as the Australian herd grows into a viable industry, it's a question we have to face - only a tiny number of males produced will go on to be certified for stud work but there aren't enough yet to have a commercially viable fleece-only industry. In a commercial breeding program, what happens to the rest?
The people at LaViande are quite sure of what the answer is - commercial fleece, meat and hide as a combined industry. WARNING - Many small breeders I know find some of the images on their website, particularly those in the brochure showing cuts of meat to be uncomfortable viewing - you have been warned!
I have tried it, Steve from LaViande came to our last regional AGM and provided steaks and sausages.
Now, I'm an unapologetic carnivore and I can understand the commercial imperative that is leading our industry down this path but, I have to say, apart from the queasiness about the idea of eating animals that we are still small enough to know by name and character, I have to say that I was unimpressed - the simple fact is that, on the plate, it's quite bland. The bottom line is that there is much tastier meat available which is much cheaper to produce - currently I remain unconvinced.
My own opinion is that it will happen, it will become part of the industry. Here in Adelaide alpaca is already served at the Hilton and I know of one butcher in the hills that stocks it from time to time. But I think that there will be, at least for the foreseeable future, a split in the industry based on size of breeder. Pets and guardians sell at a higher market price per head than as food but they carry a much higher overhead to the breeder in terms of sales and after-sales support for the new owner. I think the meat industry will appeal far more to the biggest breeders who can produce larger numbers of stock animals and don't necessarily want to take the late night phone calls because little Susie's pet alpaca is off its feed. Smaller breeders who are more suited to the personal touch should then be better positioned to satisfy the needs of the lower volume market.
Hope I haven't put anyone off with this post. I know this an issue that is only really relevant in Australia at the moment as we pass the million animal count, but it will inevitably follow in other countries as well as the various national herd sizes increase.