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Tech & Science Alpaca baby wraps a booming business, but challenged by drought

06:56  09 december  2019
06:56  09 december  2019 Source:   msn.com

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a person holding a baby: The baby wraps are sought after by customers throughout Australia and internationally. (Supplied: Pacafeathers)© Provided by ABC Business The baby wraps are sought after by customers throughout Australia and internationally. (Supplied: Pacafeathers)

When Charmaine Wong and Kenny Feather began breeding alpacas, little did they know that one day, they would be weaving baby wraps and selling to a tight-knit community of international customers at premium prices.

"Weaving was a way we could actually consume larger amounts of yarn and make something potentially useful to get out into the world," Ms Wong said.

"There are only so many jumpers or scarves that a small family of three can wear."

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Alpaca industry was born in Europe and developed in South America with the ancient technology and tradition of the Latin American aboriginals bringing the finest raw and amazing material, which transformed, cover us in comfort and well being in our daily lives.

However, as the couple builds an online community around their specialty items, they are battling the relentless drought which threatens to downsize their herd of animals.

Threading by loom

Throughout their home in Orange, New South Wales, are several large, manually-operated looms which they use to create their one-of-a-kind pieces.

"It is quite therapeutic to sit at a loom and hit away, throw the shuttle, smash the beater and have a rhythmic process," Ms Wong said.

A four-and-a-half metre length of cloth used to make a baby wrap can take in excess of 20 hours to weave.

That is on top of the laborious and costly task of feeding and shearing the alpacas, processing the fleece, and then dying and spinning the yarn.

The couple use traditional methods of weaving with a loom to create their crafts.© ABC Central West: Luke Wong The couple use traditional methods of weaving with a loom to create their crafts.

Exclusive sales approach

The wraps are not available for purchase in brick-and-mortar shops or conventional online stores but are offered exclusively to a small group of potential buyers through a closed Facebook group.

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Accessories. Scarves & Wraps . Baby . Business Gifts.

Alpacas are hardy and generally disease resistant. However, performing basic practices such as yearly vaccinations, monthly worming, and regular toe and occasional dental care are recommended to insure good health. Keeping a watchful eye on your alpacas can help maintain their good health.

Around 200 members of the group can express their interest and go into a draw, with the option to buy if they are randomly selected.

Ms Wong said, with prices around $1,000, the draws attracted people who appreciated the time and effort required to make the craftworks.

"It's not a product that you take to the local market because I'm unlikely to come across a baby wearer who wraps," she said.

"We're selling a very niche product."

The couple uses social media to market and share the progress of the alpaca yarn baby wraps.© ABC Central West: Luke Wong The couple uses social media to market and share the progress of the alpaca yarn baby wraps.

Sending baby wraps on 'holiday'

Ms Wong said the online group was a way of connecting and sharing with a community of like-minded parents around the globe.

"It's another social world [where] otherwise you might feel quite lonely when you're just caring for a little child for many hours of the day on your own," she said.

The trust is so strong that members will mail the baby wraps to one another for wearing-in, before the article reaches the hands of its buyer.

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The alpaca fibers in our blankets and pillows come from free-trade facilities in Peru where the animals are treated humanely, shorn carefully and treasured not only for their remarkable fur but for their gentleness on the environment. Whether you're in the market for a cashmere-soft throw for the den or

A baby alpaca is called a cria. The average gestation period for alpacas is 350+ days. The best time of year to have female alpacas give birth is either spring or early fall. Do not cover the tail because it is a major scent area. The bubble wrap works just as well as a coat.

"Having multiple people wear it, and wear their babies in it, helps to soften the fabric up," Ms Wong said.

In Murrumbateman, Angela Smith's alpacas are also facing extremely dry conditions.© Blackwattle Alpacas In Murrumbateman, Angela Smith's alpacas are also facing extremely dry conditions.

Mr Feather agreed.

"You buy it when you're six months pregnant," he said.

"You send it on a holiday for three months and your newborn baby turns up and you've got a beautifully worn-in baby wrap for your baby."

Weaving through drought

The creative couple's hard work could slowly unravel as their alpaca farm at nearby Mandurama endures dry conditions.

Mr Feather said he had begun offloading some of his stock, sometimes to sheep farmers who used the animals as herd guards.

"Everybody is looking at destocking, so you're looking at discount prices [and] that's pretty hard," Mr Feather said.

"I'm selling them to farmers who don't have any grass at all; they're dirt farmers, it's sad, it's very sad.

"It's kind of difficult to put an animal on the truck because I know they're going to a stark environment."

Alpaca breeder Kenny Feather is considering selling off more of his stock as the drought worsens.© ABC Central West: Luke Wong Alpaca breeder Kenny Feather is considering selling off more of his stock as the drought worsens.

Surviving until rain

Other alpaca breeders are also feeling the heat, including Angela Smith who operates both a stud and a yarn fibre business in Murrumbateman, north of Canberra.

Her diverse business model brings income through walking tours and farm stays, craft workshops, and by selling the yarn she supplies to stores and weavers domestically and internationally.

But Ms Smith said she was spending around $3,000 a month to feed her 80 animals and she would not be breeding any new stock in the coming year.

"There's a strong possibility that we'll get rid of as many alpacas as we can and just keep a handful as pets," Ms Smith said

"I'd like to sell 30 alpacas but no one is buying because no one has got food to feed them."

Despite the challenges, she said the wider alpaca industry was "not all doom and gloom" and she was keeping an optimistic outlook for the future.

"We just have to survive until we get substantial rain to keep the industry growing," she said.

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