It would be fair to assume that Philip and Paula Cook's alpacas enjoy National Alpaca Day, a Sunday in May when they get (almost) all the treats they can eat.

Said treats come in the form of nuts, which visitors to the couple's farm outside Kaitaia on Sunday are invited to use to make friends with the animals, although one or two tend to get more than their fair share. One or two were a little standoffish, but the lure of the nuts was more than most could resist.

The couple got into alpacas when Philip arrived home from the Taupo A&P show some years ago with a pamphlet. They now have 25 of the South American animals, including the latest arrival, 3-week-old Autumn, and are pleased that interest in farming the species is growing.

"They are very easy care, and friendly, and quickly get used to people," Paula said. With the Cooks also offering farmstay accommodation, their herd is rarely short of admirers.

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The animals are shorn once a year, the wool going to the South Island for processing and eventual export. It is used in the manufacture of carpets and high-end textiles, although some is available to knitters, in a range of the animals' natural colours, from ivory to black.

Alpacas, Paula said, were well suited to the Far North. They could be carried at four to the acre, preferred poorer pasture (being prone to staggers), and did not eat pasture right down. They toileted in one place (males reportedly being "tidier" in that regard than females) where they would not graze, and were so meticulous they could be house-trained.

They don't need a lot of water, although a couple of the Cooks' herd have a liking for immersing themselves in troughs, and don't mind long dry spells. The only supplement fed by Philip and Paula is nuts infused with zinc during the facial eczema season.
They made very attentive, possessive mothers, Philip said.

"Get too close to the cria and they might well kick, spit at you or try to bite your feet."
They also served as very reliable guard dogs, particularly if a real dog should appear. In some parts of South America they are used to guard flocks of sheep against predators.
The Cooks have no doubt that the species can be commercially viable in the Far North.