Alpacas have not had their day; their day is still coming, Dunedin breeder Andy Nailard says.
One of the South's largest breeders, Nailard, of Flagstaff Alpacas, is selling his alpaca herd.
With the farm lease about to expire, the decision to sell 160 head was more time-of-life than economic.
While acknowledging these were challenging times, Nailard was keen for someone else to pick up the baton, to help the alpaca industry reach its potential.
"It will happen, but someone else will grasp it. We're getting too old.
"I freely admit we never got anywhere near an economic scale where we thought the alpaca herd would be a stand-alone business of 1500-2000 alpaca, as we continued to sell stock rather than preserve the herd scale."
Having established his herd in 2001, he had strived to have a commercial outlook and did well for the first 11 years.
But it had proved a local struggle in the past six, with the demise of key players in the wool manufacture business such as the nearby Bruce Woollen Mills, which went into receivership in 2016.
Before that, QualitYarnz, also in Milton, suffered the same fate in 2011, then it was followed by Ellis Fibre in Dunedin in 2019.
Canterbury Wool Scourers (CWS) at Timaru had brought in stricter conduct (and pricing).
Pacific Alpacas based in Cromwell, which sorts and scours fibre and sells to domestic and international buyers, had stopped taking poorer quality fleeces, he said.
All of these factors combined meant that the fleece story had lost its impetus in Otago and Southland, and coupled with stricter MPI teeth health directives "does not help the camelid story amongst established farm operators in our area".
According to the Alpaca Association of New Zealand, which has about 860 members, the country has about 26,0000 registered animals. The South American native camelids first arrived in New Zealand in 1986.
They are raised for their lustrous, soft-handling fleece loved by spinners and weavers, and are generally easy to handle and maintain, except for shearing, which can be a bit more of a challenge.
The biggest herds in New Zealand number between 300 and 600 alpaca, but it is mostly done on a small scale on lifestyle blocks with fewer than 40 animals.
White alpaca fleece fetches a high price, upwards of $20 per kilo and $3 for poorer quality, including the bellies and lower legs.
Each alpaca will produce about 3-5kg of fleece per year, so to get in the range of 200kg to 300kg of wool, you need at least 100 alpacas.
"One of the issues is there is a large number of people doing it, and only small numbers of alpaca, so there's no real chance of commercial gain, to reach that economy of scale."
The alpaca industry needed branding like merino "and someone with very deep pockets" to really invest in it, and have the industry going at the scale of Australia for example, where herds of 5000 were farmed for their meat, while their fleece was a secondary product.
"To reach that sort of scale we need more stock. We tick along quite happily, but it is not an industry that appeals to outsiders much.
"It would be demanding to move to that scale, to take a serious bite at the industry, and it takes land. You need 30 to 40 hectares, not 3 to 4 hectares, to reach that scale."
And that was going to get tougher to do with availability of land and prices, especially close to urban centres.
He was keen to keep 20 alpaca, because he liked them as an animal.
"There's no doubt about it, they are a very easy and pleasing animal to farm."