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Alpacas on guard duty

PROTECTIVE PROWESS: Roland Schwertner of Alstonville says his desexed male alpacas make perfect herd protectors.
PROTECTIVE PROWESS: Roland Schwertner of Alstonville says his desexed male alpacas make perfect herd protectors. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

FORMER urban dweller turned Alstonville alpaca breeder Roland Schwertner has discovered an innovative use for his burgeoning stud operation - selling his males as herd protectors for local sheep and goat graziers.

Mr Schwertner is offering desexed males specifically to counter opportunistic predators, such as foxes or the occasional wild dog.

It was when he first deployed a male alpaca into a paddock of sheep that he discovered the Andean mountain camel's unique protective instinct.

"There were two separate herds of six sheep on either side of the field and he went straight to the two separate herds and herded them all together," Mr Schwertner recalled.

Crucially, the behaviour also extended to sheep birthing season.

I had an experience where there was a fox running along the fence line and the whole herd was standing around the babies and they never let up their guard.

"Whenever the herd had babies, he was standing over there watching over the mother as she was giving birth," Mr Schwertner said.

"As time progressed, he was standing there with all the babies around him, while the mother was off eating.

"I had an experience where there was a fox running along the fence line and the whole herd was standing around the babies, and they never let up their guard. I've noticed when other dogs come in, they watch that dog thoroughly and if (it gets) too close they will chase it away."

The former Sydney resident started with five alpacas in 2009, and now has 11.

He is focused on building up his flock, after successfully breeding seven in four years.

'The pregnancy is seven months, so it is not a short cycle. You get more or less one a year," he said.

"I've been very lucky, I've only lost three alpacas - one was stillborn, one was an older one and one was three months old. I'd like to breed up to at least have 20 females, so I can have them and sell the males off."

Erwin Alpacas will eventually sell females too but he predicts the market for desexed male herd protectors will grow, as awareness of their protective prowess develops.

"I love them. The way they look at you, the way they act. They are just a really nice animal to own,"he said.

He is also their biggest ambassador, taking them to events around the region, including Primex; the Las Balsas raft anniversary dinner to meet the Ecuadorian ambassador; visits to nursing homes; and a walking trip through the Ballina CBD with three.

Open day

 In Alpaca Week on the two Saturdays, March 29 and April 5, Mr Schwertner will open his Alstonville stud, Erwin Alpacas, 10am-2pm for free alpaca walks and to teach basic alpaca care.

 For more information phone Mr Schwertner on 0413 069 037 or email erwinalpacastud@ iprimus.com.au.

Topics:  alpaca goats predators sheep