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Balmoral Show: The singing alpacas that even watch Coronation Street

By Rebecca Black

They hum, they sing, they protect hens from foxes and they even watch Coronation Street - meet some of the most popular new animals on our farms.

A more common sight in the mountainous regions of South America, alpacas are capturing hearts across Northern Ireland, and are becoming a common sight in the foothills of the Mournes.

They are principally farmed for their thick wool, but breeder Michelle Dunniece says they are a helpful friend to farmers with hens.

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Dromara woman Michelle was a composer before getting involved with breeding alpacas.

She revealed she first developed an interest in the furry friends due to their music making.

"My day job is as a composer, and I first got interested in alpacas for their music," she said.

"They hum and sing a lot, especially at meal times and before bed.

"They talk to each other by humming, it is beautiful."

Michelle was so taken by the animals that she undertook the British Foundation Alpaca training and even got sheep to learn about husbandry.

"Then five years ago I took the plunge, and I searched for the best breeds I could find," she said. "Now I have around 82."

She said alpacas are about more than just wool.

"They can be used as flock guards for sheep," she said. "Their enemy in the wild in South America are wild dogs and coyotes so they are great for keeping the foxes away.

"They are not aggressive, they don't attack them, their very scent puts them off - foxes don't like their scent, so if an alpaca is around they will stay away.

"Alpacas are used a lot to protect hens too, put a couple of alpacas beside the hen house and you'll have no more problem with Mr Fox."

Michelle keeps the Huacaya breed and blends the wool herself to produce her own yarn, as well as selling it to spinners.

They said they were also "fabulously therapeutic".

"I would go down to them in the morning with a cup of coffee and they all come over and sit around me, eight of them all humming, it's beautiful," she said.

"They are the dog you don't have to walk and the cat that you don't have to put in at night.

"They have a beautiful temperament, it is a privilege to keep them.

"They don't challenge fences, they do all their business in one place so they are easy to clean up after and make a fantastic pet for children."

Michelle laughed that she even knows of a woman with alpacas who come into the kitchen in the evening when they hear the opening chords of Coronation Street.

"I'm not sure if they hum along to the theme tune, but you never know," she laughed.

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