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Fur the love of it: Global demand for Co Down alpacas’ lustrous fleeces

Renowned for their placid natures and therapeutic qualities, now Dromara farm’s gorgeous Co Down alpacas are in demand across the world for their lustrous fleeces

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Michelle Dunniece at her farm close to Slieve Croob in Dromara.

Michelle Dunniece at her farm close to Slieve Croob in Dromara.

The alpacas who enjoy life at Mourne Alpacas.

The alpacas who enjoy life at Mourne Alpacas.

Alpaca yarn on display at Mourne Alpacas.

Alpaca yarn on display at Mourne Alpacas.

Some of the alpacas at Mourne Alpacas.

Some of the alpacas at Mourne Alpacas.

Michelle Dunniece with some of her pedigree alpacas.

Michelle Dunniece with some of her pedigree alpacas.

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Michelle Dunniece at her farm close to Slieve Croob in Dromara.

It may seem far-fetched that a tradition which started more than 6,000 years ago in the Andes is now being practised in the Mourne mountains, but one local alpaca owner is leading the way for sustainable fashion and is using her herd for more than therapy.

Michelle Dunniece has been running her alpaca breeding farm with her family for nearly two decades in Dromara near their home on the foothills of Slieve Croob.

She is an affiliate trainer for the British Alpacas Society and her herd is one of the largest all-pedigree herds on the island of Ireland.

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The alpacas who enjoy life at Mourne Alpacas.

The alpacas who enjoy life at Mourne Alpacas.

The alpacas who enjoy life at Mourne Alpacas.

Mourne Alpacas was one of the first to use the mild-mannered mammals in therapy settings, before the trend took off in recent years.

The Dunniece family have now decided to expand their operations and have turned their hand to the world of fashion.

Alpaca wool has made an appearance in the world of high fashion, from the catwalks of Celine and Max Mara to famed Peruvian designer Noe Bernacelli.

It is renowned for being a soft, durable and hypoallergenic fibre which doesn’t pill or shrink when washed. It is also environmentally friendly due to the lack of chemicals used to create it.

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Alpaca yarn on display at Mourne Alpacas.

Alpaca yarn on display at Mourne Alpacas.

Alpaca yarn on display at Mourne Alpacas.

Michelle said the idea for expanding the uses of the alpaca wool has been a long time coming.

“What started as ‘something unusual to eat the grass’ as a hobby farm, our alpaca enterprise has most recently grown to be an international exporter of finest quality alpaca yarns,” she said.

“We have been very fortunate to enjoy alpacas in large numbers in our lives for many years now and have reared four children into teenage years surrounded by crias (baby alpacas).

“In our early years, we didn’t do very much with our fleece, other than sell it off to companies in South Africa,” she added.

“As we stage an alpaca presence at Balmoral every year, the request for our fleeces and for our end product yarns when we started to produce them grew and grew, and we enjoyed a great relationship with many end producers who were very impressed with the quality of the finished yarns and demanded more and more product from us every year.”

Now, the local herd has begun to expand their production of yarn into selling bespoke knitting patterns so that keen crafters can make their own accessories and stunning throws and clothing emblazoned with Mourne mountain-themed motifs and speciality stitches.

Mourne Alpacas has so far sold yarns all over the world, including USA, Canada, mainland Europe and South America.

“The fact that buyers in South America were interested in working with us was just amazing,” said Michelle.

“Alpacas and their yarns are very readily available in their own indigenous countries, yet people were buying from us for what they described as our excellent quality Co Down alpaca product.”

Something which makes the Dromara-based herd stand out in its wool qualities is the special pedigrees which are bred there.

“The fleece is judged on many characteristics and our all-pedigree herd here on the farm produce fabulous lustre, very fine micron count (diameter of the actual fibres), beautiful shine and long staple length in their fleeces, along with a much-coveted fleece weight and enviable crimp,” Michelle explained.

“As we hopefully climb our way out of Covid restrictions and begin to be able to socialise and mingle safely again, we have taken our demand for our fleece and our yarns to a new level in 2022, in response to international and indeed local demand.”

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Some of the alpacas at Mourne Alpacas.

Some of the alpacas at Mourne Alpacas.

Some of the alpacas at Mourne Alpacas.

Michelle said that much of the inspiration of the surrounding countryside has influenced the colours range produced in the yarns.

“As we are at the foot of Slieve Croob, as a family, we identified local colours of the Mournes visible on our farm and on the mountain and have also created a specialty of natural dyed Mourne Alpaca Mountain colour range, with Blueberry, Rosehip, Gorse (spring and summer variants) and Apple Blossom, Woodbine, Heather, as well as Hare’s Foot, Storm, Nightshade and Cracking Dawn in shades of greys to name a few.

“This range has been popular internationally, and the demand would require us to ask our alpaca family to shed their fleecy clothing much more often than once a year.”

In order to keep up with demand, Mourne Alpacas has expanded to seeking a team of talented knitters, crocheters and crafters.

To create the bespoke products, they have created a Mourne Alpacas Style Focus Group and a Mourne Alpacas Design Team who help to bring the yarn from field to fashion. If you are not a keen crafter, the Mourne Alpacas knitters and crocheters group can create bespoke products in your chosen colour and style. The Co Down woman said that she urges whoever is keen to purchase a kit or a product, to come and visit the farm and find out the full process.

“The Field to Fashion events are all about the authentic experience of being on the farm with the alpacas and learning where the yarn comes from, quite literally seeing how it is converted from field to the knitter’s fingers,” she said.

Mourne Alpacas are hosting a range of summer workshops and activities introducing the alpacas, the fleece to yarn process and also how to use the yarn and felts creatively.

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Michelle Dunniece with some of her pedigree alpacas.

Michelle Dunniece with some of her pedigree alpacas.

Michelle Dunniece with some of her pedigree alpacas.

“These presentations and seminars will be fully inclusive for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities,” said Michelle.

“Further to that, yet another groundbreaking initiative for Mourne Alpacas will be launched this summer, incorporating their research and training in Mourne Alpacas Academy.

“Mourne Alpacas Academy will provide certified training for anyone using alpacas or other therapeutic animals in public-facing settings, trekking ventures, visitor attractions or on farms.

“This training is aimed at improving inclusive practices and access for everyone of all natures of abilities.”

For more information, email Michelle at training@mournealpacas.com or book through the website on www.mournealpacas.co.uk


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