Published on 17 May 2016
When you think of The Artisan Hills, you envisage bountiful vineyards, paint-strewn artists’ workshops and quaint cafés with friendly faces behind the counter. But you probably don’t think of a thriving local alpaca industry, do you?
Sian Rickards of Omaru Alpacas, is one of those making a living from alpacas. She, along with her husband and their two children, moved to Australia from Zimbabwe 26 years ago, and since moving onto a 16-acre Cottles Bridge farm in 2001, her life has lovingly revolved around the beautiful creatures she breeds.
“We have currently got 30-40 alpacas,” she says. “We have six stud males and I have about 28 breeding females and then I’ve got young ones who will be potentially be stud animals or will be sold as pets.”
Pets? You bet. “They can either be sold as pets or as sheep herd guards, and sometimes people buy them as both. On the fringes of Melbourne and in our area there are a lot of hobby farmers. A lot of them have sheep and goats and chooks, which can all be protected by alpacas. So people will buy an alpaca or two who protect their sheep or goats or pets and also keep them as pets.”
Of course, in addition to these uses, alpacas are also renowned for their wool. And when the farm isn’t open to the public – “I try to open my doors when one of the local wineries is open or when an event like Winter WineFest or Open Artists’ Studios is happening” – you’ll find Sian making delicate, warm and beautiful objects from it.
“I turn the fibres into felt and make scarves and hats. I use a combination of alpaca and Indian silk, which I buy online, to create most of my products. I have a little shop and I have all my stuff for sale in there.
“I also have stuff for sale from other alpaca breeders who make their own products; things like paintings, backpacks, toys, scarves, hats, gloves and brooches. I make the space available to anyone who wants to make something alpaca-related available through my shop.”
It’s this camaraderie that Sian has fallen in love with most during her time running Omaru Alpacas in The Artisan Hills. “The area has a number of other alpaca breeders and we call ourselves the NAGS – the Nillumbik Alpaca Group.
“We’re building a local industry and if we don’t do it together it wouldn’t happen. We work really well together and we help each other out. If I have an Open Day I will advertise animals or products for sale on behalf of other people because I can. It’s all part of being in a friendly, nurturing, supportive group. They’re fabulous people.”
During open days, people from all over Melbourne will take the time to visit Omaru Alpacas, and with an average visit lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to half the day, it’s a perfect addition for any tour of The Artisan Hills.
Omaru Alpacas, 190 Hildebrand Road, Cottles Bridge
9714 8796 | omaru.com.au