Ice cream stop leads to alpaca farm

Sue and Peter Forbes

Sue and Peter Forbes with some of their alpacas at their lifestyle block in Eyrewell Forest

A chance encounter after stopping for ice cream in Ashburton 18 years ago led Eyrewell Forest couple Sue and Peter Forbes to discover a passion for alpacas.

“We lived in Woodend at the time and were thinking about a change during a holiday down south. On the way back we stopped in Ashburton for ice cream and while we were sitting on a bank eating our ice creams, we caught sight of alpacas in the paddock in front of us and that’s how it all started,” says Sue.

Sue and Peter were fascinated by the inquisitive nature of the alpacas and this interaction prompted them to sell their Woodend property and purchase a 4.47-hectare olive grove called Tuscan Downs in Eyrewell Forest which they converted into an alpaca farm.

Peter says there was plenty of work to be done before they were able to bring any animals onto the property.

“There were no fences or shelter for the animals, so it was full on for a couple of years getting ready for the alpacas. We were both working full-time then so we spent most of our free time getting everything sorted.”

Peter and Sue Forbes with Tuscan Downs Cruz, an eight-month-old cria (baby alpaca).

Peter and Sue Forbes with Tuscan Downs Cruz, an eight-month-old cria (baby alpaca).

Having access to reliable irrigation has been invaluable to the success of Sue and Peter’s alpaca farm. The couple have a small number of WIL (Waimakairiri Irrigation Limited) shares with the irrigation scheme’s water race running along the full length and breadth of their property. The water runs from their front gate to a pond where a pump provides irrigation for the farm.

“We are on riverbed land, so it is stony and dry. If we didn’t have the WIL water, we wouldn’t be able to farm here. The water helps us to grow winter feed for the alpacas. We are small users compared to other shareholders, but we always try to conserve as much water as possible.”

The pair attended weekend workshops run by Southern Alpacas to learn how to care for alpacas with the workshops covering everything from breeding to how to recognise a good fleece. They also joined the New Zealand Alpaca Association and did plenty of their own research.

Three years after moving to the property, Sue and Peter welcomed their first 12 alpacas. Sue points out that you must keep the animals together in their family group.
“They don’t like to be alone, and you need to maintain their natural hierarchy. We wanted to try our best to breed alpacas that would do well in the show ring so there are certain traits that you look for when you are choosing the best animals to start with.”

Sue and Peter invested many hours in learning how to show the alpacas and started a breeding programme.

“We sought help with learning all the aspects of how to show the animals. You need to learn how to halter train the cria (baby alpaca) and lead them around the ring. You need to know the parentage lines of all your cria and if you are planning to show them, they need to be registered with the New Zealand Alpaca Association.”

The pair did well on the show circuit and bred several champion alpacas including Celeste and Gizmo who won a top award at the Canterbury A+P Show in 2013. Sue says it was thrilling to have an unexpected win when Gizmo was up against such a high standard of alpaca entries.

“The judge was from England, and we had a big crowd around Gizmo as he walked into the ring. It was a great feeling to get that validation after working hard to develop and improve our breeding programme over quite a few years.”

At the height of their alpaca breeding programme, Sue and Peter had about 70 alpacas but after Peter suffered a workplace accident in 2016, they scaled back and now have around 15 alpacas.

“We have had such a rewarding life, and it has been exciting to see how we have learned so much over the last 18 years. When you are into something you become so passionate about it and alpacas are such amazing animals to be around.”