Knapper Alpakka, Norway – Starting Right, Moving Forward
Alpacas are not new to Norway with the first imports of breeding alpacas done in 2004, but haven’t been very well known to the public until the last few years. Llamas have a longer history in our country and quite a few use llamas in the trekking businesses. But the Norwegian market is changing, both for the alpacas and for people’s interests in general. This benefits us as we are working on building a new industry in a country with long handicraft traditions. We feel Norway deserves the alpaca, and that the alpaca is perfect for our small and hilly country.
Just a few years back, there was slow progress in the buildup of alpaca breeders in our country. Some enthusiasts stuck with it, though, and continued pushing alpacas to the market. These pioneers are still in the business and together with a number of new enthusiasts are in it for the long run. At the start of 2009 there were some fifteen alpaca owners in Norway, but we now have about 70. No one had much more than ten to fifteen alpacas in 2009, but now we have several with 20, 30, 40 and more. We don’t have exact numbers, but we think there were between 100 and 150 alpacas in total in 2009, but more important imports were underway, and we now have about 600 alpacas. Imports have come from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Chile and Sweden.
The focus at the year of the founding association meeting in 2009 was the number of alpacas, and it still is. We need more of them to create an industry. Some have looked abroad. Some are working on the government issues, imports and financial support. We have a working association, which is important when starting up a new industry as we have.
Efforts to Start Right
There have been quite a few imports in the last few years and they have all focused on bringing good alpacas into Norway as a foundation for organized breeding. So too have been the focus of the last imports of our own farm, Knapper Alpakka. At first we thought about just having a few alpacas as one species of animal of many on our small farm, but we changed our mind and started building a quality breeding farm.
We will never be a quality breeder if we don’t focus on quality animals as the core of our herd. This prompted important imports from Australia that arrived in 2009 and 2010, with alpacas of high quality and with good bloodlines. Later we imported more alpacas from Chile to strengthen our focus on colour in particular, and to personally experience how alpacas live in their native habitat (we called it “a pilgrimage”). There will be more imports, but these imports had alpacas that will be the pioneering mothers and fathers and the core of quality alpacas. They have produced some excellent offspring so far and we have high hopes for them in the future.
Additionally, the new national herd now got good males. Their bloodlines comprise of show winners from their respective countries, and one has won a series of titles himself in Australia. This improves our chances of building a breeding basis for all breeders as the owners of these new males will not limit the males to be used to only their own herd. A stud service market has been established.
The Norwegian Alpaca Association
Establishing a forum for the alpaca breeders, especially in a small alpaca country like Norway, is very important, and all breeders felt it important that we got off to a good start with the association. In the fall of 2009 we had our founding meeting in the Norwegian Alpaca Association. Some small changes to the governing body were made, but nothing controversial and all that came to the meeting left it with a sense of how important it is to just get it going.
The founding meeting of the association also saw the establishment of several important committees. Most notably we established the website-, registry-, and the first show committee.
Even if we have a small number of alpaca breeders and alpacas, we felt we needed to have a show where we could show off our alpacas and our association and its members. The show committee found a partner in Villmarksmessen (directly translates to “wilderness fair”), which is an annual fair for people interested in outdoor activities. This fair would also have a dog show where we could show our alpacas in between dog showing sessions. We got the venue for free, and considering the tens of thousands of visitors it was perfect!
The first show had international judge Rob Bettinson, and it was an interesting, fun and learning experience for both alpaca breeders and the public. We have since had more shows and we have always had internationally renowned judges. We are at the fair for five days every time and we all get numerous requests for information and talk almost continuously through the days we are there, and we hope many learned that an alpaca is not a llama! The event has gotten coverage on TV and in newspapers, in addition to the numerous blogs, websites, social media interactions, and more.
It is top quality PR and the execution plan for running the shows is refined every year. We are very pleased with our own results as a breeder with several Champion winners at the shows in various colour classes.
The next show is in April, and we will be at the show between the 4th and the 7th, with the actual show with judging happens on the 6th (Saturday). We think we have a good show team this year as well, and no matter what the results are we will first and foremost aim for a good presentation of our alpacas!
Although an alpaca industry needs alpaca enthusiasts of all kinds, from top quality breeders to the groups of people who just want to enjoy a quality life with their alpacas and have a cottage venue, we need a focus on quality at the core of the national herd. We as a breeder have high focus on quality as the core of our breeding decisions, and we see more and more people wanting to focus on breeding top quality alpacas as well.
While the most requests for alpacas are still from those only wanting a couple of pets we see more requests from people who want to start a quality breeder farm. This is exciting and bodes well for our industry.
We are still a small alpaca country but hope to be able to jump ahead by selecting good alpacas early and need not use twenty years on breeding like the pioneering countries and breeders have done elsewhere, but take advantage of the work already done and start right. We feel we have a good basis for our breeding in our present herd here at Knapper Alpakka, but also realize that we have lots to do still. Shows are a great way to verify your own impressions of your own alpacas, avoid “barn blindness”, and learn something new about your herd.
We did great at last year’s show, winning three out of the possible five Champion titles, so we learned we are doing some things right and some things need adjustments. The judge also gave us a walkthrough of our suri male, which was very interesting for us. We hope more will get suris in Norway and that we can soon have suri classes in the shows.
To build an industry we need products and build a market, and many breeders have already started work on both. Some produce their own products on their own and others have formed cooperatives. Yet others import alpaca products. By getting the products “out there” and marketing alpaca qualities we build a demand for alpaca fleece. Many have come to us and said they like the alpaca because they seek the alpaca qualities, and look forward to seeing products made from the national herd. Product development is core to the success of our industry, and seeing how much alpaca products Norway import from the alpaca country of Peru we think we have a great market to supply.
The Association and Its Members
The Norwegian Alpaca Association has some important tasks at hand and has already started. Some of these tasks have to do with making it easier for alpaca enthusiasts to start their work. The government has some limitations set on alpaca movements between our country and others, and there is very little financial support such as other livestock industries receive. We still believe we have a suitable team to work on these and other tasks for present and future alpaca breeders, and look forward to seeing the results, but we are all in it for the long run.
About the author
Rolf and his wife Nina moved into the countryside of Norway in 2007 after a career as IT consultants and project managers in Oslo. Today they are importers and breeders of a herd of quality alpacas in a small place called Vaaler about 150km North East of Oslo, and their farm is called Knapper Alpakka. They both consider themselves alpaca enthusiasts, and are eager users of IT in their alpaca business to combine both interests. Their IT knowledge has also led to helping others and the Norwegian Alpaca Association with websites. They have run four imports to Norway to date. You can get in touch with Rolf through their web site at http://www.alpakka.org/ or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/knapperalpakka