Aljezur’s Amazing Alpacas

By Matt D’Arcy

The Algarve’s west coast is not the Andes, nor does it soar 5,000 metres above sea level. But it is now home to a herd of animals which originated in those high plains of west-central South America: the alpaca.

Matt and Sally Henman have created Aljezur Alpacas at the Vale da Telha plateau, and although their paddocks are capable of sustaining up to 100 alpacas, they intend to increase their current herd from eight to a maximum of 50 through a careful breeding programme in association with other pedigree farms, including the nearest such breeder based in Andalusia in Spain.

In fact, they have already had their first Aljezur-born ‘cria’ (the name for baby alpacas, much like foals to horses) who now goes by the name of Dumbledore, so the project is already healthily under way.

Although alpaca meat is seen in some quarters to be healthy, flavourful and high in protein, Matt and Sally plan only to breed a stock with a 100% pedigree bloodline to sell to other breeders, and to use the animals’ sumptuously soft fleece, or fibre, for commercial purposes.

Alpaca fibre is widely recognised as one of the most luxurious fibres in the world, and comes in 22 officially recognised colours and every shade in between. It is used for making designer clothes, as well as knitted and woven items similar to – but much superior to – wool.

Aljezur’s alpacas are already very much at home in the Henman family’s paddocks to the east of Sector E in Vale da Telha, out towards the top of the hill leading up from Aljezur, despite their forebears being ideally suited to life 16,000ft above sea level!

Matt and Sally moved here from Edinburgh, where Sally was in the travel and tourism industry and Matt was working in insurance and pensions. They felt that their three children, Selina (now 13), Aiden (11) and six-year-old Jamie would have a better lifestyle and quality of life growing up in rural Portugal than growing up in the UK.

There are other Alpaca farms in Portugal, but Matt and Sally decided from the outset that the Aljezur Alpaca bloodline would be 100% pedigree. This means that their breeding programme would have to be scrupulously monitored and, once new blood needs to be introduced to the herd, they will be working with the nearest pedigree stock in Andalusia, in Spain.

They decided to work towards creating a herd with a maximum of around 50 alpacas, to make handling the stock easier and more efficient. All of the veterinary needs, such as inoculations and vaccinations, are handled by Matt and Sally themselves, as there are no vets sufficiently qualified in this region.

The long-term aim is to breed and sell the stock to other breeders across Europe. Alpaca fleece is highly marketable, and Matt and Sally will be looking for ways to best utilise the shearings, with the Middle East a major market for alpaca wool.

Eventually the Henman’s hope that Aljezur Alpacas will benefit the area by playing a key role in attracting more visitors to the area.

Aljezur Alpacas and all its associated parts is pretty much self-sufficient, with the Henmans producing their own electricity from an expanse of solar panels, backed up in the winter by a generator, and all their water comes from their own borehole.

“It’s hard work, but so rewarding,” Sally said.

“It’s wonderful for the children to grow up in an environment like this and for Matt and myself to have a real sense of accomplishment and achievement as we see it all beginning to take shape.”

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