When Joe Phelan’s four children flew the nest, it sparked a new business venture.
Located near Newtownmountkenndy, Co. Wicklow, Joe started to suffer from empty nest syndrome and as an entrepreneur he was keen to explore all possible avenues.
Mr. Phelan bravely decided to venture into the world of the unknown and delved into a spot of alpaca farming.
“I have a natural affinity with the land and I’ve always wanted to set up my own business. I like to be busy and alpacas seemed to cater for all these requirements. It has to be a business for me and not a hobby.” Joe told Catherina of That’s Farming.
The discovery of a perfect enterprise
Hailing from what Mr. Phelan describes as a ‘soft’ Agricultural background, Joe was always to be found outdoors or on a farm.
The establishment of an Agricultural enterprise of some nature was always to be expected.
He always had a desire to return to the land in order to get the family farm operating once again, a holding that has been rented out for over a decade and a half.
“It was during this research I came across a claim that alpacas were regarded as “the finest livestock investment in the world” and that Alpaca Fibre was the “Fibre of the Gods”.” Joe explained.
Joe became involved with experienced alpacas farmers before he decided to loosen the purse strings and establish his own base.
As Joe continued to learn the ropes from the professionals, K2Alpacas was born and the rest is now history.
Joe was quick to source the foundational animals of his herd and knew exactly where to go looking for quality stock.
“I got my first alpaca “Katie” from a farm that I helped and did a lot of work for. This farm breed black alpacas and Katie is Fawn, thus that was part of the deal.” Joe explained.
A further two alpacas Sam and Jack were sourced from a breeder in Northern Ireland and from there the herd continued to snowball.
Joe secured Clyde from Mullagh Lane Alpacas owned by Bernie, an alpaca breeder for over eleven years who decided at the time to hang up her alpaca halters.
“Clyde is my star, he’s quite famous having appeared on the TV Series Ripper Street and he was in the Harrods Christmas Catalogue 2016.” Joe explained.
Joe’s adoration continued to blossom and now forty-one alpacas dominates his life with numbers always increasing on that front.
Joe is the owner and manager of the farm, but tends to get a helping hand from five others on a voluntary and part-paid basis.
He is not working full-time on the farm at the moment, but has intentions to allow his alpaca enterprise to flourish to a level that has the ability to sustain him.
He is keen to make the switch to full-time farming.
“Alpacas are such wonderful animals, they are halfway between a pet and livestock animal. They are quite intelligent, very inquisitive and funny quirky animals. The have a mild temperament and are easy to handle.” Joe said.
Joe draws attention to the robust nature of alpacas and their basic husbandry requirements which have a toll on his workload.
“They need worm and parasite treatment. They also require Vitamin supplements over the winter as they don’t get enough sunshine here and we trim their nails a few times a year if they are on grass all the time.” Joe explained.
A big leap
Joe has been kept on his feet over the past twenty-four months, but nevertheless continues to reap rewards.
Quite interestingly, he exported a load of alpaca fibre to two U.K. mills, one produces duvets, pillows and mattress toppers and the other is a specialist in producing yarn and alpaca socks, Joe now supplies these to the Irish market.
The leading alpaca farmer is no stranger to the uniqueness of alpacas and he even draws attention to their waste products.
“Alpaca manure is almost like compost. Gardeners love it as it does not have any seeds in it and can be spread directly on plants without burning them unlike most other farmyard manures.” Joe explained.
Joe sits as the Vice-Chairman and PRO of the Alpaca Association of Ireland, an organisation that he has been a member of for a number of years.
“Alpacas are regarded as an Exotic Pet by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, you don’t need a herd number, however I can see that changing in time.” Joe said.
Mr. Phelan is confident that alpacas will continue to hit Irish soil at a satisfying rate, as he reflects on the expression of interest over the past number of years.
“However, we have to be careful to breed for quality if we are to create a sustainable industry.” Joe warned.
Joe has his eyes fixed securely on the expansion of K2Alpacas.
His long-term vision is to triple the numbers on his alpaca farm, as well as turning his attention to the fibre industry, a sector he believes “possesses a lot of potential”.
Joe is currently forging connections with any parties with an interest in developing and using alpaca fibre.
On 6th September 2017, when Guinness World Records confirmed that Alpaca fibre was the finest in the world, Joe knew that he was “on a winner.”
“Alpaca is a luxury product and adds value to whatever it’s added to. It’s hard wearing and strong. It’s soft and can be worn next to the skin; hypoallergenic most people who are allergic to natural wool products can wear alpaca. It’s naturally fire resistant and virtually impossible to sink.” Joe said.
Joe has delved into a spot of alpaca trekking, a project that he believes has sprung success because of the mild temperament of the animals.
“They are used in child therapy for autistic children and with difficult children. They are used in Care Homes to reduce stress and imbue a sense of wellbeing.” Joe concluded.