In the depths of the drought, having already endured three bone-dry years with no end in sight, the Dennis family needed to find a way to earn “an income of some description”.
- Farm is an agritourism business which invites visitors to feed and cuddle their alpacas, as well as viewing newborns
- The award-winning business was created during the height of the drought
- The owner is also an artist and creates art and jewellery from alpaca fibre
Amee Dennis and her husband were running a mixed farming enterprise near Tomingley in Central West NSW, with sheep, cattle, crops and a handful of alpacas to guard the lambs.
Ms Dennis was looking for inspiration when she pulled some bags of fleece out of the shed, recently shorn from the alpacas.
An ordinary day soon became the start of something extraordinary and a quirky idea evolved into an award-winning business.
The paddocks may now be lush and the cattle nice and fat, but the farmer is still juggling running the property with her agritourism venture Quentin Park Alpaca Farm and her career as an artist, creating art and fashion out of alpaca fibre.
“We now have 125 alpacas and about a dozen babies due in the next week,” Ms Dennis said.
“Five days a week we open up the farm and people can come have a hands-on, interactive and fun experience with some of our alpaca team members.
“We’re incredibly fortunate [that] people like what we’re doing and really support us. We’ve just continued to grow.”
More than 50 of the alpacas have been taken in, many of them rescued from situations where the animals were being incorrectly handled as pets.
A welcome distraction
Although the crops are tall and there is an abundance of feed, drought recovery remains an uphill battle.
The alpacas have been a welcome distraction.
“It’s given us something to keep us out of trouble and a purpose,” Ms Dennis said.
“The mice were certainly a challenge and continue to be. The thought of them coming back has got me rocking in the corner, as the weather starts to warm up again.
“Not unlike every other farmer in the region, we’ve got everything crossed we’re able to get another crop off this year. If we do that we might start to be OK.”
The thought of afternoon tea and cuddles with these fluffy, quirky animals has huge appeal, with many travellers heading off the beaten track for an afternoon at Quentin Park.
“It’s a really down to earth, authentic, hands-on experience,” she said.
“There’s definitely something to be said for standing quietly, looking into the eyes of one of those beautiful creatures and just having that moment of serenity and peace.
“Being able to connect back to nature and enjoy that. I think that’s something that COVID probably really taught us — it’s just about the simple things.
“A moment in nature, enjoying time together and connection.”
Giving cuddles to seniors
Ms Dennis’s favourite guests are seniors who derive so much from some blissful moments in the paddock with the alpacas.
“The grandparents or groups of seniors from retirement villages are my favourites. When you think about it, we hug our kids all the time. Kids have always have that kind of physical contact with us. But as a senior, you don’t necessarily get that,” she said.
“We sit them on their walker in the paddock with the alpacas and give them a feed bowl.
“The animals know — the alpacas will come up to them, they’ll stand really still, they know what’s going on. They’ll let them pat them, give them a rub-down and give them kisses.”
“They actually get to have that physical contact, interaction and emotional connection that have been so hard to get over the last 12 months. That’s been something that’s just been really amazing to be able to offer and watch.”
New colours for artworks
Spring is an exciting time on the farm, with the birth of many baby alpacas. Apart from being impossibly cute, each new arrival determines the colour palette Ms Dennis will work with for her artworks.
“A gorgeous little grey baby arrived yesterday, which is really exciting. We also have the first babies coming from our Appaloosa male,” she said.
“An Appaloosa alpaca is kind of similar to the horses, with coloured spots on the main parts of its body.
“I’m desperately, desperately hoping for some spotty babies. Having a couple of different colours in one fleece means we can produce things like scarves and jewellery with this beautiful variation in colour, but it’s natural.”
“I’m really, really super excited about that, if you can’t tell!”
COVID has been another challenge for the farm, but with the Narromine Shire recently released from lockdown restrictions, visitors are able to come and meet the farm’s newest arrivals.
Although it began as a desperate plan to get through the drought, it was a winning idea. Ms Dennis and Quentin Park recently received gold in the AusMumpreneur awards and are finalists in both the Western New South Wales Business Awards and Community Service Awards.
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