Midlands family tap into ‘alpaca tourism’ with venture

A midlands family have tapped into what they dub ‘alpaca tourism’ by creating an agri-tourism venture at the foothills of the Slieve Bloom mountains.

Paul MacDonnell of Hushabye Farm is originally from Ballygar, Co. Galway, where his father had a beef farmer. He is assisted in the running of the enterprise by his wife Liz and children Charlotte, Emily, Maddie and Noah.

“When we bought our smallholding back in 2010, little did we know about alpacas, let alone the direction they might take us. Hushabye Farm Alpacas was initially a labour of love, a way of life that appealed to the nature lover in us,” said Paul.

After buying the holding in Killeigh, he looked for livestock to keep the grass behind the house in check. When a herd of alpacas arrived from the south of England, they caught the imagination of locals.

Over the years, the herd and the holding expanded. “We currently run a herd of 60 alpacas on 30ac,” said Paul. They also have Valais Blacknose sheep; poultry; a pony; and two dogs.

Renovations

“We were sympathetic to what we had to work with and tried to be careful to retain the character of the property by not interfering too much with what was already there. Trees and outbuildings were left untouched during our renovations,” said Paul.

“One of the things that was already there, but in a state of total disrepair, was the farm cottage, tucked away neatly in the corner of the farmyard. Our neighbour, who was born there nearly a century ago, told me of life in the cottage back in his mother’s time.

“Milk churning and curing bacon were the order of the day in a house with an ‘open door’ policy, typical of the rambling houses of Ireland in the early part of last century.

Over the years, we have had an incredible amount of footfall on the farm. People from near and far were descending on Killeigh with one thing on their mind: alpacas. Whether they were interested in buying them or feeding them, taking pictures or attending one of our many workshops, people were coming in their droves.

“So we thought how much better their experience would be if they could totally immerse themselves in the alpaca lifestyle and stay here on the farm. Cue, ‘Lullabye Lodge’ at Hushabye Farm.

“We got to work on renovating the cottage and it now stands as a base for staycations and holidays, tucked away neatly in a working alpaca stud farm.

“We have people from all over the world coming to stay with us now – alpaca tourists. We encourage those with an interest in getting into alpacas here in Ireland to stay with us in Lullabye Lodge and learn as much as possible before embarking on their own alpaca adventures.

“Tourists from different countries who may have alpacas themselves at home or just an interest in them are staying with us too. We host various events including husbandry workshops and veterinary seminars through our involvement with the Alpaca Association of Ireland in our purpose-built workshop.

“Our lifestyle weekends are hugely popular. Spinning workshops are very well attended. We do photography workshops; craft days showcasing various skills; and open days.

What with the Slieve Bloom mountains right on our doorstep, we organise guided walks and alpaca trekking with our friends in the Slieve Bloom Walking Club. The recently opened mountain bike trails are only 20 minutes away.

Checkout surveys have revealed that all visitors have been drawn by the alpacas. However, the tranquil location also helps the venture, Paul said. “There are no distractions. It’s a holiday destination with no Wi-Fi nor TV and poor phone signal.”

Such was the success of Lullabye Lodge, the family decided to work on another project for their venture last autumn.

‘Jack Wright’s’ log cabin was tucked away in another quiet corner of the farm. It too was in disrepair but with a little imagination and hard grafting, it’s now available to receive guests too. A toasty two-bed retreat, the walls and ceilings are packed full of alpaca fleece left over from shearing. The bedding is all alpaca too.

“With both properties now available to rent on Airbnb, it’s the alpacas we can thank for attracting so many people to our farm and the area in general. We hope to help other people in Ireland establish their breeding programmes and improve not just the quality of our own herd, but that of the national herd.

“We strive to learn, to teach, to improve and assist anyone and everyone with an interest in alpacas in Ireland. As for the farm itself, people often comment on how much work has been done. I can only see what’s to be done yet,” said Paul, who chairs the Alpaca Association of Ireland.

Vision

“My vision for our Hushabye Farm venture is of a centre for all things alpaca. A herd of elite alpacas with quality fleece, typical conformation and wonderful temperament.

“A destination for those with various levels of interests in the breed, from casual observers to serious breeders. A venue for various events, workshops, and lifestyle weekends.

“A farm shop and tea-room will complement all of that next summer. We hope to have an online presence in the next few months,” he said.

“Alpacas, like any livestock, are valued based on their pedigree; the quality of their fleece; their conformation and temperament,” he said.

So what advice would he offer to those interested in buying alpacas? “Only buy alpacas that are registered with the Alpaca Association of Ireland. Be sure to get a full medical history certificate from the breeder and a current veterinary certificate showing the animal’s current status. A pedigree certificate is essential.

“Be sure the breeder you buy from has the experience and the inclination to support you going forward and will assist you on your alpaca experience. Join the Alpaca Association of Ireland where you get many benefits and great assistance,” Paul said.

Further information on the venture is on: Airbnb: The Lodge @ Hushabye Farm or Jack Wright’s @ Hushabye farm.

Additionally, you can email: [email protected]: or phone: 087-2580165.

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