Part-time alpaca farmer Terry Gill says he has come across a way to resolve the age-old battle between sheep farmers and foxes as the lambing season gets into full swing.
An increasing number of sheep farmers in Meath and beyond are, according to Mr Gill, turning to the alpacas as a way of protecting their flocks from the clever. bushy-tailed predators who like nothing better at this time of the year than a tasty piece of lamb.
"Sheep farmers will buy alpacas coming up to lambing time. They run them with the sheep and the keep the foxes away from the lambs. I've spoken to farmers who have lost lambs and who are interesed to buying alpacas, and I've already sold a few to farmers," said Mr Gill, who is originally from Dublin and now lives at Clonalvy, Ardcath.
"They'll chase foxes, run at them, stand on them and the foxes just run away. They're not used to be challenged and they don't take the lambs," he added. "Once they form a bond with a flock, an alpaca will protect anything in that flock. They're bigger and more protective than the sheep. They're usually males who sell for around €500."
Two years ago Terry Gill (37) decided to farm alpacas, the distinctive-looking South American animal that is related to the camel and llamas. The alpacas are valuable for the quality of the fleece they produce, although their meat cannot be sold in this country.
Mr Gill, who works as an office manager with lighting importers in Ashbourne, decided to set up as a part-time alpaca farmer two years ago as the Irish economy plunged into recession.
"I started looking around for a small business. I didn't want to give up my job, it's actually a good job but, because we were so dependent on builders buying our product, the business went through a lull and I just decided to look around and see if there was anything else I could do," he said.
"I was just looking at other enterprises such as renting out camper vans and a few different ventures, and then I saw an Alpaca site one day. The guy had a bad back was was getting out of the business."
After carrying out extensive research, Mr Gill purchased two females in March for €2,500 each. Now he has a flock of 47.
Because of their fleece, he said that there is a steady demand for alpacas in Ireland at the moment. "Some people also buy them as pets, they're cute to look at," he added.
"If people have a big garden or an acre out the back and they want to keep it cut all the time, they're basically like living lawnmowers."
He said farming alpacas is a costly business to get into although they're not expensive to maintain. Recently, he bought in 30 animals in what was a €40,000 investment with some of the money provided by Ashbourne Credit Union. "I've been buying and selling animals for two years. I just see there is a demand for them at the moment," he said.
"The best way of making money from them is to breed them yourself, so I've brought in a load of pregnant females to bring the herd up to the level I want it to be so that the enterprise sustains itself."
Despite the level of investment required, he said he has no regrets about getting into the enterprise.