WEETHALLE farmer Keith Cowen is not afraid to stick his neck out and try something new.
Mr Cowen's passion for natural fibres has led to his latest venture, involving a breeding herd of 30 female and one stud male Suri Alpacas.
Mr Cowen has been working closely with Julianne Gelber, who runs Bumble Hill Alpacas at Orange, using the latest scientific information to progress genetics.
Despite attracting second glances from neighbours, he believes the unusual creatures with long necks and big soulful eyes are a perfect fit for many local farms.
"Suri is a totally different fibre to most alpacas," he said.
"I've been involved in the Angora goat industry for more than 30 years producing fine mohair and I've done a lot of work with merino sheep.
"I'd like to specialise in rare fibres and this is an opportunity to add a world-class fibre. It is a good fibre to blend. In the past the wool industry wasn't keen but now they see the benefits of mixed blends."
Mr Cowen's farm is located 19 kilometres north of Weethalle, in the heart of traditional grain growing area.
Despite still planting crops on some of his 1600 acres, Mr Cowen is keen to diversify his farming practises into the future.
"It gets the neighbours talking to see these unusual animals with long necks out in the paddocks," he said.
"I do cropping as well but not as much these days. I thought I'd give suris a go and see if we can carve out a niche.
"They are easy animals to manage and they fit in well with the strong green movement. They are shorn once a year and there is no tail docking or mulesing.
"I guess people need to recognise that these natural fibres can enhance qualities of the garment. I think there is a great opportunity for others to add this into their farming systems.
"I believe it's wise not to put all your eggs in one basket. We all need to diversify.
"There is a very big demand for top end market for these fibres in Europe, it's growing dramatically."