WHAT started with an alpaca named Nutmeg, an empty cottage and a toddler's mispronunciation of the word tomatoes, grew to become much more.
Mamoes Alpacas is a niche farmstay accommodation and alpaca hire business, nestled on a small acreage at Woodridge and is owned by Nikki Bland and Paul Southam.
About eight years ago, they decided to buy an alpaca for poultry protection, after a fox found its way into their brood of chickens.
At first glance alpacas may seem unlikely candidates to scare off predators and keep an eye on smaller livestock.
However - despite being primarily prized for soft fleece - they serve double duty, as elite fox chasers.
Having owned a small herd of alpacas in the 1990s, Mr Southam knew they could help deter the foxes.
"The only thing was back then they were really expensive and cost about $20,000 per animal," Mr Southam said.
"We had another look and they were down to $200, which is much more affordable.
"We decided to buy Nutmeg, then the kids wanted one to pat, so we brought two more and it sort of snowballed from there."
Keeping their herd to 10-head, Ms Bland and Mr Southam were quick to fall in love with their friendly long-necked, long-legged and small-headed menagerie.
A year later, Mamoes Alpacas was founded when an empty 50-year-old cottage provided the perfect opportunity for farmstay accommodation.
The cottage was renovated and bookings opened with the addition of the resident alpacas including Sparky, QT, QC, Buddy, Chewy, Chino, Sasha, Maxie, Rosie and Mix proving popular, particularly among international guests.
"We came up with the farmstay idea on Christmas Eve and didn't really think anything of it - half an hour later it was booked," Ms Bland said.
"We called it Mamoes because that's how our daughter Indi used to pronounce tomatoes when she was a toddler.
"I think the alpacas are definitely the drawcard, but also people want to escape to the countryside.
"When people are in the cottage they are able to spend as much time with the alpacas as they like."
Before long, word of the alpacas spread and unannounced guests frequented the property wanting to pay to visit the animals.
Not wanting to take away the experience from their guests, Ms Bland and Mr Southam decided to take the alpacas to the people instead.
Their first visit was to a nearby aged care facility, where they monitored how they were received, as well as how they behaved.
"One woman (at an aged care facility) apparently hadn't spoken in about 40 years," Mr Southam said.
"As soon as she seen the alpacas she started talking - the nurses were shocked.
"The alpacas are quite calming for them, a lot of them can't get out so it is nice."
They are also known to frequent schools and universities across Perth and surrounding areas.
In such environments they are typically used as a form of pet therapy and are known to improve social, emotional and cognitive functioning.
The alpacas have even been hired for events including birthdays, baby showers, weddings, bridal showers and weekend visits to Bunnings.
In the past they have also freed up their calendar to make a guest appearance at radio station's 92.9 RnB Live Fridays at Perth, alongside the likes of international popstar Jason Derulo.
While alpacas provide the perfect opportunity for a cuddle, selfie or even an appearance on stage, some are better-suited to certain events than others.
And Mr Southam said they weren't forced to do anything - what they did was simply up to them.
The animals can grow up to just over 150 centimetres in height and usually weigh about 70 kilograms.
"They come in about 20 different colours and alpaca fibre is also the only true black fibre," Mr Southam said.
"They can get it to a point where it is so black that it is blue."
Alpacas are shorn by a contractor once a year, and they are vaccinated, as well as having their nails and teeth checked on a regular basis.
Alpacas eat about two per cent of their body weight in feed (hay, grass and lupins as a treat) everyday.
The most common question Ms Bland and Mr Southam are asked is - what's the difference between a llama and an alpaca?
Mr Southam said it came down to size and weight, but the best way to differentiate the two was by remembering:
"Llama banana for a llama because of their banana-shaped ears and an 'a' for alpaca for the same reason," he said.
Another interesting fact Mamoes Alpacas shared is that female alpacas spit at males if they are already pregnant and therefore not receptive.
The rejection response, known as a "spit-off" is used to manage a female and regularly monitor her pregnancy.
Spit-offs aside however, alpacas are described as "very chilled out animals".
When asked what they love most about what they do, Ms Bland and Mr Southam said alpacas aside, it was about sharing the happiness.
"It isn't stressful, it is a relaxed environment," Mr Southam said.
"You get a lot of pleasure out of it because people enjoy it, it is different and you get to hang out with an alpaca at work."
So in such a unique market, how long do Mr Southam and Ms Bland expect the animals to be in popular demand for?
They aren't sure, but they plan on rolling with it and - as long as they have their alpacas - they are happy either way.
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