An alpaca farm and woollen mill's move to Ballarat will add a highly-regarded 'paddock to product' business to the region and create a new tourism drawcard.
Great Ocean Road Woollen Mill, now known as GOR Woollen Mill, is in the process of relocating its alpacas to Burrumbeet and setting up new machinery in Delacombe.
The move from the business's previous home in Ecklin South near Timboon was driven by a need to be on a bigger site to keep up with demand for their alpaca fibre and be located closer to their customer base.
Owners Nick and Isabel Renters have had a big week starting to unpack seven crates of new wool processing machinery from Italy at their Delacombe factory.
We are very passionate about what we do and like to take people along on those journeys with us.- Isabel Renters, GOR Woollen Mill
They said they had been patiently waiting for the delivery that was originally meant to arrive in November but was delayed due to COVID-19 and shipping.
"It is a big expansion," Mr Renters said.
"COVID hit and we got really busy... We were struggling to keep up with demand and thought we needed to expand somehow somewhere and decided to take the leap."
Mr Renters said the new equipment would allow the business to increase its output four to five times and become the third largest woollen mill in Australia.
"To do that we needed a lot more power than we were able to get on our Ecklin South property and we were also going to be needing staff to assist us," he said.
"We had been in Ballarat before and really love it here. There is a huge craft community already in Ballarat and a lot of our customer base is in the district. It really made sense.
"Hopefully over the next three weeks we will get everything unpacked, installed and commissioned and be in operation come early May."
The Delacombe factory is a new home for the woollen mill's new machinery which has capacity to processing large quantities of wool and wool blends.
The long-term plan is to set up a second processing site at Burrumbeet with machinery that requires less power capability and can process small quantities of fibre that can be traced back to a single alpaca.
"You can have the yarns of Evie who is standing on the other side of the shed," Mrs Renters said.
Mr and Mrs Renters are waiting on the outcome of a planning application with City of Ballarat to build a home and woollen mill on the site, expecting the result to come through in a few weeks.
They plan to live on the site, which will make it easier to care for sick and elderly animals, including a 19-year-old alpaca who has no teeth and needs supplementary feeding.
They hope to make the set-up completely off-grid and create a tourism and education centre, allowing people to see the alpacas and how the wool is processed.
"In a world that is becoming more environmentally aware and is questioning off-shore production, what better way to highlight what can and should be done locally," a planning permit report said.
"Previously, much of Australia's alpaca clip was sent to Peru for processing and then into the world yarn market making traceability and other such credentials virtually impossible."
Customers will be able to visit the property to see the alpacas, learn about how fibre is processed and purchase yarn and products like beanies and scarves.
Mr and Mrs Renters said they hoped to achieve this vision by summer.
They said they have felt so welcome in Ballarat and loved that many people in the community were excited by their business venture.
"We are very passionate about what we do and like to take people along on those journeys with us," Mrs Renters said.
The couple's venture in alpaca farming and wool processing began after they moved to Ecklin South for a tree-change.
Wanting livestock on their large property, over time they realised they loved alpacas.
Mr Renter said it was difficult to find someone to process the fibre from their alpacas and the more they looked into it, they realised lots of fibre from alpacas all over the countryside was going to waste.
"We thought we would jump in. In 2015 we had our first lot of equipment come from Canada and ever since then it has been living and learning and working out what would work for us," Mr Renters said.
"Once we started making yarns to retail we found a real gap in the marketplace because there are not a lot of Australian-made yarns."
Mr and Mrs Renters met in Thailand volunteering after the 2004 tsunami, later married and lived in Warrnambool, where Mr Renters had grown up.
Mrs Renters is originally from Germany and had previously lived in England.
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