Alpacas are unique animals that often have a bad reputation as nothing more than a livestock trend or bad investment, but if you understand alpacas and what they offer, these gentle grazers can be a great addition to your farm. But is an alpaca right for you?
Alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are domestic livestock native to the Andes Mountains of South America. There are two breeds of alpacas, and they are classified by their wool. Huacaya alpacas have very fluffy, soft fleeces that seem to have very little structure. Suri alpacas, on the other hand, have silky, rope-like fleeces. Both types of wool are naturally water-repellant, lightweight and hypoallergenic, making them very sought after for yarns and fabrics. There are dozens of different shades and colors of fleece, and with color blends there are more than 70 recognizable colors of alpaca wool.
Alpacas are relatively small animals, generally shorter than 34 inches at the withers. They are bred for their wool, and are therefore not generally used as beasts of burden, unlike their larger, stronger llama cousins. Because they may live 15-20 years and will produce wool throughout their lives, they can be a profitable investment for years. They are relatively light eaters, overall hardy animals, and can be a great addition to any farm.
Alpacas do not require immense pastures to be comfortable and healthy – even a farm of fewer than 10 acres can easily be home to alpacas. These are gentle creatures and easy to handle, and their soft feet don’t tear up pastures so they can easily be rotated between fields without causing damage. They bite off tops of grasses rather than pull it up by the roots, so pastures with alpacas will continually regenerate. Hay and grass should be supplied to alpacas, as well as plentiful fresh water.
To keep alpacas healthy, pastures must be free of toxic plants, including agave, bear grass, buckwheat, ragweed, fireweed and similar plants that often cause problems for other grazers. It is also important to keep an alpaca pasture free of thorns and burrs that can get embedded in their valuable fleece.
Like any livestock, alpacas need a proper place to live. Because these animals are accustomed to rugged mountain terrain, they can adapt well to most pastures without difficulty. Shelter should be provided, but an open lean-to or open shed is sufficient, so long as it is covered and can serve as an adequate windbreak. Fencing should be sturdy and well-maintained, not only to keep alpacas safely corralled but also to keep any potential predators out.
Regular veterinary care is essential for alpacas just as it is for any livestock. Vaccinations, toenail clipping and dental care may be necessary, as well as regular exams to be sure the animals are in peak condition.
Buying an Alpaca
There is an alpaca out there for any budget, from just a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars. The cost of the animal will vary based on overall healthy, productivity and fertility, as well as fleece condition, wool color, age, gender and more. Be sure to investigate each animal carefully to ensure it is healthy and suitable for your expectations. Visiting rescue farms can be a way to purchase alpacas at lower prices, or older animals may also be a good bargain even though they still produce luxurious wool. Alpaca auctions and breeders are other options for finding alpacas for sale.
Profiting From Alpacas
While no livestock is a get-rich-quick investment, alpacas can be a profit to your farm in a number of ways. Their wool is their most valuable asset, and alpaca wool is highly desirable for yarn, clothing, rugs, toys, pillows, dryer balls and a wide variety of other products that command top prices. With a single alpaca yielding 5-10 pounds of wool in their fleece each year, this is a great way to augment a farm income. Other ways to make the most of your alpaca investment include…
- Selling alpaca feces as compost manure
- Showing the animals to win monetary prizes or increase their breeding value
- Breeding and selling alpacas from healthy, award-winning bloodlines
- Renting animals out for petting zoos, festivals, holiday nativity scenes and similar events
- Selling alpaca meat to specialized retailers when the animals are too old or must be culled
With so many ways to make alpacas a great investment, it’s worthwhile to consider adding these amazing animals to your farm.