Tips for Raising Alpacas
Moving to the country often leads to raising animals. Cows, goats, and sheep have long been popular choices, but these days more people are looking into alternative livestock, such as alpacas.
What is an alpaca?
A domesticated species of camelid from South America, the alpaca is a cousin to the llama and camel. Two breeds are available—the huacaya and the suri. The huacaya breed accounts for more than 90 percent of all alpacas. Huacaya alpacas have soft, fluffy fleece resembling that of a bear cub. The rare suri alpaca has silky fleece that falls in long, dreadlock-type ropes. Both breeds live 15–20 years, stand about 36 inches to the withers, and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Alpacas are social creatures that thrive in herds, so it’s best to have at least three or four.
According to Bud Synhorst, executive director of the Alpaca Owners Association, alpacas are among the gentlest livestock one can raise. They don’t bite, butt, or kick. They have no horns, sharp teeth, or hooves that can hurt you. Instead, their padded feet each have two toes. Synhorst says his daughter started working with alpacas at age 5, and now at 7 years old, she can lead one around the field unassisted.
Dave and Teri Grembi, owners of Point of View Alpacas Farm in Mount Sidney, Virginia, bought their first alpacas in 2014. “We wanted the physical activity of caring for livestock but without being overpowered,” says Dave, who is retired from a career in health care. “The alpacas are just so gentle.”
What do alpacas require?
Before bringing alpacas home, you need to set up shelter and fencing. The essentials for keeping a small herd include:
Shelter: According to Synhorst, a run-in shed is adequate to protect your alpacas from the weather. But if you plan to breed them, you’ll want a shelter that safeguards the young from predators.
Pasture: Depending on the health of your pasture, you can keep up to eight alpacas per acre. A 125-pound adult eats about 2 pounds of grass or hay per day. Alpaca fiber is eight times warmer than wool, so provide plenty of shade.
Fencing: Unless you want surprise alpaca babies, called crias, separate male and female stock. Standard wire field fencing is sufficient. Grembi recommends installing 5-foot-high fences for the perimeter and to separate the sexes. If coyotes might be an issue, he suggests running an electric strand 8 inches off the ground around the outside perimeter to prevent the coyotes from digging under the fence.
Feeders and waterers: Grembi suggests an automatic waterer, equipped with a heater for winter. And to help prevent parasites, which are a common health risk, use feeders that keep hay and grain off the ground.
Can I make a profit?
If you want the animals on your homestead to pay for themselves, you can support your alpaca habit in several ways.
Fiber: Most folks keep alpacas for their fiber. Alpacas need to be sheared once a year and you can have the raw fiber milled into yarn or sell the fiber to people who spin it themselves. You could also join a fiber co-op, which collects fiber from its members and turns it into products like socks, blankets, and scarves. Co-ops then sell the items back to members at wholesale prices and members resell the products at farm stores, local festivals, or retail outlets.
Manure: Alpaca manure doesn’t need to be composted before you apply it to garden beds. The manure’s low salt content makes it the perfect fertilizer for lavender, which the Grembis grow. Since alpacas defecate in a communal dung pile, collecting and selling manure is relatively easy and can be profitable.
Breeding: Alpacas breed once per year, producing one baby (no twins or triplets). Grembi says a decent alpaca generally costs between $3,000 and $5,000, so keeping 10 breeding females can gross up to $50,000 a year in cria sales.
Alpacas vs. Llamas
Alpacas and llamas are cousins, both belonging to the camelid family. Although people often confuse the two animals, they are actually very different.
Size and appearance
Half the size of llamas, which weigh up to 450 pounds, alpacas weigh about 150 pounds. Llamas can be 6 feet tall, while alpacas top out at 3 feet tall at the withers. Alpacas’ ears are small, while llamas have long banana-shape ears. Llamas also have slightly longer faces.
Both alpacas and llamas are gentle and used in animal therapy. However, llamas are more independent and can serve as guard animals. The more timid alpaca needs protection. Because alpacas are more social than llamas, they do better in herds of three or more. A llama, however, thrives alone or as a guard for other livestock.
Llamas are strong and serve as pack animals for trekking and hiking. Alpacas were not bred to be working animals but tend to be very affectionate and can learn tricks. The alpaca’s soft, luxurious fleece is prized by hand spinners, whereas coarse llama fleece is less desirable.
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