Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.
Why should I own an alpaca? That is a good question and it is different for everyone. Some own them for the investment potential. Some for the taxbenefits, or agricultural zoning for their property. Some for their soft and luxurious fleece. Some just because they are so darn cute!
What ever the reason, alpacas are a great way to have a wide variety of potential businesses within the livestock arena, and you can have fun along the way too!
Alpaca are one of the smaller of the Camelids. Yes, they are related to Camels, both Dromedary and Bactrian, also llamas, vicunas (Vi-Coon-ya), and guanacos (Wan-A-kos) . All but the camels come from South America. Alpacas come from the regions of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru.
The Alpaca comes in two different fleece types. The Huacaya (Wa-ki-ya) which had fluffier looking fiber, and the Suri (Sir-ee) which has long stands of fiber that lay flat against the body.
Alpacas grow to about 4 ½ to 5 feet tall and weigh between 100 to 175 pounds. They are a very herd oriented animal, and need the companionship of their own kind to be happy. They have one baby per year which is called a cria (cree-a). The gestation take approximately 335 days, or when ever you aren’t there to watch. They generally have their cria in the early morning hours to about noon, although a night birth can happen.
They have two toes with toe nails and a soft pad, much like that of your dog, instead of a hoof like a horse or cow. They have lower front teeth, but not upper front teeth, instead having smooth, but hard dental plate. They are a ruminant, which means they have more than one stomach, theirs numbering three.
WHAT DO ALPACAS EAT?
Alpacas do best on grass pasture or a grass - grass/alfalfa hay. They eat about 1 to 2 % of their body weight a day. Which translates into about ½ a flake of hay. They can be fed a grain feed supplement, although many farms do not feed grain at all. However, if you have a pregnant female in late gestation, during lactation or a fast growing cria, supplementation may be recommended for adequate protein intake. A loose or ground mineral should also be provided that is specific to your area of the county. It shouldn’t cost more than 7 to 8 dollars a month to feed an alpaca if they are on 100% hay and less is they are able to graze on grass.
HOW MUCH LAND DO I NEED?
Alpaca do very well on small acreage. You could feasible keep 10 to 15 alpaca on one acre quite easily, although you will need to check with your county or state regulations for the specified amount of animals you can legally keep per acre on your property. If you live in a neighborhood that does not allow livestock, you can generally find a place to board them with another alpaca owner. This is also called agisting. The boarding costs is about 2 to 3 dollars per day per alpaca, which would include feed and routine care.
DO I NEED A BARN?
No. Alpacas require a minimal set up, something for shade and a wind break, like a three sided shed work well. Their origins come from the high Andes mountains, so their fiber provides excellent insulation from the cold. A wind break is suggested to reduce the chill factor. They have a harder time tolerating heat and should be shorn once a year, generally into spring to early summer. A barn is nice however to place a newborn cria and mom into, in extremely cold weather and for storage of hay and grain. Alpacas also don’t spread around their manure like other livestock do. They establish a communal poop pile and all the alpacas will use it, which makes clean up much easier. They have such efficient digestive tracts that their dropping can be put on plants and flowers without burning the plants. Although some seeds do get through to reseed, so composting is often the best option, and it make wonderful fertilizer.
DO I NEED SPECIAL FENCING?
Fencing is needed with an emphasis on keeping other animals, such as predators and dogs out, rather than alpacas in. Of course you don’t want you alpacas wandering around, but they rarely challenge a fence or push it out. A mesh fence about 50" high, such as field fence, or no-climb horse fence is commonly used. Many breeders will enclose the outside perimeter of their property with higher 6 foot fence. The area you live in and the potential predators there, will determine the height and precautions you will need to take.
DO ALPACAS SPIT?
Yes they can. But generally not very often and then for only a few reasons. This is their only defense against a predator. So they will sometime spit if they feel threatened. It is also used against another alpaca in defense of their feeding station and in defense of their young.
As a general rule, alpacas are very social and each has their own unique personality. They are gentle and non aggressive and can be trained to lead on a halter or walk an obstacle course, plus many tricks if you should so desire.
DO THEY REQUIRE A VET?
Yes, all animals do, but not very often and many of the routine requirements you can learn to do yourself. They need immunization shots once a year, worming medications several times a year and toe nails and teeth trimming on occasion. Only 3 to 5 percent of births are complicated and require veterinary intervention.
WHAT ARE THE TAX ADVANTAGES?
An alpaca that is used as breeding stock is considered a capitol asset and can be depreciated over 5 years, and 17,500.00 can be depreciated the first year. (Although tax laws change all the time, so see an accountant for the up to date information) “News flash: Since 9-11-01 you can take a bigger depreciation on capitol assets!” The sale of an alpaca is considered capitol gains and may be taxed at a lower rate than ordinary income. Other expenses such as feed, supplies, veterinary care, travel, advertising, meetings, dues, property improvement, etc. can be deducted as either a business expense or a capitol item. ( Please consult a qualified accountant for specific information regarding your taxes and an Alpaca business)
WHAT ABOUT THE FIBER?
Alpaca fiber is still very rare in the U.S. It is considered a luxury fiber and good quality fiber commands a higher price than sheep wool. It also has many advantages over wool, as it is warmer, thus can be lighter weight, has no lanolin, and very few guard hair, which cause that itch feeling some get when wearing wool. It is also SOFT. Many compare it to cashmere, to help get the unbelievable softness of this fiber across to the uninitiated. Plus it comes in 22 natural colors, and can also be dyed to dazzling effect.
There are basically two markets for the fiber at this time.
Hand spinners and weavers love to work with alpaca fiber. This is the cottage market industry and is one you can cultivate by yourself. Fleece can sell from about 2 to 4 dollars an ounce depending on the condition of the fleece and how much processing has been done.
The other is the commercial market. While there are still not enough alpacas in the U.S. to mass market at this time, the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America is working very hard to bring this into being. This is a National fiber coop that any alpaca owner may join.
WHY ARE ALPACAS SO EXPENSIVE?
Supply and Demand.
Alpacas were first imported into the US in1985. Importation has now been closed, so the animals that are in the US are it. Growth is slow because there is only one cria born each year. Because of these factors, supply has not yet caught up with demand.
Over the last few years demand has actually grown because people are becoming aware of the alpaca, it’s superb fiber and it’s potential, and the advantages to alpaca ownership.
WILL PRICES STAY HIGH?
No one can say for certain.Though they are certainly more reasonable than in previous years. As with any thing you invest your money in, whether it is the stock market or CD’s, you have to decide what your comfort level is. As with any livestock business, you are dealing with a living animals and problems can happen. A plus for buying alpacas, is that for a minimum fee, they can be insured against loss. Try that with the stock market!
This is a growing industry with potential. The only limit is what you set for yourself and how hard you are willing to work to get there.
At Abra-Cadabra Alpacas, we are prepared to help the new alpaca enthusiast to get started and continue to provide as
much or as little assistance as you ask for. Please call with other questions or come by and visit us at our ranch.
Getting started-So you ready to get Alpacas
SOME OF THE BASICS YOU WILL NEED:
- A commitment to caring for animals 365 days a year, good weather and bad, and making arrangements for their care if you're to be away
- The financial means to purchase alpacas, plus ongoing expenses of management and marketing
- At least a rudimentary business plan outlining your objectives for conducting and growing your business (unless you just want a couple of alpacas as pets)
- A fenced pasture area for your alpacas, adequate to keep out most predators
- A smaller enclosure for catching/ feeding/ handling alpacas
- Some type of shelter (barn, loafing shed, large sturdy tent, etc.)
- Forage(pasture) and/or good grass hay
- Racks or boxes for feeding hay
- Rake, shovel and wheelbarrow/cart for cleaning up poop (available at local hardware or farm supply store - and the best rakes are small shrub rakes, altho I do also always have a nice big sturdy leaf rake as well)
- A free-choice mineral suitable for your type of pasture/hay and area soil - Small containers, generally mounted on fence or barn wall, for providing free-choice access to mineral blend
- A feed supplement suitable for your type of pasture/hay and area soil
- Gutters, troughs or small bowls or dishes for feeding supplement - Water supply and containers for water - buckets, tubs or troughs that alpacas cannot get their feet into!
- Well-fitted halter & lead for each alpaca (many breeders provide these with a purchased alpaca)
- Toenail trimmers (about $16 from lama supply sources, but $2.99 rose pruners from Big Lots are pretty serviceable!!)
- Wormers such as Panacur or Safeguard paste ($7-8 per tube), and/or injectable ivermectin or doramectin(Dectomax) if you live in white-tail deer territory, and Corid for prevention of coccidiosis (consult a local vet to determine the requirements for your region)
- A First Aid kit
- Vet who knows something about camelids or is willing to learn (locate a vet or 2 in your area before you even bring those alpacas home)
- A mentor, hopefully the breeder from whom you are buying your alpacas
- A book or 2 about basic care, and as much information as you can gather from the Internet, libraries, etc.
- A list of phone numbers and/or catalogs for suppliers and services, including a professional shearer in your area
- A platform scale for weighing alpacas (optional, but very nice to have)
- A trailer for transport (vans, minivans or pickup trucks with camper shells can work as well - tho the vans & minivans & trailers are easier for loading/unloading more reliably)