Alpacas are amazingly resilient animals and can be raised in all climates from Canada to Florida. They stand about 36” tall at the withers and weigh between 100-200 pounds, and establish communal dung piles that are very easy to manage. They will actually stand in line to wait go to the bathroom, more or less in one spot.
Alpacas need basic shelter from the rain and heat. They don’t challenge a fence though fencing is necessary to keep other animals out and to a lesser extent keep the alpacas' curiosity from leading them astray. Alpacas have a modest appetite and eat a cup or less of grain a day and orchard grass hay, which makes them the perfect livestock for the small farm. The small farm operator can raise about 10 alpacas per acre of pasture. A single bale of hay will feed about 20 alpacas for one day. They eat approximately 2-3 pounds of grass or hay per day making them very economical to raise.
Below are answers to the 33 questions we've been asked most often.
Alpacas are the smallest members of four South American camelid species. They are cousins to llamas. They have a padded foot similar to their distant relative, the camel. This foot structure combined with their small size allows them to step very lightly, leaving even the most delicate terrain undamaged. This makes them a very favorable species for small farms with limited space or hilly terrain that is easily damaged by other animals. Alpacas live between 18-25 years.
Alpaca's have historically been renowned for their extraordinarily luxurious fiber. They have more recently become beloved for their sociable and gentle nature while providing an excellent investment opportunity. The fleece, comparable to cashmere, is known for its fineness, light weight, and luster. Alpaca textile products are recognized world-wide.
They make excellent companion animals and are also show animals with high aesthetic appeal. They have lovable dispositions. Alpacas are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children. They are always a hit in a parade.
Alpacas are shorn once a year, in spring here in the mid-Atlantic. Shearing is the biggest maintenance task required and usually takes around five to ten minutes per animal for an experienced alpaca shearer.
If you are purchasing your first alpacas, ask the breeder for the name of a recommended shearer, or ask if you can bring the alpacas back to the property on their shearing day.
A very small percentage of alpacas are shorn standing up, the preferred method of shearing is to lay the animals on their side and restrain their legs with a tether at each end. This protects the shearer and the alpaca from being accidentally cut. One side of the animal is shorn and it is then rolled over and shorn on the other side. Depending on the density of the fleece, alpacas cut anywhere between 3 and 13 pounds of fleece. Some of the high quality stud males will cut higher weights.
Alpaca fiber is highly prized for it very soft feel (handle), its high thermal properties, its durability and its variety of natural colors.
It is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts, and coats. Sweaters knitted from alpaca fleece are soft, light and warm. Because of its natural warmth, it is also used as a continental quilt filling. Coarser fiber can be used to make car seat covers and rugs.
A few alpaca owners prefer to hand spin their fiber. Commercial prices depend on quality with a premium paid for finer micron fiber. Sales to hand spinners can be considerably higher.
Alpaca owners and breeders come from all walks of life. Many are doctors, financial advisors, educators, or cattle farmers, to name a few. Some raise alpacas as a full-time business, others commit part-time. From young families to empty-nesters, phased retirement to full-retirement, raising alpacas offers countless options for everyone.
Alpacas offer a very attractive business and farming opportunity no matter where you live: urban, suburban, or rural. Urban dwellers can board (or "agist") their alpacas at nearby farms/ranches so that they can enjoy the benefits of ownership while living in a large city or suburb. People also raise alpacas for companionship and to enjoy a rural lifestyle.
Alpacas are modified ruminants which means they chew cud like a cow or deer. Generally, second cutting orchard grass is recommended for hay. In addition to hay or pasture, you will need to feed some fortified grain that is specially designed for use with alpacas. How much you feed depends on the weather and the breeding status of each animal but generally it is between ½ - 1 cup twice a day. Clean fresh water should be available at all times. They cost about as much per month to feed as a dog.
There are a number of commercial alpaca mixes available, but these are best thought of as supplying vitamins and minerals rather than the bulk feed which is obtained through grazing.
One important rule to remember is to introduce any changes to the diet gradually over a period of a couple of weeks. This way the microbes in the gut have time to adjust to any feed changes.
As livestock goes, alpacas are fairly small animals. Most of our adult animals weigh between 140 and 180 pounds. So on the rare occasion that you need to make an alpaca do something they really don't want to do, two people can usually get the job done. We find that the more you handle you animals the easier they are to work with. The time you spend halter training is time well spent. Take them on walks, talk to them and scratch their necks. It is important that the alpaca learns to trust you and not associate you touching it only with unpleasant experiences. If the only time you touch your animals is to give shots or trim toenails, neither of which they particularly enjoy, then they will try to get away from you every time you approach them. So try to have some pleasant interactions with them and the less pleasant activities will go a lot smoother.
Yes, they are amazingly alert animals who quickly learn to halter and lead. They constantly communicate with each other through body posture, tail and ear movements, and a variety of sounds. The sound heard most often is a soft humming, a mild expression befitting a gentle animal.
Spitting is perhaps the least endearing feature of alpacas. It is one of the few defense mechanisms an alpaca has and is quite an effective deterrent. The material is basically regurgitated or recently chewed grass. It does have a distinctive and somewhat offensive odor and it is best to avoid being a target. Fortunately, it does brush off easily when dry
That said, it is quite rare that alpacas spit at people. It is normally used as a pecking order mechanism with other alpacas. If a human hit occurs, it is usually because the person has not read the signs properly when stepping between two squabbling alpacas.
When interacting with humans, kicking and biting is highly individualistic. Alpacas are usually sensitive around the hind legs and will instinctively kick backwards if they sense a threat from the rear. Most alpacas do not kick at humans, but there are individuals that can be quickly identified as being prone to kicking. This is more evident in a pregnant female that wants to deter the advances of an amorous male. Fortunately, because the foot is a soft pad, injuries to humans are minimal. Most alpacas respond very well to desensitization of the hind legs if they receive good handling as youngsters.
Alpacas that bite people are extremely rare and it is generally not a problem. If it does occur it tends to be an attention seeking behavior by spoiled pets rather than an attack.
If traveling for short distances, they can be transported inside mini vans, other sport utility-like vehicles or livestock trailers. Many people put down a piece of old carpeting or Astro-Turf to minimize the impact on the vehicle's carpeting in case an "accident" were to occur. Most of the time, however, the animals will "cush" (sit down) for the journey. Longer distances generally require transport in a livestock trailer or other van like a Dodge Sprinter.
Because of their origins in the Andes mountains, the breed is very hearty. There are no barns for alpacas in Peru. They are put in corrals at night for protection from predators and to keep them from wandering away. In most areas of North America alpacas only require a three-sided structure for their shelter needs but it varies widely, depending on such things as weather. Alpacas simply need to get out of the wind and have a dry place to eat or lay down during a storm. Relief from heat is very important so shade is necessary in the summer.
They are an ideal small acreage livestock. You can usually put 6 to 10 alpacas per acre of pasture. Of course the quality of your pasture terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, etc. plays a big role in the number of animals it can support. Dividing your pasture into several smaller paddocks and using rotational grazing practices will significantly increase the number of animals that it can support. They can also be raised on dry lot and be fed grass hay, if desired. Consult with your local County Extension Officer for specific local recommendations. This makes the alpaca ideal for people who have only a few acres and who want the pleasure of a small herd and a healthy investment return.
Alpacas are herd animals, preferring to remain in groups and do not challenge fencing. However, adequate fencing is important for their security. Exterior fencing should be able to keep out potential predators, including dogs, foxes and coyotes. Good fencing is very important to ensure the safety of your animals. If predators are present in your neighborhood, then a minimum of four-foot-high, 2 inch by 4 inch no-climb fencing is necessary to keep out the predators. Of course you want to keep your alpacas in the pasture as well. If they do manage to get out they will usually stay close by because they do not want to be far from the rest of the herd. Traditional horse fencing (with 4 inch by 4 inch openings) is not recommended, as curious alpacas might be physically harmed if they put their heads through that type of fencing. One tip that works well on all fences: lay a strand of barbed wire on the ground, attached to the posts, on the outside perimeter of the fence. This keeps dogs, coyote and foxes from digging their way under the fence.
The answer to this question, like so many others, is "Well, that depends." Your fence is your first line of defense against predators. If you have known predator problems in your area you may want to consider a guard animal to protect your alpacas. Both llamas and dogs are routinely used to guard alpacas. Both have advantages and disadvantages and you should evaluate your choice carefully before making a commitment. We chose two dogs as our guardians. There are several breeds of dogs, referred to as Livestock Guardian Dogs, that have been used to guard sheep for thousands of years. The dogs we use are Maremmas and they have worked out very well for us. The down side of using a LGD is that they tend to bark at anything that comes near the pasture. While they are just doing their job, it can irritate the neighbors if they are close. If you decide to get a dog, get a dog that comes from working stock and from a reputable source. LGDs are very large, strong dogs and they tend to behave differently than your average dog. They are intelligent and think for themselves. They view your commands more like a recommendation than an order.
Llamas are the other alternative. Llamas seem to be quite effective against dogs and coyotes. They will bond with your alpacas and will confront a predator as it tries to enter the pasture. Not all llamas are suitable to be guards, they need the right personality for the job. You should work with an experienced llama breeder when selecting a guard llama. Our primary reason for selecting dogs over a llama is because dogs can cover a number of large paddocks by running through small openings in the fence where llamas and even alpaca cria won't go through.
Probably the single most important piece of special equipment you will need is a scale. You should have a scale that will measure in 10ths of a pound. It is very important to be able to accurately weigh your alpacas. It is difficult to judge the body condition of your alpaca through all that fleece and you need to know its weight in order to determine the dosage for many medications. Cria need to be weighed every day for the first week or so and then weekly for the next few months to make sure they are continually gaining weight. If you have a digital platform scale you can use that by weighing yourself and then weighing yourself while holding the cria.
There are a number of things to consider before launching into the breeding industry. It is best to talk to as many experienced breeders as possible. You will gain lots of useful information from people who have already done the legwork. If you are serious it is advisable to develop a business plan. To be able to register your offspring you will need to become a member of the Alpaca Registry, Inc (ARI) and apply for herd registration. The registry office can send you the appropriate forms. Also, join the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA).
Some people buy a couple of geldings to begin with and once they feel confident that alpacas really are extremely easy to manage, they take the next step to start a breeding herd. For most breeders though, they simply want to get going as soon as possible and enjoy the experience as they learn along the way.
The average gestation period for an alpaca is 345 days. This is only an average, ranging from 320 to 365 days or more. Most of the cria's development takes place in the last 3 months of gestation. Births are generally trouble-free and most occur before the middle of the day. Cria should be 12 - 20 pounds at birth and most will be on their feet and nursing within 2 to 3 hours. The mothers are often very protective and the cria will stay with its mother until weaning at 5 to 6 months of age. Females are usually re-bred 21 days after giving birth.
Females continue to grow until around 2 years of age. Females become sexually mature at around 12 to 18 months of age and once they reach 90 - 100 pounds in weight. Males can display sexual interest from a few weeks of age but are not sexually active or fertile until 18 months to 3 years of age.
Alpacas do not have a breeding season and provided they are receptive, females can be mated at any time of the year. Like rabbits and cats, female alpacas are "induced ovulators" which means it is the act of mating that causes them to ovulate.
Alpacas mate in the "cush" (prone) position and if a female is not receptive (already pregnant) she will refuse to sit down and probably spit at the male. This rejection response, known as a "spit-off," is used in the management of the female to regularly monitor the progress of her pregnancy.
Eventually you will probably want to own your own stud but we don't t recommend it to start with. The females you purchase will probably be bred when you get them so you are set until the following year anyway. If you buy a breeding male to start out with you immediately have to build 2 sets of infrastructure, one for your females and another for your male. This complicates the start up process significantly. Also, like most species, intact males of breeding age are a bit more difficult to handle. Their urge to breed dominates their behavior. There are many good quality studs around and their owners would be happy to breed your females for you. Stud fees can range from $500 to $5000 or more. Generally you should expect to pay around $2000 to breed to a good show quality male.
Alpacas are generally hardy and disease resistant but benefit greatly by preventative medicine and ready access to veterinary services. In an area with whitetail deer populations, an inexpensive monthly injection of Ivermectin or Dectomax to prevent meningeal worm is necessary. Essential minerals to the species including, selenium and phosphorus should be provided in a grain mixture. Nail care and trimming is important and should not be allowed to grow long and curl.
The answer is generally yes. Alpacas have proven to be amazingly resilient animals. Alpacas are being raised successfully in Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, Florida and also in Alaska and many Canadian provinces. Certainly, in the hotter, more humid climates, the alpaca breeder does need to take health and safety precautions, like shearing fleeces off early in the year, providing plenty of fresh water to drink and dip their bellies into, and areas of shade.
Price, as always, is a reflection of demand. Price is also directly related to the individual breeding potential and the potential quality of the offspring.
The slow rate of reproduction means that supply is unlikely to exceed demand in the foreseeable future.
For example, a gelding (castrated male) has no breeding potential and is therefore the cheapest alpaca to buy (around $500 to $1,000). On the other hand, a high quality male with many good progeny on the ground has a very high breeding potential and can be worth many thousands of dollars. He can also command a high income from the stud services he provides.
Female prices are a reflection of quality, age, breeding history and to which stud male she is mated. Females can be worth anywhere from several thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.
Income from females is derived from selling the offspring. However, breeding plans should be made so that long term depreciation of the older breeders and increases in quality of offspring are taken into account.
The fiber industry continues to evolve along with the breeding industry. The dynamics of the alpaca industry will continue to change but the potential for a financially rewarding business opportunity will still exist.
Alpaca fiber is sold several ways. Hand-spinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece. Knitters often purchase alpaca yarn. Fiber Cooperatives Mills collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer.
Most alpacas make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations. Like any livestock, the more handling they receive as youngsters, the quieter they are as adults. Given time, most alpacas will eat out of your hand and training them to lead by a halter is a straightforward process.
Alpacas generally don't like being held and are particularly sensitive to being touched on the head. They are naturally curious and intelligent and if you let them approach you, rather than rush at them and expect an affectionate response, the interactions can be very rewarding.
It is possible to have a single alpaca, but it is not a pleasant existence for the animal. Alpacas are herd animals and are instinctively gregarious, as are other domestic livestock. They obtain security and contentment from having at least one other alpaca for company.
For this reason, it is usually recommended that two alpacas is the desirable minimum.
Compared with other livestock, alpacas are relatively disease free. Vaccination programs vary by geography and based on your veterinarian's advice.
When buying alpacas for breeding purposes it is advisable to arrange a veterinary check to ensure you are buying a healthy animal.
Some gardens contain a number of plants that are toxic to most livestock (oleander, rhododendron, laburnum, etc.). Care should be taken when fencing off gardens that such plants do not overhang into alpaca areas. There is a history of calamities with other livestock that have inadvertently been fed prunings from such plants. Local nurseries can provide good advice on poisonous plants or check with your county extension agent.