A. Alpaca owners and breeders come from all walks of life. Many are doctors, financial advisors, educators, veterinarians or cattle farmers, to name a few. Some raise alpacas as a full-time business, others are part-time breeders. From young families to empty-nesters, phased retirement to full-retirement, raising alpacas offers countless options for everyone.
Q. Why do people raise alpacas?
A. 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.
Q. How do you transport an alpaca?
A. If traveling for short distances, they can be transported inside vans or other larger vehicles. Most folks put down a piece of old carpeting or inexpensive 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” (that is, sit down) for the journey. Longer distances require transport in a livestock trailer.
Q. How much acreage does it take to raise an alpaca?
A. You can usually raise two to seven alpacas per acre, depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, etc. They can also be raised on dry lot and fed grass hay, if desired. Consult with your local County Extension Officer for specific local recommendations.
Q. Are alpacas easy to care for?
A. They are a small and relatively easy livestock to maintain. They establish communal dung piles that are easy to manage. They need basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather, and because they are livestock, they do require certain vaccinations and anti-parasitic medicines. Additionally, they are sheared once a year and their toenails need to be trimmed every couple of months. They don’t hooves, but two toes, with hard toenails on the top of their feet and a soft pad on the bottom, much like a dog’s foot. Therefore, you don’t experience compaction of the soil to the same degree that you would with other types of livestock.
Q. What type of shelter and fencing do alpacas need?
A. This varies widely, depending on such things as weather and predators. But as a general rule, alpacas need at least a three-sided, open shelter where they can escape inclement weather. Perimeter fencing should be a minimum of five-foot-high, 2″ by 4″ no-climb fencing to keep out predators, including dogs.
Q. What do alpacas eat?
A. Alpacas eat mainly grass or hay – approximately two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. A single, 60-pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of about 20 alpacas for one day. Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, because it has high protein content that can be unhealthy for the animals. Additionally, all alpacas require access to free-choice mineral supplements and plenty of fresh water to drink.
Q. When do you think supply will outweigh demand?
A. The alpaca fiber industry is becoming more mature. Breeders have more options for their fiber now than ever before. The dynamics of the alpaca industry will continue to change but the potential for a financially rewarding business opportunity will still exist. A well developed business plan and multiple revenue streams for your business will help ensure success.
Q. How many ounces of fiber will one alpaca produce?
A. An adult alpaca might produce 50 to 90 oz. (3.8 to 5.7 lb) of first-quality fiber as well as 50 to 100 oz. (3.1 to 6.3 lb) of second and third quality fiber. Some alpacas already achieve, or exceed, these levels.
Q. Who buys the fiber?
A. Alpaca fiber is sold several ways. Hand-spinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece. Knitters purchase alpaca yarn. Fiber buyers (such as Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of America and the Alpaca Blanket Project), have annual fiber collections and process it on behalf of the producer. There are many smaller mills throughout the country that process fleece into yarn, rovings, and felted products.
Q. What is alpaca fiber worth?
A. This can vary. Raw fiber can be sent to AFCNA, an alpaca fiber co-op or a fiber broker like the Alpaca Blanket Project. Payment rates vary based on grade and quality of the fiber, from $0.50 – $5.00 per pound. Breeders can then purchase finished products from AFCNA or ABP and sell them at profit. Breeders can also send their fiber to one of many mini mills and have their fiber made into yarn, rovings and lots of other products. Finally, some breeders process their fiber themselves, shearing, skirting, spinning and making a finished garment. This takes more time, but they can also set their own price for their finished products and make more money.