Why Alpacas ?
For those who get into it, showing alpacas can be addictive ! It's a great way to benchmark your alpacas with others.
Alpacas are typically shown in classes separated by gender, colour, age and alpaca type. The winners of these classes come together to find a colour or an age champion and then and Overall Champion. There are often Judges' Choice and other awards. There are specialised fleece-only shows too.
Because alpaca judges explain their placement decisions in public at the time the class judging is finished, it can be a great learning experience.
We don't show our alpaca because of biosecurity concerns.
an income from breeding ?
winning show ribbons ?
something to eat grass ?
Alpacas are great eaters of grass and are much more environmentally friendly than a lawn-mower ! Buy three or four halter-trained and attractive males and you will have easily-kept, relaxed and friendly field "pets" for many years to come.
Non-breeding males are the cheapest way to own alpacas - you can pay from anywhere from £200-£1000 for a young male - the price variation often reflects their “cuteness”, age, degree of training and fleece quality.
If the males you choose have reasonable fleeces with good colour and some fineness, they should be able to earn their keep if you do something with the fleeces. If you are a craftsperson then you will have the pleasure of working with yarn that you have watched growing
As well as giving you all the benefits of working with these special animals, there are several business streams that follow on from alpaca-keeping in general and breeding in particular. Alpaca breeding is long-term thing though - don't expect meteoric business growth !
Rather than expanding your herd indefinitely you may prefer to sell some of your breeding stock. When selling breeding animals, the price tends to be governed by their pedigree, quality, age and the quality of the male to which a female is mated.
If you have your own stud male, then you may wish to share his genes with other breeders for the payment of stud fees. What you will be able to charge will depend again on his quality and breeding. If you buy or sell stud services though, pay very close attention to biosecurity.
an income from breeding ?
non-slaughter livestock option ?
Alpacas are an ideal livestock species for those who wish to operate a non-slaughter and low-impact agricultural business perhaps on a small scale. You could do this with non-breeding males and take advantage of their simple maintenance requirements, or you could buy females and breed them. .
Alpacas . . .
... require little by the way of infrastructure
... have soft feet and do little damage to vegetation as they graze
... are efficient grazers and don’t require heavily-fertilised pasture
... multiply slowly
You can use your alpacas’ fibre to give you income to help cover your herd costs or you could take it a little further and make it a business in itself through having your fleeces processed and then making finished items from the yarn, or indeed buying other's fleeces to increase the scale of what you do.
The more you do to the fleece, the more value you add. You may be able to sell an attractive raw fleece to a hand spinner for, say, £50 or more, but if you add some processing and sell yarn, felt, knitted or woven goods instead you can considerably increase both the revenue and margin. This involves work and some imagination but can be a great way to get your herd’s name known locally and further afield.
use their beautiful fleece ?
diversify your existing talents ?
You will have your own skills and talents before you became smitten by alpacas ! Alpacas owners are frequently new to livestock and frequently new to running a small business too. But maybe your prior skills are something that other alpaca keepers would pay for ?
You may have IT or business skills that you could package up and offer to other alpaca keepers, or maybe you're good with your hands and could offer specialist alpaca shelters.
Or, if you are in a popular holiday area and have suitable accommodation, what about running alpaca themed weekend breaks or even alpaca walks ? Or maybe your coffee shop customers can watch your alpacas grow fleece that you'll later turn into lovely items to sell in your gift shop ?
Will the authorities be interested in my alpacas ?
Alpacas in the UK are not food animals so Defra and the Scottish Government are, in general, not concerned about them. At the time of writing, you are not obliged to tag them, have “passports” for them, record their movements or have your land registered in order to keep them. This isn't a totally good thing though, as it does leave the management of alpacas open to some practices which are now considered to be very risky in other farmed livestock. Be sure that anyone from whom you plan to buy alpacas has a thorough approach to biosecurity.
If you are keeping alpacas “commercially” you will need an animal transport licence to transport them - check to see do the rules apply to you - but this isn't hard to acquire.
If you are farming in Scotland, then SGRPID will ask you to show your alpacas on your SAF in order to calculate stocking density on pasture. If you are planning to diversify, then both SGRPID and Defra recognise alpaca keeping as a legitimate agricultural diversification option.
So, in general, the authorities will leave you and your alpacas pretty much alone. This situation may change though, as alpacas are susceptible to some diseases that affect other livestock species and controls to tighten up on movements might be coming.
Finding a vet
Depending on where you live, you may find it rather difficult to find a vet with specific knowledge of alpacas although it is getting much easier. This is more of an issue if you are planning to breed your alpacas but less of a problem if you have non-breeding animals. The breeder from whom you bought your alpacas should offer you, as a novice, a good back-up with reassuring telephone support at the very least. We offer a lifetime of support and also insist on new owners having husbandry training here before their alpacas go home to them.
Your local vet can get support from their colleagues through the British Camelid Veterinary Society. There is a lot of information available on the internet (and plenty of rubbish too, of course) and several excellent books that you may wish to get to grips with. For a beginners guide, Gina Bromage’s excellent book "Llamas and Alpacas - a Guide to Management" is a boon.
On a related theme, just about every veterinary medicine is “off-label” for alpacas. This means that everything your vet does is pretty much not scientifically proven to help the alpaca but will have come into widespread use through practical experience. This can be a concern if they get anything exotic. Fortunately though, with appropriate care, they are very robust and shouldn’t trouble the vet much.
Don't alpacas spit ?
Yes, alpacas do spit. But, they reserve most of their spitting for keeping each other in line and, if you get caught in the crossfire, they almost certainly didn’t mean it - you’ll definitely read the signs better next time ! We would reckon to have been spat at no more than a dozen times in more than that many years - you really do need to provoke them into spitting.
And finally ...
Alpacas can, as previously mentioned, live for around twenty years. In that time, you will become very attached to your and alpacas will come to understand their individual personalities and foibles. You will be interacting with them daily and you will have the opportunity to do other things with them - leading them on walks, taking them to Shows, and spending time with them in their fields. You will also discover that there is a whole alpaca sub-culture out there with services being provided that you wouldn't ever have dreamt existed ! And, you'll start to see them everywhere - on your Facebook feed, on socks, on the TV and dotted about in fields that you had never even noticed before !
A feature of alpaca-keeping which you may think of as either an advantage or a disadvantage, is that they can rather come to dominate everything you do, every conversation you have, and everything you read. But what can possibly be wrong with that . . ?