Yes, You Really Want to do This!
Now what? More research!
Develop your alpaca philosophy and business approach. Ask yourself, “What are my long term objectives?” Your objectives can always be changed as you gain experience but you need to have goals in mind about why you want to be in the alpaca business. Some options are:
For Breeding and Showing. Focus is on high quality conformation and fleece through genetics.
For Fiber. Focus is on fiber quality. Those alpacas that consistently produce desirable fleece characteristics.
For Pets and Public Relations. Focus is on animal disposition, training, and handling.
For Fiber Arts. Focus is on processing the fleece and end-products of the fiber.
Decide whether you will be bringing your animals home right after purchasing or will you be agisting (boarding).
Check into what zoning codes/laws apply to your property. Can you raise alpacas on your property? What building permits will be needed?
Find a veterinarian. Preferably one experienced with alpacas or camelids. Or, a large animal vet willing to learn. Understand the vet’s fee structure and availability. Have knowledge of a backup vet for emergencies when your vet is unavailable.
Locate feed distributors and determine availability, costs, and minimums. Distributors will be needed for pellets or chow (alpaca or llama), mineral supplements, and hay.
Research your avenues for capital outlay. Seller financing, bank/SBA loans, cash, retirement funds. Please remember that one of the worst things to do is to go heavily in debt when starting a new business.
Get prices on insurance for your farm/ranch (building, liability, equipment, vehicles, etc.) and for your alpacas. Alpacas are 100% insurable at approximately 3.50 cents per $100 depending on age, sex, and use. Recommended insurers:
Prairie States Insurance
Wilkins Livestock Insurance
Develop a business plan, start-up (capital budget), and 5 year operating budget. When developing your capital and operating budgets ask yourself, “How much annual income do I desire from my alpaca business?” Your business plan and budgets will be revised as time passes and you gain more insight and experience. I know it’s not fun, but unless you have unlimited funds, you need to put down on paper what you are going to buy, why, and how much you are going to spend. Business plan references:
Mike Safley at Northwest Alpacas
Alpaca Business Plan, Eileen L. Davis, $12
See Key Sections to a Business Plan
Design pasture layouts, fencing, barns. Plan for a series of small paddocks in your pasture layout. As your herd grows, there are always needs to segregate (males, females, birthing, breeding, weaning, sick/injured, pasture rotation, herd compatibility). Fence off ponds and creeks or else the alpacas will stay in the water constantly and rot their fleece. Main concern with perimeter fencing is keeping predators out. Main concern on internal fencing is to keep alpacas separate.
Perimeter Fencing. We used 5’ high, 12.5 gauge, 2” X 4” no-climb woven horse fence wire set on 8’ t-posts. There is a wire knot wrapped around each joint plus a smooth wire woven across the top and bottom for stabilization. Choose a knot that goes all the way around the joint and meets or closes off to itself so there is little chance of the alpacas snagging their fleece on it. If you have a bad predator problem you can run barbed wire or an electric wire along the outside of the top and/or bottom of the perimeter fencing. Run the barbed wire or electric wire about 6” from the top or 6” above the ground.
Internal Fencing. We used 4’ high, 12.5 gauge, 2” X 4” no-climb woven horse fence wire set on 6’ t-posts.
Shelters/Shade Sheds. Here in the deep south we need sheds more to protect our alpacas from the sun (providing shade) than to protect them from inclement weather. A 1, 2, or 3-sided shed will suffice. During the spring, summer, and fall, make sure the air flows readily through the sheds. Additionally, you can provide fans and put up shade cloth. During the winter you can put up tarps to keep the wind and blowing rain out of the shelters.
Barn. Alpacas generally don’t like to be in a barn, they prefer the outdoors. This makes things easier on us in the south. As long as your sheds protect the alpacas from the sun, wind, and rain, I can’t say a barn is necessary. If you build a barn, it could be used for injured/sick animals, animals prior to a show, shearing, health days, educational seminars, storage, etc. It’s also convenient to have your business office and a bathroom in the barn, but here in the south that means air conditioning!
Water should be run to each paddock and the barn.
Electricity should be run to each shed and the barn.
Gates. You never have enough internal gates! Internal gates should be as high as your fencing and have enough bars so a cria can’t crawl through. If the need arises, you can cover them with mesh wire attached with tie straps. Set gates low to the ground so cria can’t roll out. Use easy open (one-handed) latches. Make sure at least one gate in each paddock is wide enough for your large farm equipment to fit through. Have as few gates as possible in your perimeter fencing and be sure the gates are as high as your perimeter fencing, set low to the ground, covered with 2” X 4” panels or wire, and fit tight to the fence posts. This deters predators.
Forage/Grasses. Check with your county extension agent to see what grows best in your area. Make sure your pastures are endophyte-free. A Bermuda Grass variety is what we use in the south.
Trees. Check with your county extension agent and veterinarian for possible toxic trees. Once planted, cut low branches and protect the trunk bark with hardware cloth. Alpacas are browsers and will strip your trees bare!
Drainage. Ensure proper drainage in your paddocks, around your sheds and barn areas.
Manure Collection and Disposal. Collection by wheel barrow and shovel? By lawn vacuum? Disposal by selling, composting, etc.? Be prepared, alpacas poop a lot!
Facilitate Movement of Animals. Use alleyways and lanes, portable panels and catch pens.
Storage. Needed for equipment. Buckets, feed bowls, hoses, show supplies, scale, feed, hay, tack, vet supplies, fleece, and farm equipment and tools.
Equipment and Tools.
Waterers. Ease in cleaning (summer or winter) is a must. Use buckets or automatic waterers. Here in the south make sure the water provided is in a shaded area during the spring, summer, and fall.
Feeders. For hay use bunkers, sheep or goat feeders, or home made feeders, not the ground. For pellets or grain use rubber bowls, PVC troughs, or small rubber feeders that hang on the fence or gates. For minerals use a small container that will hang on the fence or gate. Protect minerals from moisture.
Tack. Halters, lead ropes, toe-nail clippers.
Digital platform scale to weigh animals.
Kitchen scale to weigh feed.
Farm Equipment and Tools.
Wheel Barrow. Wide base, large, 2-wheel are the easiest to handle. Use separate wheel barrows for feeding and manure collection.
Shovel. Long handle (less bending), flat shaped head (vs spade shaped), light weight.
Tarps/Shade Cloth. Tarps are used on the sheds in winter for rain and wind protection. Tarps can also be used to protect your hay and equipment year round. Shade cloth is used in the spring, summer, and fall to provide additional protection from the sun.
Bungee Cords. You never have enough. Get all sizes.
Tie Straps. Over 15” long.
Trailer. Livestock or horse trailer.
Riding Lawn mower.
PVC/Herding Tape. ¾” white PVC pipe in 10’ to 15’ lengths or a light-weight cotton horse lunge line to help “round up” animals.
Anything you think of that might make your life easier.
Record Keeping. You will need record keeping systems for herd management and for financial/tax purposes. They can be manual or automated. The point is to KEEP RECORDS. Recommendations are:
AlpacaEase Herd Management Software
Quick Books Financial Software
Purchasing Alpacas. When visiting farms looking for animals to buy, notice how much “hands on” care is evident. This can be determined by how the breeder interfaces with the animals in your presence, as well as, through questions about the daily routine of the farm/ranch. Purchasing alpacas that are used to being touched and haltered makes start-up easier.
How many? Alpacas are herd animals and don’t do well when left alone. If you buy only one you should agist where it can be among a herd. Or buy a pet/PR/fiber animal or 2 or 3 as companions. Look at package deals e.g. a bred female with cria at her side is a 3-in-1 package.
What kind and age of animals do you want to purchase?
Pet/PR Animals. $500-$2,000. Focus is on animal’s disposition and level of training. These animals may have conformational and fleece issues. Many are used for PR animals to take to schools, nursing homes, and fairs. Or, as companions for sick/injured animals and weanlings. They can be entered in performance classes at shows and used for 4-H projects.
Fiber Animals. $500-$2,000. Focus is on quality fiber. They too may have conformational issues. Many are used for the same things as Pet/PR animals. In addition, they have the added bonus of quality fleece that can be shown and processed into end-products.
Males. $2,000 and up. The majority of males don’t make herdsires. Starting out it’s usually best to wait to buy a herdsire or junior herdsire until you know what qualities you want in your breeding program and what qualities you want to enhance in your females. I don’t believe you can make a lucrative living off stud fees alone. Initially, buy females that are bred and come with breed backs. Stud fees run from $500-$5,000 each.
Maiden Females. $5,000 and up. 14-24 months old, breeding age, but have never had a cria. Their fleece and conformation qualities that will be passed along to offspring are easily evident. It can be a challenge to get a maiden bred, have her sustain the pregnancy, experience an uneventful birth, produce lots of milk, and be a good mother. A maiden has no track record for breeding, birthing or being a “mom.”
Proven Females. $10,000 and up. Have had a cria before. They have a proven track record on breeding, birthing, and being a “mom.” Look for those that get pregnant easily, sustain their pregnancies, have uneventful births, produce lots of milk, and are good moms. Their fleece and conformation quality has usually deteriorated with age, but they have the history of production. Research an older female’s offspring to learn what features she adds to the genetic mix. Look at her offspring in person or at least pictures of them.
Weanlings-Male or Female. $2,000 and up. Should be no younger than 6 months of age. Are easily trained. Females can be entered in shows up until they enter your breeding program (showing pregnant females is too stressful on them). Males don’t have these issues and can be entered in shows as long as you’d like. Weanlings are usually lower in price because they aren’t of breeding age and aren’t proven producers.
I recommend you purchase the best animals you can afford and when it comes to breeding your females, always try to breed up to correct undesirable conformation and fleece characteristics and to enhance desirable characteristics.