Q: Can I start with one pregnant female?
You really should plan on getting two or more animals. Believe it or not, these critters get lonely. They reportedly will die in isolation (although I'm not sure this gets tested too often). If you can afford it, more females would get your herd growing twice as fast. Breeding pairs alone are not usually a good idea to start with, because you shouldn't keep stud males in constant contact with pregnant females. Plus, you want to retain strict control over breeding. So the pair would have to be kept apart almost all of the time, so you're back to the isolation problem again.
A good way to handle this problem is to purchase one or two young, inexpensive males or geldings. Males that are under 6 months or so are just OK to keep in with females, but you'll really need to separate them if they are older than that. This would be the most economical way to start out. Once the female gives birth, she's got her own companion, at least until weaning. Or, you could buy a pregnant female with her young unweaned cria still at side, which they sometimes call a "3-in-one package." If the cria in a three-in-one is male, you'll need to figure on buying another young male or gelding companion for him when he's ready for weaning.
You'll quickly learn that having two males and two females to keep each other company is the ideal starter small-ranch situation. You can probably arrange an attractive package deal with a couple of males or geldings to go with your breeders.
Q: How risky are alpacas as an investment?
Alpacas, like any livestock (or any investment), are not without risk. You'll probably want to carry insurance on your most valuable animals. Plus, while there's an overall 50% chance you'll get females, the rest, by definition, will be males. One farm bought five females to start with, thinking that we'd increase the odds of getting at least two females per year. Well, their first four births were males. This was very discouraging at first, but the next six in a row were females. It's rare, but a top quality male can actually fetch a higher price than a female (but not often).
Of course, everybody hopes for females, an essential element of a compounding livestock investment. It takes two years or more before a male can be productive, while you can begin breeding females much sooner (14-18 months). Also, animals that you purchase can be depreciated over a five-year period, giving you a tax break at the same time you are earning "interest" as offspring. For many, this is the principal benefit of alpaca ownership (and a significant one at that) during the first few years.
Q: Which breed would you suggest as the best to start with?
Pick animals you like. But do your homework and learn more about what to look for before you buy. The latest, hottest market is for colored suri alpacas. There are fewer suris than huacayas in the world, as well as in this country. For centuries, suris were bred to yield only white fiber, and colored suris were culled from the South American herds. Now, in North America, there is tremendous interest in colored suris, and good specimens command premium prices. It is likely this trend will continue for some time, but the breeder's market is always changing. So five years from now, it could be Chilean/Peruvian mix huacayas that are hot. Whatever animals you choose, it pays for a small breeder to choose the best quality. You have to work a little harder to get people to come to a small ranch with fewer animals to choose from, so it helps if you can offer them outstanding animals.
Q: What are Accoyo Alpacas?
The name "Accoyo" refers to an Alpaca that has been bred at Estancia Accoyo in Peru. In the United States we use the name "Accoyo" to refer to alpacas imported from the estancia or to direct descendants of these imports. An alpaca is considered to be a pure Accoyo if its parents are both pure Accoyos.
So the real question must be: why do alpaca breeders care about maintaining an unbroken link to a ranch in Peru? The answer is in the location of the ranch itself, the breeding program there, and the care of the animals.
Estancia Accoyo is located in Maccusani, Peru at 15,000 feet above sea level. Since there are few places in the world where animals of any kind are raised at that altitude, it follows that only hearty animals prosper. And since alpacas are valued primarily for their fleece, it is easy to assume that they would have superior coats. This has been proven at alpaca shows in Peru and the United States. According to National Geographic Magazine, Maccusani, Peru, is the world center for Alpaca fiber production.
While there are other ranches on the Alta Plano of Peru, it is Don Julio Barreda at his Estancia Accoyo who has controlled and maintained the breeding program that has made these animals world famous. The political turmoil in Peru has had a toll on the many ranches and their alpaca herds. Only Don Julio has maintained the royal bloodlines, breeding carefully. In his own words: "I have been able to breed well- defined Alpaca phenotypes with an absence of atypical animals. I attribute Accoyo's success at breeding Alpacas with superior production qualities to the father's lineage."
The care of the animals at Estancia Accoyo may be another factor. The fact is, he has produced superior animals who, by natural selection, survive in this harsh environment, eating only what nature provides. Don Julio, on his visits to North America, has some interesting thoughts on the environment here and the effect of our more involved herd management. Highlight Accoyos in North America for excerpts from a speech on this subject made by Don Julio in Oregon on July 3, 1999.
Q: How much time per day will I need to set aside to care for the animals?
You need to feed them hay and grain once or twice a day, and clean the pastures periodically. With 22 animals and very small acreage, we used to clean pastures thoroughly at least twice a week. It depends on the size of your pasture, how many paddocks you have, whether you're using rakes and wheelbarrows or a tractor with a manure vacuum, how many teenagers you can employ, etc. If you have several paddocks, you can rotate your animals. You want to keep things clean to help protect the fiber, and you need to keep things a little extra clean in the "maternity ward" for the first few weeks after a new cria is born. I'd plan on a minimum of 30 minutes each day for two animals. But it wouldn't increase proportionally; maybe 60 minutes for 10 animals. But of course you'll want to spend some time with them each day beyond the care and feeding.
Q: We don't have our ranch yet. Is there any way we can get started anyway?
If you want to get started without having to spend any time at all, most breeders offer agistment (boarding) services, and some offer sharecropping. This means you buy the animals but leave them on the farm where you bought them, like you would if you paid boarding fees. Except that when you sharecrop, there are no monthly expenses you have to deal with. The ranch pays all expenses in return for half-interest in the offspring. Naturally, sharecropping only applies to females. But you don't need to worry about feed, insurance, boarding fees, or routine vet bills. Large, unexpected vet emergencies or surgery costs are usually the only shared expense.
Agistment is how we got started. We got our herd growing a full two years before we had a place of our own to put them. The agistment arrangement was perfect for our needs. We had a chunk of money to invest, but not a lot of cash flow to take care of expenses, and no place in our suburban digs to put the animals.
Q: How much does it cost to feed an alpaca?
Very roughly, you can figure it costs about $200 per year to feed one average alpaca. It varies throughout the year, because in the winter, you must supply the entire diet, while in summer you only supplement. When available, fresh grass is preferable to hay. If you have enough pasture, you can cut down considerably on hay costs. Some feed llama pellets year round, but usually give them a bit more in the winter months - especially pregnant and nursing mothers. Llama pellets are a mixture of grain and supplements, usually produced locally and available at feed stores. If you have rodent-proof storage available, you might save money buying pellets in quantity. Some ranchers mix their pellets with rolled corn & molasses.
You need to figure around 1/3 ton of hay per animal to get them through the year in our area. We pay $180/ton for orchard grass hay. If you have long winters in your area you will need more. We give each of our animals a cup or two of grain pellets each day. A 50 pound bag of pellets costs around $10.00. All in all, it costs less to feed an alpaca than it costs to feed the average dog.
Q: How much can I can expect to spend on vet and other bills per year?
This depends on your level of experience with animal care, local vet prices, your personal threshold of concern, and, of course, luck. How much you are willing and able to do yourself? We decided to call the vet when we first set up shop, just to meet him, have him meet the animals, and teach us the way to handle routine stuff like cutting toenails, giving vitamin shots, showing us handling tricks, etc. You should plan on spending more the first year or so, until you feel comfortable taking on some of the work yourself. Learn to give your own injections, clip toenails, file teeth. Meantime, call the vet for the first few birthings, have him show you how to give injections and clip toenails, etc. Cutting fighting teeth is something you generally don't need to do until you have a 3 to 4 year old male. After that, you might only have to do it one more time in his life.
Q: How much does insurance cost per year?
The insurance rate is about 3.5% of the animal's value per year. You'll want to insure your valuable animals, but you don't necessarily need to insure all of them.
Q: How many alpacas can you put on an acre?
You can graze about 5 alpacas per acre, comfortably; you can keep 10 alpacas per acre, but you'll need more hay. You can keep a lot of alpacas on a small acreage, if you supplement with more hay and grain and keep the place nice and clean. The more grass you have, the less hay you'll need.
Q: What kind of shelter do you need to provide for alpacas?
You should provide enough cover and a windbreak so that they can have shade and weather protection when they need it. In colder climates, You should have an enclosed (not heated) barn to protect nursing and pregnant mothers and their young cria on cold nights.
Q: Why are people spending so much money on these critters?
Well, it's still a breeder's market, and will continue to be for some time. The thing that will keep alpacas valuable in the long run is the fact that the animal has intrinsic value in its remarkable fleece. As the national herd grows, the fiber output will increase until eventually there will be enough volume to enter the mass market with domestic alpaca products. There are only around 20,000 alpacas in this country, compared to millions of sheep. But you can also pay many thousands of dollars for top quality merino sheep, whose fiber is of a quality similar to alpaca.
People are making money on alpacas, and even if they don't try and make a living at it, alpacas are part of a lifestyle for many of us. Alpacas are some of the easiest critters to take care of, they are pleasant, gentle, earth-friendly, clean, they don't smell, and they produce beautiful fiber.
Q: Should I buy super-pacas or is it OK to start with less expensive animals?
You can certainly get started with less expensive alpacas. If you are interested in the fiber, you can start with non-breeding alpacas, such as geldings. The fiber from a gelding is just as valuable, and you can sell it or use it for your own creations.
For breeding, you can save some money by buying less "glamorous" females and "breeding up" to quality herdsires. You can buy good-looking young unproven males, which are far less expensive than proven studs, to save yourself breeding fees. The only penalty from this approach is having to wait a little longer for your herd to grow. You can also purchase weanling females, which are usually less expensive for the same reason. Another great way to get good deals is to buy females with cria still at side. A cria less than 4 months old is still dependent on its mother, so many ranches sell them as a package, usually for a substantial discount.
No matter what you do, buy animals you like! Look at lots of animals on lots of different ranches, and forget the "package discount" philosophy. For what little it might save you up front, you could end up regretting it later if you didn't get the animals you really liked.
Q: Could you give me some suggestions about fencing?
Here are a couple of random tips: Make sure you put mesh fencing around the perimeter of your property to discourage predators. If you can, go for the 2x4 mesh fencing. Large or graduated mesh fencing allows the alpacas to stick their necks through for the grass on the other side. I'd prefer they couldn't do this. Plus, there are plenty of unwelcome critters that can slip through graduated mesh. Chain link is more costly but it is stronger and you can have them coated in colors that compliment your fields. Plus, it provides more protection against unwelcome critters and prevents the fleece from being pulled out or frayed when an alpaca brushes against it.
Q: I don't know anything about farming. How can I learn more?
Most Alpaca farmers and breeders are more that happy to assist you with any questions you may have. There are many "free" seminars and/or classes held annually at several farms. We take pride in being available to assist you until you have "learned it all" or are at least comfortable enough to begin assisting your own customers. AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association) holds three to four days of seminars at the Annual National Conference that are the best you can go to. They also have a library you can borrow books from. Your local or state associations offer seminars as well. Some of the training offered is: husbandry/breeding; show fleece preparation; showmanship; neo-natal clinics; medical needs; carding, dying, spinning and weaving of fleece; fencing and field maintenance, etc.
Q: Can you have a Gift Shop to buy from?
Yes, we currently have a well stocked Alpaca products gift shop where you can purchase most types of items from raw fleece to spun yarn; hand-crafted in Peru rugs, stuffed animals, and slippers. Hand made and/or manufactured in Peru finger puppets, sweaters, capes, blankets, hats, gloves, etc. Check with your State for sales tax requirements. We highly recommend you set yourself up with a major credit card or two for customer convenience (as not too many carry cash or checks these days). We currently accept VISA and Master Card, checks and cash.
A web site is another way to sell Alpaca by-products. Try "PayPal" or some other type of on-line purchasing service for those "web shoppers". Information about your farm, Alpacas, gift shop, etc. on a web site can be reached by more people than your local newspaper or magazine. However, we still advertise in the American Livestock Magazine and recommend you advertise in the Alpaca Magazine or any other breeder magazine for added exposure if funds permit. The average full-page cover or first inside page add is about $600 an issue and as you go further into the magazine, the price decreases. Magazine adds can be as small as your business card and are very affordable for those just starting out. I know we view both small and large advertisements so don't feel you have to spend a lot of money.
Q: Can you recommend a good breeder to buy from?
Since you asked.... we have over 30 outstanding show-winning huacaya & suri alpacas, who enjoy the lush forage on 18-1/2 acres at C R Alpacas, Inc. in Chagrin Falls (Auburn Twp.), Ohio. Call Cheryl or Ross at 440-543-6114 (farm), 440-725-6365 (Cheryl's cell), 440-289-1389 (Ross's cell) or email us at: email@example.com to arrange a visit or private consultation. We will even schedule and take you to other recommended alpaca farms nearby, after you visit our farm!
Q: What plants, if any, are poisonous to alpacas?
Please consult with your veterinarian to discuss the plants poisonous to alpacas in your area. Listing from Univ. of Illinois Champaign/Urbana or Listing from Cornell University or Poisonous Plants in Canada There could be plants in your area that are also poisonous to alpacas that are not on this list.
Q: Do you have a vaccination schedule for LLAMAS & ALPACAS?
Here is a schedule from the Newburg Veterinary Hospital website. This website provides llama and alpaca information as a public service, but cannot guarantee how current or accurate the information may be. Always consult with your personal veterinarian before acting on any treatments to your animals. Information given here is not a substitute for qualified professional advice from your veterinarian. Also, keep in mind that procedures vary to different parts of the country and the specific needs of your animals.
Q: What about the West Nile Virus for LLAMAS & ALPACAS?
Here is an update link from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon with very positive immunization test results. Again, always consult with your personal veterinarian before acting on any treatments to your animals. Information given here is not a substitute for qualified professional advice from your veterinarian. Also, keep in mind that procedures vary to different parts of the country and the specific needs of your animals.
Q: Do you have other Health & Management Information for LLAMAS & ALPACAS?
Here is another website that can be used for both Llamas & Alpacas called the HEALTH & MANAGEMENT CORNER website. Health Corner provides llama and alpaca information as a public service, but cannot guarantee how current or accurate the information may be. Again, always consult with your personal veterinarian before acting on any treatments to your animals. Information given here is not a substitute for qualified professional advice from your veterinarian. Also, keep in mind that procedures vary to different parts of the country and the specific needs of your animals.
Another great website is the Llama and Alpaca Health These links lead to articles that may be helpful in keeping your animals healthy, or in recognizing and treating disease. Chelle Rogers tried to keep the links to those written by veterinarians or specialists in some field, but a few are written by the general public. Many diseases or conditions may appear similar, so veterinary diagnosis is extremely important. As always, check with your own vet before trying a cure or medication.
Q: What about Blue-Eyed-White alpacas and their genetics? It's in the Genes
Q: Foot and Mouth Disease: Are Llamas and Alpacas at Risk?
Here is a Foot and Mouth Disease research report from David E Anderson, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS; Associate Professor, Ohio State University found on the Alpaca Registry website.
Q: Are you and your Alpacas "Winter Ready"? Click here to print your checklist.
Q: What is BVD / BVDV?
It is called Bovine Viral Diarrhea Virus. Here is a link for more details and references.
We have had ALL our alpacas BVDV tested and are happy to report that we are BVD FREE and to make sure our farm remains BVD FREE, any visiting alpacas are required to provide BVD certificates of negative exposure or are immune before arrival and all our newborn cria shall be tested immediately after birth!
Q: What is Haemonchus contortus?
It is also called Barber's pole worm, Stomach worm, wireworm. Though rarely seen in alpacas it is still possible if exposed.
Here is a website link that explains and provides prevention tips
Q: What is Eperythrozoonosis (Epe)? Though rare for alpacas (it is usually a Pig disease), it is not impossible if exposed.
bred female - A pregnant alpaca.
cria - A baby
alpaca, usually younger than 5 months.
dam - An
maiden - A
alpaca old enough to be bred but not yet been exposed or confirmed
fiber - The
fleece of an alpaca.
huacaya - (Wah-kay-ya)
A type of alpaca with fine fiber and a wooly appearance.
suri - (Sir-ee)
of alpaca with tightly-wound fiber that looks like dreadlocks.
fiber quality male
- A male alpaca whose genetic characteristics are not worthy of breeding.
sire or herd sire
- An alpaca's father, or a male alpaca with the genetic characteristics
desirable for breeding.
junior herd sire - An
alpaca old enough to begin breeding but has not yet been proven or settled
weanling - A
weaned alpaca, younger than 1 year.
yearling - An
alpaca between 1 and 2 years old.
adult - An
alpaca between 2 years old and up.
orgle - The sound a male vocalizes while breeding to help female induce ovulation.
humming - A sound the alpaca vocalizes in order to communicate with one another.
clicking/clucking- A sound expressing endearment or to comfort another alpaca companion.
pronking - When an alpaca bound, jump, leap or spring - in which the back is arches and the legs are held stiffly downwards as the alpaca repeatedly leaps off the ground and lands on all four legs simultaneously. Usually, an expression of joy, fun, excitement or play.
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