Alpacas are members of the South American camelid family, alpacas were bred over 6,000 years ago from the wild vicuna. Pre-dating even the Inca Empire, alpacas, and their cousin, the llama, were the only domesticated livestock in the New World before the arrival of the Europeans. They were an integral part of the culture and lifestyle of their Andean caretakers, serving as a source of food, fuel, clothing and transportation. With the Spanish Conquest of the Incas came the almost total annihilation of the alpaca and llama, along with much of the human population. Bred to be survivors, these hardy camelids prevailed in the unforgiving conditions of the Altiplano.
Today these animals number in the millions once again, but outside their native South America, their populations are still small.
Alpacas are intelligent, highly social animals, easy to care for and handle, appealing to look at and fun to have around. They communicate mainly through body posturing and a gentle humming sound.
Llamas typically range in size from about 200-400 lbs whereas alpacas are about 150-200lbs. While having many features in common each animal has been bred for different purposes.
The sweet-tempered, gentle alpaca is prized for its luxurious fibre, which is stronger and more resilient than merino sheep wool. Alpaca fibre comes in an extraordinary variety of 22 natural colours, ranging from pure white through fawn, to a range of browns and a true jet black. Luxurious garments are crafted from the silky fibre. The alpaca comes in 2 distinct breeds, Suri and Huacaya. Suris are the animals that look like they are wearing dreadlocks, whereas the Huacayas appear to be like a teddybear.
If retirement to the small block with a few friendly, majestic creatures to keep you company and supply enough fine fibre to home spin/knit clothing for the family is all that is desired, a few gelded males will be sufficient.
If however, return on investment, and a serious source of income are desirable, the more involved breeder status should be considered.
A primary investment benefit of owning alpacas is based on the concept of compounding. Savings accounts earn interest, which if left in the account, adds to principal. The increased principal earns additional interest, thereby compounding the investor's return. Alpacas reproduce almost every year, and about one-half of their cria (babies) are females. When you retain the offspring in your herd, they begin producing more cria.
Alpaca compounding is a method of tax-deferred wealth building. As your herd grows, you postpone paying income tax on its increasing value until such time as you begin selling the offspring.
Alpacas have, for more than two decades, been consistently sold for very high returns in New Zealand, Australia, and The United States. Much of the reasoning for this high price level is because of the desirable attributes. They are quite simply, lovely animals to farm. Beyond the emotionally based high values, alpaca breeding has generated high returns because:
Alpacas are scarce. There are only about 3 million alpacas in the world.
Some attributes of Alpacas are as follows:
Alpaca numbers will grow very slowly. New cria are born after an 11 1/2-month gestation period. Twins are extremely rare, and not desired.
The industry in the United States is starting to evolve into placing more of an emphisis on the quality of the fiber as opposed to earlier where it was shear multiplication. This is changing our industry for the better.
Alpacas are easily farmed on a small acrage, with stocking rates of about 5 to the acre.
They are low impact livestock. With soft, padded feet, the alpaca has an extremely low impact on fragile landforms.
They have a high resistance to internal parasites if maintained properly.
Alpacas are stimulated ovulators, thus they can be mated at any time of the year.
Alpacas are accustomed to using a communal poop pile.
Alpaca dung is a rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. Alpaca droppings are almost odourless, and are low in nitrogen.
Alpacas are grazers and chew their cud. They have a split upper lip which prevents them from damaging the vegetation's roots.
The average lifespan of an alpaca is 15 years, with some registered at 22 years.
Alpacas have a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. They convert grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
Alpacas are small and easy to handle. They are super intelligent animals, which makes them pleasant to be around and easy to train.
Alpacas are very adaptable to varied habitat, successfully being raised around the world from 15,000 feet to sea level.
Alpacas are Not slaughtered outside of their native South America, thus allowing us to profit from them without killing them!!! We harvest their fleece every year. This is a process no more painful than you getting a haircut.
At present, there are an estimated 3 million alpacas in the world. Of this 3 million, only some 400,000 are presently outside of South America.
Herd numbers in South America have, been static for many years. This is a result of:
Herd management, which is generally not as sophisticated as elsewhere.
Breeding success rate. Only about 40 to 60% in South America. In the US, this success rate is closer to 85-90%.
To the South American, the alpaca is still fibre, meat and hide. Average animal mortality (including cull) is 7-8 years, rather than the 15-16 years seen elsewhere.