Owning and Breeding Alpacas
Like most livestock, alpacas need the basics of fenced paddocks, shelter and water. Alpacas do not challenge fences, unlike sheep, horses or cattle, so the main purpose of the fences is to keep predators such as dogs and foxes out rather than alpacas in, and also to keep the males and females separate.
A structure will be required to protect your alpacas from the elements in particularly hot, windy or cold weather – whether a barn, polytunnel shelter or standard horse field shelter. Water will need to be changed and checked daily and can be provided in rubber buckets which are easily cleaned and moved between paddocks.
Alpacas are very good for your land. Unlike sheep and cattle they have soft padded hooves so do not damage the ground. They are gentle on the grass as well, grazing without ripping up the roots, whilst at the same time providing you with a free fertilizing service!
As herd animals it is incredibly important that alpacas are not kept alone – they must be with other alpacas. It is not recommended to graze alpacas with or immediately after sheep or cattle since they share some of the same worm parasites. You can run 3-5 alpacas per acre depending on the quality of your pasture, but ideally you would have more space than that so you can rotate their grazing to look after your land.
Day to day care & routine husbandry: What will they require? Are they disease prone/high maintenance? Are they easy to handle? How long do they live for?
Alpacas are hardy animals and have a lifespan of 20 years. They require less routine husbandry than sheep, but do need vaccinating a few times a year along with shearing and occasional toenail trimming. Despite being relatively problem free they may at times, like all livestock, require veterinary treatment.
They are very easy to handle and are good with children, making them ideal for tourism enterprises and small family farms. You will need to get to know your alpacas well as they are very stoic and resilient animals and will not show obvious signs of illness or injury until in a lot of pain, so picking up on small changes in behaviour and checking immediately is the best way to ensure you have a healthy herd.
Alpacas are ruminants and graze 2% of their body weight daily (compared to 3% for cattle) and should also be fed some pellets as a vitamin and mineral supplement to prevent deficiencies, particularly when pregnant or lactating. The quantity needed depends on the quality of your grazing but they should form no more than 20% of the diet. It is also a good idea to allow access to hay all year round as a lack of fibre can lead to rumen issues.
Is this a good investment? How much will it cost me to get set up and how much can I expect to make? Why should I invest now? Is the fleece the only product? What is the financial commitment?
To set up your herd we recommend you come to us for advice and help choosing a conformationally correct, healthy alpaca that will suit your needs. Alpacas range in price from £500 to £10,000+ for the top show winning stud males, but an average breeding female alpaca will cost in the region of £3,000. Returns are generated by sale of the fleece and breeding stock.
We have calculated that the running costs (averaged over 20 animals) for feed, haylage, vaccinating, vet bills and shearing costs are roughly £200 per animal per year, not including the fencing and setting up of the farm, though if you only have a smaller herd the costs could be a bit higher.
Alpacas have a lifespan of 15-20 years and females will breed every year as long as they are in good condition, though we tend to give our older girls every other year off.
So how can I purchase, own and breed good quality animals?
A female alpaca is mated to a stud male and 11 months later gives birth, usually incredibly easily, to a cria. Because of their origins in the high mountains of Peru alpacas give birth in the morning - not too early and not after lunchtime - otherwise it would have been too cold for the cria to survive, which is very good news for owners – no midnight worrying! Cria are up and running around within a few hours. At about 6 months it is a good idea to halter train your alpaca so they are easy to handle and can be taken to shows if you want to show off the fine fleece you are producing!
What kind of paperwork and regulations are involved? Do they need to be registered?
Alpacas do not need to be registered with DEFRA meaning there is significantly less paperwork involved than for sheep, goats and other typical farm animals. All alpacas must be registered with the British Alpaca Society and it is good practice for every animal to be microchipped.
About Alpaca Fleece
The UK Alpaca industry is a fibre industry and alpacas are shorn once a year for their fleece.
Alpacas produce a luxurious natural fibre in a range of colours, from white through fawns and browns to black. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca does not need to be dyed to make a finished product as it is already a beautiful colour. The minimum lanolin content in the fibre means no harsh chemicals are needed in the washing process, producing garments that are hypoallergenic and environmentally friendly.
There are so many great things about alpaca fibre that I don’t know where to start! It is long (easy to use), strong (stronger than merino), wonderfully soft (just get your hands on some and have a feel), silky and naturally bright and shiny. As well as all this, it produces lightweight garments that are incredibly warm, wick moisture away, have a high resistance to pilling and can be worn right next to the skin without being itchy. Environmentally and animal friendly – unlike the competition from cashmere, angora and mohair – alpaca is highly sought after.
An average alpaca produces 2.4kg of fibre per annum, with some producing up to 6kg. Density, fineness and uniformity are the key characteristics for a good, valuable fleece. Demand is huge, with alpaca being seen on high fashion catwalks and estimates saying that only 21% of worldwide demand for alpaca fibre is being met.
Where can I get started? How can I learn more about Alpacas?
Here at the Blackberry alpacas we provide help and support for new alpaca owners all over the UK and Europe
We have the time to let you be ‘hands-on’ with our alpacas, getting to know and love these wonderful creatures as much as we do. We can advise you on your farm set-up, help you select and find the right alpacas for you - whatever your requirements - and teach you how to look after and feel confident with your alpacas. We are more than happy to continue supporting you as much or as little as you would like once our alpacas have become yours. We love to visit and see how our girls are getting on and give you any advice or support you need with matings, birthing, weaning and all the big events in an alpaca’s life!
The British Alpaca Society (BAS) provides information, support and events for alpaca owners, breeders and those interested in alpacas, as well as maintaining the pedigree register for the national herd. Their website www.bas-uk.com is a very good resource.
To find out more about alpacas and ownership
call or join one of are alpaca days and get hands on on the farm