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April 15, 2012 10:36 AM   Subscribe

Any alpaca farmers out there willing to answer some questions?

So my husband and I are thinking about turning our 2.75 acres into an Alpaca farm (ranch?). We know the lifestyle is doable for us, and are ready to learn and invest. We need some numbers to plug into our calculations to determine if we can do this. We have an appointment to visit a local breeder/farmer, who will hopefully answer questions, but we wanted to get answers from other sources as well. Thanks in advance for any info you can share.

1. How much fleece does the average alpaca yield yearly, and how much does this earn? and are some colors more desirable than others?

2. How much feed does an alpaca require, and what type (I've heard orchard grass hay is the thing...?)

3. How many acres are needed per animal (Or, how many animals could we have per acre?)

4. I understand that males and females must be corraled sparately, but that males need a companion with them...?

5. If one wanted to make a living raising alpacas, does the income come from fleece, or selling animals?

6. How does one transport alpacas?

Anything else I should know?

thanks again!
posted by hollyanderbody to Work & Money (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I am not an alpaca farmer, so perhaps you want to disregard this. But as soon as I read your question I thought "I bet making a living raising alpacas involves selling alpacas to people who think raising them is a way to make a living".

Next I googled alpaca farming. Every link from the first page confirms that suspicion, and half of them seem overtly scammy. A quote, from one page: Attention: you will get real "insider" information that is not available anywhere else. Insider information that you have to pay someone probably a bunch of money to get? That sets off my scam warning. There is much talk of investment potential and tax write-offs that seem designed to appeal to naive people that hope to make a quick buck.

Further reading indicates that the fleece isn't a high-demand product in North America (apologies if you are elsewhere) as there is no industry surrounding the fleece, limiting the market to hobbyist/craft type uses.

Another warning sign: Alpaca Registry, Inc. maintains a registry of breeding stock and, since 1998, has restricted registration to animals born of registered sire and dam. Since alpacas breed slowly, and it's a small market to begin with, this would appear to keep prices artificially high.

Then wiki lead me to the closer: Alpaca Lies?
Do Alpacas Represent the Latest Speculative Bubble in Agriculture?
(pdf link to a UC Davis report). I only skimmed this report but it appears to be pretty damning and, if you are at all serious about earning money from alpacas, you would do well to read the entire thing. I'll highlight the conclusion:
Our conclusion that current prices for alpaca stock are not supportable by market fundamentals and that the industry represents the latest in the rich history of speculative bubbles in agriculture may provide a useful caution for those considering investing in the industry. Further, the historical record suggests that subsequent speculative bubbles are destined to appear on agriculture’s horizon, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. The lessons that can be distilled from the U.S. alpaca experience may be useful in recognizing and mitigating the severity of these subsequent events and hence also reducing the harm inflicted upon unwary investors.
I believe my initial assumption is the correct one. You probably can make money if you have good breeding stock, but that money is only in selling to other hopefuls like yourselves. If the market crashes you'll be left with animals you paid tens of thousands of dollars for that won't be worth the hay you're feeding them with. Unless alpaca fleece (or meat) becomes a seriously in-demand product the market would seem to be bound to crash eventually as the supply of people thinking they can make money from alpacas must be pretty small.

Contrast alpaca farming to cattle. Why do you know cattle are a good investment, or at least can be a profitable business? Because people eat beef and drink milk.
posted by 6550 at 11:29 AM on April 15, 2012 [13 favorites]

Island Alpaca on Martha's Vineyard charges admission for people who want to see the Alpacas, sort of like a petting zoo. They also sell Alpacas along with very expensive wool. I think this agrees with the previous comment that the economics don't really work.
posted by alms at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2012

I'm sorry I don't have a specific answer for your alpaca questions, but I think your list needs a number seven.

7. What kind of regular veterinary care do alpacas require, and how much of an expense is this?

This veterinarian seems to a be an alpaca-pro. Perhaps you could contact his practice for a rough estimate.
posted by OsoMeaty at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2012

My understanding is that you make money by selling the animals, not the fleeces and that there is not much of a distribution or sales network in the US, with most people using imported Peruvian wool to produce Alpaca products because it is a commercial product while the US stuff is not. You can talk to these people for more info. If you live in Northern California or someplace you might luck into a local coop or weaver who wants it but I can't imagine you'd support yourself selling it. Especially on 2.75 acres, which is tiny for a commercial livestock operation.

Most of the people I know who have alpacas already owned farms and kind of ended up with them. They use them for 1) coyote protection for their other livestock, 2) for packing in the backcountry, which they are great for! or 3) they inherited them when some hobby farmer went out of business or abandoned them and they don't use them for anything they just have them in a field. And 99% of those alpacas were free or rescue kind of deals. I think the show winning breeding stock ones and the trained packing ones are worth some money but I don't know how much a regular wool-producing one is worth.

For 7. if you want to make money selling animals (or semen for AI) you'll probably have to spend quit a bit on registration fees to breed association, maybe shows or inspections to prove your stocks worth and also advertising. Plus the vet fees associated with breeding and selling/ transporting youngstock or AI. Also insurance on your expensive animals. Finally figure a certain percentage of them are just going to die of disease or accidents every year- with horses this can be a huge deal because horses are wildly accident prone and mares often die foaling or the foals die, it might not be such a big deal with alpacas.
posted by fshgrl at 1:22 PM on April 15, 2012

IANAAF, but a friend of a friend is. When I visited their farm along with some other knitter/spinner friends, we were each given several huge garbage bags of fleece. They sent off some of their fleece each year to some sort of co-op to be blended with other fleeces and spun and received alpaca products in return, but they didn't sell any fiber. Their money mainly came from having show-winning animals and breeding them.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:23 PM on April 15, 2012

I don't own alpacas but I know people who do. Alpacas and llamas are not going to be your way to self-employment freedom. From my observations, alpacas are usually raised by people who want to pretend they're farming on their 15 acre hobby farm (right up there with Christmas trees). Goats (like pygoras) might be better since you can get wool, milk or meat from them. In any area with a sufficient Hispanic or M. Eastern population, goat meat is easily salable.

You might also consider free-range chickens or rabbits, but from what I read about alpacas, I think rabbits are just as hard only smaller.
posted by fiercekitten at 2:05 PM on April 15, 2012

Like with any fleece, the older an animal becomes, the less soft it's fleece. So, baby alpaca is much softer than the fleece from an adult animal. Also, certain parts of one fleece are softer than other parts.

So alpaca fleeces from older animals are not as sought after as baby alpaca.

That said, you might find a resource on ravelry. I searched the groups for just the word "alpaca" and came back with 6 pages of results, 20 or 30 results per page. Bear in mind, some of these groups may be dormant. But if you have a membership on ravelry, that might be a place to contact breeders and also to scope out the people who would be your potential market.

Please don't be spammy on ravelry.
posted by bilabial at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

CBS Sunday Morning recently ran a story on this, and they mentioned some people who raise them and run seminar-type things for people who are interested in raising them too.
posted by MexicanYenta at 3:11 PM on April 15, 2012

My mother-in-law has an alpaca farm.

Based on what she's told me, she makes a bit of money from the fleece, but not in it's raw state. She has to clean it, spin it into yarn, and knit it into blankets or socks to make any money from it.

There are more efficient things to do with your time, for sure. If you have the money to pay for everything you need for your living expenses AND all the alpaca expenses, then there's no reason not to do it. But the alpaca bubble seems to have burst, and the only real money to be made involves a lot of borderline-shady sales tactics.

My husband put it this way: Alpacas are a cute and fuzzy pyramid scheme. If you know this going in, and aren't staking your retirement fund on it, then have fun. But don't expect to gain much other than a source for fleece to spin yarn, lots of manure, and some cute animals.
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 4:32 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

We looked into Alpacas before deciding on cattle and found that there was almost no real market for fleece, the Puruvians had it cornered.

We liked the idea of Alpacas because they are sociable with humans, shit in the same spot (like donkeys) and are simple to transport if you have a van like we do. They prefer to sit down in the back of vans rather than standing upright in trucks.

We started contact breeders and check the classifieds for stock and wool sales and found most folk made their money from selling their stock to people like us... it's a natural pyramid scheme really. Once the market is saturated no one except the early original breeders will make money. It's not economically viable to farm alpacas just for the wool.

2.75ac is not a lot of land to make a living on. You may have better luck growing a specialty crop such as saffron, organic garlic, herbs etc or small critters like mohair rabbits.
posted by Kerasia at 6:46 PM on April 15, 2012

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