Episode 6 – Could I keep alpacas?

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( note – audio edited to streamline the episode 7th Feb 2019 )

If you are thinking of keeping alpacas I have five questions for you to help you start in the right place and end up where you are trying to get to.

1. Have you got enough?

A. Have you got enough - Money

There are a variety of costs – visible and hidden – associated with keeping alpacas. Set up a spreadhseet and start creating a draft budget for your alpaca project.

The purchase price varies here in the UK from a few hundred for young castrated males (known as whethers) to a few thousand for pregnant breeding females. With everything in between depending on quality of fleece and conformation. Plus a lot more on top, if you are considering buying a stud male or show winners.

Set up costs will need to include a variety of equipment ranging from essential, to desirable, to on the wish list. You don’t need it all but you will need some of it depending what you already have. Plan for expansion but start with a good foundation. Have you got land or are you going to move to a new place to live and keep alpacas?

Running costs vary but need to cover food and vets bills, animal medicines and disposables.

Contingency fund keep some money set aside for those things that will come up

B. Have you got enough - Land

You need sufficient space for the number you plan to start with and grow into. Could be from breeding or buying more.

C. Have you got enough - Knowledge

Training is available – informally from the person you buy your alpacas from and more formal courses run by individual breeders, or linked to the British Alpaca Society.

You don’t need to be an expert immediately but you do need a certain level of knowledge to begin keeping alpacas. For example how to move them; how to feed them; checking their health; knowing what is normal for alpacas.

D. Have you got enough - Capacity for Commitment

If the aim is happy and healthy alpacas, it is going to take time. Training is usually a two way experience. The alpacas need to learn and be trained but so do you. It is possible to have confident and fulfilled owners, achieving the kind of experience they first dreamed of when starting with alpacas. It requires a particular mindset, a willingness to learn.

It is also important to remember that alpacas have a life span of 20 to 25 years. This is a long-term commitment.

Day-to-day care need not take too long if you only have a few alpacas. However they do need regular daily care and checking e.g. ensuring they have water through the summer months. They certainly do not understand bank holidays, so understand the level of commitment needed.

2. Business or hobby?

What do you want to do with your alpacas?

Enjoying alpacas? – if that is the prime focus then this is a hobby.

Make money? I have noticed that quick easy money is usually not legal. Can you make money by keeping alpacas? – of course but you have to work hard to do so and it is a long term proposition. Start with your eyes open and plan for where you want to go.

It can be a hobby that pays some returns. For many that is all they are looking for, which is a good option if you have clear expectations.

The other activities associated with alpacas are many and varied:

  • Breeding;
  • showing;
  • selling on breeding stock;
  • stud services;
  • fleece related products – yarn, felt, duvets, hats;
  • alpaca experiences;
  • tourism related

3. Large or small?

What is your proposed starting number? What is the maximum size herd you want to have?

4. Breeding or just companion animals or field pets?

Breeding is a clear option but involves more learning, skills and plenty of rewards (though not necessarily financial).

5. Do you want to show?

This will involve time; transport vehicles; biosecurity issues to consider.

Future podcast episodes

There are many other areas to consider and we will look at them over time in future episodes.

Another perspective

Here we offer a bonus set of a further 5 questions to ask yourself before you buy an alpaca

Why do you want to keep alpacas?

Is it more than a romantic notion?

Is it to have them as field pets?

Are you intending to make money from keeping them?

Is this a lifestyle choice?

Why – should also cover questions such as do you intend to get involved with breeding, showing, providing alpaca services to other people, or producing and selling alpaca products from the fleece. You may not to do all of these things from the start, but if you are intending to do them it could significantly affect how you proceed.

So why is this important? It will determine the kind of animals you purchase and the quality you start with

e.g. if you are intending to show the animals, to have any chance of winning you need animals of high-quality The likelihood is you will be breeding animals in order to improve the stock with the hope of winning at shows.

Alternatively, if you were intending to produce fleece products you will need to start with animals that will give you the raw material suitable for the products you have in mind – superfine alpaca scarves require different fleece to that used in producing carpets.

Who will you buy your alpacas from?

A good breeder will provide support to you after you have purchased your animals. The choice of who to buy your alpacas from is important. You are not simply buying boxes off-the-shelf at the cheapest price.

Who can give you good information about what is invloved in keeping alpacas?

Who might you purchase animals from?

Who will give you support after you have them.

Who can give your new herd the best specialist care when it is needed?

Do you have a vet, or know where to start finding a suitable veterinary practice to provide the specialist care for your alpacas that will be needed on occasion?

What kind of alpacas will you get?

We have already discussed the Importance of identifying what you hope to get out of keeping alpacas. You also need to think about what kind of alpacas you will buy. Males, castrated or entire; females for breeding; Huacaya or Suri – the two different breeds of alpacas.

Where will you keep your alpacas?

Where will you keep your alpacas? Do you have suitable land? Do you have suitable shelter? Where will you carry out basic husbandry tasks such as trimming toenails, sharing, checking body condition? Will they be visible from your home? I.e. are they close by or are they at a distance and out of sight. Where will you get your supplies of food–pellets, hay, equipment such as hurdles or feeding troughs etc.

When will you get your alpacas?

Have you thought about the timescale for purchase and delivery of your alpacas? In general it is wise to give plenty of time to consider all of the factors involved in keeping alpacas and making the necessary practical preparations– such as field shelters and water supply. Try not to be impulsive and rush at it.

The time of year and make a difference as well – e.g. Will they be sheared before arrival? Will any females have already been mated? If you purchase pregnant females, when are they due to give birth? You will need to take into account the growth of grass at different times of the year.

Steve Heatherington

Contact details

We would love to hear from you with any questions or comments coming out of this episode or if you have suggestions for topics and issues to cover in the future.

Email us at podcast@alpacatribe.com

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