Raising alpacas for food and wool is a wonderful opportunity to provide yourself with a sustainable source of nutrition, natural fertilizer, and clothing, while simultaneously benefiting the environment.
As homesteaders, we are often challenged to create a more eco-friendly life by reducing our reliance on commercialized goods made from imported materials and fabrics. Enter, raising alpacas! These lovable camelids are not only great companions but can also be harnessed to produce both fleece (for warm clothes) as well as healthy meat that can provide your family and community with locally grown protein.
This article will take you through all the essential elements in successfully raising alpacas on your homestead, including a bit of history, tips & tricks on how to feed them properly, what kind of shelter they need, and even how to prepare a suitable environment for breeding!
Table of Contents
What is an Alpaca and How is it Different Than a Llama?
Alpacas are a domesticated species of South American camelid, related to llamas and vicuñas. There are basically 2 species of alpaca; the Huacaya alpaca with a thick teddy bear-like coat and the Suri alpaca with thinner fur. They are raised for their soft, warm wool, which is often used to make clothing, blankets, and other textiles. Llamas, on the other hand, are less gentle, larger and more stubborn, and are also used as pack animals. Both alpacas and llamas are raised for their wool.
Homesteaders may raise alpacas for their wool, as well as for their meat, manure (which is a good fertilizer), as companion animals, or even for their breeding abilities.
Alpacas are also known for being easy to handle and having a gentle demeanor. They are not commonly kept for riding purposes, as they are smaller and more fragile than llamas, but they are great hiking and walking companions.
Alpacas are smaller than llamas, are typically about 36 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh around 150-200 pounds. They have a more delicate, refined look, with a smaller head and ears, and a shorter, finer coat of wool.
Alpacas are primarily raised for their soft, warm wool, which is used to make clothing and other textiles.
Llamas, on the other hand, are larger, standing at around 42 inches tall at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 450 pounds. They have a more rugged appearance, with a larger head and ears, and a longer, coarser coat of wool.
Llamas are also raised for their wool, but are also used as pack animals and for their meat.
In addition, alpacas are known for being more docile and easy to handle, while llamas are known to be more independent and can be more difficult to train.
Why Would I Want to Raise Alpacas?
Alpacas provide a fairly wide range of attractive reasons for homesteaders to consider buying for their small farms.
Wool production: Alpacas produce soft, warm wool that is highly sought-after for clothing, blankets, and other textiles. Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic, durable, and lightweight.
In fact, alpacas were bred for the specific purpose of providing a luxurious fiber (wool) that is generally considered by everyone to be superior to sheep wool. Alpaca wool is known for its softness and lack of itchiness, making it a popular choice for clothing and blankets.
Alpaca wool is warmer than sheep’s wool, due to its unique hollow fiber structure. This makes it an ideal choice for cold-weather clothing. It’s also hypoallergenic, making it a perfect for people with sensitive skin.
Alpaca wool is naturally strong and durable, making it resistant to pilling and wear, and the fibers have a natural water-resistant property that makes it more resistant to water than sheep’s wool.
As if those were not enough reasons to love alpaca wool it also comes in a wide range of natural colors, from white to black, and many shades of brown, gray, and fawn.
Alpaca wool is an eco-friendly alternative to sheep’s wool, as alpacas are most often raised in a more sustainable way, without the use of pesticides or herbicides.
Alpaca wool contains less lanolin than sheep’s wool, so it requires less washing and less soap, making it more eco-friendly and cost-effective.
Fertilizer: Alpacas produce manure that is rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, which makes it an excellent fertilizer for gardens and crops.
Nitrogen is necessary for leaf and stem growth, while phosphorus is important for root growth and blooming so the combination is nearly ideal. Even better (in my opinion) is the fact that alpaca manure has a very low odor compared to other types of manure, which makes it more tolerable to use as a fertilizer.
Alpaca manure has a lower ammonia content than sheep and cattle manure, which makes it less likely to burn plants when applied fresh and it’s less likely to contain parasites than other types of manure, making it safer to use on food crops.
Alpacas are browsers, which means they eat mainly leaves and stems, so the manure has fewer weed seeds than other types of manure.
On top of that, alpaca manure is easy to handle because it is dry, and forms pellets, which makes it easy to collect and spread. There are no big, thick, wet patties!
Alpaca manure contains organic matter, which can help to improve soil structure and water-holding capacity. More so than most other manure, alpaca manure contains beneficial microorganisms that can help to improve soil health and fertility.
Who knew poop could have so many benefits and how different one animal’s waste can be from another’s?
Meat production: Alpaca meat is not commonly eaten in most countries and the consumption of alpaca meat is not really that widespread. However, in countries where it is consumed, it is considered a delicacy and a healthy meat option.
The meat is lean, very low in fat, and considered a delicacy in some cultures.
The meat of an alpaca is very high in protein, and at the same time, it’s low in cholesterol, making it an obvious choice for those with high cholesterol and other related health issues.
And, because it is low in calories, it is certainly a good choice for people on a diet. The iron content of alpaca meat is higher than beef and many people suffer from iron deficiency!
Alpaca meat is also exceptionally high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help to reduce inflammation and improve heart health, while at the same time, it offers an above-average dose of zinc, potassium, and magnesium.
Alpaca meat has a rich, gamey flavor, similar to venison, but milder and with less fat. I’ve tried it and all I would say is that it’s “okay”. For flavor in sauces and burgers, I still like the flavor of lean ground beef.
Companion animals: Alpacas have a gentle disposition and are known for being easy to handle, which makes them popular as companion animals. They can be kept for hiking, walking, and other leisure activities.
Alpacas are easy to care for and don’t need a lot of grooming. They do not need to be clipped, and only need their toenails trimmed occasionally. They’re known for their gentle and docile nature, making them easy to handle and train. They are also less aggressive than other camelids, such as llamas.
Alpacas are known for being good with children, and are often used in petting zoos and educational programs. Many may not realize that they are also relatively quiet animals, and only make a humming noise, which is less disruptive than the typical baaing of sheep or the braying of donkeys.
Alpacas are known to get along well with other animals, such as horses, cows, and sheep. They can also be kept with other camelids such as llamas.
This gentle animal can survive very nicely with less space than other large animals, such as horses, and can be kept on small farms or even suburban properties.
Investment: Some people raise alpacas as an investment, as the value of alpacas can increase over time. Alpaca breeding is a viable business, with a good return on investment.
Not only can their value increase over the short term, but while you own alpacas, there are lots of factors that make them a good investment even in light of the costs of keeping them. Here are some examples:
- Wool production: Alpacas produce a soft, warm wool that is highly sought-after for clothing, blankets, and other textiles. The price of the wool can vary depending on the quality and quantity, but it can be a significant source of income.
- Breeding: Alpaca breeding can be a profitable business. Alpacas can be sold as breeding stock, and the offspring can be sold for a profit.
- Showing: Alpacas can be shown in competitions, and awards and ribbons can lead to a higher selling price for the animal.
- Agritourism: Many farmers open their farm to visitors, providing educational opportunities for children and adults to learn about alpacas and their care. This can be a source of income from visitors fees or from selling alpaca related products.
- Appreciation in value: Alpacas can appreciate in value over time. As the demand for alpacas increases, the value of the animals can increase as well.
- Low maintenance cost: Alpacas are relatively low-maintenance animals and do not require much investment in terms of feeding, housing and medical care.
Conservation: Alpacas are native to South America and their population is declining in the wild. By raising alpacas in farms, you can help to conserve the species.
Domesticated alpacas can help to preserve the genetic diversity of the wild alpaca population, as they can be used to breed with wild alpacas to improve the genetic diversity of the wild population.
Keeping and raising alpacas can increase awareness about the importance of alpaca conservation and their role in traditional cultures, encouraging more people to support conservation efforts. We’ve noticed this increase in awareness in our local area through the efforts of one very active and vibrant alpaca farm!
Keeping and raising alpacas can provide an alternative income for people who live in areas where wild alpaca populations are declining, which can help to reduce the pressure on wild populations.
Similarly keeping and raising alpacas can help to support conservation efforts in the countries where they are native, by providing funding and resources to protect wild alpacas and their habitats.
Alpacas that are kept in captivity can be reintroduced to the wild if their population is in decline and if their habitat is protected.
Educational opportunities: Many farmers open their farms to visitors, providing educational opportunities for children and adults to learn about alpacas and their care.
Visitors can have the opportunity to pet, feed and interact with the alpacas, which can be a fun and educational experience for children and adults alike. Also, many alpaca farms offer hands-on activities such as spinning, weaving and knitting with alpaca wool, which can be a unique and educational experience.
Some alpaca farms even offer the opportunity to hike or trek with the alpacas.
Some alpaca farms participate in events and festivals, where visitors can learn about alpacas and see them being shown in competitions.
One farm near my home offers the chance for visitors to purchase alpaca-related products such as wool, yarn, clothing, and souvenirs, which I know provides an additional income for the farm.
How Can I Start an Alpaca Farm For Profit?
Starting an alpaca farm for profit involves several steps, including researching the market, obtaining land and facilities, acquiring alpacas, and developing a business plan. Here are some steps to consider when starting an alpaca farm for profit:
- Research the demand for alpaca products in your area, as well as the competition and pricing. Also, research the costs associated with raising and caring for alpacas.
- You’ll have to get the necessary land and facilities to raise and care for alpacas. Alpacas require relatively low-maintenance facilities, such as pasture, shelters, and fencing.
- Buy a few alpacas, either by purchasing them or bartering with an alpaca herd owner. It’s important to research and purchase alpacas with good genetics, as they will be more valuable for breeding and showing.
- Develop a business plan that outlines your goals, target market, strategies, and financial projections. This will help you to stay organized and focused as you start and grow your alpaca farm.
- Develop a marketing strategy that includes a website, social media presence, and networking with other alpaca farmers. Participate in alpaca shows and events to promote your farm and alpacas.
- Network with other alpaca farmers, industry organizations, and potential customers to learn about best practices and gain insight into the industry.
- Diversify your income streams by raising alpacas for wool, meat, and breeding stock, as well as agritourism, and offering products made from alpaca wool such as clothing, blankets, and yarn.
- Seek guidance from experts and organizations that can provide resources and support for starting and running a successful alpaca farm.
Starting an alpaca farm can be a rewarding and profitable venture, but it requires research, planning, and dedication. It’s important to understand the market, the costs and the potential income streams, before starting a farm. As with any business, it requires hard work and dedication, but if done right, it can be a profitable and enjoyable venture.
How Much Money Can I Make With My Alpacas?
With only 2 or 3 alpacas as pets (and eventually lean protein patties in your freezer), the options of making money are a bit limited. However, with a few more animals added to the herd, the options expand. A breeding-quality baby (also called a “cria”) with an excellent pedigree can fetch $10,000 and a female can give birth to one baby annually for up to 15 years. The fleece can bring as much as $500 per animal per year.
As you can imagine, prices vary wildly and you can find a cria for as little as a few hundred dollars. This would be a pet-quality animal and not of the quality needed for breeding. However, even pet-quality alpacas can be raised for meat on a homestead.
If you have the ability to weave fine blankets from the fleece of an alpaca, it’s possible to sell blankets for well over $200, though most alpaca owners will sell the fleece at the stage of shearing, so the profit won’t be as high.
The various cuts of meat from an alpaca can total many hundreds of dollars since it is considered an exotic meat. For example, a hind quarter shank can sell for $100.
Agritourism is another source of income if you set up your small (or large) farm to be visitor-friendly and charge an admittance fee. This can bring in anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars annually.
Can I Just Have One Alpaca?
It’s possible to own just one alpaca, but it is generally recommended to have at least two alpacas in order to provide them with socialization and companionship. Alpacas are herd animals and they can get lonely if they are the only one. In some cases, undue mental stress in the animal can be a result of living without an alpaca companion or two.
Having a single alpaca can also have some drawbacks, such as:
- Alpacas are social animals, and a single alpaca will not be able to breed and produce offspring.
- Alpacas are herd animals, and being alone can make them stressed, which can affect their health.
- Alpacas are often shown in pairs or groups, so having just one alpaca would limit your showing opportunities.
- Having just one alpaca may not be as profitable as having a pair or a small herd, as it will limit the income streams available such as breeding and wool production.
Having said that, if you plan to keep just one alpaca as a companion animal and not for breeding or showing, then it is possible to have just one. It’s important to provide them with socialization and companionship, like spending time with them and providing them with toys or other animals.
What Do Alpacas Eat?
Alpacas are herbivores and primarily eat grass and hay, but they may also eat small amounts of other plants and shrubs. They are known to be very picky eaters, so they may not eat certain types of plants or hay. They do well in a pasture of native plants in the warm weather, while good quality hay and supplements will do nicely during the winter season.
Nearly all the alpaca’s nutritional needs will be met if they are left to graze in a field of wild grasses during warm weather.
However, during periods of cold or if they are pregnant, you’ll need to offer them a combination of good quality hay (like for horses) as well as nutritional pellets or commercial alpaca food.
Alpacas are really efficient eaters. Because they are created to live and thrive in the harsh high altitude Andes of South America, their bodies are designed for pulling every last bit of nutrition out of a small amount of pasture.
Much like a cow, alpacas are ruminants who chew cud and produce rumen. They have 3 compartments in their stomachs. This allows a 130 pound alpaca to only require about 2 – 3 pounds of food per day (only about 1.7% their body weight or less).
Alpacas will need a good supply of minerals which are harder to obtain during the Winter while living in a barn or shelter with no natural grasses growing. Supplements are essential and can be purchased separately or included in various commercially available alpaca foods.
PRO TIP – While alpacas love fruits and vegetables, it’s best to chop up these organic scraps into small portions and only feed it in limited amounts occassionally. Too much sugar (in most fruits and many vegetables) can be dangerous to your alpaca. Besides this, alpacas are often suspicious of new food and may not want it at all.
How Much Land Do I Need to Raise Alpacas?
The recommended space for alpacas to thrive, varies significantly. The suggested acreage requirements for a herd of alpaca ranges from a minimum of two acres of grazing land per alpaca to one acre for every 10 alpacas. While indoors, a pellet and hay-fed alpaca needs around 40 square feet of personal space.
However, if the land is of poor quality and not suitable for grazing, or if you live in a area with harsh winters, you may need more land to provide adequate food for the alpacas.
How Much Does an Alpaca Cost and Where Can I Get One?
Alpacas come in a variety of “qualities” like show-quality, breeding-quality and pet-quality. Prices range from $0-$500,000 though most pet quality alpacas will cost you around $500-$1,000. Show quality alpacas will range from $3,000-$20,000. A high-quality male can sell for between $40,000-60,000.
It’s interesting to note that a baby alpaca (cria) will cost about the same as an adult (unless the adult is 20 years old, which is near the end of life).
Many alpaca farms dot the countryside all over Canada and the U.S. Most are willing to sell you an alpaca. Unless you personally know a farm owner with alpacas, the best way to find an alpaca is to simply type “alpacas for sale” into your search engine! Voila!
Does My Alpaca Need a Shelter?
Alpacas are hardy animals and can tolerate cold temperatures well, but they do require protection from extreme cold and harsh winter weather. It is recommended to provide them with a barn, or at least a well-protected horse walk-in shelter during the winter months to protect them from the elements and to ensure that they have a dry and comfortable place to rest.
The shelter or barn should be well-ventilated and provide enough room for all of the alpacas to lie down comfortably. It should also be protected from drafts and have a solid roof to keep out snow and rain.
Additionally, it is helpful if the shelter or barn is equipped with a heating source, especially if you live in an area with extremely cold winter temperatures. It is also important to provide them with plenty of fresh hay, which they can use as bedding and to help keep warm.
Alpacas do not require a barn or shelter during summer, but they do need access to a shaded area and fresh water.
Do Alpacas Spit?
Alpacas are known to spit, which is a behavior they use to assert dominance or express discomfort or aggression. Alpacas will spit at other alpacas or at humans that they perceive as a threat. However, under normal conditions, they rarely spit at humans and will only spit when when establishing the herd authority structure or sometimes when quarelling over food.
When an alpaca spits, it expels a small amount of partially digested food from its stomach, which can be quite unpleasant for the person or animal on the receiving end.
The spit is usually a combination of saliva and partially digested food, and it can contain bacteria and parasites that can cause health problems.
There are several reasons why alpacas may spit, including:
- Dominance: Alpacas will spit at other alpacas to assert dominance or to establish their place in the herd hierarchy.
- Discomfort or Aggression: Alpacas may spit when they are uncomfortable or threatened, such as when they are handled roughly or when they are confined in a small space.
- Fear or Stress: Alpacas may spit when they are frightened or stressed, such as when they are introduced to new animals or when they are moved to a new location.
- Hunger or Thirst: Alpacas may spit when they are hungry or thirsty, indicating that they need to be fed or given water.
To avoid alpacas spitting, it’s important to handle them gently and calmly, and to provide them with a comfortable and stress-free environment. It’s also important to establish a routine for feeding and care and to provide them with enough space to move around freely. Additionally, providing them with a balanced diet and enough fresh water can help reduce the risk of them spitting.
It’s also good to note that spitting is a normal behavior for alpacas and is not usually cause for concern unless it becomes excessive or aggressive. If you notice that your alpaca is spitting excessively or becoming aggressive, it’s best to consult with a veterinarian or an alpaca behaviorist to determine the cause and to develop a plan to address the issue.
Are Alpacas Hard to Keep Clean Like a Cow?
Alpacas are relatively easy to keep clean, as they are naturally clean animals and have a tendency to stay clean. Their thick and fluffy coats help to keep them warm and dry, and their soft padded feet help to prevent them from getting muddy or dirty.
It’s also worth noting that alpacas are generally known to be fairly odor-less compared to all other farm herd animals like cows, pigs and goats.
However, it’s important to keep their living areas clean to avoid the buildup of feces and urine, which can cause health problems. Regularly cleaning their living area and providing them with fresh bedding can help to keep them clean and healthy.
Additionally, alpacas should be regularly groomed to remove tangles and dirt from their coat, and to prevent matting. Grooming can be done with a soft brush or a comb, and can be done on a regular basis to help keep their coat clean and healthy.
PRO TIP – Alpacas do not require regular baths, as they are clean animals and a bath can strip their coat of the natural oils that protect their skin.
Alpacas need to have access to fresh water and a clean area to drink and bathe in, so that they can maintain their cleanliness.
Overall, alpacas are relatively easy to keep clean, and some long-time owners have asserted that they are easier to maintain than dogs and cats!
Will Alpacas Breed on my Farm?
Alpacas can breed and reproduce in a farm environment, but it will likely be a disaster if they don’t have the appropriate living conditions and care to support breeding like a shelter from the elements, enough space to avoid crowding, a hygienic place to live and, of course, good food and water.
Alpacas reach sexual maturity at around 18-24 months of age, and they have a breeding season that usually runs from late spring to early fall.
The breeding process typically begins with a process called “herding” where the male alpaca, called a “male” or “macho” will pursue and herd the females, called “hembra” during the mating season.
For successful breeding, it is important to have a healthy male and female alpaca, and to provide them with appropriate living conditions, including a proper diet, adequate space, and protection from harsh weather. It is also important to ensure that the alpacas are free from any diseases or parasites that may affect their ability to breed. This is where a good veterinarian is crucial!
Additionally, while alpacas can breed in a farm environment, it is important to have an experienced and knowledgeable breeder, who can help you to understand the breeding process, and to ensure that your alpacas are healthy and well-cared for.
You’ll want to have proper facilities for breeding and birthing, such as a breeding pen, quarantine facilities, and veterinary care. Before the baby is born, it would be a very good idea to formulate a plan for the care and management of the cria (baby alpaca) starting moments after birth.
How Do I Shear My Alpaca?
The best answer for how to shear your alpace is that YOU don’t! Shearing should be done by a professional shearer, who has experience and knowledge of the proper techniques to ensure the safety and well-being of the alpaca.
Alpacas should be sheared once a year, usually in the spring, before the hot weather starts. This is the optimal time to shear them as the fleece is at its thickest and the weather is mild enough to avoid any stress on the animal due to the heat.
When shearing an alpaca, the shearer will use sharp electric or manual shears to remove the fleece, taking care to avoid cutting the skin.
The shearer will start by shearing the legs and then move on to the body, taking care to keep the animal calm and comfortable throughout the process.
It’s also important to note that alpacas should not be sheared too short as it can expose the skin to sunburn and other issues. It’s recommended to leave about an inch of fleece on the animal for protection.
After shearing, the fleece should be cleaned, carded, and spun into yarn, which will prepare it for sale or for the next step in processing.
Should I Have an Alpaca Veterinarian?
It is highly recommended to have a veterinarian who is familiar with alpacas and has experience treating and caring for them. Alpacas have specific health needs, and a veterinarian who is experienced in treating alpacas (or experience with camelids – species in the camel family) will be better equipped to diagnose and deal with health issues than a local dog and cat veterinarian (who may not know anything about camelids).
An alpaca veterinarian will have knowledge about the specific diseases that alpacas are prone to, such as parasites and dental issues, and will also be familiar with the proper vaccinations and treatments for those diseases.
They will also know the best techniques for performing routine medical procedures, such as blood draws and vaccinations, which will reduce the stress on the animal.
Additionally, having a veterinarian who is familiar with alpacas can help you to develop a herd health program, which will include regular check-ups, vaccinations, and parasite control, to ensure that your alpacas are healthy and well-cared for.
Not all veterinarians are familiar with alpacas, so it is advisable to look for a veterinarian that has experience with alpacas or camelids specifically. You can ask for recommendations from other alpaca owners or breeders, or check with your local alpaca association for a list of alpaca veterinarians in your area.
Raising Alpacas – Key Takeaways
Compared to traditional farm animals, alpacas are low maintenance, friendly animals that have a relatively high return on investment if managed properly.
With a variety of income streams from alpaca farming, they are most often a joy to raise. Many alpacas are kept purely as pets, which speaks to the gentle nature and demeanor of the breed.
Developing good relationships with other local breeders, veterinarians and shearers will go a long way to ensuring the success of your small or large scale alpaca farm.
Remember, they’ll need enough land to graze, clean water and proper food, as well as shelter from harsh weather elements, much like any other farm animal.
Alpaca farming requires knowledge, dedication, and proper care to ensure the health and well-being of the alpacas. With the appropriate knowledge and resources, raising alpacas can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience.