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Alpacas: Let’s get down to business

Alpacas: Let’s get down to business

What’s the point of alpaca farming? 

Why do we farm alpacas in the UK? 

Alpacas are farmed in the UK for their fleeces and for pedigree bloodstock – a bit of an alarming term if you’re not used to agricultural speak, but ‘bloodstock’ basically just refers to alpacas who are bred to create new, stronger breeds. Internationally, there’s a huge demand for alpaca fleece and that demand is not currently being met – in fact, some researchers have recently noted that as much as 80 per cent of market demand (which is mostly from the Japanese, Italian and Chinese fashion industries) is going unmet. Where the demand is being met, it’s done so by suppliers in Peru and Australia. Here in Europe, we’re building up our pedigree alpaca stock and raising output through selective breeding – but the UK has a way to go yet if we want to compete with Australia! They have around 350,000 alpacas, compared to our approximate 45,000, and we’d need to have roughly the same number as them to compete on the international market. But it’s not bad news for UK alpaca farmers; for now, we can make money through breeding and selling pedigree stock to other UK farmers, as well as to those in Europe and even the Middle East, while we look ahead to a bright future. 

Here at Sweet Home Alpaca, we’ve loved opening up the business to new ideas; we host events, welcome campers, have an alpaca walk package (it’s so relaxing just being in the company of these gorgeous docile creatures!), meet and greets and even lend our alpacas out as special guests for your wedding day. 

Why is buying alpacas a good use of my money? 

Alpacas are simple to care for and easy to farm; after just a little research and with some love, beginners can be near experts in no time. Alpaca farming is a developing industry in the western world – the future’s looking good! 

What are the downsides to keeping alpacas? 

Yes, we are a bit biased, but believe us when we say that the only real “downside” to keeping alpacas is the initial cost; because they’re herd animals, you’ll need to buy several to begin with and, of course, have sufficient land for them to live happily on. Their feed is low-cost, and their day-to-day care is minimal. With their breeding potential and sought-after fleeces, it’s possible to see a real quality return on investment. They are also very addictive. We started off wanting 10 but we purchased 19 and have lots of new crias. 

What do I need to know about alpacas before I start? 

How much space do alpacas need? 

Despite the size difference, stocking rate for alpacas (how many animals you can safely and healthily keep per available land) is usually pretty similar to that of sheep, at around 6 per acre. Most owners, however, find that the eclectic alpaca diet and their high food conversion ratio means that stocking rates are actually about 50 per cent higher than for sheep – sometimes even more. Stocking rate is a bit flexible with alpacas; you can increase it through good fertilisation and pasture management practices (like grazing rotation) and by giving them more hay or haylage. If you’re taking great care of them, for example, you could keep a pair of wethers on as little as half an acre.  

What do they eat and how much do? 

Alpacas are very happy chowing down on a mix of fresh grass (they’re great lawnmowers) and hay or haylage. They don’t even need too much – about two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day will see them right. If you’re just starting out, then a good rule to go by is 1.5 per cent of the animal’s body weight daily in hay/haylage or fresh pasture. Just one 60-pound hay bale can usually feed a 20-strong herd of alpacas for a day. For extra nutrition at critical stages, forage-based supplements are great for expectant mothers (in the later stages of pregnancy) or while they’re feeding or weaning their cria; they’re also great for those cooler winter months when natural nutrition might be harder to come by. 

Do they travel well? 

Maybe it’s due to their nomadic mountain-grazing past but alpacas are extremely good travellers. You’d usually use a standard livestock trailer or a horsebox and, unlike with many other animals, you’ll find that the alpacas settle down, relax, and take in the passing scenery to enjoy the ride. 

Alpacas: The bottom line (oo-err!) 

How much do they cost? 

There’s a lot to consider when pricing an alpaca: fleece quality, cria quality (in the females), age, pedigree, and parents’ performance, to name a few! As such, there’s quite a range of prices when it comes to alpacas. Industry standard for wethers in the UK is about £500 to £750 per animal. Pregnant females in the UK, though, can cost from £3,000 to £15,000 each; this is due to the large range in quality we have available on this island. 

What are the running costs? 

It doesn’t cost much at all to keep a herd after the initial outlay for the animals and their land. Annual stud fee is around £750, registration and vet fees are low and feed doesn’t cost much (although it will be a little higher for pregnant and lactating females, who should be given nutritional supplements – that comes to around £50 per year per dam). Insurance will be extra, of course, and there are additional costs if you’re looking to start a business, what with marketing and show attendance etc. 

How many alpacas do I need to make a living? 

Getting to the heart of the matter, this is often the first question people will consider when thinking about alpaca farming. And, as with all the big questions in life, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer! It will depend entirely on your aims and current situation; if you’d like a small herd mostly as pets (with the added bonus of lawn-mowing and annual fleece) then, while you might make money, it