Alpacas are rapidly gaining popularity as a wool livestock animal and have earned the reputation of being somewhat of a farm aristocrat. Between their cartoon faces, fluffy bodies and gentle disposition, what’s not to love about alpacas?
History and Benefits
Although they're no longer considered an oddity on the homestead, Alpaca farming in the United States is still in its infancy having only been introduced into the US in 1984. While alpaca farming isn’t a get-rich-quick business, the industry’s future is stable and it seems to have caught on like crazy.
Profits from alpaca farming are two-fold. The first is secured through marketing the alpaca’s offspring (cria) to other farmers. The second is the alpaca’s lush coat that has wool spinners paying handsomely for the luxurious and fine-textured fiber.
Cooperatives such as The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) is working hard to get major textile companies in the US involved in processing fiber in a commercially-viable size. At this time it's the cottage industry that remains the primary market for alpaca fiber.
Alpaca farmers are devoted to their livestock and can’t say enough about how simple it is to care for these gentle animals. They are safe, virtually odorless, charismatic, compact in size, and physically easy keepers. Those qualities along with being able to keep up to ten per acre make them extremely well-suited for the homestead.
Alpacas are naturally curious and gentle animals, making them easy to handle and enjoyable for children to be around. They're easily trainable and don’t spit all that much—honestly. Plus spitting is rarely aimed at humans. Spitting typically occurs between alpacas that are arguing over food or establishing herd order among themselves.
Alpaca wool is as soft as cashmere (only lighter) and high in demand by hand spinners. It's one of the softest natural fibers and even warmer than sheep's wool. Spinners enjoy the fact that the fine alpaca fiber doesn’t contain lanolin (a natural grease). So alpaca wool doesn’t have to be washed many times in order to remove the grease before being spun as some wool fibers do.
More Raising Perks
- Pregnancy and birth are nearly trouble-free.
- Alpacas enjoy a naturally strong constitution (health-wise).
- They can be fully insured against theft or mortality regardless of their age.
- There are some nice tax benefits. For instance, income tax is deferred on alpaca herds’ increasing value until you start selling their offspring.
- Family members can show their alpacas, enter parades and some 4H clubs and FFA have Alpaca projects for their members.
- Alpacas don’t have hooves. They have two padded toes which make them environmentally-friendly on pastures.
- Alpaca manure composts beautifully and quickly for the garden.
Alpacas vs. Llamas
For the uninitiated, it's hard to tell these South American camelids apart. There are a few important differences between alpacas and their more familiar cousins, the llama. Size-wise, alpacas range from about 100 to 150 pounds, respectively. While the llama's weight in anywhere from 200 to 350 or more pounds—roughly twice the size of alpacas.
- Alpacas have little, rabbit-like ears. Llamas have ears shaped like two bananas.
- Alpacas have a very fine single wool coat. Llamas have a very coarse outer coat over a softer undercoat.
- Alpacas were bred for thousands of years to produce luxurious fiber. Llamas were bred at the same time as a pack animal.
- Alpacas could use guard animals to protect them against predators. Llamas are guard animals.
- Despite its smaller size, Alpacas produce far more fiber than the Llama.
Before Purchasing Alpacas
Before deciding that alpaca farming is right for you and your family, go to Alpaca Owners Association to get more information about keeping alpacas on your homestead. Then find local alpaca farmers in your area and arrange to do a farm visit. Seasoned alpacas breeders can help you come up with a pros and cons list and create a preliminary plan before jumping into this wool-producing adventure.