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Alpacas--High Profit For Micro Farmers

Updated on August 25, 2014
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Micro farms, Hobby farms and Livestock

If you are one of many who live on (or hope to live on) a "micro farm", truck farm, or hobby farm, then you have probably been looking at livestock. By definition, "micro farms" are generally less than 30 acres, truck farms are around 40 acres, and a hobby farm can be any size, but doesn't make millions. Most hobby farms are less than 100 acres, by the way.

When it comes to farms of this type, choosing the right livestock is critical. With such a small amount of land, and presumably a small amount of financial resources, this isn't the kind of farm where you would normally raise black Clydesdales, for instance, as these particular high demand horses can cost upwards of $50,000 each for good blooded, registered stock--not to mention they are feed, vet and training intensive.

Most farmers consider cattle, for both the meat and the nice fresh milk. But even in the most fertile of areas, cattle are land and feed intensive--in Arizona, for instance, with free range in addition to feed, it takes about 5 acres per "unit" (one cow with calf). In the winter, cows eat 2% of their body weight in hay alone--it gets pricey! In more fertile areas, the requirement can go down to as low as 3 acres per unit, but still pricey, and cattle are hard on pasturage.

Sheep require much less, but can be difficult to lamb, are prone to quite a few diseases, and many people are allergic to the lanolin, and irritated by the "prickle factor" in the wool (caused by "guard hairs"). Also, they are more prone to multiple births, and VERY hard on the land--they can ruin a pasture, due to how they feed. That rules out most of the "big stuff".


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Enter The Alpaca--Perfect Livestock!

Alpacas are close to perfect livestock. They grow to about the size of an Irish Wolfhound, are extremely intelligent, and a fertile acre in a place like Washington State will support up to 5 of them with supplemental feeding in winter. The average alpaca weighs between 125 and 160 pounds--from a freezer view, about 60-70 percent of that is dress weight. The meat average 16.00 to 25.00 per pound at retail cost, and is considered the healthiest meat of grazing animals--sweet, tender,and leaner than buffalo.

From a fleece view, one fully grown alpaca will produce 5-7 pounds of useable fleece per shearing, enough for a few sweaters with some hats and slippers left over. Unprocessed fiber can range in value from 2.00-6.00 a pound wholesale--spun yarn, in 100 gram balls, averages between 12 and 40 dollars per ball, depending on color and quality. Since alpacas come in the widest color range of any animal (over 26 shades and counting), the possibilities are endless in terms of yarn colors without dyeing.

The Black, silver grey, rose grey are the most valuable for pure color, though serious fiber breeders keep mostly white stock for commercial sale to the very few mills that process the fiber--so it can be dyed, of course. Even the coarsest fiber has value--it is usually used to stuff mattresses or for other industrial purposes, and for making helmet liners in some countries.

Alpaca fiber is 5 times warmer than wool per weight, naturally water repellent, and nearly hypoallergenic. Due to the lack of lanolin, processing is far simpler than with wool as well. Alpacas have almost no natural diseases or parasites, almost never have multiple births, and live to be 25 or even older--well worth the money.


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Climate And Alpacas

As Alpacas come from the Andes, and some very cold areas, they have no issues with weather at all. Wind is more likely to bother them than rain or snow, and because they are herd animals, they actually are not fans of traditional barns. Most alpacas are happiest in three walled lean to- type structures--especially if the walls are only about 4 feet high, to keep out wind but allow visibility. They do need their water kept above 50 degrees or so, but other than that--no problems. In warmer summers, they like having a lawn sprinkler handy to play in :-). I have seen enclosures made of hay bales under trees, old carports, and even old cargo shipping containers with the doors removed. Alpacas are not picky.

Even with an enclosure, it isn't unusual to see them ":cushing"--laying down and sleeping--in the rain, or the snow for that matter. They don't like wind, so having a three sided set of straw bales--designed like an open "U", makes them happy on windy days. For "barn" space, look at 20-30 feet per alpaca as luxury--mine are perfectly happy with about 10 feet each. Fresh water and a feed trough are a must, for alpacas--though they will drink from puddles if they have to.

Alpacas can be raised in almost any climate, from Texas and Georgia to Canada and Scotland, though they do require climate controlled enclosures in agricultural zones 9 and 10, and zones 1-3.

Orgling Alpaca

Mating Habits

Alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning they become fertile in the presence of a male. The Orgling, or singing, is what induces ovulation. Mating can continue for up to 45 minutes, and rarely requires supervision or help. Gestation is 11 1/2 months, and a female is ready to be re-bred about three weeks after giving birth. Left on their own, alpacas wean their crias at about 8 months or so. Pregnant alpacas, and those with young crias, should receive supplemental pellet feeding.

A Word About Feeding And Fiber


Alpacas like a bend of orchard grass and alfalfa, though they eat any grasses (and all other vegetation they can find). They know instinctively what not to eat. They love carrots, apples, and squashes for treats. Mine prefer standard livestock feed, which has the same nutritional makeup as the special pellets, with slightly more fat (1% more). It also has molasses, which all alpacas love (and it costs half what standard alpaca feed costs!). The only time I buy specialized alpaca feed is for my pregnant or nursing mothers. When feeding purely commercial food, an alpaca requires 2-4 pounds of pellets and hay a day, 50/50 split, with the nursing mothers eating more, the non pregnant and males eating the least.

On fiber farms, the males will generally be neutered, as the fleece is finer on animals that aren't breeding. If you are going strictly for fiber, then you can also neuter any crias with good fiber at an early age, and keep a small pool of breeding stock or use stud services, which range from 100 to 500 dollars or more per breeding. Using studs is a good way to upgrade the fiber and introduce color to your herd.

Fiber is sampled and graded at shearing, using a test called a histogram. basically, any number below 30 is good, below 25 is really good, and below 20 is very valuable. The numbers indicate the width in microns, and plug samples are taken from the blanket (back) the belly, and the legs. Blanket fiber is generally the finest.

What Do You Know?


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Alpacas And Vet Care

Alpacas are low care livestock. Basically: They get wormed once a year--and you can do this yourself. They have their claws and teeth clipped, usually at shearing time--again, you can learn how. They get sheared once a year--not hard to do, but if you want fleeces for show entry, have a professional shear them and take the histogram plugs.

They sometimes get fatty liver disease late in pregnancies, but it is uncommon. They almost never give birth after 10 p.m. or before about 1 p.m., and they often will stop labor if they have an audience--so watch from a distance!

Crias generally wear coats until they are up to a year old, depending on climate--and you can knit the coat our of alpaca fiber LOL. And that is about all there is to vetting alpacas! much easier than some livestock to care for, aren't they?

THE VERDICT IS IN:

Alpacas are the perfect livestock. By the way--they also kill coyotes, so you don't need guard animals usually. I hope this has given you some useful information on my favorite animal to raise--drop me a comment, share it, like it, whatever--but let me know what you think, since I am new to Hubs LOL.

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      Eva 2 years ago from Tucson

      When I had to move back down to Tucson from Washington, the worst part of moving was giving up my alpacas *sigh*. I can't wait to get back to a part of the world where I can raise them again, as I really miss the fiber, and their intelligence :-)

    • brsmom68 profile image

      Diane Ziomek 2 years ago from Alberta, Canada

      I love my small herd of alpacas. It is almost shearing time here, so I am looking forward to spending the summer processing my fiber into rugs and dryer balls. I am hoping for some finer yarn, but that will remain to be seen.

      In regards to your quiz, alpacas are also related to llamas and vicunas - all part of the Camelid family (yes, including camels).

      I spin, needlefelt and weave, so I will definitely make use of all of the fiber they give me this year.

      I only have six now, but am hoping to increase my numbers in the not-too-distant future. One of the by-products I am working on marketing in addition to their fiber is their beans. It is a super soil-amendment.

      Voted up!

    • profile image
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      Eva 4 years ago from Tucson

      Sheep are real pain in the butt--goats have their good points, but the fiber is harder to spin in some ways. I also have chickens, for eggs ad dinner--but alpacas are the best!

      My next hub will go into more detail--I am planning a series of hubs --so follow me !

    • Suhail and my dog profile image

      Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent 4 years ago from Mississauga, ON

      Very informative and, as I say, reader friendly hub!

      I have been seriously thinking of starting a hobby farm two years down the road and was initially thinking about some sheep, goats, and poultry. Now I think Alpacas can be a good livestock to keep for the advantages you have mentioned.

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan

      Aw well, more comments :)

    • profile image
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      Eva 4 years ago from Tucson

      ROFL--I Just Noticed.I've been up over 24 hours--and no, I won't delete it :-) Let the world know I messed up,it's no secret :-).

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan

      Delete this comment after you've read it but you need to correct your title because Alpaca is spelled incorrectly.

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      Author

      Eva 4 years ago from Tucson

      I have had them a f years--I recently had to move back to AZ for emergency family stuff, so they are happily living with my neighbors at the moment...I miss my girls and my boy :-(. They are amazing animals to be around, and to raise. I have had all types of stock before, but alpacas are by far the best.

    • Brie Hoffman profile image

      Brie Hoffman 4 years ago from Manhattan

      Awesome Hub, voted up! How long have you had Alpacas?