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Alpacas - What are They Like?
Alpacas as a Lifestyle
Raising alpacas as a lifestyle can be very rewarding! They do not require a lot of space, nor do they eat a lot. When feeding them through the winter, they cost about as much as a dog. When making this reference, think about a German Shepherd, not a Yorkie. Hobby farming is one way many people start...often it escalates from there to a full time business. They are so adorable, who could resist!
Several alpacas can be raised on the smallest of land parcels. Rule of thumb is between five and ten per acre. This is why alpacas are the ideal livestock animal for hobby farmers or anyone without a lot of land. They are not as hard on the environment as cows are, as they have soft padded feet, and toes...not hooves like cows. They also have common dung piles, so cleaning the paddocks is much easier.
They will eat grass and many weeds, so feeding them through the summer is easy....just allow them to graze. They can be fed commercial pellets, but it is best if they are given a diet of good hay. The pellets are better used as a supplement as opposed to them being their main diet. They can survive harsh conditions, but this does not excuse improper feeding.
Be sure to have a fresh supply of water available to them at all times, especially when the sun is hot. They will succumb to heat exhaustion much quicker than some animals, so also be sure they have plenty of shade. This is also a good reason to shear them in early summer. Even though they originate from harsher climates, it is still best if they have protection from the elements. A barn or shelter of some sort, and straw for bedding in the winter. In the summer, a cool place they can retreat to is best. When it is hot, they also like to be sprayed with water, or will roll around in the dust to cool off.
Their small size and easy to care for demeanor make them ideal for anyone to raise, including women, seniors, or people with disabilities or limited mobility. Children are less likely to get hurt around alpacas as opposed to cows. They are not overly aggressive, except when feeling threatened. The worst that can happen to a person is being spit on (and from what I hear, it is not a pleasant thing). Being kicked is another danger, but they do not carry the force or the weight as a cow or horse. Yes, they will bruise you, but will not break any bones.
Alpacas are raised mainly for their fleece. Quality of fleece determines the value of the animal. Breeders aim for the best breeding stock, as this is where the most money is made. Alpaca fleece is very soft, and is hypo-allergenic...due to the fact it does not contain lanolin like sheep`s wool does. They are shorn in late spring or early summer, and the fleece is processed to make everything from sweaters to socks....and many things in between. One of the nicest things I`ve seen made from alpaca fleece is a rug...it was so soft!
This has been just a fraction of the information available on alpacas. I know I have barely grazed the surface, but I am hopeful I have peaked an interest. I do not own any alpacas as of yet, but am in the process of getting set up so I can buy a starter package. (I currently have a couple of cows...my daughter`s 4H project and pen mate. I am not a big woman, and get very intimidated by them, especially when they are trying to get their heads in the feed bucket before I am able to dump it in the trough.)
The picture above was taken at an alpaca farm about half an hour from my home. The animals had been shorn the week before, so they look a little funny. Personally, I think it gives them character. I had a very nice, informative chat with the owner, and he was kind enough to catch a cria (baby) for me so I could feel how soft the fleece was. Come springtime, I will be visiting him again with some cash in hand for my first purchase.
There are many resources available on alpacas. Please do your research on them before you buy so you are able to provide them adequate food, shelter and water....plus lots of love!
Update...May 8, 2010
I drove by the Alpaca Farm mentioned in this article, and they were all out grazing. There were at least 50 there, and no babies yet. They haven't been shorn yet this year, so look all nice and fuzzy. They were close to the road, but when I slowed down to get a better look, they all started running back toward their shelter. I guess they didn't much care for the sound of my truck.
Seeing that many makes me want them even more. The winter was not kind to us, so I was unable to save up enough money to buy the Starter Package I wanted. I am optimistic the summer will be better, as I have started getting active with my crafting, quilting and gardening again. I will be using my earnings from my sales to improve our farmyard so we can start enjoying these lovely animals each and every day.
And, after getting kicked by the cow and being pinned up against the barn wall, I am very much looking forward to raising animals that have a milder demeanor.
Update #2 - August 2011
It took us awhile, but we were finally able to purchase our first small herd of alpacas in June of this year. They are a delight to own and my only regret is we didn't get them sooner. We possible have a cria (baby) or two on the way; a couple of our girls are getting chunky and not letting the boys anywhere near them. I do hope they have them before the really cold temperatures set in.