Monday, February 2, 2009

Alpacas: An Exciting and Regal Livestock Option

The 2008 Farm Bill created a brand new livestock opportunity for American farmers. The alpaca, first imported to the United States in 1984, is now included in the federal definition of livestock. More and more animal agriculturists are being enticed by this elegant animal.

The alpaca, a member of the Camelid family, is native to the Andean Mountain range in South America. Domesticated by the Incan civilization over 5,000 years ago, today the alpaca is primarily found in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. An estimated 100,000 alpacas are registered in North America on approximately 2000 farms.

Alpacas generally live 20 years, stand 36 inches at the withers (shoulder), and weigh 150 to 200 pounds. There are two kinds: Suri and Huacaya.

An estimated 90% of the world's alpacas are Huacaya. Currently, the main market for alpacas is breeding. Gestation lasts 11.5 months. Females generally produce single births during daylight hours without assistance. Offspring are called "crias." Twins are extremely rare. Crias may stand and nurse within an hour of birth. They are weaned at six months. Females are usually bred at 1.5 or 2 years. But profitability doesn't stop at breeding.

Sheared alpacas produce what the Incans called the "Fiber of Gods." Alpaca fleece is "soft as cashmere and lighter and warmer than wool." It contains no lanolin and is naturally hypo-allergenic. The shearing process is not harmful to the animals and can be done every 12 to 18 months, resulting in over 20 different natural colors.

For the environmentally conscious animal farmer, alpacas are an excellent choice. Because they have soft, padded feet with two toes, pastureland is preserved, preventing the soil compaction of hoofed animals. Ruminants, they eat significantly less than other livestock, and their eating habits do not damage pasture plants. They tend to defecate in specific areas and do not feed near dung piles. They are disease resistant but do require parasite control annually and locally appropriate vaccines. Nail and teeth trimming is occasionally required. They can be pastured at five to 10 alpacas per acre.

Impossible to ignore, the captivating beauty of the animal must be considered. While their llama relatives are easily provoked into spitting, alpacas possess a much milder temperament. They crown the rolling hilltops near Monticello, Wisconsin with regal serenity. Geoff Rostan, creator and owner of Timber Ridge Alpaca Farm, fondly recollects an alpaca that used to untie his shoes every time he would visit the herd. He currently owns just fewer than 30 animals and has plans to double that number.

Rostan quit the corporate world after first encountering alpacas in a travel magazine unsheathed from the back of an airline seat and he hasn't looked back since. Soon after, he was able to secure early retirement. "The most rewarding part for me is seeing the effect the animals have on people. Working with these animals eliminates stress and changes peoples' lives."

See how the animals have affected Geoff Rostan by going to his website:

Not bad for someone whose prior animal science resume consisted of raising a family dog. Not bad at all.

USDA now recognizes this noble animal under the legal definition of livestock. The main significance of this decision is that farmers can now purchase Livestock Risk Protection Insurance from the government to protect their investment. Because alpacas cost so much more than llamas and because they were once more of a novelty animal, this gives those interested in alpaca farming more security in their investment and brings it more into the mainstream.

All information sourced from Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association

article from Sustainable Farmer


  1. Comment was posted by: Mack Dreyfuss on 2009-06-14T10:48:59Z
    Rufus: I am curious as to where you received your plethora of alpaca knowledge which appears to be mostly inaccurate. I'm glad you enjoyed reading my article, but I have to disagree with most of your comment. Alpacas are generally not known for their meat, let alone a rump roast. Alpacas are generally not milked. And I am mystified by the saliva comment. Best wishes. -Mack

  2. Comment was posted by: rufus george on 2009-06-13T23:05:54Z
    great article, mack. but what you neglected to include was several important facts about alpacas. why did you not mention how delicious and lean an alpaca rump roast is, or how alpaca milk makes refreshing milk and tasty cheeses? most of all, why did you leave out the mystical healing properties of alpaca saliva? again, your article was a delightful read but lacking in key points. i look forward to more of your work.