HISTORY OF ALPACAS
Alpacas are rare and precious animals, that were originally treasured by the ancient Incas for their fine fleece, with the animals being owned by royalty only and the people owning their cousins the Llama.
Together with their close relatives, the llamas, guanaco and vicuna (collectively known as South American Camelids) alpacas provided clothing, food, fuel and companionship as domesticated animals as long ago as 5,000 years.
During the Spanish invasion in the 1500s, the majority of alpacas were slaughtered. The remaining alpacas retreated to the high mountain regions where the newly introduced cattle and sheep could not survive. It was only their resilience and tolerance of harsh climates that saw their continued existence in the Andes. Their value was rediscovered and again utilised during the 1800s.
Today, alpaca farming is concentrated in the Altiplano - the high altitude regions of Southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile where life is difficult. Alpacas not only battle a harsh climate - burning sun by day, freezing conditions at night - but also receive few of the benefits of modern animal husbandry. Yet they survive, although in relatively small numbers with high mortality rates due to the harsh conditions and little knowledge of modern approaches to farming. In their homeland of South America, Peru has approximately 2.5 million, Bolivia around 500,000 and there are only some 50,000 in Chile and Argentina combined.
There are approximately 120,000 alpacas in Australia increasing at approx 20%pa. While the outlook for fibre sales is excellent, the emphasis in this young Australian industry will be on breeding for the foreseeable future.
Again, Australia finds itself at the forefront of a new rural industry development. Alpacas, for a whole host of reasons, are one of the most exciting herd options available in this country today. With Australia now boasting the largest herd outside of South American and we are emerging as the best breeders in the world!
5 Jan 14
ALPACAS AT A GLANCE
- Suri (soo-ree), the rarest of the two breeds, have long dreadlocked fleece that hangs from the body like tassles, vibrant lustre and with silky soft feel. The fleece is primarily used in the making of fine and luxurious cloth utilised for high end fashion garments like Armani suits.
- Huacaya (wa-ki-ya), the most common of the two breeds making up 90% of the worlds population, the fleece is similar to that of Marino sheep and grows out from the body, with crimp, is bright and shiny, but has no lanolin. The fleece is primarily used in the production of knitted garments like jumpers, scarves, etc as well as in the manufacture of luxury carpets and seat covers through to doonas and pillows.
- Modified ruminants with 3 stomachs.
- Alpacas have lower teeth and a grinding palette.
- They graze throughout the day on grasses, legumes, bushes and trees and when full will sit in cush, regurgitate and chew their cud.
- Pasture, bushes, legume, trees.
- Supplement with oaten/wheaten/lucerne chaff, bran/pollard, good quality hays.
- There are specifically design alpaca additives like pellets and blends that will add all required vitamins and minerals when pasture is low or inadequate or in times of drought.
- Australia recognizes 12 differnet colours – white to black with 3 shades of greys, 3 fawns, 3 browns and rose grey/roan.
- HEMBRA: Breeding female (over 12mths)
- MACHO: Adult intact male (18-36mths)
- WETHER: Castrated male (12mth+)
- TUI: Teenage Alpaca (6-18mths)
- CRIA: Baby alpaca (newborn-6mths)
- MOTHER: Dam
- FATHER: Sire
- BIRTH: Criation or Unpacking
- HOMOZYGOUS: Suri Sire that only produces Suri progeny, even when put over a Huacaya Dam
- HETEROZYGOUS: Suri Sire that produces both Suri and Huacaya progeny when put over a Huacaya or Suri Dam
- INDUCED OVULATORS: No fixed breeding season. Receptive females can be mated at any time of the year.
- GESTATION: Average 11.5mths, however some normal births occur between 11-12mths.
- CRIAS PER PREGNANCY: 1 - twins are extremely rare.
- Gentle, intelligent, docile, curious, generally hardy and low maintenance animals.
- As they are a herd animal, they cannot be run as individuals.
- Produce a naturally soft and shiny fibre to the handle. The fleece has great thermal properties, is light weight and has a natural brightness or lustre.
- Environmentally friendly animals as their soft padded feet do not damage soils; they do not destroy trees or pull pasture out at the root; they require minimal chemical treatment (ie dipping / drenching); adapt to a wide range of climates; easily trained and handled; do not graze near dung piles lowering worm burden; travel well in a float / van in a sitting 'cush' position; and can be used as herd protectors for other livestock.
- Low consumers of feed (approx 1.5kg per adult per day) and up to 2 litres of water per day each. You may find that they consume significantly less than this amount. Approx 8 adult alpacas will consume what one cow does in a day.
ALPACA END USES:
Alpacas are bred for various reasons in this country from small holdings with animals, to large scale production for fleece/meat/livestock sales. These are a few of the end uses for alpacas and their fleeces.
- Still developing in this country and like all fibre markets prices rise and fall depending on demand and things like the state of the economy.
- All alpaca fleece can be used for commercial production – but the highest quality fleeces attract the highest prices and of course those animals are of the highest value and generally used in breeding programs (male and female) in the pursuit of attaining the best and longest lasting fleece characteristics through their progeny. Although, even wethered alpaca (castrated males sold as pets or guards) fleeces are of a high stand due to increased breeding standards in Australia and are very saleable.
- Large quantities of fleece can be sold directly to the commercial buyers. EBAY and local papers are the best option for selling small quantities of fleece – this market also generally attracts the highest returns. You can also send your fleece to a processing mill and have spun into yarn to sell on the local market or use yourself.
- Breeding high quality alpacas for sale into the domestic and international market to enable a viable and sustainable animal and fleece industry into the future. This option, amongst other things, demands that you show your animals or their fleeces to obtain industry recognition for your breeding outcomes.
- Pets/Guards. Alpacas make great pets as they are very friendly and easily trained. They also make terrific guardians of other livestock such as goats, sheep, pigs, poultry and even cattle as they will stomp a feral dog/cat to death in protection of their adopted herd. As 95% of male alpacas are not considered good enough to be studs – they are wethered (castrated) and used for this market.
- A small, but growing market, now exists in Australia for the production of alpacas for the meat industry.
- Huacaya alpacas are only used for meat, as Suri are considered to sinewy.
- This is still very much a developing market in Australia with returns low, until such time as demand is increased.
- Alpaca manure makes great fertiliser for the garden and can be placed directly onto plants without burning.
- It is also very easy to sell due to its terrific properties in this regard. For further details see: www.ppalpacas.com.au/market.php?id=75
ALPACAS AS AN INCOME
- Pets / Guards sell for $600-$700 from 6mths/18mths, castrated.
- Breeding Females start at around $2000 and go up to tens of thousands of dollars each depending on quality.
- Stud Males. You can buy intact males for as low as a few hundred dollars, up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Obviously if you are wanting to produce quality livestock that will give you a good return on your investment, purchasing a potential stud male for a few hundred or a few thousand dollars - probably will not do that for you and will only set your breeding program backwards. However, you can buy intact young males for under $10k that are considered show / elite quality, put them through the show season for a year or two, letting the judges comments and ribbons awarded tell you if they are good enough to be a stud when they reach approx 3yrs of age.
- Stud Services start from $500 and go up to several thousand dollars per service. This is obviously the best way to get your breeding program off and running - using stud males that have been proven in the show ring and/or progeny that have done the same. Make sure that you get a live cria guarantee with your mating which ensures that if your female aborts or your cria dies within one week of birth you get a free return mating to achieve an alpaca for your investment. Please note - live cria guarantees normally does not include travel/spitoffs, agistment or vet confirmation of pregnancy by ultrasound.
- Selling fleece locally, you can achieve $10-$65 per kg based on quality. This is for raw fleece, saddle only.
- Selling to commercial processors, you can achieve from a few cents per kg through to several hundred dollars per kg, depending on quality.
- Having your fleece spun into yarn or made into products can double to triple your investment. Selling these products locally or through stores on consignment.
- There are two abbatoirs for alpaca meat in Australia and they offer around $200per alpaca, must be huacaya, 18mths of age and fully fleeced.
- Obvious sourcing breeding stock for this purpose would be completely different to that the of the elite fleece industry animals. You would be looking for animals that are strong and healthy that produce bulky on their frames.
- Sells for approx $50 per trailer load, with long waiting lists as it is highly in demand.
EXPENSES FOR SETTING UP AN ALPACA FARM
When you purchase alpacas - that is not where the investment stops and the income starts! You have to factor in the following for initial set up and ongoing expenses.
INITIAL SET UP COSTS:
- BREEDING STOCK. Do your research and know what you are buying. Make sure that you get breeding females pregnant and mated to the best studs that you can. Look for a breeder that will build in the cost of the initial mating for your female; confirmation of pregnancy; live cria guarantee; and delivery. This will save you a lot of money when starting out. Don't waste your money on purchasing a stud male or potential stud male until you have been in the industry for a while - it takes time to understand how to breed and why you join a particular male/female together to achieve a certain outcome. Buy a proven stud male is expensive. Buying a potential stud male is a risk. Both of these decisions are better made when you have your head more around the breeding side of the industry.
- AGISTMENT. If you are purchasing alpacas as an investment and intend to agisted them permanently on another breeders property .... this will mean that you don't have to worry about the purchase of fencing, equipment, medical kits, floats, etc. Agistment will be a weekly rate, per alpaca and will range from approx $10pw per animal upward. This generally covers pasture and water only. There will be other fees for drenching, vet fees, medical products used by the breeder to manage health of your animals, shearing, showing fees, registering your alpacas. Talk to an experienced breeder about the costs associated with agistment. They should be able to give you a detailed lists of costs ongoing costs.
- FENCING. Hinge joint fencing is best for helping to keep predators out, with or without barb on top to stop dogs from jumping over. If you already have 3 or 4 barb fencing, don't take it down, just wire tie the hinge joint to it. This will be one of your most expensive investments after the purchase of your alpacas, however once the fences are up - that is it as, unlike horses and cattle, alpacas don't challenge fences and so you will not need to replace or spend much time maintaining your fences. See a local fencing supplier or fencer for a quote on this investment.
- WATER. You can just have a container that you fill daily or auto waterers to take care of this necessity. It depends on the number of alpacas you have to what you are willing to spend to have this need met. Drinking from dams is not recommended for pregnant females as they can get stuck in dams giving birth, with the possibility of drowning themselves and cria. Fresh water is also best for fleeced animals. Waterers can cost from a few dollars up to $100 each. See a local livestock supplier for costs.
- FEEDERS. Hay can be put in a bathtub under shelter or in a fence feeder. Supplementary feed can be put in livestock feed dishes through to feed troughs. Alpacas should be fed off the ground to lessen the risk of ingesting bacteria from the ground. Feeders can cost from a few dollars up to $100+ ea. See a local livestock supplier for costs.
- GENERAL CARE & GROOMING KITS. These are essential and contents/costs can be found on our website under "Market Place", "Health Care, Cria Care, Grooming & Showing". It is not necessary to start out with all these kits at once. You will need a General Care Kit and Products Kit to begin with; a Grooming Kit ahead of the show season if you are showing or ahead of the shearing season if not; a Cria Kit two months ahead of your first crias birth; and a Showing Kit one month ahead of the show season.
- HALTER/LEADS. These can be found on our website under "Marketplace", "Equipment". Prices start from $25 a set.
- TRANSPORT. You will either have to pay a professional transporter to bring your animals to farm or invest in a float that you can transport your animals yourself. Some breeders will include the price of transport for females purchased and a small fee for pets/guards. However, you will probably need a float in the future if you intend to show, breed/sell and transport your alpacas to others, do mobile matings, etc. Talk to a local breeder about costs for transport and/or to recommend a transporter.
- FEED. You will need a good source of pasture to feed your alpacas. On top of that you will need to make good quality hay available to alpacas at all times, plus supplement feed chaff mix to pregnant females/weanlings/stud males. Feed can cost as low as a few dollars per animal per week, up to as much as $20 per week per animal depending on your pasture availability and weather conditions.
- DRENCHING. Some breeders will drench annually; quarterly; and/or test and then drench as necessary. You will need two types of drench to alternate - broad spectrum that will cover internal and external parasites. You should look at testing your animals, for more details see: www.ppalpacas.com.au/market.php?id=74
- MATINGS. You will probably buy your alpacas already pregnant. Thereafter, you will need to have them remated. As good stud males are so expensive to buy outright, you will probably invest in stud matings. It is a good idea to do outside stud matings regardless of owning a stud male, so that you are keeping your genetic pool moving at all times. Mating fees range from $500 up to several thousand dollars each. Some breeder will reduce the price of matings if you purchase several at one time. Some breeders offer mobile matings (stud is brought to your farm for mating). Some breeders offer agistment of your female in the price of the mating, and confirmation of pregnancy by vet ultrasound - some don't. Some breeders offer a live cria guarantee and others don't. Do your research on this whilst you are waiting for your first crias to drop, so that you know where to go for rematings and how much it will cost you, and what you are getting for the stud fee.
- TRANSPORT. Travelling your animals to shows/matings and return. You will need a van or horse float, or you can simply dry hire these from petrol stations when needed. You can also engage a professional transporter or perhaps a local breeder will do this for you. Do your research on this too to ascertain what will be the most cost affective for you.
- INSURANCE. Most people will insure their initial female herd and continue to until they produce something that will replace them. Some breeders continue to insure those animals that are very expensive such as elite breeding stock and stud males.
- REGISTERED BREEDER. If you intend on breeding alpacas, buy from a registered breeder, ensuring the stock you are purchasing are registered. Some breeders factor in the transfer of ownership fees to the sale price, others don't - transfer fees range from $5.50 to several hundred dollars per animal, depending on what you are buying. You will also need to become a member of a registered membership organisation to register your crias, such as the Australian Alpaca Association. For more details on costs see: www.alpaca.asn.au/docs/AAA/join/mbr_appl.pdf. Thereafter you will need to pay an annual membership fee and register your crias - which will costs from $5.50 to $22.
- SHOWING. If you intend to show your animals you will have to factor in the price of transporting your alpacas to show, fees for showing and your accommodation. You can show alpaca fleeces instead of the animals at a lower cost. Talk to a local breeder for information on the costs involved.
- VET FEES. If you have livestock .... sometimes you will have sick and deadstock! This is a fact of breeding and all forms of life! You need to be prepared to call in a vet when you can't fix it yourself. When starting out you may wish to use the services of an experienced local breeder to help you manage your alpacas health to reduce these costs. However, if you are breeding you may at the very least need to have vet ultrasounds done on your property if not included in your mating fee.
- SHEARING. This is done annually. For further information see: www.ppalpacas.com.au/market.php?catid=14
4 Jan 14
PFEIFFER PARK ALPACAS Breeding Program
Breeding Suri and Huacaya alpacas, using quality females and stud males, with a goal of always working toward the improvement of the National herd.
Our aim with alpacas is the continuous improvement of:
- well grown with back, legs, neck in proportion
- average adult height 90-95cm at the withers
- average adult weight 80kg male, 65kg female
- straight teeth
- conformity of testicles in males
- fineness (consistently low microns and standard deviation, with soft handle)
- lustre in Suris and brightness in Huacayas (shine when fleece is opened up)
- architecture - style of locks and twist in Suris and crimp in Huacayas
- length and uniformity across the whole body
- density, working toward 5kg+ annually
- Solid, even colour across the whole body.
- Specialising in the rarest colouring of alpacas, greys!
3 Jan 14
Alpaca owners come from every walk of life. Increasingly, alpacas are becoming an important source of income for many people. There are:
- Entire families that are full-time alpaca breeders.
- Young couples with children may own three or four alpacas and enjoy caring for them.
- Retired couples, who have finished with raising kids, moved to the country, become owners.
- Hand-spinner might own two or three animals for fibere production.
- Increasingly vets are becoming breeders.
- Many herds are owned by families where one person has a day job, and the other manages the farm.
- A large number of breeders are working couples who tend to the herd in the evening after work.
- There are many investment owners who agisting alpacas with a breeder who manages the breeding/showing/sales of their herd with their assistance by phone/email; or they may hand over that responsibility entirely to the agistee to manage for them, thereby giving them an alpaca operation while still retaining an urban career.
- Finally we have the pet market, where people on acreage buy a pair to graze and enjoy their company. Often using their annual clip to have made into products they can use or sell!
Whatever the type of owner, alpacas offer a great way to diversify your financial portfolio with a commodity that is both rare and in demand worldwide.
Farm sizes vary:
- there are few large farms with over 500 alpacas
- many small farms of only half a dozen alpacas
- and everything in between.
The average alpaca herd consists of about 10-20 alpacas. Most herds start out small and grow to the size that fits the breeder's farm and/or financial goals.
Almost all breeders are in business for the long haul, believing in the future of the industry. With the relatively small number of alpacas currently available, there will be an extended and steady demand for breeding stock to continue meeting the needs of our growing industry for many years.
However, it is important to recognize that alpaca ownership has inherent risks, as do all livestock and financial assets. You should talk to breeders to familiarise yourself with the risks as well as the rewards of alpaca ownership.
Here are some things that you will need to consider if you are looking at owning or breeding alpacas.
- 6-10 alpacas per acre, depending on pasture.
- Shorn annually.
- Teeth and toenails checked biannually and ground/clipped as necessary.
- Annual shots include 6-in-1 vaccine, Selenium, Vitamin D/Cophos
- Can suffer from stomach ulcers due to things like stress or worm burden
- Parasites (internal and external)
- Weed poisoning (whatever is poisonous to a horse, is for an alpaca too)
- Facial Eczema in some areas
- Staggers in some areas
- Melioidosis in some areas
- Contact DPI to learn what the health issues faced by alpacas are in your area. Also contact DPI in the area that you are looking to buy alpacas from and ask the same question. Problems may exist in the area you are buying from, that are different to your area. You need to know both. You also need to know the requirements for transporting alpacas over State borders and within the State - there are severe penalties for getting this wrong!
- Ask the breeder you are buying from for the contact details of their vet so that you can check the herd health status of the animals on their farm and specifically those that you are wishing to purchase.
- Castrated males make great pets with the correct personality
- Sold from 6mths+
- Must be sold in pairs as they are a herd animal and will fret without an alpaca mate
- Castrated males make great guards for other livestock from 18mths+
- Need to work in pairs
- They are known to take down 1 to 2 ferals (foxes, dogs, cats, etc) when working in pairs guarding breeding alpaca females/sheep/goats/pigs/poultry/cattle. They will chase and stomp ferals to death if caught.
- After initial attempts, ferals generally will not come near paddocks containing alpacas. Please note that alpaca guards are just part of the puzzle in feral control - you will still need to fence, trap, bait and shoot. Alpacas have a high pitched alarm call that they make when danger is discovered, which also lets you know too to grab the gun! When faced with a pack of dogs, they will fight - but they probably will not win that battle!
- Alpaca guards are easy to care of as they do not require special feed, crutching, tail docking and are not prone to fly strike or foot rot.
- Alpacas generally eat and have the same or similar husbandry regime as the animals they are guarding.
- Breeding females do better when paddocked with other females for company
- Generally fertile from 18mths+, or 45kg+
- Females need to be protected from predators and two alpaca guards will service that need
- Cannot be run with intact males, as the stress from being harassed constantly by the males can cause ill health and abortion
- Stud males can start work as early as 18mths+, but generally not reliable until 3yrs+.
- It is highly recommended that if you only have a small herd you utilise stud services from other breeders and not try to keep a stud male as they can become aggressive without other male company and without the correct volume of work.
- Fighting teeth. Intact males will grow these very dangerous teeth, which need to be checked biannually and taken down by a vet at regular intervals.
2 Jan 14
ALPACAS AS AN INVESTMENT
The alpaca industry in Australia has grown from strength to strength since beginning in the early 1990's and is definitely here to stay. It is probably one of the world's last great fibre industries to be fully developed, with Australia finding itself in an enviable position to lead the world in realising the full potential of the alpaca with strong demand for our fleece and animals.
Australia has the largest herd of alpacas based outside of South America, and we are emerging as the best breeders of alpacas in the world - with a demand on our genetics and breeding strategies steadily increasing all over the world.
With the current world trend toward using natural fibres, there has never been a better time to be part of this exciting industry. Alpaca fibre is highly prized for its very soft feel, its thermal properties, durability, light weight, natural lustre and brightness and variety of natural colours.
The return from alpacas can be quickly realised. Alpacas live for 20+ years and breed right up into their early 20's too, so the potential for making a good return on invested capital is significant.
Who agists alpacas as an investment and why?
The are many reasons, which are all specific to the individual, but these are a few of the most common reasons:
- tax diversification
- passive income, not unlike investing in real estate or shares
- do not have enough land to breed themselves
- agist alpacas with a breeder, working with them to learn how to breed alpacas and about the industry before taking them onto their own property
Like any investment, there are risks and these need to be taken into consideration. To help minimise these risks, you need to:
- do your research by visiting lots of farms and getting information online too
- you can discuss with professionals such as an accountant, business opportunity centres in your area, etc
- decide why you want to breed alpacas (livestock sales, fleece, manufacture alpaca products for sale, etc)
- make a plan for how you will achieve your goals (including breeding and the genetic diversification, whether you will show animals/fleeces, sales, etc)
- explore the costs and anticipated income to be achieved and over what period of time that will happen and how
- find a breeder that has experience in managing animals on behalf of clients, who can advise you on beeding/showing/sales/health management and can act as an agent to assist you with genetic selection and breeding for your goals
- make sure that you have a contract for purchases / agistment that is clear and outlines all the expenses that are involved so there are no surprises at the end of the day, along with an exit clause if things don't work out, etc and all in plain english
- make sure that you work with breeders that you feel comfortable with, don't feel pressured to buy or move too quickly, and do things at your pace.
1 Jan 14