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Why Alpacas ?
There are lots of good reasons to keep alpacas - here are just some of them !

You have grass that needs to be eaten !
Alpacas are great eaters of grass and are much more environmentally friendly than a lawn-mower ! Buy three or four halter-trained and attractive males and you will have easily-kept, relaxed and friendly field pets for many years to come. Non-breeding males are the cheapest way to own alpacas - you can pay from £200-£1000 for a young male - the price variation often reflects their “cuteness”, age, degree of training and fleece quality.

If the males you choose have reasonable fleeces with good colour and some fineness, they should be able to earn their keep if you do something with the fleeces. If you are a craftsperson then you will have the added pleasure of working with yarn that you have watched growing !

You want to keep not-for-slaughter, environmentally-friendly livestock
Alpacas are an ideal livestock species for those who wish to operate a low-impact agricultural business perhaps on a small scale. You could do this with non-breeding males and take advantage of their simple maintenance requirements, or you could buy females and breed them. Remember that scale can affect the viability of owning your own stud male - think about buying in stud services and how you would organise that in a biosecure way.

Alpacas . . .

require little by the way of infrastructure

have soft feet and do little damage to vegetation as they graze

are efficient grazers and don’t require heavily-fertilised pasture

multiply slowly and so you can readily adjust the scale of your operation

You want to create a business opportunity by breeding alpacas for profit
As well as giving you all the benefits of working with these special animals, there are several business streams that follow on from alpaca-keeping in general and breeding in particular.

Rather than expanding your herd indefinitely you may prefer to sell some of your breeding stock, mainly the females, or non-breeding males. You may sell the females pregnant as maidens expecting their first cria, or they may sell as experienced mums. If you breed or purchase a good quality stud male you may eventually wish to sell him in order to introduce new blood into your own herd. When selling breeding animals, the price tends to be governed by their pedigree, quality, age and the quality of the male to which a female is mated.

If you have your own stud male, then you may wish to share his genes with other breeders for the payment of stud fees. What you will be able to charge will depend on his quality and breeding, his show results, and his fleece and conformation. Be sure that you are doing this in a biosecure way though.

Fibre Production
You can use your alpacas’ fibre to give you income to help cover your herd costs or you could take it a little further and make it a business in itself.

The more you do to the fleece, the more value you add. You may be able to sell an attractive raw fleece to a hand spinner for, say, £50 or more, but if you add some processing and sell yarn, felt, knitted or woven goods instead you can considerably increase both the revenue and margin. This involves work and some imagination but can be a great way to get your herd’s name known locally and further afield.

Alpaca Diversification
You may, indeed probably will, have your own skills and talents before you became smitten by alpacas ! Alpacas owners are frequently new to livestock and frequently new to running a small business too. But maybe your prior skills are something that other alpaca keepers would pay for ? If you are good at working with wood, you may wish to design, construct and install special alpaca field shelters. You may have business management skills and be able to help with business plans. Maybe you know a lot about pasture management from a lifetime in farming - that may be a very marketable skill. Or perhaps you have IT skills and can set up web-sites or offer software services with an alpaca flavour ?

If you are in a popular holiday area and have suitable accommodation, what about running alpaca themed weekend breaks ? Or a coffee shop with big windows to let your customers sit entranced whilst watching your alpacas grow fleece ?

Will the authorities be interested in my alpacas ?
Alpacas in the UK are not food animals so Defra and the Scottish Government are, in general, not concerned about them. You are not obliged to tag them, have “passports” for them or record their movements. If you are keeping alpacas “commercially” you will need an animal transport licence to transport them - check to see do the rules apply to you.

If you are farming in Scotland, then SGRPID will ask you about alpacas on your SAF in order to calculate stocking density on pasture. If you are planning to diversify then both SGRPID and Defra recognise alpaca keeping as a legitimate agricultural diversification option.

So, in general, the authorities will leave you and your alpacas pretty much alone. This situation may change though, as alpacas are susceptible to some diseases that affect other livestock species and controls to tighten up on movements might be coming.

It can’t all be good - what are the drawbacks ?
Well, unless you are buying wethers, alpacas are expensive relative to many other livestock species. At the time of writing (August 2015) pregnant females will cost anywhere from £1000 to £15000 with the average at about £3000. Pregnant females with a cria at foot will generally have a similar price tag if the cria is male and more if the cria is female. Proven stud-quality males can sell for up to £50000 but the average price would be around £3000.

Be a little wary when looking at the prices given for “stud males” though - some male alpacas sold as such may really be completely unsuitable for breeding and just haven’t been castrated - yet.

Depending on where you live, you may find it rather difficult to find a vet with specific knowledge of alpacas. This is an issue if you are planning to breed your alpacas but less of a problem if you have non-breeding animals. The breeder from whom you bought your alpacas should offer you, as a novice, a good back-up with reassuring telephone support at the very least.

Your local vet can get support from their colleagues through the British Camelid Veterinary Society. There is a lot of information available on the internet and several excellent books that you may wish to get to grips with. For a beginners guide, Gina Bromage’s excellent book is a boon.

On a related theme,  just about every veterinary medicine is “off-label” for alpacas. This means that everything your vet does is pretty much not scientifically proven to help the alpaca but will have come into widespread use through practical experience. This can be a concern if they get anything exotic. Fortunately though, with appropriate care, they are very robust and don’t trouble the vet much.

Don’t alpacas spit ?
Yes, alpacas do spit. But, they reserve most of their spitting for keeping each other in line and. If you get caught in the crossfire, they almost certainly didn’t mean it and you’ll read the signs better next time ! If you really do something to them that they don’t appreciate, like injecting them or restraining them for shearing, then some alpacas may let you know in no uncertain terms that they are not impressed.   As well as spitting, they can scream - an un-nerving experience at close quarters.

And finally . . .
Another feature of alpaca-keeping which you may think of as either an advantage or a disadvantage, is that they can rather dominate everything you do, every conversation you have, and everything you read. But what can possibly be wrong with that . . ?