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Getting Started


If raising alpacas represents a significant lifestyle change for you, do your homework before you even think about buying a halter or a toenail clipper, not to mention any alpacas or a farm to put them on.


Homework Assignment

Read everything you can get your hands on, including this web site and those offered by other reputable breeders. Study several “how to” books (see the Resources section). Learn all you can from association web sites and industry magazines. Sign up for seminars on a range of topics offered by many alpaca breeders, associations, colleges and universities, and vets. (Consider attending our basic alpaca seminar, called Alpacas@Altitude, held several times throughout the year. To check the next date, call or email us, or look in The Farm News section of this website on THE FARM landing page.) Visit farms in your area, ask a lot of questions, and pay attention to their farm layout. Attend shows, where you can watch the competition in the ring, learn what the judges are looking for, meet more breeders and attend more classes.


Talk to your Accountant

There are important tax advantages to being an alpaca breeder, but they are subject to change, and how they impact you depends on your individual financial circumstances.


Business Plan

Take the time to develop a business plan. Really. This is important. As they say, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Be specific about where you want to go and how you plan to get there. If you expect to obtain financing for any part of your new business, you will be asked to provide a business plan – including a proforma financial statement. But even if you are not planning to finance anything, good business practices dictate that you should have a plan that will guide your efforts and keep you on track.


Go to The Business Side: Business Plans to learn more about why a business plan is important and how you can go about creating one that fits your situation. And remember to revisit your business plan every year or two. It is not carved in stone, and it should be adjusted to reflect changes that may take place in the marketplace and in your own circumstances.


Farm Layout

You can save yourself a lot of time and energy if you think through your farm’s layout before you bring your alpacas home. An efficient layout takes into account the relationship of the barn, paddocks, pastures, catch pens, hay storage, feeding stations and waterers, and allows for easy movement of animals and people.


Buying Animals

Remember your business plan? That’s where you stated exactly what your breeding goals are. Do you want to breed huacayas or suris or both? Do you want to have an inventory of all colors or do you want to specialize in specific colors? What priority are you placing on conformation and how much on fiber quality? Within fiber quality, how much priority on fiber fineness, fiber density, staple length, crimp, shear weight and other measures of fiber quality?

 
Whatever goals you set, stick to them! If you really want to breed for whites and lights, resist the temptation to buy the lovely dark fawn female you saw at the show that won color champion. Or the white female you saw at a nearby farm that keeps throwing color (just because she’s white, it doesn’t necessarily follow that her offspring are going to be white, too). If you’re breeding for fiber fineness, don’t schedule a breeding to the herdsire whose progeny have a 22 micron count at one year, even if that herdsire is gorgeous and is featured prominently in industry publications.


Breeding is a complicated subject, but the point here is: identify your breeding goals and then breed to those goals. It sounds simple – and it is – but many breeders get off track for an assortment of reasons and before long, they have strayed so far from their goals that they’re not really breeding with any purpose in mind.


It is okay to change your goals, and it is smart to do so if you identify market trends or other factors that call for a mid-course correction. If you notice, for example, that rose grays are not selling as well as they did when you started buying and breeding them, you may decide to phase them out of your breeding program. That’s fine. Make a conscious decision to do so, and then make subsequent breeding decisions accordingly.  


Husbandry

If you want to raise and breed alpacas, you need to learn how to take care of them. Yes, it’s stating the obvious, but you owe it to those sweet, trusting animals to educate yourself thoroughly about their needs before you bring them home.


For example, you should know what kind of hay and supplements they need and how to store their feed . . .how to recognize and remove plants that are toxic to alpacas from your pastures . . .how to insure a constant clean and safe water supply . . . how to lay out your farm efficiently . . . how and when to vaccinate them against diseases . . . how to get help in case of an emergency . . . and how to institute bio-security measures on your farm to avoid introducing unwanted parasites into your herd.


You should know what predators might be a problem where you live and how to protect your herd against them . . . how to keep your alpacas warm enough in the winter and cool enough in the summer . . .and how to recognize behavior that signals stress, pain, danger, aggression or other situations that may require intervention.


You should know how to halter-train your alpacas . . .how to handle them to administer shots, cut toenails or provide medical care . . .how to transport them . . .and how to shear them.


You should know what diseases and other medical conditions they may develop, and how to treat those conditions if they arise . . .what preventive care alpacas need . . . what situations might come up during birthing that you can handle, and where to go for medical help that is beyond your capabilities.


You should have a manure management plan, a reliable record-keeping system and one or more dependable farm hands you can call to keep things going when you are unavailable.


Shows

The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association has developed a system of shows throughout the country, and other organizations sponsor shows, as well. You don’t have to participate in these or any shows, and many breeders don’t. But many breeders find that shows keep them up-to-date on what’s happening within the industry, lets them know when a special animal is available for purchase or for breeding that might further a specific breeding goal, and lets them know which farms are producing award-winning animals. If you’re going to participate in shows, learn when and where they’re held, so you can plan ahead to select animals to register and show. Also, incorporate the cost of registration, travel and other associated costs into your financial planning. 


While the various subjects listed in this section may seem overwhelming, they will soon become second nature and an enjoyable part of your routine. It’s best to identify them when you’re first getting started so that you can plan ahead and avoid the confusion that comes from trying to catch up on something important that was overlooked. The more you prepare for your alpacas, the smoother the transition to your farm will be for them and for you.