A Day In The Life
No day on the farm (or ranch, if you prefer) is exactly like any other. What you may be doing on any given day depends on how big your herd is, what time of year it is, what’s going on with your alpacas, what needs doing around the farm, and so on.
If you’re just getting started, you’re going to be very busy for a while getting your farm set up the way you want it: building or renovating a barn, installing fencing, selecting and acquiring equipment, ordering supplies, finding a vet and a million other details associated with providing proper care for your alpacas. (See Getting Started.)
Once all that is in place, it’s time to decide what animals you are going to purchase to meet breeding goals that you have identified (see Buying Animals) in your business plan (see The Business Side: Business Plans). For most new breeders, it’s probably a good idea to buy animals from a variety of different farms rather than buying all or most of them from one breeder. Be selective and find animals that meet your breeding goals, regardless of where they currently live.
Spare Time vs. Full Time
A lot of breeders start to establish their farms while they are still working at another job. This means that chores have to be done before and after the work day and on weekends. It also means that there is a limit to how many alpacas they can care for without hiring someone to help. While this isn’t true of every farm or every situation, a working couple might expect to be able to care for as many as 10-20 alpacas, plus-or-minus, and still work at other jobs. They might need to call in some part-time help when things pile up or the owners have to be out of town.
When the herd grows to around 20-30 alpacas, however, the dynamics change. At this level, the needs of a larger herd require more hours in the day, and the couple might want to consider having one person shift attention from an outside job to managing the farm. Again, a part-time helper or two will come in handy when it comes to filling in during vacations, helping out in emergencies, watching the farm when the owners go to shows, and providing extra hands during shearing.
Once the herd exceeds 30-40 alpacas, it's getting close to becoming a
full-time job for the aggressive alpaca breeder. Keeping up with the care and feeding of the animals, shoveling
poop, arranging and/or overseeing breedings, attending shows, keeping herd
management and financial records, ordering supplies, tending to newborn crias,
seeding and tending pastures, repairing fencing, maintaining equipment,
arranging and staffing shearings, processing and/or selling the fiber,
advertising and marketing the business and conducting farm tours and classes
can no longer be done on the weekends!
We should add here that the above scenario assumes you're jumping into this business with both feet. If you choose to raise alpacas for the pure joy of it, or maybe to satisfy your craving for luxurious alpaca fiber, then you can probably manage quite nicely while still holding a full-time job elsewhere. If you don't plan to grow your herd much or go to shows (maybe just one or two) and you don't need to advertise and market your business, conduct farm tours, hold classes or sell alpaca products, the alpaca side of your life will take a lot less time.
Summer vs. Winter
Your summer schedule is going to be a lot busier than your winter schedule. (Good thing the days are longer!) Most shows are held during spring, many breeders schedule breedings so that births will take place in the spring or fall, pastures need to be seeded and worked in the spring and summer, shearings are scheduled for spring, and most farm maintenance is done in the summer. It’s a busy time, but it’s an exciting time with new crias added to the herd, breedings bringing new genetics into the herd and setting the stage for next year’s crias, new visitors learning about your farm, and alpaca and fiber sales bringing in profits.
If you don’t like to be physically active, you might
want to re-think owning an alpaca farm (unless you want to be an investor and board your animals at someone else’s
farm). For most breeders, the
chores are part of the pleasure. Being outside, getting exercise, breathing
fresh air, experiencing the satisfaction of finishing a job done well and, of
course, interacting with the alpacas is just plain fun.
Do plan to work hard, but remember to enjoy your alpacas. Watch in wonder as they pronk, nuzzle, nurse, graze and play. Laugh as they roll in the grass and get used to their newly shorn bodies. Tiptoe around a pair of tired juveniles as they cush and stretch their necks out for a little snooze.
Hard work? Yeah, but it’s good work.
The general rule-of-thumb is that it takes an acre of
land for 5-10 alpacas. The
actual number depends on the quality of pasture available. For example, in
areas prone to drought, it may be as few as 3-5 per acre, but in areas with
good soil and sufficient rainfall and/or irrigation, an acre can support a
larger number. The number also varies according to how much your alpacas will depend on
pasture versus hay. Obviously, the more hay you provide, the less dependent on
pasture your alpacas are, and the more alpacas you can put on an acre of land.