Alpacas & Raising Alpacas
Alpacas are intelligent and can be trained easily.
They are sociable, herd oriented animals who spend their time grazing,
sleeping or pronking (jumping around for fun or to keep warm). Alpacas
are smaller than llamas, weighing between 120 and 200 pounds at
their adult weight. They are low-maintenance, easy to care for,
easy on the land, and have reasonable feed requirements. They make
a humming sound to communicate.
Alpacas are originally from the Andes mountains in
the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They are
domesticated members of the camelid family.
The Alpaca Market:
Slightly over 100,000 alpacas live in the United States.
Only offspring of currently registered alpacas can be registered
with the Alpaca Registry, Inc. As the gestation period is approximately
11.5 months, the growth rate in the US is fairly slow. Alpacas have
maintained consistent sales values since the mid-1980's.
Caring for Alpacas:
Alpacas need a roofed shelter to protect them from
the snow in the winter. They need fencing to keep them in and predators
out. They eat pasture grass, hay, and camelid pellets supplemented
with minerals and should have a constant supply of fresh, clean
water. Up to 5 alpacas per acre of pasture or more depending on
the lushness of the pasture and whether you supplement with hay.
Regular de-worming and vaccinations are needed. Occasion toenail
trimming or teeth trimming may be needed. Health certificates are
required for interstate travel. They need to have their fleece shorn
once a year in the springtime.
The alpaca lifestyle consists of living on a farm,
raising gentle, beautiful animals with minimal care requirements,
watching crias be born and grow to maturity, and meeting other interesting
and friendly alpaca breeders at educational events and possible
Started with Alpacas
The following books will help you learn to identify
the quality of alpacas that you are considering for purchase, determine
equipment and requirements for basic care and neonatal care. Also,
if you join the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, they have
a reading library as well.
Secrets of the Andean Alpaca, The Field Guide: Assessing
Fiber Characteristics and Conformation This is an excellent
guide to selecting a high quality alpaca for purchase based
on its body characteristics (called conformation) and fleece
Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, A Health and Management
Guide by Clare Hoffman, DVM and Ingrid Asmus. Short
and full of excellent, practical basic care information.
Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care by Bradford B.
Smith, DVM, PhD, and two other authors. Essential reading to
prepare for the birth of your first cria on the farm.
Up: Equipment and Infrastructure
When getting started, be sure to account for the expense of getting
your farm ready to care for alpacas as well as the initial animal
purchases. You will want to consider the following infrastructure
- Perimeter fencing to keep alpacas in and possible predators
out (like dogs)
- Internal fencing to separate the females from the males, a quarantine
area, catch pens (small pens in a larger yard where you can herd
an animal into a corner to get ahold of it), optional fencing
to separate out overweight or underweight animals
- Shelter in each of the fenced areas, or a single shelter that
is divided and leads into the various fields
- Water in each fenced area. Will you use water buckets and run
lines for heaters or install automatic, heated waterers?
- Feed buckets or hay feeders in each area
- Restraining chute. Some farms prefer to simply halter their
alpacas to clip toenails, get weights, administer shots and perform
other veterinary care, some farms like to have the help of a restraining
- Scales to get periodic weights. This can be a big help to identify
health issues like not getting enough milk or a worm problem in
- Halters and leads, toenail clippers, worming medication, gloves,
other routine veterinary care items.
- A place to store hay and grain outside the alpaca yards.
- A way to transport your alpacas to and from the vet and other
farms. One or two alpacas can fit in the back of a van. For larger
numbers, you may want to obtain a trailer.
- When you get ready to begin selling your alpacas, there will
be marketing expenses as well including everything from logo design,
to business cards, letterhead, farm brochures, websites, farm
banners, entering shows, magazine ads, newspaper ads and more.
Defining Your Herd Objectives
Some farms purchase a large number of alpacas for their foundation
herd and begin selling the offspring right away. Others choose to
purchase a smaller number and keep the offspring, building up their
herd for a period of years.
You might want to invest in a quality stud right away, or with
a smaller herd it could be more advantageous to use outside breedings
for a number of years while you learn more about the type of herdsires
you need in your herd.
You can purchase a proven, bred female to make sure that you won't
have any fertility issues right away, or you can spend less on a
maiden with the longer wait for offspring.
Tax Advantages of Owning Alpacas
Tax advantages include:
- directly writing off many expenses
- improving your farm and obtaining equipment to manage it while
depreciating these expenses
- tax deferred wealth building
If you actively raise alpacas for profit at your farm,
all the expenses attributable to the endeavor can be written off
against your income. Expenses would include feed, fertilizer, veterinarian
care, etc. These expenses can also help shelter current cash flow
Capital improvements to the active or hands-on alpaca breeder's
ranch can also be written off against income. Barns, fences, pond
construction, driveways, and parking lots can be expensed over their
useful life. Equipment such as tractors, pickups, trailer, and scales
each have an appropriate schedule for write-off. The depreciation
schedule for each asset class varies from three years to 40 years.
Alpaca breeding allows for tax-deferred wealth building. An owner
can purchase several alpacas and then allow the herd to grow over
time without paying income tax on its increased size and value until
he or she decides to sell an animal or sell the entire herd.
A very helpful IRS publication, #225, entitled The
Farmer's Tax Guide, can be obtained from your local IRS office.
Those considering entering the alpaca industry should engage an
accountant for advice in setting up your books and determining the
proper use of these tax advantages.