Research, Research, Research
To get started the key to the game is research. Visit as many farms as you can, read as many books as possible, and learn as much as you can about the animals and their requirements.
First questions you should ask yourself before moving to buy alpacas:
- Why are you buying Alpacas? Most important to start outright. Are you in it to make money, show, get resources from them, or just for fun to have on your farm to look at?
- Do you have enough space? 1 acre of land can hold 12-15 alpaca if you have pastures and adequate hay for them to eat during the winter.
- Do you have a good set up or can you need to put one in?
- Types of animals – Huacaya or Suri Alpaca, which one do you want?
- What quality of alpaca? Fiber, Pets (Alpacas are Livestock but people keep them as a pet on their hobby farm), Breeding, Showing, or Meat.
After you answer these questions and you still want to get a herd. Yes, herd. Alpacas do not do well by themselves. It is best to have at least three in a group of the same sex. Male and female alpacas should not ever be housed in the same field or same barn (except for the obvious breeding ritual). You should go through the below checklist and details to make sure you stay on track and learn as much as you can.
Checklist Before You Bring Them Home to Their New Alpaca Farm
- Did you prepare a business plan/budget before you purchase? This is necessary no matter what type of farm or alpacas you are going to have. You need to fully understand the costs and time involved to have an alpaca farm.
- Do you have a mentor? A person that has/had alpacas and can answer some of the startup questions you will have no matter how well you prepare. Usually, the farm you are buying your alpacas from will gladly mentor you through the process.
- Do you have a hay source that will be able to supply you with grass hay? This has proven to be an issue even with established farms. Make sure you secure your source before you bring them home.
- Do you have grain and or mineral plan identified and ready? Be sure you talk to the farm you are getting them from so you can follow their process or at least get enough of the products so you can slowly change over to your identified method.
- Are your barn and fencing set up to hold your alpacas? Best to have a mentor or “Alpaca Person” audit your farm and make sure the setup and supplies are ready for their arrival. Fencing- With Alpaca fencing, it is used to keep animals out even more than at is to keep alpacas in. Depending on your area Predator proof fencing is important. When planning your fences and barn layout keep in mind pinch points. Since alpacas are flight animals, they will not be cornered easily. Best to have areas that it will neck the animals down so they cannot get around you when you need to work with them.
- Do you have a vet identified that is experienced with camelids? Most vets will not work on alpacas so you will have to make sure you find one that is willing to beforehand.
- Do you have a startup kit of medications that you will need? CD&T, Deworming, Antibiotics, ETC? Depending on the time of year and the medication protocol you choose to follow will dictate the medicine toolbox you need to have ready.
- Do you have barn supplies you will need first thing when they arrive?
a. Rakes and shovels to pick up manure and clean the barn and pasture.
b. Feed buckets/troughs- depending on how many alpacas and the type of feed you choose to feed will dictate the type of buckets you will need.
c. Water buckets- In cold weather climates make sure you have identified how you will keep the water from freezing
d. Leads and halters- Usually they come with some but if not you will need to have enough to handle the different size alpacas (small, medium, and large).
Alpaca Business Plan
Even if you are not going to treat having alpaca as a business it is always good to put one together. It is good to know what costs you will incur to have alpacas. Things like monthly feed costs, shearing, vet bills, and incidental supplies are all things that will way into the decision to get alpacas. Can you afford them, or how many alpacas to purchase will help be determined by do you a business plan.
On the other hand, if your intent is to treat alpacas as a business, a business plan is not only a good thing but a required activity. You may be required to show if audited. As soon as you decide on starting an alpaca farm as a business you should get a business plan together. It helps you stay on track and keep your plan in motion. It also will help you get in the habit of keeping receipts and other required documents when it comes to tax time on your farm.
Alpaca Hay Source
Hay is all over. At least that what it seems. But when you try and find a 2 or third cutting all grass hay it seems that the supply dries up. You will want to check the local area and see if you can find a farmer that sells all grass hay. Finding and securing a local source as soon as you can help you with not only the time of having to travel farther but also money. It is the law of supply and demand if you wait to find hay when you do the price will usually go up especially later in the season.
Grain and Minerals for Alpacas
The concept of grain and minerals in the alpaca world goes all the way from “you don’t need anything just hay” to “you should be feeding them each 2lbs a day of brand XXX”. The fact is, alpacas like any other animal, need a nutritional value more than what is in hay alone. Whether you are putting a salt block out for cattle or a mineral bucket for your sheep, you are providing the animal with a supplement of nutrition that is not in the food source used in the main diet. Alpacas are no different. whether you choose a free choice mineral or a grain supplement alpacas will need to get that extra nutrition. Another fact is livestock will crave whatever is missing out of their normal diet, and if presented with that source they will seek it out and consume it to satisfy that craving.
As a general rule, alpaca feed is broken down into two factors:
- Proteins, fats, and fiber which comes from your fillers like soybean hulls, soybean meal, wheat middling.
- Vitamins and minerals for example Vitamin A, D, and E, Phosphorus, Calcium, Potassium.
A key factor with which grain you choose is local availability. Your local feed source will use a certain alpaca grain as their only offered brand.
Preparing Your Alpaca Barn or Shelter
This is something that no matter how well you plan you will want to improve it. When we were planning our barn layout I planned, planned and planned some more. The original plan was to build custom fence and gates by welding exact to fit all the opens I wanted. I ran my plans by a mentor and was told it was great, but I might want to think about building it out of wood and screws (Screws so you could make changes and improvements easier). I was not convinced that it needed to be done because in my mind I planned so well I would not want to change or improve anything. Well needless to say I am now at the 1-year mark of the new perfect barn layout and I have ONLY changed it 6-8 times. This is why we feel it is so important to have a mentor to help you through the process. The advice I took against my better judgment has not only saved me on time but also a great deal of wasted money.
Things you will want to plan into your layout
- Is there enough room for the number of alpacas you plan on having?
- Do you have a way to separate animals into different areas? Either due to feeding, Injury or different personality’s when not getting along.
- If you are planning on birthing do you have a pen set up or can be set up to separate mom and new cria for a short period of time? This supports the bonding between mother and baby.
- If you are going to have crias. Do you have a separate area set up that only the crias can get into (called a cria pen). This will allow a cria to get away from the herd and get extra grain without having to fight with the herd to get their share. Cria’s, in the beginning, need a free-choice grain they can eat at any time.
- There are many different opinions on what type of shelter your animals will need. Some say a barn with 4 sides that can be closed up when needed to either protect animals from severe weather, predators or making it easier to do alpaca herd checks. Others say you only need a 3 sided shelter to protect from severe weather. The answer will depend on your climate and also your comfort factor on caring for your alpacas.
- Hay Storage- This comes in handy especially if you have the ability to house a 1 year of purchased hay or if you plan to plant and harvest hay fields. Every year the hay yield is based on mother nature. If the yield is low then you will have trouble finding it available in the later months, and if you do find it people usually will charge more with a lower quality available. On the other hand, if the yield is high you would be able to buy it at a good price year-round. Having the larger storage is not necessary but it is a nice thing especially in low yield years.
The fence is another very important thing to take into account. Again like other plans you will find, survey 10 alpaca people and you will get 10 different opinions. No climb fencing, no climb fence with an electric wire around it, 5 wire electric fence, or whatever is there already, is some of the more common opinions you will hear. The one thing I can say that was common with most of the people we surveyed, was to have a layout that will make it easier for you to get the animals into an area you can handle them. For example, if you have a large square area with a corner to get them into you will spend the majority of your time chasing alpacas around in circles. However, if you have a reason (feed) or an area with a funnel to get them down to a manageable level you will have a much easier time catching them.
Another thing that is even more important is predator control. As stated prior fencing is meant to keep animals in, but it this case it is just as important to keep predators out. Mountain lions, wolves, coyote, and bears are things to keep in mind when putting your fence plans together. Even with a plan that you believe is sound, many will say you will need a guard animal and/or electric fencing to help if you are in an area where a higher level of predator control is needed. We are finding that even with the predator control fencing we are still feeling that we need more to ease our own minds. This is overkill but there have been to many times I hear something and get concerned that there is something going to get them. Most of the time it is in the middle of the night and when woke up by something I feel I need to get up and check it out.
An Alpaca Veterinarian is a very tricky and sometimes hard person to come by. Because Alpacas are relatively new to the U.S. and have some differences that set them apart from normal livestock. This confusion usually will get a normal vet to shy away from the work. There is a list of Michigan Alpaca Vets that will help with your search. There is a lot of alpaca farmers in Michigan that us one vet for the normal day to day issues that may come up, and if the issue is more complex they divert their issues to a place like OSU (Ohio State University) who has some great experience with the camelid family.
Alpaca Farmer Medication Tool Box
The alpaca medication toolbox can be as limited or as full as you would like it. The toolbox is not meant to cure all ailments but gives you a limited supply of treatments that you will be able to do on your own. Things like annual and monthly shots can get very expensive if you continually call your vet out (at $50 to more than $200 a visit) to administer them. It sounds like a scary thing to do but it is relatively easy.
This is also meant for more than just saving money. Sometimes you will call your vet with a problem and they will ask if you have some simple medications like an antibiotic or mite/fly spray that could be administered as soon as directed, and start the alpaca on the road to recovery. Once you gain experience, you will be able to treat simple ailments that will not need to call in support. The alpaca medication toolbox is just like your medicine cabinet at home. You have Antibiotic ointment, cough syrup, aspirin, etc. The toolbox is the alpaca version of medicine cabinets. The only difference is you will need the experience to diagnose the alpaca version of a cough, headache, or a scraped knee.
When setting up the plan for starting an Alpaca farm research is the only way to educate yourself enough to make the decision to get your first alpacas. Most people that get started, quickly get hooked on them and no matter what the reason you chose for starting one, the details will ever be changing. If you first start as a hobby farm it may quickly turn into a farm with show animals or a farm that breeds and sells them. All that same line if you want to organize your barn a certain way you will always come up with better ways as you move down the path. Change will be the name of the game, and you should embrace the change as it is part of all the fun. Finally, the one thing through all of the alpaca industry, whether being an owner or visitor, is that they all say how calming and therapeutic alpacas are.