We talk about Alpacas a lot because they can be a great source of income on the homestead, but they’re not for everyone. Although they are quite easy to care for, they’re a bit different from most other types of livestock that you typically see on the farm. They aren’t generally raised for milk or meat. Instead, they are raised for their fleece, which can be worth a lot, or a little, depending on the color and quality.
The Basics of Alpaca Care on the Homestead
Just like any other animal, alpacas need fresh food and water each day. They are ruminants, so the main bulk of their diet should come from hay and grass. Although cows are also ruminants, you will find that alpacas use their food much more efficiently than cows, probably because their natural habitat is the rough and rugged mountains of Peru.
One of the great things about alpaca is that they are tough. They can survive in a variety of environments, but they do best when they have access to lush green pasture and grain for optimum nutrition. They should also free access to hay throughout the day. They are very affordable to feed, even with the addition of grain, and feed costs for an alpaca average out to be about the same as the cost of feeding the average house dog.
Some alpaca farmers also offer shredded beet pulp to their alpacas as a supplement. The beet pulp is soaked in water first, and the alpacas go crazy for it. Not only does it provide them with additional protein, but it also gets more water into their system. Water is vital because it helps make their fleece softer. Keep in mind that their digestive systems are sensitive, so any changes to their diet should be slow and gradual.
Pasture and Fencing Requirements
The amount of pasture alpacas need really comes down to your feeding plan. If you are going raise your alpacas on pasture, they will adequate space for foraging. If you plan to supplement their diet with hay, you can have as many as 10 or 15 alpacas on an acre. They need some room to stretch their legs, but they seem to feel safer in smaller spaces.
When it comes to fencing, the main concern is keeping the alpaca safe from predators. They don’t generally challenge fences, so a four-foot fence is usually adequate. Canines are their most significant predator threat, so the fencing needs to be sufficient to keep them out.
Some people say that alpacas don’t need shelter. In Peru, local farmers don’t provide them with a shelter. The alpacas forage all day and spend their nights in an uncovered coral to keep them safer from predators. However, here in the United States, most alpaca breeders do offer their alpacas with some sort of shelter, whether it’s a barn or a covered coral. They really should have a dry place to eat and somewhere to get away from bad weather. Excess moisture can be damaging to their fleece, too, so keeping them dry is better for profits.
As we’ve already mentioned, water consumption is essential for keeping their fleece soft. Most alpaca will drink a least a gallon of water each day, so make sure they have a reliable source of clean water at all times. If you plan to raise baby alpaca, they will need a water source that’s lower to the ground so they can reach in.
Sheering Alpacas on the Homestead
Sheering is the biggest job of alpaca care. Depending on which breed you have, you will sheer them once a year or once every two years. Sheering takes place in the spring, so they have enough time to grow their coats back before winter. You shouldn’t shave them more often than once a year if you plant to sell their fleece because it won’t have time to get long enough to spin. Although you can do the sheering yourself, it’s a big job, and many alpaca farmers hire professional shearers to help them complete the task as quickly as possible, reducing stress on the animals.
Alpacas are pregnant for about 11 ½ months. They usually have one baby at a time, and their babies are called cria. It’s very rare for them to have twins, and twin births usually have complications. Alpacas can be rebred in about three weeks after they give birth. Most breeders begin breeding when they are about 1 ½ to 2 years old. Breeding a first-time mom when she’s too young often results in complications.
Alpacas and Other Animals
Alpacas are known to be extremely docile and gentle. They aren’t known to be aggressive with other animals unless they have a young cria to protect, and even then, their main line of defense is to spit at the attacker. For that reason, most farmers don’t put other animals in with their alpacas. They tend to get bullied, which leads to stress for these sensitive animals. You might try keeping sheep, goats, or deer with your alpacas, as long as they are friendly animals. Just observe them carefully and be prepared to separate them if there’s any trouble.
How to Make Money with Alpacas on Your Homestead
Although their fleece is the primary source of income, there are other ways to make money with alpacas. Breeding your alpacas and selling the offspring can be quite profitable. Raising alpacas to breeding age and then selling them as breeding stock can also be very lucrative, especially if you have high-quality animals with excellent fleece. You could also sell stud service to other farmers in your area.
If you know how to spin, you can sell finished products made from their fleece, such as hats and socks. And finally, alpacas are adorable. If you are willing to open your farm up to visitors, people will pay to come and interact with your alpacas, adding diversity to your income.
Alpaca are very easy to care for, and they are super sweet. They can be profitable on the homestead in many ways, but they won’t provide food for your family, like most other types of livestock will. Are alpacas a good fit for your homestead? It all comes down to what your goals are!