Getting Started

There are many websites available, which provide useful information. Some are from Universities, Alpaca Industry Sources, Veterinarians, Alpaca Breeders, and other sources. Using Google and Alpacas (or Alpaca and the specific information will help).

Useful websites we have found are:
- AOA (Alpaca Owners Association)
- Washington State University
- Oregon State University
- Ohio State University, Auburn University
- Northwest Alpacas has a prolific website with information (and a marketing machine)

Magazines:
- Alpaca's Magazine
- American Livestock

Books we have found useful are:
- Murray Fowler - Medicine and Surgery for the South American Camelid
- Eric Hoffman - The Complete Alpaca
- Norm Evans Field Manual
- Ohio State's Notes from 2002 Camelid Vet Conference
- Ian Watts - The International Alpaca Handbook

Visit 5-6 farms in your area. Alpaca breeders are helpful. They want to show you their farm, their alpacas, and answer your questions. While they want to sell you alpacas, MOST are sincere in their desire to help you rather than just foist alpacas on you. They love the alpacas, are afflicted with the disease, many are certifiable alpacaholics and can think of and talk of little else (some need a 12-step program). Most are genuine, some just want to sell you an animal, but most genuinely love and believe in what they are doing. They are honest and truly want you to be successful. They also know you may become addicted and want more alpacas. Visit and talk to many; learn, compare. They all have four legs and fiber but qualitative differences make the values of one $5,000 and another $35,000. To the inexperienced eye, these differences are minor. Learn the differences to give yourself the best opportunity. Attend shows, conferences, and seminars. There are industry or university classes and seminars on:

- Farm Layout - Dr. Anderson - OSU paper
- Husbandry
- Breeding Philosophy
- Neo-natal and Birthing
- Marketing

Formulate a business plan before you purchase. Do you plan to own alpacas as pets, for fiber production for your own crafts; or as an alpaca breeder's business either small or large?

Alpacas are wonderful, the second oldest domesticated animal (5-6,000 years) and are spiritual mysterious animals. They are much easier to care for than most livestock. However, they do require care, feeding, regular worming, and other medical attention. Do not under estimate the responsibilities of caring for these beautiful creatures. Understand what it takes and be sure you are prepared to accept it. Alpacas cannot take care of themselves and are dependent on you. Each day they require feed and fresh water. They do require cleaning up after. On a more infrequent basis, you will need to trim their toenails, train, vaccinate, worm, and shear once a year. You must learn these and be disciplined enough to do them. Additionally, you will need a system of record keeping and the dedication to follow it through. Are you prepared for it and willing to sacrifice to do it. "Keen observation" as well as weight scales will allow you to "know" when something is wrong, so you are able to address it. If not, you can still own them but board (or agist as the industry term is) them with experienced alpaca breeders. Another way to move slowly, both physically and financially, into alpacas is to buy a pair of fiber quality alpacas. These will be less expensive and give you an opportunity to learn the care and feeding (husbandry) for these animals.

If you desire to have a profitable business, understand that in addition to capital, time, and attention, a well thought out business plan, a distinct and logical breeding program, daily care and attention for healthy animals that you must also operate the financial and ESPECIALLY THE MARKETING ASPECTS of your business. This can be time consuming and costly. Pick the breeder(s) you buy your animals from carefully. You will want (and need) their continuing support. The transaction is not like buying produce, which is over (and even consumed) in a short period of time.

The purchase/sale of an alpaca should be the BEGINNING not the end of the transaction. It should be a relationship (a very long term relationship) or you have made a mistake.

You will be on the phone, on e-mail, probably back and forth in person for a long period of years. There are so many items to cover -- all with hundreds of details and nuances.

- fencing and shelter
- pasture (or if you buy forage - what kind? How is it tested?)
- feed supplements - Whose and what to use?
- minerals - alpacas have a need for more and different minerals.
- genealogy and breeding
- transportation
- vaccinations and other medicine
- different kinds of wormers, when, etc.
- birthing
- pre-natal care
- post partum feeding
- cria care
- illnesses
- behaviors
- training
- advertising: costs, where to go, what works and doesn't
- shows: which to go to, why, how to prepare, what to do when there
- hundreds of details you could never think of, research, and most
importantly, experience beforehand.

The breeder(s) you choose to buy your alpacas from can help to make the difference. They should have never heard a stupid question (or better stated, a question from lack of knowledge). They should be accessible. Of course, you will have to understand they cannot be by their phone or computer every minute, but they should have the inclination and make the time to get back to you in a reasonable time. They should be willing to give you the time to give answers to your questions. This will not go on for days or weeks but months and years.

Most alpaca breeders have the desire. Make sure yours will take the time to mentor you.

In addition, choose your vet carefully. Make sure they either have camelid experience or, if there is not one in your area, are willing to

- research and learn (you may have to provide them books and resources),
- go to continuing education (you may have to contribute to the cost if they take the time), and
- have the time to invest to grow with you and other breeders in the area.

Some care items are similar, BUT it is a specialty, alpacas are different. It is time consuming and takes considerable expense for a vet to learn. Combine this with the fact that it will generally not be a large percentage of their practice (there are many more dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, and goats in this country than there are alpacas) and you can get an appreciation of how important this decision will be. Are they open to this? Will they make farm visits? Are they a sole practitioner? (If so, what is their back up?), part of a larger group or practice? Do they have a back up network such as universities, regional vets they can contact, etc., etc., etc. There is not a long-term history in this country with alpacas (20 years) and many experienced veterinarians disagree on basics. You will have to learn, listen, and make your own practical assessments.

Don't underestimate either the time needed or expense of marketing if you desire to be financially successful. This is generally an area that is overlooked and under funded. This will make or break your profitability.

Before starting, but after setting down your business plan, you should convert this into two separate budgets.

1) Capital Budget: (In reverse order of importance)
- Land and buildings if you do not own them
- Fencing
- Water Sources
- Medical and other care products
- Neo-natal kits
- Scales and other equipment
- Transportation if you plan to show your animals
- Finally, the animals
Then how you plan to finance this. Equity, debt, partnerships, etc.

2) Operating Budget:
- Generally, daily feeding and care is inexpensive - 50¢ to $1 per day per animal. However, there are many other expenses:
- Organization
- Veterinary care
- Insurance
- Replacement of supplies, equipment, etc.
- Capital improvement
- Marketing Expenses - This is the area most people both
a) underestimate and b) do not spend enough time on after they have found they have underestimated. Basics that should be included to be successful are:
- Website
- Other internet areas such as Alpaca Nation, AOBA (Alpaca
Owners and Breeders Association, State or Regional Alpaca
Associations
- Advertising:
- AOBO Farm and Ranch Guide is a must
- Alpaca Magazines
- American Farmer
- Attending shows with your animals
- Local PR such as farm visits, seminars, school visits, local farms and festivals, etc.
- You should spend 10-15% of your annual budget for marketing.

You could obtain potential for revenue from:

- the sale of animals
- the sale of fiber
- herdsire service
- processing and selling "alpaca beans" for fertilizer
- transport of alpacas
- boarding alpacas for others (agistment)
- production andsales of alpaca products
- proceeds from shearing alpacas

With these different potential sources of revenues, it would be wise to insure your alpacas.

Updated August 29, 2017