So, you're interested in buying alpacas? Before you leap into it, it's important to understand what alpacas need and determine if they are the right fit for you. Here are 10 questions you should ask yourself before buying alpacas.
1. Why do you want alpacas?
This might seem like a simple question, but understanding your motivation behind owning alpacas will help you assess if they are suitable for you and determine the type of alpacas you may need.
People have various reasons for wanting alpacas:
Are you interested in having alpacas as grazing animals on your small farm or acreage?
Do you need alpacas to protect your sheep, goats, or chickens from foxes?
Are you seeking a hobby that connects you to nature and very intelligent animals?
Do you want alpacas to harvest their fibre for spinning?
Are you considering breeding alpacas as a farming option?
Take a moment to jot down your reasons and evaluate their feasibility. You might have heard that alpacas produce a luxurious fibre and you think you could turn this into a business, but is it viable?
It's important to note that not all alpacas fit every scenario. For example, guardian alpacas may not be the friendliest due to their alert nature. Different alpacas will also command different prices.
2. What do you currently know about alpacas? Where can you find reliable information?
Are you aware that alpacas have been domesticated livestock in South America for thousands of years, primarily for their fibre? Do you understand that alpacas are herd animals and require same-gender companionship? While a quick Wikipedia search can provide plenty of information, it's important to acknowledge the abundance of misinformation circulating online and on social media. Remember that what works in one country may not necessarily work in Australia.
Now, let's address some common misconceptions:
Alpacas are not pets or children's entertainment. If you want a pet to cuddle and kiss, consider getting a dog or cat instead.
Alpacas are not lawnmowers. You will still need to slash your paddocks and maintain them. Sheep and goats are much better grazers than alpacas. Otherwise, invest in a ride-on mower or hire someone to maintain your paddocks if you want to keep the grass down.
Alpacas cannot be ridden. Consider buying a pony or joining the local pony club if you or your children want to ride an animal.
Getting young or "baby alpacas" does not mean you can make them "friendly". Crias (baby alpacas) should stay with their herd so they learn appropriate alpaca behaviour and do not become hazardous when adults.
3. Do you have enough space for alpacas?
Alpacas are selective grazers and need ample pasture. So, having just an acre backyard won't suffice. I recommend a minimum of 3 acres to provide suitable grazing opportunities for your alpacas and room for them to feel content. Ideally, though, I'd recommend 5 acres of pasture divided into paddocks. This way, you can practise rotational grazing, allowing non-used paddocks to rest and supporting the soil and pasture to grow. Rotational grazing and low stocking rates also support alpacas' health - minimising the risk of worm burdens.
4. Do you have any other animals?
If so, what other animals do you have or plan to have on your land? Are there cattle, horses, sheep, goats, chickens, or other species? It's important to note that alpacas should not be kept in the same paddocks as cattle and horses due to the potential for injuries. However, they can share paddocks with sheep and goats, although it's crucial to have a strong parasite management strategy due to their increased susceptibility to pick up worms when grazing with other ruminants. When planning if you have room for alpacas, consider what other animals you already have in your stocking rate.
5. Do you have dogs? Are there dogs or wild dogs in your area?
Dogs are the primary predators of alpacas. Every year, alpacas in Australia die from dog attacks, including both neighbouring dogs and the owner's own dogs. Although alpacas have earned a reputation for helping deter foxes, they cannot survive an attack by dogs. It is important to have secure boundary fencing to prevent dogs from entering alpaca paddocks. If you own dogs, you must ensure that they cannot access alpaca paddocks unsupervised.
6. Does your property have water and shade trees?
To ensure optimal conditions for alpacas, besides ample grazing land, it is necessary to provide a reliable water source and shade trees on your property. Alpacas require access to drinking water, so dams or rainwater tanks connected to troughs will be necessary. Additionally, they need protection from the sun during summer and shelter from cold winds. Trees and windbreaks play a vital role in meeting these needs.
7. Does your property have the necessary handling facilities and field shelters for alpacas? If not, can you add them?
Alpacas require specific handling facilities, such as a small yard and a handling pen or crutch. These facilities are essential for tasks such as shearing and other healthcare procedures like vaccination, vitamin D supplementation, and toenail trimming. Additionally, shelters are important even if you have shade from trees. With climate change causing unpredictable weather patterns, it's crucial to have shelter available in case the weather turns cold and wet after shearing. A shelter also serves as an investment for situations when an alpaca falls ill and requires medical attention, or for housing elderly alpacas and mother alpacas with their newborn crias.
8. Do you have enough money to cover the costs of owning alpacas?
This includes expenses such as hay, annual shearing, vaccinations, and potential vet bills if your alpacas become ill. Additionally, consider whether you will have enough funds to purchase extra hay during a prolonged drought. It's important to not only factor in the initial cost of purchasing alpacas, but also their ongoing care and maintenance expenses.
9. Are you prepared to provide health care to your alpacas?
This includes vaccinations, vitamin D supplementation, toenail trimming, regular weight monitoring and basic first aid. The responsibility for basic health care lies with the owner. Except for shearing, which is done by professional alpaca shearers, you should expect to do all other routine animal care yourself. Not having all the knowledge initially is normal, but you must be open to learning. Good alpaca breeders will provide instruction and mentoring and/or offer workshops where you can learn.
10. Are you able to make a long-term commitment to owning alpacas?
Alpacas have a lifespan of up to 25 years, twice as long as dogs. It's important to consider factors such as your age, lifestyle, and future plans before deciding to have alpacas. In our society, where things are often treated as disposable, some people may not consider the long-term responsibility of owning animals. However, at Campo Verde, we prioritize the welfare of alpacas and encourage others to see them as a rewarding commitment rather than just a possession in their paddock.
Buying alpacas is a big but exciting decision; it pays to research and ask questions. You need to make sure they are the right fit for you. They may seem like fluffy, cute animals; however, they have specific needs to stay healthy and happy.
If you're eager to learn about alpacas, we encourage you to attend one of our workshops or contact us with any questions. We love sharing our knowledge with others and helping dispel myths about alpacas.