Are you ready to welcome alpacas into your life? Caring for these fibre animals is an incredibly rewarding experience, but there are a few common mistakes alpaca buyers make. To give yourself the best possible start, here’s a look at ten things to avoid when buying your first alpacas.
Alpaca babies are known as crias. They depend on maternal milk for the first months of life until they transition to a grazing diet. Alpacas are herd animals, and crias learn by observing their mums and interacting with other crias and aunties. Crias must stay with their mums until weaning (around six months). Some breeders will wait until the weanlings are one to release them for sale. This ensures young alpacas receive appropriate handling, learn to "be alpacas", and develop into robust animals. Unscrupulous sellers might try to sell "bottle babies" or young crias to uninformed buyers. Raising crias away from their mums and the herd can create numerous issues - including the "berzerk syndrome", where inappropriately handled crias become dangerous adults.
2. Breeding pairs or mixed sexes
Often advertised on Gumtree are breeding pairs (male and female alpacas) or a "family" (male, female and cria). These are horror stories waiting to unfold. Why? Alpacas are herd animals, but they must live in same-sex herds. Due to their very different reproductive anatomy and breeding behaviour, they must be kept separate. A stud male in the presence of a female and cria will harass them incessantly, trying to mount both, causing horrendous physical and psychological injuries. When buying your first alpacas, do not mix the genders.
3. Single alpacas
People often say, "I want an alpaca" or "let's get an alpaca". As mentioned before, alpacas are herd animals and require the companionship of another alpaca (of the same gender). Goats, sheep, ponies, etc., will not "make up" for this herd need. Alpacas need other alpacas to be healthy and happy and live long lives.
4. Uncastrated males
Another typical alpaca ad I often see is for uncastrated males, also called entire males. Entire males have not had their testicles removed. Castration is an important management tool. When castrated at an appropriate age, male alpacas do not develop sexual hormones, decreasing their aggression towards other alpacas and humans.
5. No questions asked
Be warned if the alpaca seller you are dealing with is not asking you questions. Alpacas are livestock with specific requirements, such as enough pasture, fencing, shade, dog protection, annual shearing, etc. Reputable sellers should ask you questions to find out your situation, how much land you have, and if you have dogs, amongst other questions. If they are not interested in learning if you are a suitable alpaca owner, they are not interested in the alpacas' welfare.
6. Pushy seller
Does the seller seem pushy? They may mention they have other parties interested or that their alpacas will only last for a while. Do they want to take a deposit straight away? Are they hurrying you to decide without you even seeing the alpacas? These are red flags of a scam or an unscrupulous seller. Take as long as you need to research.
7. No information
So you found some alpacas, but the seller does not provide any information about them, such as age or health status. They don't inform you about alpaca health requirements such as annual shearing, vaccination, and vitamin D supplementation. They don't discuss the need for summer shade and shelter protection. They don't discuss feeding requirements or mention how to herd alpacas. Avoid this seller, as they are not interested in your education. Or worse, they don't know anything about alpaca management.
8. No physical inspection
If you are buying alpacas, you must see them face to face. I have seen several advertisements that use stock photos or steal photos from other breeders' websites. Be aware if your seller does not invite you for a farm visit. What do they have to hide? Seeing the alpacas before you buy allows you to confirm the information provided by the seller, inspect them and ensure you are happy with them. You also have the opportunity to check the seller's property, state of cleanliness and biosecurity and whether they keep their alpacas with other animals (which increases their risk of intestinal parasites).
9. Auctions and clearing sales
Farm clearing sales can be a great place to find second-hand building materials and farm supplies. However, there are better places to find your alpacas. Auctions and clearing sales have one purpose: to sell all stock. They provide no information about how to look after your new alpacas, they do not screen buyers, and worse, they don't offer after-sales support. Alpaca health information and behaviour might be unknown.
10.No after-sales support
Despite being in Australia for over 30 years, alpacas are still a relatively new animal. Finding a vet with alpaca experience in some parts of our country can be challenging. When purchasing your first alpacas, there will be a steep learning curve. Having a seller that provides after-sales support is invaluable for buyers. Being able to pick up the phone or email a question to clarify your feeding regime or an alpaca issue is priceless.