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February 20, 2011

By: Mary Livingston, Autumn Sun Alpacas

(Autumn Sun Alpacas) Absolutely, the Answer is Yes!

An Alpaca Farmer's Introspection...
(expanded from our Autumn Sun Alpacas OpenHerd Blog Posting on 2/19/11)

I find myself thinking occasionally thinking would I do this over again, and the answer is yes. With the current economy leading to critical financial introspection, our industry is often questioned. Not unusually, I am asked "what's the reason to raise alpacas?" It's not any get rich quick scheme, if anything it is a lot of work to raise alpacas. Don't get me wrong, I do believe that they are an relatively 'easy to care for' livestock. But, they are still livestock to be born, raised, shown and sold. Running a farm takes dedication!

The main reason for alpacas is not really any different than other livestock industries. There's the production stock and the resource or product (ie. fiber) that they provide, and the breeding stock that fuels the show system and the propels the breeding genetics. There is inherent worth in raising animals. Whether you are 'in it' for the fiber or for the show, that's a legitimate reason to raise alpacas (or goats, or sheep, or cattle, or horses, or fish, or pheaants, well, you get it).

There has been no small amount of talk about alpaca prices... what they were, what they are, if/when they will come up, what they should be. There have been some large prices on a few alpacas, but this is not out of the norm for any business and industry. Have you searched on the web for the higher priced seedstock bull, or racehorse, or rooster sold? Try it sometime and you will be surprised. How about the price of a bottle of wine, a painting, a night at a 5 star hotel, those first few Ipads or Prius... the list goes on and on.

What drives the alpaca prices? It is not some pyramid scheme, it is the same thing as for all items -- be it handbags, cars, sunglasses, pets, and livestock.... Desire and need foremost, followed by prestige, quality, and function. So, should we be surprised that alpacas before, scarce and desirable, commanded higher prices? Currently, items considered and marketed as prestigious and elite of any kind are labelled as luxury items and even uneccessary by some people. So, not only has prices dropped accordingly with the economic downturn, the interest is a little slower. Does that mean that alpacas are worth less, that they no longer have a purpose? No, it means that the more casual interest, those interested in fads and 'get rich quick' ideas, are going elsewhere. I think this is a good thing that will weed the industry for a stronger community in the long run.

The other reason for owning alpacas should be because you want to! Alpacas have been easy to care for provided we have the setups and equipment that we need. Not surprisingly, using the wrong tool or stepping all over yourself adds time and energy to your efforts. So a bit of side advice is to plan very well up front, for your current needs and expansion. Also plan for considerable effort needed in network marketing such as blogs, emails, websites, and mailings. Whether you are focused primarily on fiber or show animals, you need to maintain contact with the alpaca community and potential customers. Their personalities are individual and range from a cat-like indifference to a cat-like friendly and an occasional dog-like "pet me" attitude. The curious and intelligent, and quickly settle into a routine if they trust you and their surroundings.

Showing is great fun, and nothing beats getting that coveted ribbon. The people are nice, the events are social, and it lets you get out there to mingle with others of the alpaca community. We always go to our local shows, and we try to make it to nearby shows -- even if the kids are in tow. This is also a great way to get your name out there. Fiber production with your alpacas is another intrinsic benefit. Their fiber ranges from 17-28 microns for the majority of animals, with some being lower and higher. But their low scaling fiber sets it apart from wool. It adds a luster/shine that gives it a silky look, it makes the handle smoother for a liquid-y sliding feel like silk, but it is soft and gentle like cashmere. Having begun fiber processing and handspinning I really notice and enjoy the differences between alpaca and wool of all types, silk/bamboo/soysilk, and wonderful add-ins for fun and beautiful art batts and yarns. I highly recommend joining a local spinning group like I have done.

So, the same reasons for our start in the alpaca industry still apply today: want to raise livestock and want to show/spin. Are these animals a good investment - sure, with the appropriate care and reasonable expectations. Is this a good time to get in the business -- absolutely, especially with those farms not able or not willing to ranch anymore getting out on a dime. Is this a get rich quick business -- most definitely no, and certainly not when there are alpacas that rely on you to care for them, whether you are 'getting you money out of them' or not. There is plenty of opportunity for quality alpacas, a great farm/ranch business, and fiber production for all serious people.

Have thoughts are questions? Just ask us, and we will strive to answer any and all questions. First question... would I do it again -- absolutely!