Starting an alpaca farm business can be a very enjoyable and a very profitable venture. However, like anything else, it is a business that takes work to succeed. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the saying ”if you love what you do you won’t work a day in your life” applies here. Hard work in the alpaca business is just good fun for many successful farmers.
Important to Have Goals
The most important thing you will need to start an alpaca farm business is a good set of goals to accomplish. Some people want an alpaca farm business to make products from the fiber. Others are interested in breeding seed stock. Another goal would be to build an agritourism business.
Any goals are legitimate, but you must have them, otherwise you will not have a clue if the alpaca or farm facilities are suitable for you or not. Are you looking for pets, fiber animals, or breeders? If you want breeders are you going for quality or quantity? Do you want to breed for a specific color or micron? Of course there is no such beast as the perfect alpaca. This is why goals are so important. Once they are clarified you can develop a plan that will lead you to those goals and only then will you begin to narrow down the type of alpaca you need to purchase to get you started on that journey.
The 3 Most Common Alpaca Farm Business Models
- Fiber Business: This goal is to harvest the alpaca fiber and make one of a kind wearables that you can sell. Many beautiful knitted, woven, or even felted products can be made from alpaca fiber. One such product, called a nuno felted scarf, can be sold for $80-$100/each and uses only 2 oz. of alpaca fiber. In this model, you would want a farm of fiber males to produce your harvest. Fiber males cost a fraction of what breeding females would cost. Look to pay anywhere from $300-$500 each for fiber males with quality fleece. White will be the best color because it takes dye better than any of the darker alpaca fleece colors.
- Agritourism Business: Studies of cultural trends have shown that people would rather pay for experience than material possessions. As people search for new experiences, agritourism has become big business. Many small farms easily make 50k-100k per year on agritourism. In this model, you could rescue males or females from farms that are shutting down and acquire the alpacas for free on craigslist or for a low price at a local livestock sale barn. Colors are more interesting and better for this business model.
- Seedstock Breeding: There are half a dozen alpaca auctions each year with animals selling for tens of thousands. There are also hundreds of seed-stock alpaca farms that sell from their farms. Average prices for seedstock alpaca are between 3k-5k/each for production quality, and up to 10k for champion show winners. There are many farms that specialize in certain colors so the key is to pick a niche and be the best. To get top rates you have to participate in the show system.
Now you have some idea of the alpaca you want to purchase. If you’re paying for the alpaca, there is a basic principle you can apply to make sure you are purchasing a quality animal. If you have not heard of the 3 f’s we would like to introduce you to them. There is a school of thought that says when assessing any fibre producing livestock these 3 f’s are key indicators to look for. They are ridiculous in their simplicity, but it is amazing how often they, or at least one of them, are ignored.
The three f’s are:
- Frame: Would include straight legs, level back, and other traits known as good conformation. The best source of guidance regarding conformation is the book sold by the Alpaca Owners Association: “The Art & Science of Alpaca Judging”.
- Fertility: If planning to breed, purchase females with a fertility guarantee.
- Fleece: It is important to purchase fleece that meets your goals. If breeding for seedstock, attend a show and compare fleece characteristics. If purchasing for fiber production, make sure the fleece will produce the end products you desire to make.
A Good Mentor is Your Key to Success
The key to success in launching an alpaca farm business is finding a good mentor. This is common in the industry and the farm you purchase from should fill this role. When you purchase alpacas, you purchase more than just the animals, you buy into the farm or program those animals came from. This farm should be experienced and able to mentor you in all aspects of your business. You’ll want assistance learning husbandry, marketing, and possibly even fiber production skills. Ultimately, when shopping, you are interviewing mentors as much as finding the right animals for your alpaca business.
For more information, and to find an alpaca farm near you, visit the Alpaca Owners Association.