They make great pets. Castrated males, called wethers, are easy and inexpensive to keep. They will keep down the grass without ruining the land as they have soft padded feet. They can live out all year and require minimal upkeep. They are herd animals and there must be a minimum of two animals together. They are not cuddly in a normal pet sense as they don’t like to be stroked or tickled but they are friendly, intelligent, affectionate and delightful to have around.
Alpacas are genuinely very inquisitive and will spot people and animals from a long distance. They are by nature protective of each other, and will group together at the slightest reason. They are frequently used to protect chickens and sheep from stray dogs and foxes. When grazed with ewes and lambs they often seem to form a bond with their charges, babysitting the lambs and patrolling the fence lines in case of hungry predators. In Australia alpacas have been seen chasing off large eagles looking for an easy meal. Any unfamiliar visitor to the paddock area will attract immediate attention.
Throughout the spring and early summer there are a number of alpaca shows around the UK, either stand alone, or connected with large agricultural events. Breeders use these opportunities to show their best animals, both to win prizes and to promote their herds, stud males and businesses.
Alpacas are increasing being used in therapy with children and adults with mental and emotional issues.
Alpaca fibre is the main reason people keep alpacas. The fleece is incredibly soft, light and very warm. Rivalling cashmere, it can easily be spun into yarn, either by the hand spinner or in a commercial mill. Shorn annually, raw fleece can be sold straight from the animal, also there are a number of mini-mills around the UK that will spin smaller amounts of fleece into yarn which commands a higher price. Baby alpaca fleece, from the first shearing, is the finest and makes up into beautifully soft and light clothing.
Other products made from alpaca include suits, coats, felted bags, carpets, throws and bedding. It is said to be hypo-allergenic, so ideal for those with allergies to wool. Breeders are continually developing new and innovative products from their alpaca fleeces and business thrives at shows, events and through online shopping websites.
Alpacas have been in the UK for a number of years, there are at present approx 20,000 animals in this country, with 1000 owners, some having just a few alpacas as pets through to herds of over 500. The worldwide demand for high quality and luxury alpaca fibre is growing constantly. North and South America, along with Australia have established thriving Alpaca industries and the UK herd is increasing annually. Demand for animals outstrips supply and alpacas are being exported to the emerging markets of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, China and throughout Europe
As Alpacas only have one offspring (cria) a year this is not a ‘get rich quick’ enterprise but should be viewed as a genuine long term investment opportunity. Quality breeding females cost between £3000 - £10,000, stud males can be anything from £4000 upwards depending on bloodlines, castrated males, known as wethers, cost from £300 - £800. The chances of male/female cria are 50/50. You don’t have to own a stud male – there are many males doing stud services around the country, these services cost from £500 - £1000 depending on their quality.
This is a very simple example and although Alpacas are hardy and have few health issues they are live animals and subject to the highs and lows of livestock ownership. With the number of Alpaca herds increasing many more people are seeing the economic benefits of this emerging industry.
Ever improving quality and growing worldwide demand for the fleece means that Alpacas are here to stay, with the added value of seeing your delightful investment living and growing in your paddocks!
Take a moment to watch this British Alpaca Society video taken at the BAS National Show 2013 at Bury Farm Equestrian Centre, Leighton Buzzard.
Alpaca owners and breeders share their experiences of owning and breeding these wonderful animals. They also talk about the many and varied benefits of keeping alpacas, more of which is listed below in greater detail.
Video by Jump Off The Screen Productions Limited 2013