starting your alpaca adventure
So you want to start your own alpaca herd? That's great! But before you dive in, there are a number of things that are very important to consider. It is critical that you go in with a plan and reasonable expectations. Your plan has to be tailored to those expectations, and if it is, then your goals are easier to achieve.
What do you want to breed?
There are a number of options in this regard. Do you plan to have a large herd or a small herd? Do you like suris or huacayas? Are you inclined to breed and show - hoping to breed the best animals you can? Or, are you happy to breed pets and guards? It may even be that you want alpacas just as a lifestyle choice. Any of the above is fine, and all of these breeders have a very important place in the alpaca industry. Of course, the plan can always change, and that is okay. Our advice on this topic is relatively simple. If you plan on having a small or medium-sized farm, then choose one breed or the other, and pick a colour. Focus your energy and power on something you hope to do well. I have seen people buy "packages" that have suris, huacayas, whites and colours, and I have seen them flounder trying to find a groove. In instances like these, breeders also find they need several males, they can't measure results with any accuracy, and if you are trying to run a business, finding an identity is difficult. Remember, you can change on the fly, but having an idea at the start will end up saving you some pain down the track!
We also highly suggest you visit as many farms as you can BEFORE you buy an animal. It is always very educational to see how other breeders run their farms and their businesses. You may discover that there are many ways to do it, and that one farm may better reflect how you envision yourself raising alpacas. There are vast differences in the animals from farm to farm, just as there are big differences in how people maintain their animals. You also may find that the bargain you were offered might not be the right group or animal for you. Visit as many farms as you can. See and feel as many animals as you can. After all, when you are just starting, they are all cute, aren't they? The more you see and feel, however, the better you re able to distinguish one from another!
What do all these show results mean?
Subtitle: "Not all 2nd Place Ribbons are Equal"
If you have chosen to breed with an aim to show, then you will undoubtedly be confronted with show results as you look for your starting alpacas. Often, they are advertised and priced based upon those show results. When you have not been to many shows, or even one show, it is tough to determine what all these ribbons and awards mean. Generally speaking, it is a good sign when an alpaca has been awarded any ribbon by a AAA-trained judge. But, as you will learn, not all ribbons are equal. And it is important that to understand that as you decide on an animal based on those show results! For example, there are shows, like the National Show or the Royal Easter Show, where a 4th place ribbon is actually better than a Champion ribbon at a smaller show. Because animals are judged in individual classes, whether it be by age or colour, ribbons awarded largely depend on how many other animals are in that class on that day. At a bigger show, there may be 10 to 12 or more animals in a class. A second place ribbon in that class is a great accomplishment. At a smaller show, there might be only one animal in that same class, and because judges will award based on the breed standard, it is possible that the lone animal may also get a second place. It is easy to see that those two ribbons, though the same in colour, tell a very different story. One is judged to be better than many others while the second example has been deemed not to meet the threshold for a first place ribbon based on the breed standard. Each of those animals may appear on a sales list with a second place ribbon to its credit. Your ability to differentiate between the two will go a long way in the success of your breeding program. There are a number of ways to do this.
Our advice is to look on the internet for show results. You can even ask the selling breeder to give you copy or a link to the results. See how many animals were in its class. Look to see if it won a "broad ribbon" and check to see how that alpaca performed over a number of shows. If you are looking for animals with good show records, or you are trying to determine if your purchase measures up, it is important that you are able to distinguish the ribbons your target animal has won. You may find that some show results are more impressive than others. Research. Ask questions. Look up results from the shows in your region. Some ribbons are the result of the alpaca just being walked into the ring on the day, whereas other ribbons are testimony to the quality of the breeding. In the beginning, it is more difficult to figure out which is which.
Will I be able to care for them properly?
This is another reason to visit a number of farms. There are some very basic things your alpacas will need, but there are also a million different philosophies and ideas about how to best care for your herd. Some breeders are very hands-on, while others are hands-off. Some will do a great deal of feed supplementation, while others will not. There are also many considerations based on herd size, farm size, farm location, etc. This is why it is critical to visit many different farms to gather as much information as possible. This will help you determine how you will care for your newly acquired group of happy camelids! You will, however, always need shade/shelter and fresh water. You will invariably have to drench and vaccinate your animals, and once a year, they will all require shearing. The breeder who seels you your first alpacas, should help you with all of these things. They should also show you the very basics - how to catch and hold, how to needle, and how to look over your animal for potential health issues.
Remember, it is a buyer's market. Don't be pressured into a purchase. Take your time. Visit other farms and make a plan before you bring your first alpacas home! The more you do before, the more rewarding your alpaca experience will be!