A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

March 9, 2009

Thoughts of Diversification

Our First Crop of Shiitake Mushrooms

Our First Crop of Shiitake Mushrooms


Our farm consists of 25 acres of dry land.  No irrigation wells and very little natural rain make it a challenge to grow anything on the land.    We have utilized about five acres of our land for the alpacas, more if you count the areas outside of the pasture where we grow dry land winter wheat for the alpacas to graze on when we let them out for the day.  Even taking that into consideration we are only using maybe 7 – 8 acres of our land at the most.  Our horses have a five acre pasture, which is plenty for the two of them, we do have to rotate them to different areas from time to time as horses are hard on the land and will decimate a pasture in a short time.


Even with the alpacas and the horses we still have a considerable amount of land that is not being used.  We recently applied for a government conservation program on a portion of the remaining land.  If we are accepted for the program we will receive funding toward the cost of planting an area of our land to native grasses.  For the first year of the program we will not be able to use the land except for planting the grasses, but after the first year we will be permitted to graze the land which will be great news for the alpacas.  In reality it might take a little longer than a year before the alpacas will be able to graze the native grass, native grasses can take a while to establish and we don’t want the alpacas to eat all the grass before it gets a good hold on the land.  We would also need to put up more fencing, which of course requires time and additional funds, but still at the end of the day we would have some grass for the alpacas to graze on and we would be helping to conserve the land by preventing soil erosion.


Most livestock and arable farms usually have more than one crop that they grow, alpaca farms though often tend to only raise alpacas.  Part of the reason for this might be that many alpaca farms only have a few acres of land, with all of that area dedicated to alpacas.  Many alpaca farmers also hold full time jobs off the farm, juggling their time to fulfill the needs of their full time job and their alpaca business.


With our having land that is not being utilized I have begun to debate what possibilities are available for us to put the unused land to good use.  Growing a crop such as wheat or corn is out due to our lack of irrigation, but there are other crops that could be grown on a smaller scale.  Herbs might be a possibility; we use some herbs with our alpacas so it might be good to have a fresh supply.  To date my best success with herbs has been with Oregano (which grows like a weed) and Rosemary (now there’s a coincidence!).  Lavender does not seem to like our soil and fails every year, Cilantro struggles but Basil does quite well but it tends to be an annual plant requiring reseeding every year.  Of course it is one thing to grow herbs and another thing to sell them.


Of course we have another ready made crop that could be marketed – alpaca poop.  Whether sold as raw beans or composted there is potential there.  It was while I was contemplating our alpaca poop compost pile and the possibilities it held another crop sprung to mind – mushrooms!  For a while I was quite excited about the mushroom idea, after all don’t you grow them in manure, something we have plenty of.  Some quick research revealed that there is actually a demand for mushroom growers and I was getting more excited by the minute until I learned that for commercial mushroom growth there are strict requirements about the matter that the mushrooms are grown in.


So the mushroom project is on the back burner – although not quite, for in the process of researching mushrooms I discovered shiitake mushrooms, which are grown on logs and decided to try one organic shiitake log to see how I got on.  My first crop of two mushrooms has grown and they are now ready for eating.  Not enough for a commercial venture by any means and there was a little bit of work involved in getting the mushrooms to grow, but as you can see from the picture at the top of the blog they look pretty good.


I think for now I will stick to alpacas, alpaca products and working on marketing the alpaca poop in it’s various forms, but you never know the shiitake mushroom project could develop and there are a lot of health benefits to eating shiitake’s – as Ric and I will soon discover when we take a taste of that first shiitake mushroom crop!



March 25, 2008

Planting with Pacas

Gerri from Australia had posted a comment to the blog the other day expressing an interest in learning more about the use of alpaca poop as fertilizer and using alpaca fiber as mulch.  With spring here and the warm weather trying to make a return I thought it a good time to write a little about using alpaca by-products in the garden.

Alpaca poop can be used almost like a slow release fertilizer.  If the poop is not composted it takes a while to break down, but that can be used to your advantage if you are looking for a fertilizer that will release over time.  When using uncomposted alpaca poop we make sure that it is covered over by dirt so as not to attract flies.  We also try to get the poop that does not have too much vegetable matter in it so that we don’t inadvertently grow something undesirable such as burrs.

The composition of alpaca poop is usually similar to this:

Organic matter  70.8 %
Nitrogen 1.49 %
Phosphorus 0.23 %
Potassium 1.6 %
Calcium 0.91 %
Magnesium 0.45 %
Sodium 0.12 %
Total Salts 2.54 %

Of course this composition could vary, depending on what you feed your alpacas, but those figures will give you a basic idea of what alpaca poop can contribute to your garden.

I am told that alpaca poop does not burn the garden like horse manure and so far that has been my experience.  I have not had any problem with the plants where I have used alpaca poop as a fertilizer, although I must say by the time we clean up the poop in the morning most of the urine has dried off it.  If the poop you intend to use is heavily soaked in urine you might want to allow it to dry off for a little while as the urine could scald your plants.

Even better than straight alpaca poop is composted alpaca poop.  There are various ways to compost it ranging from a specifically designed compost barrel to digging trenches in the ground and putting your compost material in the trenches.  The trench method was explained to me by another alpaca breeder from California who has the same type of sandy soil that we have, and also a lack of moisture and high winds like ours.  By building your compost pile in a trench you can prevent the wind from sucking all the moisture out of the compost pile and also easily collect any moisture you do receive.  That same breeder also uses concrete horse troughs to create compost in.  She layers old straw and alpaca poop in the horse troughs and leaves it over winter, by spring it is ready to plant in and she reports she gets great results from it.  Now for any composting to happen there has to be some moisture involved so if you are going through a dry spell you will need to add water to your compost pile.  Don’t forget you can also add all sorts of other goodies to your compost pile to help it compost such as egg shells, shredded uncoated paper, dried bread, old fruit and vegetables, burn pile ashes, garden clippings, even dryer lint!  Remember too to turn your compost pile periodically.

I will readily admit that I am not the worlds authority on gardening, but when even I can successfully grow plants using alpaca poop and composted alpaca poop it has to say something for the great qualities of the alpaca poop.

Tomorrow I will write about using alpaca fiber as mulch, something I tried for the first time last year and which was so successful that I will be using more this year.


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