A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

December 24, 2007

Alpaca Farming on a Budget – Part 4

Regent and Ma Cushla at the Cabin  There are many ways you can reduce some of your costs for your alpaca farm, it may mean you don’t have the prettiest hay feeder or the fanciest barn, but by shopping around and being creative you can come up with some good alternatives.

Some equipment you can make yourself and save costs in the process.  It’s not that difficult, for instance, to make your own hay feeder or you can use large multipurpose plastic tubs that make nice hay containers both at home and at shows.  We like to use garden wagons for hay feeders (the ones that have the rigid mesh sides), they can be moved around from pasture to pasture or put inside a shelter when the weather is bad.  So you can see that while a custom designed alpaca hay feeder may be nice, there are alternatives available that serve the same purpose but are less expensive.

Sharing equipment with other farms is another way to help reduce your costs.  We co-own our shearing equipment, tooth trimmer and microchip reader, all items that we need but that can easily be shared with other farms.

Alpaca shows are great marketing and networking opportunities, but the costs can soon mount up.  By joining together with other nearby farms to share transportation, stalls and display space you can reduce your expenses.  Host hotels are usually offered at alpaca shows but it has been my experience that you can get a better price on your hotel by searching the Internet for deals or by using services such as Priceline and Hotwire.  When traveling to shows that require more than one days travel we usually try and stay at a KOA that has camping cabins, there we can park our trailer next to the cabin and keep a close eye on our alpacas.  We have always found the KOA campgrounds to be clean, well run and reasonable, and when you walk your alpacas around the campground it is a great marketing opportunity.   Just make sure you check in with the campground manager first to ensure that he or she is comfortable with having alpacas on the campground  (The picture at the top of this blog was taken when we were staying at a KOA on the way to an alpaca show in Estes Park, Colorado –the two alpacas in the picture are our herdsire Enchantment’s Prince Regent and our grey female Enchantment’s Ma Cushla Liath, both of whom were just juveniles at the time)

There are some areas where you really cannot cut corners, a good set of scales, your veterinary care and your hay and feed are some of those areas where you need to provide your alpacas with only the best.    Herd sires are another area where it does not pay to cut corners, the alpaca market is so competitive these days that you need to make sure that any male you select to breed your females to has a strong chance of producing a cria that is an improvement on it’s parents. 

If you are an alpaca breeder on a budget you may be tempted not to insure your alpacas, but that is also one area where I would not recommend cutting corners.  The cost of alpaca insurance is reasonable as insurance goes and if you have a significant amount of money invested in your alpacas then it is worth protecting your investment by purchasing insurance on your alpacas, at least until they have paid for themselves either in stud fees or by the sales of offspring they have produced.

Alpaca breeders are some of the friendliest people in the world and the majority are more than willing to share tips and experiences, talk to other alpaca breeders about how they keep their costs down and most likely during the course of the conversation an idea will come up that you can try on your farm at home.

To have an alpaca farm on a budget is not impossible and of course as you become successful with your alpaca business hopefully your budget will have a little more leeway in it.    Like anything else done on a budget, establishing a successful alpaca farm on a budget takes hard work and ingenuity, but along with that hard work comes a lot of joy and the chance to spend part of your life with some unique, beautiful creatures who in time will more than pay you back for your hard work and efforts.

Rosemary 

December 23, 2007

Alpaca Farming on a Budget – Part 3

While alpacas are hardy animals they do need shelter from the elements.  The type of shelter required varies from region to region depending on the weather trends of the area.  If you are living in Alaska for instance you would need a much more substantial barn than if you are raising alpacas in New Mexico.

It’s always a good idea to check with your local authority about local ordinances and building code requirements prior to putting up a shelter for your alpacas.  Some areas have much stricter requirements than others and you want to make sure that any shelters you put up fall within local regulations.  Another thing to look at is how your area assesses buildings for property tax purposes; in some states a portable building has a much lower tax rating than a permanent building meaning that if you only built portable buildings on your land you would pay less property tax.

In our area we have very short winters and the spring weather starts early.  This means that as far as shelters are concerned our needs our simple.  A good three-sided shelter with electricity available in it is all we need.  The electricity allows us to have good lighting installed in our shelters, plus it allows us to run appliances such as heated water buckets, fans for the hot summer months or a hairdryer to dry off a damp chilled cria.  If we lived in an area that experienced heavy snow or perhaps hot, humid summers we require much more functionality from our barn.  It would most likely need to be large enough to contain the whole herd during times of weather extremes and for dealing with heat and humidity some form of cooling system would be necessary.

If you are on a budget you will need to be creative on your shelters.  When we first owned alpacas Ric built our first shelters.  They were simple three sided wood frame shelters with wood siding and a wooden roof covered in composite shingles.  Some of the wood used for those shelters was recycled wood from a house someone was tearing down which were able to pick up just by volunteering to help remove it from the original house.  Other shelters we have used have been some old boxcars that were left here by the previous owners, the boxcars are solid and provide great shelter from the elements; we just had to build a ramp in and out of the boxcars for the alpacas to use.  You can also consider using carports as shelters.  They are usually quite reasonable and most of the companies that manufacture them are willing to adjust them to your specifications.  We have a large three-sided carport in the girl’s pasture that works wonderfully as a shelter and was a fraction of the price of building a barn.  We love our carport shelter and Ric has vowed to never again build a shelter preferring instead to order a carport.  The carport shelter was not much more expensive than building our own shelter and it went up in a couple of hours rather than having to be built over several days.  I have also heard of people creating a hoop shelter using wire panel fencing and tarps or heavy-duty plastic.  Depending on the area you live in these might be only suitable for a temporary shelter, but it would be a start at least.  If you are interested in directions on how to make one of these shelters drop me an email and I will forward you a document that contains the instructions for a hoop shelter.

So while a pretty custom barn is nice and easy on the eye, if you are on a budget a more creative style structure is easier on the pocket book.  You may need to use your imagination to give your structure eye appeal but it’s amazing what a little paint or some carefully planted alpaca friendly shrubs can disguise.  In some instances you may even want to emphasize the structure, prior to purchasing our current property we looked at a property that had a very old small dairy barn on it.  To me that dairy barn was one of the selling points of the property and I could envision having all sorts of fun making a feature of it as an alpaca shelter.

Rosemary  

December 22, 2007

Alpaca Farming on a Budget – Part 2

Homer in front of our house
Let’s assume that you have made the decision to purchase some alpacas and start an alpaca farm, one of the things I would hope you have considered before finalizing your purchase is where you are going to keep your alpacas. 

It could be that your plan is to agist the alpacas at the farm where you purchased them until you find that perfect property for you to purchase.  Your plan may be to never own acreage but rather to always agist alpacas at another farm.  I know people who have based their business plan on that situation and have been successful in their alpaca venture.  If however you decide that you want your alpacas on your own property you will need to find a property that suits both you, your alpacas and your business plan.

When looking at property to purchase you need to have an idea in your head of how big you anticipate your alpaca farm will become over time.  Are you planning on having four alpacas at any one time at your farm or are you planning on having 100 alpacas at your farm.  Obviously the number of alpacas you intend having will determine how many acres you need to have, and while you can always sell your initial property and buy another one, chances are you will end up having to re-fence and redesign your layout on any property you purchase.  It is worth bearing that in mind when you are looking at property to ensure the property allows you sufficient acreage for growth.

Many alpaca breeders estimate a ratio of 10 alpacas per acre on good pasture, however at times you will need to rest your pastures and rotate your alpacas onto a different pasture.  As your herd grows you will need separate pastures for males, females, weanlings and also quarantine areas for those alpacas coming on to your property.  So while 10 alpacas per acre would work for a very short time you would realistically need more acreage in order to cater to the needs of your herd and maintain good pastures.

If you are on a tight budget your choices are going to be limited, it may be that you are best to consider moving to a different area where property prices are lower, or you may want to look at having a smaller house than you would like on the property initially with a view to expanding that house later on. 

As you consider properties to purchase, look at what they have to offer you.  Does the property have existing shelters that could be used for alpacas?  Does the property have secure fencing that is suitable for alpacas?  Are there covenants on the property that will dictate how many alpacas you have and what type of barns or shelters you can build?  If the property does not have suitable shelter and fencing how much will it cost you to make that property suitable for alpacas.  Is there a good electrical system on the property allowing you to have light and power in your barns and shelters?  Does the property have an irrigation well that could help you in growing your own pasture and hay.  Is the water on the property suitable for alpacas or does it have mineral levels that will be detrimental to the health of your alpacas over time?  You may discover that the more expensive property is actually the better bargain as it already has things in place that would allow you to move your herd in to the property immediately with little or no additional expense.

Something else to consider, of course, is the location of the property.  If you are planning on opening your farm to the public on a regular basis is it somewhere that is easily accessible and easily noticeable to the public.  That less expensive piece of property might actually prove to be much more expensive if you have to spend large amounts of money marketing your farm in order to make people aware of where your farm is located and to encourage people to visit you.  You will also need to research the availability of vets in the area of the property and if any of them have camelid experience.  Consider if good alpaca hay is available locally, if you are going to end up transporting hay in from long distances that is going to make a big impact on your operating expense.

I did have one prospective alpaca owner ask me about leasing property.  He had found a piece of land that he thought was a great deal, but after we had talked about the fencing and shelters he would need for his herd, he discovered that the property owner would not allow him to change the fencing or put up shelters on the property.  You may get lucky and find a property to lease that is already suitable for alpacas, but I suspect those properties are few and far between.

So as you can tell there is much more than acreage to consider when purchasing a property to start your alpaca farm on.  If you are on a budget you are going to need manage your money really well and a little forethought prior to acquiring your property may save you a lot of expense later on.

Rosemary

December 21, 2007

Alpaca Farming on a Budget

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Care, Alpacas, camelids, Crias, General — Tags: , , , — alpacalady @ 7:28 am

I recently received an email through our website that asked the following question:

“I was especially intrigued by the comment in the site that you built your farm on a budget.  Please tell me how.  I’m living and working outside Atlanta and have always wanted to live on a farm.  I’m becoming fascinated with alpacas and am looking for various options to finally make my farm dream come true.  How did you do it?”

The question is one we are often asked, there are many people who would dearly love to have alpacas but cannot see how they can afford to and be able to cover the operating costs of their farms as well. 

When we first started looking at alpacas we too thought that there was no way we could manage to establish an alpaca farm, but having decided that we really wanted alpacas to feature in our future plans we started researching ways that we could be creative and save costs to help us reach our goals.

It will probably take me a few posts to cover this subject adequately, but hopefully the information will be helpful to those looking to get into the alpaca business.

To have a successful alpaca business on a budget you have to be creative, you may end up taking a longer route than others to get to your goals, but the key I feel is to keep your eye on your end goal and keeping working steadily toward it.  It may take you longer than others to build your business, but it can be done.

One piece of advice we have always passed on to our clients is to always buy the best alpaca you can afford.  This has always applied to the alpaca industry and applies even more so today as the alpaca community becomes more knowledgeable of desirable traits in alpacas and the quality of alpaca continues to improve dramatically.  As you make your plans to start your alpaca business, make sure you plan enough time to learn about alpacas prior to making your first purchase.  There is a lot to learn and you will not be able to learn it all overnight, we took 18 months researching and learning before purchasing our first alpaca, and the average new alpaca buyer spends two years researching prior to making their first purchase.  It is oh so easy to let your heart rule your head when buying alpacas, but remember that you are making a significant investment (both financially and in your commitment to taking care of your alpacas) and you need to be adequately prepared before you make your first purchase.

We were fortunate that we had sold some real estate prior to becoming interested in alpacas and that allowed us to purchase our first alpaca outright.  I had initially intended buying two older females, but then I came across Jenny, a young pregnant female, and knew as soon as I looked at her that she was what I wanted to establish our herd.  I decided to go for quality over quantity and thus it was that Jenny became our first alpaca.  I have written about Jenny before in this blog, but she was the cornerstone of our breeding program and never failed to produce an outstanding cria.  Certainly the decision to go for one female of high quality rather than two females of lesser quality paid off for us.  The fact that we had cash to pay for Jenny in full also allowed us to negotiate a discount on her price, which is often the situation when buying alpacas.

But what if you cannot afford to purchase an alpaca outright, what do you do?  Well there are a few ways you could go.  You could obtain financing from a bank or financial institution, but to be honest not many banks will finance the alpacas themselves so unless you are lucky and have a lenient bank, that option is not usually a viable one.  I have heard of people taking an equity loan against their home to purchase their alpacas, this makes me nervous, perhaps because I am somewhat conservative, but to risk your home against buying into an industry that you are brand new to is a significant risk.

Some people borrow money from other family members, or perhaps sell some assets that they own.  It may be that you may not be able to raise enough money to buy that stunning show winning alpaca that you came across on a farm visit, but maybe you have enough to purchase her dam or grand dam.  Older dams are usually less expensive and come with the added bonus of having a proven track record when it comes to breeding, birthing and milk production.

Another option is to finance the alpaca though the seller.  Many alpaca farms offer financing on their alpacas and usually at a very competitive rate.   Some form of down payment will be required and there will also be a contract to be signed outlining the details of the financing. 

Typically when an alpaca is financed the seller retains possession of the alpaca until the contract is paid in full, some buyers aren’t too thrilled about that prospect and are anxious to get alpacas on their property, but you can really use that time to your advantage.  Take that time to use your capital to set up your farm, fencing and barns all take money and with your alpaca safely agisted at the farm you are purchasing her from you do not need to rush your planning and construction of your farm and farm buildings.  The time that you are agisiting your alpaca is also a great time to learn more about the management and day to day care of alpacas.  We agisted our first alpaca until our property was ready, but used to visit her every month and spend a day at the farm where she was agisted.  We learnt so much in that time period including many small tips that you would never find written in a book; that time prepared us well for the day that we finally brought our alpacas home.

If none of these options work you still have the option of purchasing some fiber quality males.  These boys are usually significantly less in price and are a good way to learn about managing alpaca on a daily basis.   After a time with them you will be able to decide if alpaca farming is still for you and if you really do want to raise alpacas.  Fiber males will still produce fleece that can be harvested and marketed, so there will be some income from them too, but not the level of income that you will receive from selling breeding stock or

breedings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

So that is an introduction to starting an alpaca farm on a budget.  Tomorrow I will write about other things you can do to keep your costs down while still remaining effective.  Of course as with any of my posts, if this post prompts other questions please feel free to post a comment to the blog or drop me an email.  I look forward to hearing from you.Rosemary

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