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.


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.


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