Alpacas have been raised as domesticated animals in Peru for over 6,000 years. Their fine fleece is valued for its non-allergenic qualities as well as being warmer and stronger than wool. Products made from alpaca fiber have been sought after in Europe for over 200 years. Old wills often contain bequests such as “…my Alpaca coat to my son…”
But in today’s alpaca farming industry, the fleece is a by-product; the main attraction for raising alpacas in North America is their investment value.
These are some of the main advantages to investing in alpacas:
1) Their value has been maintained for more than 20 years, primarily due to the closing of the official register to further imports. This ensures that the market cannot become saturated and can only grow at the natural rate of reproduction.
2) The quantity of fleece needed to justify commercial production of the fleece on a large scale would need about 1 million alpacas – of the same color! With a current total US population of around 120,000, that gives many years of growth ahead.
3) There are major tax benefits available to alpaca farmers. Not only with the depreciation allowances but also in reducing local taxes as the alpaca ranch will qualify the property for agricultural usage.
4) Alpacas are “easy keepers”. They require little attention other than feeding with hay, providing fresh water, and a monthly worming treatment. These qualities make them attractive to baby boomers looking to retire to the country, and wanting to do something that is profitable but not too demanding of time and effort.
5) They are environmentally friendly: their padded feet are easy on the ground and they don’t pull out the grass by the roots, unlike some other ruminants, but graze it close. This encourages further growth.
6) Their wool is highly valued by hand-spinners, providing a local market for the raw fleece. This can offset most, if not all, of the maintenance costs of the animals themselves.
Alpaca farmers come from all kinds of backgrounds and age groups. The majority of people starting alpaca farms don’t have any previous livestock experience, and quite often have never looked after anything more demanding than a cat or dog! That is no barrier to success. Alpacas are so easy to look after that anyone can quickly learn the few essentials and develop their farm from there.
For those people who want to be involved with alpacas but don’t want even the minimal work involved, it is possible to buy the animals and have them looked after by another farm – usually the one from whom you bought them. It is still possible to get many of the tax benefits in this way, and of course, you still get the appreciation in value.