We have one of the largest commercial alpaca farms in Canada. (possibly the only?) With our extremely high breeding standards, we have grown an incredible source for everything alpaca.
What is a commercial alpaca farm? Basically all this means is we don't bother registering. Just like the yorkie puppy I bought a while back... I didn't care if he had a paper I'd probably misplace it anyway's. I just wanted a puppy for my daughter. By saving thousands on not registering we are able to produce fiber and sell for less. Our prices for our products as well as for our alpacas are much lower due to our business and lack of expenses we incur.
Commercial alpaca farming is different from the alpaca farms who breed registered stock for the purpose of selling their registered alpacas at a premium price.
The main difference is that we don't register the alpacas. It was costing us 3-4 thousand per year just to keep up with the registration of the offspring each year... with no return! The papers sat in a filing cabinet and collected dust. Years ago we got into a really bad deal with a farm in Ontario. They were going to sell our animals for us and as they sold they would send the money and we would transfer the papers to the new owners. At that time there was no one interested in un-papered animals so holding the papers until payment was made was something lots of farms felt comfortable with. Unfortunately this particular farm was selling them and promising that the papers "were in the mail" meanwhile we were never notified that the sale had happened so both of us were left in the dark. The registry didn't do anything to help us with the enormous ordeal we were in and that really turned us off to the registry. There was NO point what so ever to having papers! So we haven't registered for years and I couldn't be happier.. I HATED doing the paperwork.. and Dad hated paying the bills :-) Of course we aren't able to sell breeding registered stock for premium dollars any longer.. which didn't make a difference cause we hadn't sold an alpaca for premium dollars in over 2 years anyway's. In fact we made more money selling cheap without papers to those who were interested in the animal for the fiber.
We started off over a decade ago feeding what we were told to feed.. corn, oats, pellets and hay. After a few years of that we switched over to just pellets and then eventually stopped that as well. Grass and Hay is ALL they need to eat.. we haven't supplemented with anything else for over 5 years and we have a very happy healthy heard. It is a waste of money and unnatural to feed anything but hay or grass. We have saved thousands and reduced chore time.. and again our alpacas are very healthy!
There are some farms that give MONTHLY injections! We have proven that this is absolutely unnecessary, and probably not even good for them! We give 8-way, vitamins and ivomec (for worms and mites) in the Fall after a few hard frosts. Some of the cria need extra shots of ivomec throughout the Winter because they seem to be easily targeted by mites. In some areas selenium may be needed.
Alpaca meat is one of the healthiest meats available. It is very low in cholesterol and calories and high in protein. It is comparable to a very lean beef. As alpacas grow older their fiber becomes course and short. The animals that are no longer viable for the production of high quality fleece are used to provide a very healthy, grass fed, organic meat. (But only if they are fed grass and not given monthly injections!) This is a very sad part of any viable farm whether it be chickens, pigs, cows ... or alpacas. Many alpaca breeders frown upon eating alpaca which is something that we don't understand at all.
When choosing our herdsires the main thing we consider is the fiber quality. Not who his great-gand-sire is.. or if he has one paper or dual registration.. NONE of that matters to us as a commercial farm. Obviously there are other important factors as well.. If they have undesirable hereditary traits like buck teeth, fast growing toe nails or a crooked tail or even a bad personality. Some males can be aggressive and that is something we won't breed into our herd no matter how fabulous his fiber is.
When we started out we hand bred like most alpaca breeders still do now... we have found a MUCH better way.. the natural way! First I'll explain to you what "hand-breeding" means.. You gather up the herd and separate the 1 female and the 1 male and put them in a small pen. Then you let them do their thing.. which usually takes about 15 minutes. Then you separate them and after 10 days or so you do it again to check if she caught. If the dam is open still she will lay down and allow the male to breed her. If she is bred she will spit, kick and raise a huge fuss... sometimes they will raise a fuss just because they want to.. and this is why its so tricky. You should test them a couple times to be sure, otherwise you will go an entire season before trying again. This is a lot of work when you have as many animals as we do and would keep us really busy the entire breeding season.
Our way.. pasture breeding. We decide on a herdsire and put him in with the herd of females.. and let them be! They know better than we do when they are ready and will do their thing when they want. Many times the breeding's happen in the middle of the night. As far as line breeding goes, we have had this happen many times.. some on purpose to try (my dad grew up raising cattle and they line breed a lot) and some on accident (we had one year where our fences were in need of some major maintenance!) .. and the result.. was... wait for it!.. an ALPACA!! Lol No 6 legged, two headed creatures, just normal alpacas. The one thing we noticed though is if there is for instance our old herdsire Cuzco would sometimes throw pintos (when the blanket fiber is one color- usually dark brown and the rest of the animal is white) and when we line bred his line we would end up with more of those.. or Valentino was a smaller built animal and all his line-bred offspring were smaller than average. We are at the point now that we have so many different bloodlines and a crew of amazing herdsires that we don't have to worry about line breeding. However if you don't have the luxury of choosing a new male every year then the best thing is to have two separate pastures (or more) and split up the girls according to who you want bred to who and then have two males.. one in each pasture.
Alpacas are pregnant for almost an entire year. 11 - 11.5 months. We find when pasture breeding they basically have a baby almost exactly a year apart. So they usually have their baby, and within 10 days to 2 weeks they are ready to be bred again, so the following year they would have their baby around the same time the last baby was born. I actually find it more accurate now to predict when they are going to deliver than when we used to hand breed and had an actual bred date and due date. Our birth rate is really high.. usually between 87-98 % having babies each year. We used to have babies from Mid May all the way to September, but we shortened up the breeding period and now we put the herdsires in May 15 and they are taken out July 15th. Oh and one more thing to mention.. our herdsire this year bred 65 females in 2.5 months! We find that 10 days before the end of the breeding period if we switch him out and put a new male in we will find a few go down for him. I guess they are just like people some men just won't go for some girls no matter what!
The last time we spoke with a vet about anything is when our beloved Zen got ill and passed away :-( Other than that we haven't had a vet bill in years! We have administered penicillin on our own when needed. If someone is showing any signs of infection we give them a shot and watch for a few days.. if they need another shot we give it to them and most of the time that's all it takes. Alpacas are very hardy animals and very rarely get sick. If they are fed properly and have access to fresh water at all times, get sufficient exercise and aren't under any undue stress there isn't a whole lot to worry about.
Day to Day Chores
Alpacas are the EASIEST livestock in the world to care for... well I guess I shouldn't speak for every alpaca breeder, because if you hand breed, register, give monthly shots and weigh each animal each day it would be incredibly time consuming. But the way we do it.. is pretty easy. Right now in the summer months, they graze, drink water, play around and sleep. Well.. I guess that's not all they do.. they come into the yard to mow our grass each night and will leave a bucket of "fertilizer" for my dad to pick up! LOL Their manure makes AWESOME fertilizer, my Opa swore that was why his garden was always so good! So other than checking them a couple times a day we don't have "chores" in the summer time, if we wanted to take off for a week we totally could. (Except for Alley and Zaiden who are still being bottle fed ever 3-4 hours)
In the Fall and Winter we set up a big square bale of hay in the feeder and that lasts about a week. Here is a video of them pigging out on hay :-)
The Spring is the funnest, most exciting time, with all the new babies arriving and shearing.
Honestly.. Kayla's chickens, bunnies, cat and dog are more work than the 300 alpacas! Marketing on the other hand takes lots of time. making products, photographing, listing on facebook, and website... but its all work I really enjoy. This is my dream job and wouldn't give it up for anything!
I hope I've answered any questions you may have about commercial alpaca farming. If you still have questions please feel free to call or email us!