The Demand for Alpaca Wool
The worldwide demand for alpaca wool and alpaca yarn to make luxury garments, and the scarcity of the animals, drives the alpaca market.
While no one has a chrystal ball to see into the future, the concensus of breeders
today is that the future demand for alpacas will far exceed the supply for alpaca wool and alpaca yarn many years. Alpaca wool supply will
continue to be restricted for many years for a number of reasons:
- Alpacas reproduce slowly (one cria/year). And statistically, only half of those crias will be females.
- Females crias cannot be expected to breed until 1 1/2 years of age, and not produce that first cria until 2 1/2 years of age. Male crias cannot be expected to breed until 2 to 3 years of age.
- Many breeders retain their offspring to build up their herds, thus removing those alpacas from the supply of "buyable" animals.
- Imports from South America are very restricted, as well as difficult, risky and expensive. The importer risks losing his entire investment if the animals develop health problems in the quarantine or experience any number of potential problems.
- The Alpaca Registry (ARI) in the United States is closed. So those few alpacas that are imported cannot be registered, thus rendering them virtually unsellable at today's prices.
- Mass production of a "cria" via embryo transplant is not feasible, since there is no available supply of suitable female hosts. The American herd of female alpacas is always already pregnant by natural breeding.
- Artifical insemination is not feasible because alpaca males do not ejaculate, they "dribble" sperm during breeding. No procedure has been developed to collect sperm from males.
- The limited size of the national herds in each country outside of South America will restrain growth for some time to come.
Demand for Alpacas
Demand for alpacas has increased dramatically every year since their introduction outside of South America. The American and Australian breed associations each have over twelve hundred members, while only a few short years ago there were none.
The demand for alpacas is part of a larger appetite for investment in rare breeds. Whole industries have sprung up around ostriches, miniature donkeys and even Tibetan yaks. Investment in rare livestock coincides with people’s desire to live in the country, raise their children on a farm, and retire to a rural lifestyle. Moreover, the "baby boomers" are just now beginning to retire from careers in corporate America, and they have significant retirement savings to invest. Many retiring baby boomers seek a less stressful lifestyle that is rewarding personally and financially, and alpaca ranching offers that opportunity.
Alpacas are an Outstanding Livestock Investment
Alpacas offer an outstanding choice as a livestock investment. They have long been known as the aristocrat of all farm animals. But best of all for people new to raising livestock, alpacas are easy keepers. They require little acerage, little food, and are relatively small and easy to handle.
Demand for Alpaca Garments
Consumers are drawn to alpaca apparel with just one touch. Alpaca is several times stronger and much warmer than any sheep’s wool. The fiber itself is semi-hollow, making it very light and excellent for thermal garments. Alpaca fleece is easy to process and readily spins into both woolen and worsted yarn. Fabrics made from alpaca are sewn into the finest European suits and garments.
Historically, alpaca production has been concentrated in the high Andes Mountains where there is limited pasture. The worldwide population of alpaca is barely three million animals. The U.S. alpaca herd is about 50,000 animals, and the Texas herd is only about 1200 animals. As a result, alpaca is considered a specialty fiber with limited available supply for the fasion centers of Paris, Milan, London, New York, etc. Alpaca fleece is comparable to cashmere in softness. A future domestic commercial market for large volumes of alpaca fleece is easily envisioned. Meanwhile alpaca breeders are successfully marketing their raw fleeces, fiber, and yarns to a thriving cottage industry of handspinners and weavers, knitters and crocheters. Many alpaca breeders also offer finished alpaca garments through farm stores, online catalogs, and craft events.
The potential market for an animal with the characteristics of the alpaca is vast. Alpacas are only limited in their mere numbers. Alpacas are loved by their owners and respected by those who process or wear products made of their fleece. Alpacas are truly much more than the "world's finest livestock investment."
This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.