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Buying Your First Alpacas

Established breeders know what they want and just seek an animal with the desired qualities. But as a first-time buyer, you may find that to buy alpacas is a daunting task. Every rancher that you approach has different breeding goals, different breeding stock, and a different sales pitch. Those breeders tell you to buy this bloodline, that color, this type, this country of origin, stay away from those genetics, and so on. What should you do? Which breeding stock should you purchase?

Examine Your Goals

First, you should examine your own goals. If you're looking for a "get rich quick" scheme, then alpaca ranching is not for you. If owning alpacas and/or llamas is based on pleasure rather than profit, then buy the animal that most appeals to you. Before the purchase, make sure it is in good health, has a nice personality, is halterable, and comes with support and warranties from the seller. Then just enjoy your new pasture animals. You've got some nice pasture animals to hang out with and grace your property.

If starting a profitable livestock business is your goal, then do your homework before investing money. This business requires an entrepreneurial spirit, hard work, attention to detail, marketing skills, a love of animals, marketing, and good customer service. Start by visiting several alpaca ranches, take some work shops, attend some alpaca shows, and work up a 5 year business plan. After you've done your home work, then you'll be ready to shop for some foundation animals.

Avoiding Bogus Sales Pitches

As you shop for alpacas, you may hear several myths about what you should and should not buy. The following myths will help you avoid bogus sales pitches:

Inherited Genetics: You may hear that you should buy Animal-X because it is descended from a particular herdsire or comes from a particular country. This sales pitch makes some sense, if and only if, the herdsire is a "proven" producer of show-winning offspring. That herdsire has demonstrated that he can pass his genes down to his progeny. With alpacas, we have just recently seen the end of the importation phase of this industry, which means there is tremendous genetic diversity in our breeding females. So no matter where you obtain your females, its genetic label will come from her parents, and ½ of her cria's genetics will come from the herdsire to which you breed her -- provided that herd sire can produce blue ribbon quality offspring. Bottom line; buy the quality of the animal, not the name of the farm.

Alpaca Type: Should you buy huacayas or suris? Neither one is perfect or better than the other in my opinion. To make this decision, it's important to know that suris cost about 40% more than huacayas, and suris are about 10% of the American herd and therefore more rare. Huacayas attract more people with their "teddy-bear" look and are more winter hardy. But suris are more rare and sparkle in the sunlight. It's easier to buy huacayas because they are less expensive, and there are more of them.

Bottom line: They're both great, buy the type you like most. Just learn everything you can about both types first by attending some alpaca fiber workshops. If you are a hand-spinner, buy some fiber and determine which type you enjoy spinning the most. Most probably, you will enjoy both! If possible, obtain investment diversity by owning both.

Country of Origin: Should you purchase pure bred Chilean, Peruvian, or Bolivian animals? Country of origin has little to do with quality. In fact, "country of origin" means only the last country that the alpaca saw before being shipped to the United States. Many alpacas and llamas were transported (legally and illegally) across the borders of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. It is true that many Peruvian breeders selected for white animals to facilitate dyeing fiber at the mill without shutting the machines down for cleaning.

"Accoyo" is one Peruvian ranch that practised line-breeding of white animals and achieved some remarkably fine-fibered animals. "Alianza" is a Peruvian alpaca co-op that practiced the same line-breeding of exceptional white animals. Both Accoyo and Alianza heritage alpacas have a deserved reputation for quality, but not all such animals have quality. Each animal needs to be judged on its own merits.

Luckily, Chilean and Bolivian breeders allowed colored (non-white) alpacas to breed and thrive. American cottage-industry fiber artists just love the naturally-colored alpaca and llama fibers. In the show ring, the judge does not know or care about the country of origin.

When alpacas were first imported to the United States, white alpacas tended to have finer fleece than non-white (colored) alpacas. But now after 15 years of breeding, breeders are exhibiting colored alpacas that are very fine-fibered. Colored alpacas are just as competitive in the show ring as white alpacas. Buy the color of animal that appeals to you.

Breeder Support: Starting any new business means going up a learning curve. Starting a livestock business, such as alpaca ranching, means that the lives of very valuable animals is dependent on you getting up the learning curve quickly. So breeder support is extremely important to your success. When you buy your first alpacas, you're entering into a long-time relationship with that farm. So you should buy from a farm that will support you for the first year or so, as you go up the alpaca learning curve.

Just because an alpaca ranch has hundreds of animals and presents itself as a "premiere breeder" does it mean that it also stands behind its contracts, warranties, and offers premiere service. This is a very competitive business, and you may get just as good, if not better, customer service and support from a small breeder. You should expect the farm where you buy your foundation herd to serve as your mentors, offering ongoing consultation, emergency advice, educational events, show ring guidance, and prompt replies to your questions and concerns.

Never buy from a breeder, who recommends that you mortgage your home to buy their animals. Choose breeders who sell you on the quality of their alpacas, support, and warranties. If a breeder has to rely on saying negative things about others to sell his animals, what will he say about you when you are in business? Find another breeder, who is in good relations with and supportive of the entire community of alpaca and llama breeders.

This page was last updated on June 10, 2009.

Able Oaks Ranch 6167 FM1857 S. Rusk TX 75785 | 903-530-1009