Alpacas were domesticated in South America over 5000 years ago by the Incas in the harsh climate of the high altitude regions of the Andes Mountains in southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They are among the most ancient of the world's domestic animals. Considered a cherished treasure by the ancient Inca civilization, the alpacas' cashmere-like fleece was reserved only for the royal family and the highest government officials.
Alpacas were first imported into the United States in the early '80s. They are members of the Camelid family, along with camels, llamas, vicuna and guanaco. While camels and llamas were raised as beasts of burden, the alpaca is not built for carrying weight and is raised in North America exclusively for its soft and luxurious fiber (fleece or wool). Adult alpacas stand approximately three feet tall at the withers (shoulder), 4 ½' to 5' to the tips of their ears and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Alpacas do not have hooves. They have two toes with hard toenails on the top of their feet and a soft pad on the bottom, much like a dog's foot. Therefore, compaction of the soil and damage to the pasture is much less than that experienced by other types of livestock. The gestation period for a female alpaca is approximately 11 ½ months, normally resulting in a single, healthy baby called a cria. While having twins can occur, it is highly uncommon and very rare. Alpaca mothers are protective and devoted, as is the entire herd. The average life span of an alpaca is between 15 and 20 years.
There are two breeds of alpacas. The huacaya (pronounced "wah-KI-ah") has a soft, dense fleece with a waviness ("crimp") that gives it a fluffy, teddy bear-like appearance. The suri (pronounced "SIR-ee") has no crimp, so the individual fibers wrap around each other to form lustrous, pencil locks that hang down from the body, elegantly parted at the spine. While their body types are the same, the unique fibers they produce give them their own distinguished look. The suri is rare, with a worldwide ratio of huacayas to suris at about 98% to 2%.
Producing one of the finest, most luxurious natural fibers in the world, alpacas come in 22 identified fiber colors and color variations recognized by the worldwide fiber market. From pure white through fawn, browns to jet-black, there are color shades from pale silver to steel blue, to rose-grey. The alpaca is the only fiber animal that can produce a natural red color.
Alpacas produce 3 to 10 pounds of fleece, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, depending on the age of the animal and the shearing method and schedule. They're usually shorn once a year in the spring. Quality alpaca fiber is as soft as cashmere, several times warmer and three times stronger than sheep's wool, yet only half the weight. It is non-allergenic and with the low scale height of the finer micron fiber it does not feel scratchy like other animal fibers. Alpaca fiber is unbelievably soft!
Alpaca fiber has no lanolin or other greases and it is usually relatively clean and dry, unlike sheep's wool, which contains lanolin and significant amounts of waste material. This makes cleaning and processing simpler and more enjoyable. Both types of fiber blend well with wool, silk, cotton, mohair, and cashmere. Alpaca fiber also easily accepts dyes. Suri and Huacaya fiber are highly sought after by both cottage-industry artists (like hand-spinners, knitters and weavers, for example), and the commercial fashion industry, worldwide. Its uses are endless in clothing, luxury apparel, textiles, even specialty interior fabrics. Used alone or blended, left natural or dyed, alpaca end products are soft, luxurious, pleasurable treasures to own.
Why own alpacas? There are so many reasons why owning alpacas is highly appealing. Alpacas are gentle and timid, yet curious. These docile, easy-going creatures possess an intelligence and social nature that make them easy to train and very enjoyable to watch. They are hardy and simple to care for and adapt well to most climates. Clean, quiet and easily managed, alpacas are ideal livestock for hobby / gentleman farming (with relatively small acreage). They also make great pets and 4-H projects for kids - the whole family can be involved!
There are regional and national show divisions for the alpaca industry in which breeders can have their animals independently judged in competitive classes with other alpacas. The showing of alpacas gives the breeder opportunity for feedback on how their breeding stock is developing. It is an event that the whole family can participate in (there are special classes where children can show their alpacas) as well as providing opportunities to network with other alpaca owners and learn from their experience.
Alpacas offer an outstanding choice for livestock ownership. They have long been known as the aristocrat of all ranch animals. Alpacas have a charismatic manner, they do very well on small acreage, produce a luxury product, which is in high demand, and a large herd is not required to be profitable (90% of all alpaca owners own 10 alpacas or less!). They are considered the finest livestock investment in the world!
Unlike the end products of most "exotic" animals, as well as most "traditional" livestock, the end product of an alpaca is its unique fleece - a continuously growing cash crop that can be reaped year after year, without killing the animal. One of the many aspects we appreciate about alpaca ownership.
Alpacas are a sound, quality, investment. There are excellent profit opportunities and tax advantages when investing in alpacas. They are rare, producing a high quality luxury fiber that is in demand world-wide. They are fully insurable for approximately 3.25% of their value. They can often be financed with a modest down payment.
ALPACAS are known as ‘The Worlds Finest Livestock Investment’ for good reason.
For an investment to be valuable it must possess certain qualities that make it desirable.
Around the world, alpacas are in strong demand, and people consistently pay high prices for them. They are scarce or rare and they produce one of the world’s finest natural fibers! The textiles produced from their fiber are well known to the fashion centers of Paris, Milan, and Tokyo. Alpaca fiber is softer, stronger and warmer than your average sheep’s wool.
In the U.S. a cottage industry exists for the alpaca’s luxury fiber. Hand-spinners, knitters, weavers and fiber artists readily make use of the elite specialty fiber for the high quality end products they produce. Besides the current high value of the alpaca and its fiber, a ‘breeding market’ exists to improve the North American Alpaca. This improvement of the breeding stock is what continues to drive the value of the alpaca higher and higher.
Livestock, or animals raised for profit, was a viable investment long before financial stocks were sold on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, wealth from livestock ownership is not as common, but tending to a graceful herd of alpacas can be an exciting way to earn a substantial cash flow and contribute toward living a rewarding lifestyle!
A major investment benefit of owning alpacas is based on the concept of compounding. Savings accounts earn interest, which if left in the account adds to the principal which in turn builds additional interest, thereby compounding the investor’s return. ‘Alpaca Compounding’ takes place because alpacas reproduce and have babies! As you retain the offspring of your initial alpaca investment and rebreed that offspring you experience a multiplication of your initial investment, which means an increase of value!
Tax-deferred wealth building is another ‘Alpaca advantage’. As your herd grows, you postpone paying income tax on its increasing value until such a time as you choose to sell the offspring.
Livestock breeding is a business and ownership of livestock for breeding purposes qualifies for some tremendous tax advantages. As an economic stimulus the ‘Section 179 Deduction’ of the Internal Revenue Code was increased $500,000 in 2013 - meaning you can depreciate a business asset as a business expense item the first year the capital asset is acquired. This means substantial tax savings for the alpaca owners and breeders! If you are in a 50% tax bracket the government will reduce your taxes by 50% of the cost of the alpacas up to $500,000. Consultation with your tax advisor is recommended.
How about insuring your investment against loss? Alpacas are insurable for their full value for approximately 3.25 % of their estimated value! There are several insurance underwriters who insure livestock as a normal course of business.
One of the biggest reasons an alpaca buyer cites for the purchasing of these unique animals is the gentle and pleasant personality of the alpaca. They are truly a wonderful animal and a joy to watch and be around!
Bottom line: Alpacas are both PROFITABLE and ENJOYABLE!
The Incan Empire was famous for its advanced civilization as well as fabulous wealth in gold and silver. The alpaca was a highly cherished treasure by the Inca. The cashmere like fleece of the alpaca was reserved for making garments for the royalty and government officials only. The Spanish conquistadors plundered their wealth and altered the whole European economic system. To the conquerors, the land and the ‘heathen’ people and their way of life was for the taking. They plundered the gold and silver, but decimated the people and their way of life. They almost wiped out the alpaca in the conquest. The fiber that was so highly prized went into obscurity for many years.
In the mid 1800’s Titus Salt became one of England’s most prominent businessmen. He began his enterprise with his father as a woolstapler (buying, processing and selling wool). He discovered an odd lot of 300 bales of alpaca fiber from Peru, and experimented with it, recognizing some wonderful traits in the fiber from his years of experience with wool. In short, Titus developed a lucrative semi-monopoly with alpaca fiber and devoted his business to buying, processing and producing high quality alpaca material used for ‘fancy’ garment fashions. He built one of the largest, most advanced mills in the world, six stories high with over 800,000 square feet. He employed over 3200 people and produced 18 miles of alpaca fabric each day! With his wealth gained from the alpaca fiber, he built a town around his mill that housed 5000 people, complete with a hospital, bath, wash, and alms houses and a 14 acre recreational landscaped park!
The Alpaca market today is steadily growing. There is a commercial fiber market that is in demand world wide. Currently this market is fed by South American Alpacas. Considered a Rare Specialty Fiber, the world production of alpaca is 4,000 tons, compared to 5,000 tons for cashmere, 8,500 tons for Angora or a whopping 1,851,000 tons of sheep’s wool. The genetic progenitor of the alpaca is the wild vicuna which is the finest commercially recognized fiber in the world with only 50 tons per year. (Their fiber is so rare and luxurious that it can cost as much as $25,000 for a designer overcoat.) There are approximately 3 million alpaca in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Many of these animals have not been bred with careful selection for breed improvement. During the Spanish Conquest the careful maintaining of pure bred alpacas (which were very closely related to the wild vicuna) was lost and many alpacas were allowed to cross breed with the llama which led to a coarsening of their fiber. A ‘breeders market’ exists today in the United States and several other countries to both improve the fiber quality and numbers of this already rare luxury fiber animal, to ultimately produce higher valued alpaca fiber (based on fineness) for the commercial world market demand. Don Julio Barreda, one of Peru’s most important alpaca breeders is a man who has dedicated his life selectively breeding alpacas to produce a consistently high quality alpaca that is free of llama traits. He said in a speech given in 1999 regarding North American alpaca breeders, “With all the advantages you possess, I think you are about to create one or several very special types, and you will have outstanding characteristics due to your methodology applied in their rearing. In that way North America could produce the finest alpaca wool in the world.” The alpaca has been an animal with an enduring economic value among diverse cultures, and is still proving to be a viably strong investment with impressive returns in today’s market.