Alpacas and Hobby Farmers – A Perfect Fit
When Peter and Lenie Johnson semi-retired and moved to thirteen acres on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada their idea was to operate a small hobby farm. Something to keep them relatively busy, after many years of constant hard work and long hours, yet not so busy that they would be unable to relax and enjoy life.
Wracking their brains for an answer, they recalled having visited an alpaca farm in Oregon several years previously. Why not? In Lenie’s words,” I loved the idea because they are one of the few animals used for their fiber and their manure but do not have to be butchered for food. I didn’t want to raise animals to be killed.”
Another plus: They are relatively clean animals and require very little work.
And so it began. After more research they purchased four pregnant females from a neighboring alpaca farm and arranged to have the sellers board them while Peter set to work building pens and fences.
Alpacas are very hardy and need little in the way of shelter, especially in the mild climes of Vancouver Island. An open fronted field shed is adequate.
Since alpacas (originating from Peru, Chile, and Bolivia and being members of the camel family), are still not that common in North America, breeding females can sell for $1000-$15,000 for show quality stock and stud males from $3,000-$20,000. Geldings start at about $300.
Stocking rates are conducive to small acreages as four to six alpacas can live comfortably on one acre. They normally live from fifteen to twenty years and their gestation period is eleven to twelve months. As a special bonus, they usually give birth during daylight hours, no assistance necessary. Females (called cria) can reproduce for around twelve years.
A year and a half after bringing the females home, Peter and Lenie purchased two breeding males and were officially in business.
Alpacas eat a small amount of pellets each day, which are available from animal feed companies and assure the animals of getting their vitamins and minerals. Hay is their other staple, second and third cut being the best. This ensures that their gums and teeth remain healthy due to the unusual shape and positioning of their teeth.
They also enjoy fir branches, maple leaves, and, as a special treat, fresh fruits such as apples. However they are allergic to the rhododendron leaves which grow wild around the Johnson’s acreage.
Alpacas have been bred for their fiber for thousands of years, the fiber being considered one of the finest in the world, due to softness, warmth, (due to each and every fiber being hollow, enabling them to breathe), as well as an added quality, being hypoallergenic. Colors range from white to shades of brown, to black. Logically, baby alpaca fiber (up to one year old) is the most expensive, selling for roughly $24.00 per pound, while adult fiber sells for around $12.00. Shearing takes place once a year, usually around May, as it must be dry and rain free.
They are very clean animals and their dung is the finest fertilizer possible for gardens and houseplants. No smell, or very little, adds to the appeal. In addition, the manure does not have to sit for a year to cure, unlike other animals’ waste.
Alpacas are hardy and easy to maintain. Worming, vaccinating, and trimming of their claw-like toenails are all the requirements necessary.
These gentle little creatures are intelligent and curious. Although they usually live as social herd animals they can be trained as pets. Alpacas are known for spitting when threatened but this usually occurs amongst themselves during crowded feeding sessions. Clucking noises are their normal sounds to show friendly and submissive behavior and they hum when content.
Peter and Lenie have now been proud owners of their farm for fourteen years and during that time many, many people, whether singly or in tour groups, have stopped by to enjoy these fascinating little animals.
Now there is an added attraction. Lenie has opened a boutique on the property where she sells only clothing and accessories made from alpaca wool. Gloves, toques, socks, scarves, sweaters, capes, blankets, and even the softest alpaca stuffed toys a child could snuggle, are available. Or, if they prefer, alpaca wool skeins can be purchased for those knitters out there. Lenie gets customers from throughout Canada, as well as from other countries as alpaca garments are well known for their luxurious softness, warmth, and longevity.
For the Johnsons, the decision they made fourteen years ago was the right one for them. They have grown to love their dear little critters, as well as enjoying a relatively work free bit of income. Who could ask for a better semi-retirement occupation?