By SUSAN HAYHURST
SAINT MARY-OF-THE-WOODS, Ind. — Interested in raising alpacas? Attendees at a recent Alpaca 101 workshop at White Violet Farm Alpacas at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods learned there’s more to having a herd than just the animal’s “cute factor.”
The workshop presenters explained alpacas are now considered livestock, rather than exotics, in the United States and must have adequate shelter, water, feed, veterinarian care, grooming and pasture and be registered nationally. Sister of Providence Maureen Freeman, director of the farm, said while the four-footed, soft creatures seem to make great pets, they cost far more than dogs.
“There is certainly the cute factor, but you must consider multiple factors when deciding to take on alpacas. What kind of farm do you have, what are your goals and objectives with purchasing these animals and do you have enough land to pasture and raise them?” she asked.
“Do you already have a barn, insurance, fencing? Do you plan on breeding? Do you plan on using their fiber for commercial purposes? There are lots of questions to ask yourself, and this is why we offer the workshop.”
“The Fundamentals of Alpaca Farming” provided visitors from several Midwest states classroom and hands-on opportunities to interact with the animals. Gary and Linda Taylor of Van Buren, Ind., attended the workshop because of their Christmas present.
“I received 5 four-footed bundles of adorable for Christmas from Gary, and then the fear factor kicked in. We needed to know everything about what to do for them,” said Linda.
“We’ve been thinking about alpacas since 2009, and we bought these through a listing on Craigslist. They are our pets but we want to use the fiber, so we’re trying to learn about that too. We walk our two girls and three boys every night.”
Freeman also explained the growth of the breed over the last several years in the United States and some of the animal’s basic history: “In 2006, there were 86,000 alpacas registered in the U.S. In 2010, we hit 206,918. The growth is positive for this earth-friendly animal, but we are now seeing some alpaca farms going out of business because of the economy impacting a family’s ability to care for them.
“Alpacas are members of the camelid family and are indigenous to South America,” she said. “I’ve visited Peru, where alpacas are well-known for their fiber. The animals come in two breeds, Huacaya, which we have at our farm, and Suri. Huacayas are known for their fluffy fleece, where Suris have silky, dreadlock-looking fleece.
Alpacas usually live to 15 to 20 years. We have approximately 68 alpacas currently, and are looking to bring down our numbers according to the land and staff we have available.”
Tracy Wilson, the farm’s herd manager and owner of her own herd of 18, discussed basic considerations for alpaca care.
“Housing or shelter is very important,” Wilson explained. “If you have a barn, that’s great, but a three-sided shed for the animals to get out of the elements will work fine. The summer heat is a huge factor, and it’s also important to create a section for moms and babies, or cria. Also consider the very important electricity, lighting and water supply.”
Easy-to-move gates and panels are a must around the barn or shelter, and the more open space, the better, for alpacas. “They are social animals and like to see each other. They sleep in the herd, like openness, are easy to keep in fences, but it’s just as important to keep predators (such as packs of dogs or coyotes) out,” Wilson said.
“Exterior fencing should be at least five feet high and made of woven wire, and welded wire gates are good for interior fencing because crias won’t stick their heads through them.”
Alpacas are modified ruminants with a three-compartment stomach, explained Wilson. They convert grass and hay to energy quite efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
“They need to graze and have an abundant fresh water supply. Ours are fed a small amount of supplement once or twice a day in the form of a specially formulated sweet feed or pellet, depending on the time of year, weight management, pregnancy or lactating status and males’ work schedule.”
Freeman advises to never feed moldy or insect-infested feed. “Always have your hay tested. Your local extension agent can help you find a testing facility. Nutritionally deficient hay can cause serious health problems, and hay that is too high in protein can case digestive problems, fiber blowout and obesity. Alpacas need a 10 percent protein level in hay.”
She also encourages alpaca owners to buddy up with a local farmer to buy their hay. “It’s great if you have good hay and can buy pasture for hay production. You just want grass, not straight alfalfa,” she said.