After reading our Alpaca Business Plan Tutorial, you should have a better idea of where you are going, and how you are getting there. Here are some pointers to help evaluate your first alpaca purchase.
Should I buy a male?
While many first time buyers want to include a breeding male in their herd, we strongly recommend against doing so for several reasons. First, a breeding stud needs to work to keep him content. If you only have a few females for him to breed each season, he will be under worked, and therefore unhealthy. Second, if you breed all your females to your only stud, you will not be able to use him to breed to any of your next generation. Third, most packages are for bred females, and often include free breedbacks, which means you won’t need any outside breedings for at least two years. Fourth, your breeding program will produce males, and if you are doing it right, hopefully a breed worthy male or two. So, plan on buying top quality, outside breeding from several ranches for the first 3-4 years, in doing so you will create a diverse foundation herd that can then justify the purchase of your own top quality stud.
What quality level should I start with, and how many?
Remember, the alpaca industry is an ever growing and changing entity. Here at Dutch Valley Ranch we have always been mindful that the US alpaca industry must at some time transition from a breeders market to a production market bringing on greater diversity in pricing. Even during the recession of 2008-10, the top bloodlines continue to bring value, while the prices of lesser breeding stock have declined. This is why our initial breeding philosophy still rings true, from day one we have strived to keep the quality of our top line breeding stock within the top 10% of the national standard, in doing so we guaranteed our ranch a place in the alpaca breeding market of the future.
Regardless, there is still a place for the mid-level alpacas for the beginning rancher’s breeding program. With good breeding choices, an alpaca with potential can produce top level alpacas within just a few generations.
So, consider the ever-present “quality vs. quantity” debate when purchasing alpacas. You may be able to purchase 4 or even 6 lesser quality breeding females for the price of two top show producers, but in the long run, while the value of the better lines will stay consistent, the value of the lesser line will continue to drop. Considering this, valuing quality over quantity could give you the best return on your investment in the long run.
Above all, consider the time and effort required in becoming a rancher. If you under-estimate the amount of effort required, you might burn-out on alpacas, and miss the real joy of alpaca ranching. So, unless you are confident that you have the time and resources to tend to a large herd, start out with just 3-6 alpacas, then let things take their natural course.
Huacaya or Suri?
Different people have differing philosophies on this, so take the following information into consideration, but do your own research before making this decision.
Huacayas make up the vast majority of the alpacas worldwide, about 95%, although that number is higher in the US. This makes the Suri alpaca rarer, and more of an exotic livestock, therefore higher priced. The Suri fiber, while fine and lustrous, doesn’t have the crimp required to give garments body and elasticity, being more suited for specialty products. Therefore the market for Suri fiber cannot match the demand for Huacaya, which serves a broader market demand. If you consider the goal of the US alpaca market is the production of US alpaca fiber on a national scale, this can only be accomplished with the Huacaya alpaca. The Suri alpaca market still retains attractive possibilities, but without development of a breakout product utilizing their fleece, they may remain a show & breeders market. The jury is still out as to whether this in an advantage to the Suri breeder.
Where to buy:
Never buy an alpaca blind, get to know the sellers, and their ranch. Are they helpful & forthcoming? Is their ranch clean & organized, with plenty of food & water? Are they AOBA members, show participants, ARI registered? Do they have a vested interest in the community; will they be around for the long run? Most important, will they be there for you after the sale. Not only to help you with any issues, like talking you through your first cria delivery, but to fulfill any guarantees that that may arise, such as re-breeds or non-breeder refunds?
Finally, you should feel confident with any purchase, especially your first. If you're not sure it's right for you then take time to re-evaluate. This is a growing market, we are learning all the time so we all need to help each other to further the whole industry.