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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Alpaca Breeding

Alpaca Breeding

Summer time is always so full of life - the flowers, the babies, the birds and the bees.  When I first began to breed alpacas, it opened up a whole new process for me and, in truth, made me a little skirmish.  However, over time I have come to realize it is just anatomy and how things get done to put a little baby on the ground.  So, here is a step by step in the alpaca breeding business.

A female's progesterone levels are highest 14-17 days after giving birth.  This means she has a high probability of getting pregnant when bred during this window.  First time females we breed when they are at least 13 months, 80+ lbs and showing signs of being interested in breeding (flirting with the boys, laying down next to their fence).  Males sexually mature at 2-3 years of age and are often ready to breed.  Some younger males will mount females, but rarely are able to insert their penis into the female.

Some breeders prefer to pasture breed. This means they bring a male into a pasture of ladies that need to be bred by him.  In a month's time or so, the herdsire is brought back out of the pen and waits it out for 11 or so months.  While this is a much simpler way to do things, there are several reasons we do not personally follow this plan. 
  1. When was she bred?  Most girls are fairly predictable in how many days she carries the baby.  We like to be home for the births, so this consumes a month of our Summer waiting for the baby.
  2. Was she bred? Some females need a little coaxing.  If she is inexperienced and spits him off, she may not have ever bred and thus no baby the next year.
  3. The alpaca penis is fairly fragile.  It is about the width of your pinky finger and 8-12" long.  It makes a corkscrew motion getting into the vagina as well as inside the uterus.  If the penis gets caught up in the tail hair, it can rupture or break, making for a very sore, non-functioning expensive male.
So, we hand breed the male and female.  We bring our female into a pen and then the male.  The male will start to hum (orgle) and try to mount her.  If she is receptive, she will sit down (cush).  Sometimes it takes a few moments for her to do a self check and see if she is willing to breed.  She should suckle her teeth and a 2nd eyelid will blink.  She will often turn her head back to smell his leg and/ or neck, and occasionally smell you.  The orgling puts the females in a trance in some ways. He will then get on top.  The male will hum the entire time they are breeding.

Artificial Insemination (AI) has never been successful in alpacas.  They are induced ovulators and some speculate that the sperm causes the egg to drop.  Others theories it is the humming that signals the female brain to drop the egg.

As the male mounts the female, he will work on situating his penis to be lined up with her vagina.  Sometimes, they cannot get it right and that is where you need to help.  As the penis begins to search for the labia opening, it will look like a 1" pink worm.  You need to gently help them line up.  Remember, its just anatomy and a function of life.  If an inexperienced male is not helped and gets frustrated, he may get up and be unwilling to breed her in the future.

As with all mammals, maiden females have a hymen.  If the female is 2 years or older, the male may have difficulty breaking the hymen to reach the cervix.  Again, you need to help.  Put on a plastic glove and lubricant and with your index finger gently enter the vagina.  About 2-3" inside, you will hit a wall.  This wall needs to be broken - slowly to minimize the female being uncomfortable.  She will not like this.  This situation is rare, but you may need to do it from time to time.

Males can range in breeding times from 10 minutes to one male we have consistently goes over an hour.  Once they are done, the male will get up and move on.  The female will usually sit there for a second before getting up.  The breeding process is done.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Alpaca Barns, Pens & Pastures

"Plan for Success" has been a principle guiding many people to happy and prosperous lives.  That time-tested adage has great application for setting up or expanding an alpaca ranching facility.
When looking into designing or expanding an alpaca ranch, consider site location, general layout, barns, interior features, pens / runs, pastures and quarantine facilities.

Site Location
Farms and acreages all have characteristics that are unique to that property.  Many sites can work well for raising alpacas, but some are either currently not developable or have serious limitations for future expansion possibilities.

Consider the following in selection a site for the barn, pens and pastures:
  1. Does zoning allow for raising livestock - especially alpacas?
  2. Are neighbors going to be affected?
  3. Is there adequate access to an all-weather road system?
  4. Can you secure the property?
  5. Is the land well-drained, yet level enough to work without incurring significant expenses?
  6. Can utilities be made available to the site?
  7. Can you develop an adequate driveway access on the property?
  8. Is the site protected from harsh winds and weather?
  9. Is there air flow during the warm months?
  10. Are their environmental regulations you need to address for this site?
General Layout
The barn is the hub and central feature in the design process.  It should be located near utilities, have an all weather driveway with access to a road system, and be somewhat in the middle zone of the developable land on the property.  The barn should be situated to allow pen and pasture layout on three sides.

Design the general layout - barns, pens and pastures - to maximize future expansion possibilities.  Starting out, you can build pens and pastures off of just one side of the barn.  Later on, you can expand your operation, and place pens and pastures off the second and third sides of the barn, if you desire. 

The Barn is the focus of the Pasture
Our barn is our office - and where we spend most of our time during the day.  Don't fight it.  Make it useful from the beginning.  It servers may purposes - weather protection, equipment storage, shearing facilities, storing feed, having babies and handling alpacas out of the weather.  A well-designed barn will give the alpaca rancher the option of handling alpacas inside to administer shots, trim toes, feed, breed, train and conduct vet visits.

Features of the barn structures that should be considered:
  1. Large, open, attached shed roof overhangs.
  2. Put the stairs on the south side to melt the snow off in the winter.
  3. Well-ventilated barn interior - lots of windows and doors.
  4. Insulated roof.
  5. Water service near the barn.  If you put it in the barn, they will never come out!
  6. Electricity to the barn.
  7. Single entry "man" doors.
  8. Put in dutch doors - or doors that can open on the top or bottom. This keeps alpacas in if the top is open, the bad weather out if the bottom is open.
  9. Think of your resale value.  The chances of you selling your farm to another alpaca breeder is slim.  Make it appealing to horse, cow, sheep and other livestock owners alike.
Barn Interior Features
 The floor plan for our barn is very simple:  Open.  We have lightweight panels that we can maneuver to create pens, feed storage, weaning areas.  It is important to have the capability to hold alpacas in separate groups inside the barn.  Hay storage is also a consideration.  Because we buy 48 tons of hay each year, we do not put ours in our barn.  However, barn storage is much more appealing that dealing with tarps every few days. 

Equipment storage is also necessary.  This can mean your tractor, fans and other supplies. We picked up some old cabinets from a second hand re-supply store and store cria supplies, dewormer, blankets, towels and other items in the cabinets.

Ideally, you have a completely enclosed room that is insulated and can be heated in cold climates or air conditioned in extremely hot climates.  We use our garage at this time, which gives us easy access to the alpacas right out of our door.

Barn floor materials in the alpaca pen can be lime screenings, rock chips or rubber horse stall matting.  If considering a cement floor, think about your climate.  If you are in a cold area, the urine will freeze to the floor and create a skating rink for all of you unless you chip the ice off every day.

Outside Pens for Confining Alpacas
Alpacas like to be outside.  The barn shed roof or overhang is a very popular hangout for alpacas, especially if their feed and water are available in that zone.  It is helpful to have the ability to occasionally confine the alpacas outside the barn.  Other times, it is helpful to be able to confined alpacas to a larger pen extending from the overhang, but holding them out of the pasture.  Examples of this include confining alpacas for winter, vet visits, pasture cleaning, renovation, quarantining new animals, etc.  These outside pens should have sturdy posts and panels, large access gates for alpacas and equipment.  It is also a good area to install heated, automatic watereres. 

Alpaca Pastures
Pastures for alpacas can be of many different sizes, shapes and grass species.  Fencing around the pastures should limit the alpacas to that pasture and exclude all other alpacas and predators from that pen.  Flexibility is very important in managing pastures.  A series of gates that provide options for direction alpacas from pens to various pastures is ideal  Gates should be wide enough to allow equipment for mowing, manure management and maintenance.  Ideally, you can drive your truck and trailer back to them as well.

We have our barn set up in the middle of our pastures.  Inside the barn, a different door leads to a different pasture, creating a wagon wheel style set-up.  That way, one person can push a group of alpacas from one area to another with ease. 

Quarantine Facilities
All alpaca ranchers should develop a plan for quarantine facilities within their layout.  To manage various disease risks, a properly designed quarantine facility is becoming increasingly important.  An isolated barn and pen set-up that is away from the main alpaca operating g facilities can be used to hold alpacas that are coming to the ranch for breeding, purchase, shearing or any other reason. 

Setting up an alpaca farm can be fun but challenging.  Planning for success can provide you with flexible alternative when that time comes you decide to take your alpaca ranch to the next level. 

Have questions about your area?  Contact us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Alpaca Sock Sale

We are having a Buy-One-Get-One Free Sale today through August 3rd for all of our knee high socks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Picking up a new Herdsire

As I write this, James in Spokane, picking up a new alpaca male to lead our farm to the new generation of fabulous fiber.  It is an interesting business, where we pay out A LOT of money for a male that we have only seen in photos.  We've gathered the information, the fleece samples, the show records, but there is always something exciting in the anticipation until you actually get him on your farm.

This particular male in named Argus, coming from a large ranch in Washington with a basket full of ribbons and accolades from his showing days.  His parents, too, tout lists of ribbons and bountiful fiber of glorious pinkish greys.  What I like to see are the babies.  Can this guy actually pass on the genetics repeatedly?  All of us can hit a home run every once in a blue moon.  I want this one to bat a 1000.  Which, according to is cria list, he has come pretty close to that.  Of course, the dam plays a large part in this too.  She needs the background to be able to push the genetics we are looking for, and I feel our dams are up to the task.

So, we will welcome Argus to our home tonight and see if he is ready to take the lead as our next big Hoo-Haw on the farm.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Alpacas - the Business of the Textile Livestock

Why do people in so many countries call alpacas “The world’s finest livestock business?”  For any business asset to be valuable, it must possess certain qualities that make it desirable.  Gold is scarce, real estate provides shelter, oil produces energy, bonds earn interest, stocks are supposed to increase in value, and diamonds symbolize love.  Alpacas share many of these same attributes.

Around the world, alpacas are in strong demand, and people pay high prices for them.  They are scarce, unique, and the textiles produced from their fleeces are known in the fashion centers of New York, Paris, Milan and Tokyo.  There are excellent profit opportunities and tax advantages available to alpaca breeders.  Historically, the alpaca’s value has sustained ancient cultures, such as the Incas of Peru.  Today, alpacas represent the primary source of income for millions of South Americans.  History has validated the value of the alpaca.

Livestock has been a traditional representation of wealth for many cultures around the world, long before financial stocks were sold on the New York Stock Exchange.  The richest families of ancient times counted their wealth by the size of their flocks of sheep or herds of cattle.  Today, wealth as a result of livestock ownership is not as common, but opportunities do exist for profitable farms and ranches.  Tending to a graceful herd of alpacas can be an exciting way to earn a source of revenue and live a rewarding lifestyle.

Since 1984, alpacas have appeared, almost simultaneously, in several countries where they had never been seen before.  The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, and many other European countries have all acquired the foundation animals for national herds.  There are even beginning herds in Japan and South Africa, among others.  What makes this animal so desirable?  The bottom line:  alpacas can be both profitable and enjoyable.

Finally, alpacas are easy to transport, which makes it easy to move them from one location to another.  They have a relatively long and trouble-free reproductive life span, and alpacas can be fully insures against loss.

Alpaca breeders come from many walks of life.  Entire families, young couples, retired couples and business adventurists.  There are even city dwellers who have discovered the option of boarding (or agisting”) alpacas, thereby giving them an operational alpaca business while still retaining an urban career. 

Alpaca Supply and Demand

The market for alpacas has been moderated by the effects of relatively slow herd growth.  The total population of registered alpacas in North America accounts for fewer than 150,000 alpacas.  (For current statistics of the Alpaca Registry, Inc., see  Supply of alpacas will continue to be limited in the near futures for a number of reasons:
  • Alpacas reproduce slowly.  A female generally breeds for the first time between 18 and 24 months of age, is pregnant for 11 to 12 months, and almost always only has one cria per year.
  • Many breeders retain their offspring to build their herds.
  • The limited size of the national hers in each country outside of South America will restrain growth to a small degree.
  • The U.S. and Canadian registries are both closes to further importation, which will further moderate North American herd growth.

Alpaca Values

The value of alpaca fleece and finished products made from that fleece is the economic underpinning of the future market for alpacas.  Alpaca ranchers sell their fleece in a variety of ways including raw fiber, washed and carded fiber, yarns, and finished products, with lucrative margins.  Profits or fiber production vary based on each farm’s model for fiber sales. 

Factors that influence individual alpaca prices include color, conformation, fleece quality and quantity, age and gender.  Well-conformed alpacas with superior fleece characteristics sell for higher prices. 

Tax-deferred wealth building is another “alpaca advantage.” As your herd grows, you postpone paying income tax on its increasing value until such time as you begin selling the offspring.  Most breeders elect to sell all or some of the annual offspring production for practical reasons, such as recovering their initial cash flow, acreage and building limitations, and time constraints. 

Alpacas are also fully insurable against theft and mortality.  Insurance can be purchased for your stock regardless of age.  Average insurance rates are 3.25% of the value of the animal, or $325 for every $10,000 of insurance.

The ARI Factor

The Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI) is a database housing the genealogy, blood typing and ownership records of alpacas in North America and those of a few alpacas outside this area.  When purchasing an ARI-registered alpaca, the buyer is assured of being provided a correct history of that alpaca based on DNA blood typing. 
In general, ARI-registered alpacas make up the vast majority of the U.S. herd and sell for a considerable premium compared to non-ARI registered alpacas.  New alpaca breeders should take note of the value provided by the ARI registration process and should factor this into their research and purchasing decisions.

Hands-On Alpaca Ownership

There are essentially two ways to own alpacas.  The first approach is to simply purchase the animals and begin raising them.  The second approach is to purchase the animals and place them in the care of an established breeder - called agisting.

Financial Observations

  • The major tax advantages of alpaca ownership include the employment of depreciation, capital gains treatment, and if you are an active hands-on owner, the benefit of offsetting your ordinary income from other sources with expenses from your ranching business. (See Tax Consequences of Owning alpacas section of this article below.)
  • The financial return using the agisted approach, should you elect to board your animals, is also very good.  There are breeders who would be happy to discuss agisting alpacas on behalf of prospective owners.
  • Quality, color, gender of offspring, and strength of the overall industry could influence results positively or negatively.
  • It is important that you make a purchase decision using assumptions that reflect your personal tax and financial situation, as well as your own assessment of the alpaca industry.
  • Financing terms are available from some breeders and range from a few months to two years or more.
Creating A Herd

First, determine your goals for alpaca ownership.  Pets? Family project? Showing? Business?  These are not necessarily exclusive of one another, but may put you on different financial paths.  Once you’ve decided on your goal, the path to alpaca ownership will be more easily defined.

Alpaca Purchase Contracts

Every purchase should require a written contract when acquiring an alpaca.  Contracts will specify the financial terms involved, animal delivery, soundness of the animal, cria birth guarantees and other items necessary for a transfer to you.

Many alpaca owners who have been involved in the alpaca lifestyle have found it both personally and financially rewarding.  Please recognize, however, that owning alpacas involves significant financial risks, as does any business start-up.  Your ultimate success will be determined by your own ability to market your animals; your fiber and finished goods; your employment of available resources within the alpacas industry; your communication skills; and your ability and willingness to provide top-notch customer service that results in a good reputation.  Although I’ve overviewed techniques that many people have used to make alpaca breeding a profitable business venture, it is, of course, impossible to guarantee the ultimate success of any business.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Premature alpaca cria

Premature alpaca cria
Alpaca babies are lovely fluffy creatures, usually full of life and active from birth.   Once completely out of the mother’s womb and on the ground, the baby should start to wiggle and move, kicking its legs and breathing the air to start inflating its lungs.  It should work to sit up and cush within about 10-20 minutes and subsequently try to stand up.
Occasionally, one will have a slow start - maybe because they are very small, or because they were premature, born before their due date, or dysmature, which is born on time but not yet ready for this world. These fragile cria need intensive care, to monitor their temperature and assist them feeding, if they are to survive.

Temperature regulation
Cria body temperature should range between 100 F and 102 F. If the baby is lethargic, take their temperature frequently (every 15 minutes until the temperatures become consistent).   As a premature baby, it is very difficult for them to regulate their body temperature and should be monitored carefully.  It can spike to 104.7 F in a matter of minutes, as well as as plummet to 96 F just as quickly.  If it sky rockets, douse in cold water and wrap the belly / torso in a cold towel.  If it is cold, use heating blankets to help monitor the temperature until they are healthy enough to keep themselves warm.
Frail, dysmature and premature cria cannot regulate their own temperature. Premature human babies are the same, and they have incubators to maintain a steady temperature. We have cria coats which we put on young cria when it is raining or cold. We also have a cria care area inside our barn, just big enough for a dam and her baby, and a human if necessary. Here we can keep them warm at night, dry during rain, and close for bonding together.  Many times, when a baby is not well, our guard dogs want to be with them as well.  As long as the mother is not concerned about the dog(s), we let them be with them as long as they want.  They are concerned about them, too.
Assisting feeding
Fragile cria are often too weak and small to stand to feed from their mother.   If the baby is weak and has not nursing, milk the mother for their colostrum and milk.  Having food in the belly also helps with regulating temperature.  The baby should have colostrum and milk within the first 4-6 hours of their life for best absorption.  If the mother does not have milk, use powdered or goat colostrum and raw goat milk.  We have a farm down the road from us that is an easily accessible source.
Premature cria need feeding little and often - and for cria this means every two hours for the first day and night. After the first couple of days, if temperature is normal, and weight is being maintained, frail cria can be fed three-hourly for the next three days unless it is able to feed on its own.

Sometimes, an enema is necessary to process the food. If the baby has urinated but not deficated, take 20 ccs of warm water in a syringe.  Inject it into the rectum and hold the water in with your finger about 10-15 seconds.  Aim the baby away from on you and place on the ground.  This should help their bowels get going rather quickly with immediate results. 
Bonding with mom
We always keep a dam and her cria together, as bonding between the two is so important. For fragile cria, interventions to regulate their temperature may mean taking a cria from its mother for a few hours.
Some warn that rubbing the cria too much will make the mother shy away / reject the cria.  I disagree, love them up as much as possible. Not only do these help imprint the baby for the future, it gives them love and comfort, something all babies need. Plus, once they are up and going, you will not get the opportunity again.
Watch warily
If you have a fragile cria, monitor it closely. Record all the interventions that you do, including how much it drinks. Note what comes out the other end as well, as cria guts are the last organ to form, and may be tender or incomplete. Take its temperature and weight regularly, remain vigilant, and take quick action.
The first week is the crucial time. If you can get a fragile cria to a week old, your chances improve that it will survive. Seeing the once fragile cria living out in the paddock is hugely rewarding for the all-consuming challenge of getting it up and going.  It is rare that we loose a cria, but it happens.  We know that we have done all that we can to help them.  Some just fail to thrive, while others catch up quickly to the other cria in a matter of days. 
If you have questions or would like clarification, feel free to contact us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Plants that are Poisonous to Alpacas

When I started putting a list together of plants toxic to alpacas, I was amazed that any of our animals are still alive!

While there are a lot of plants on this list, it is not exhaustive.  Please speak with your veterinarian in your area to discuss other potentially toxic plants to alpacas.

AconiteDoll's EyesOxalis
Acorns  DrymaryPacific Poison Oak
African rueDumb canePasque flower
Agave LechuguillaEaster LilliesPhilodendron
AmaryllisEggplantPin Cherry  
Arrow Grass  Elderberry  Podocarpus
Autumn crocus  Elephant earsPoinciana
AvocadoEnglish HollyPoinsettia
AzaleaEnglish IvyPoision Hemlock
BagpodEucalyptusPoison ivy
BaneberryEyebanePoison Oak
BarberryFalse helleborePoison suckleys
Bear grass  FiddleneckPoison sumac
Big sagebrush,FoxtailsPotato plant  
Bird of ParadiseGeraniumPothos
Bitter weedGingko TreePrince's plume
BittersweetGolden chain (shower) treePrivet  
Black laurel GreasewoodPyrocantha 
Black locustGroundselRagwort
Black Snakeroot Gum weedRattlebox
Black WalnutHalogeton glomeratusRattleweed
Bladder podHemlockRayless goldenrod
Bleeding heart  HempRhododendron
BloodrootHolly berryRock Poppy
Blue CohoshHorse ChestnutRubberweed 
Blue FlagHorsebrushRussian thistle
Box - (Blue-Green Algae)HorsenettleRusty-Leaf
BoxwoodHyacinthRye Grass
Bracken fern  Hydrangea blossom Sand Begonia
BroccoliIndian Hemp Sandberg Bluegrass
Broom CornIndian PokeSandcorn
Broom snakeweedInk weedSenecio
Brussel SproutsInkberrySesbane
Buckwheat  Ivy bushSilverling
Buffalo BurrJack-in-the-pulpitSkunk cabbage
Bur sageJequirity beanSnakeberry
Burroweed Jerusalem cherrySneezeweed
Buttercups  JimsonweedSnow-on-the-mountain
Butterfly weed  Johnson GrassSorghum
CabbageJonquilSpathe Flower
Calamondin orange tree  Juniper Spindle Tree
Calla lily  KaleSpurges 
Camas lily  Klamath weed St. Johnswort
Carnation  Labrador TeaStagger Grass
Castor bean  LaburnumStar Lily 
Cat clawLantanaStar of Bethlehem
CelandineLarkspursStinging Nettles
CheatgrassLaurel  String of pearls
CherryLeopard BaneTansy ragwort 
Chinaberry  LilliesThornapple
Chokecherry Lily of the ValleyThornapple  
Christmas cherryLima BeansTobacco Tree 
Christmas roseLobeliaTobacco 
CockleburLocoweedTomato leaves  
CoffeeweedLupineTrumpet Vine 
Corn LilyManchineelTulip
CowslipMaple - RedVelvet Grass
Cress  MarijuanaVetch
CrocusMayapple  Violet Seeds 
CrotalariaMescal beanWalnut
Crow poison Mesquite Water hemlock  
CrowfootMilkweedWestern Wheatgrass
Crown of ThornsMistletoeWhite Cohosh
CrucifersMonensinWhite Hellebore
Crucifers MonkshoodWhite Ragweed  
Curlycup Gumweed.Morning glory White snakeroot
Cyclamen Mountain LaurelWild Black Cherry
DaffodilMountain mahoganyWild carrots
DaisyMushroomsWild Cherry
DaphneMustardsWild Cucumber
Deadly Nightshade (Belladonna)  MYCOTOXINS and MOLDSWild Parsnip
Deathcamas  Narcissus Wild Peas
Devils ivyNeedlepoint ivyWild Plums
Devils WeedNightshade (black) berry  Wisteria
Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane)OakWolfsbane
DockOak Brush (shrub)Yellow Flag
DogbaneOak tree  Yellow Jasmine
Dogtooth LillyOleander  Yellow Jessamine
OnionsYew tree