Recently, a herd of 176 alpacas found themselves in dire need of rescue from an Oregon farm. The rescue was coordinated earlier this year by Cross Creek Alpaca Rescue. When members of the Columbia Alpaca Breeders Association (CABA), the Northwest regional affiliate of the Alpaca Owners Association, Inc., heard of the situation, they sprang into action. The commitment and appreciation these business owners have for alpacas goes beyond their own back yard. They were outraged by the condition of the animals and collectively, the group donated more than $6,500 toward the care of the rescued alpacas, which were being housed at OSU – School of Veterinary Medicine, with more to come. They also reached out to alpaca owners throughout North America, and donations began to come in from as far away as Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and Arizona.
While it is easy to point to the economic downturn as reason for the abuse these animals suffered, the explanation is likely not so clear-cut. The exact circumstances that led to such dire conditions are uncertain, but there are ways to prevent similar situations from happening with any livestock.
Deciding to own alpacas
The anger and hurt felt by those who assisted with this rescue was amplified because they understood how preventable the situation was. As with other livestock industries, rescue situations occur. Successful alpaca businesses exist, are attainable, and whether the focus is breeding stock or use of their fiber, alpaca business owners understand and embrace the work that goes into running their alpaca business. With the industry steadily growing in North American for more than 30 years, successful alpaca business owners did not go into this venture expecting to "get rich quick." Many have, indeed, made a successful living in this industry but, as with any business, research and hard work are necessary.
Research is the most important step when considering starting any livestock business, and a prospective owner must understand the basic information necessary to care for these animals. Every livestock species has its special requirements and visiting alpaca farms is an excellent place to begin the investigative process. A listing of local farms can be found at www.alpacainfo.com, and a wonderful repository of information about alpacas can be found at www.ariACADEMY.com.
"Learn from someone with experience and integrity," said Lona Nelsen Frank, owner of ALPACAS of Tualatin Valley, LLC in Beaverton, Oregon. "And when you decide to purchase your first alpacas, buy from someone who will mentor you 24/7; not just at the point of purchase, but in the future."
Another great way to learn about the industry is to attend alpaca shows and events. These shows are national, regional and local. The alpaca industry features a world-class show system developed to promote positive public awareness of the unique qualities of alpacas. They provide owners the opportunity to learn how to improve the breed and enhance their marketability while promoting and protecting the health and well-being of alpacas. Attending these shows can prove to be a highly educational, exciting and enjoyable experience. These shows also offer unmatchable networking opportunities, where alpaca business owners and individuals interested in this livestock come together from across the country… and the globe… to discuss their alpaca business, experiences, successes and failures. A calendar of upcoming educational and show events can be found at www.alpacainfo.com.
No endeavor will succeed without a plan. Thomas and Connie Betts of Cascade Alpacas of Oregon in Hood River, Oregon, attest to the fact that creating a well thought out, detailed business plan has helped them to succeed in the industry.
"People who expect to succeed in this livestock industry must run it like the business that it is," said Connie. "Keep focused on your goals and pay attention to cash flow and expenses. It is important to not go into debt in case things don't turn out. From the beginning, we were prepared for 'worst case scenarios.'"
The Betts have been running their alpaca business for almost 10 years. They earned their return on investment within two years, and now have increased their revenue every year except one during the recession when revenue was flat.
"From the beginning, we knew our focus would be on fiber and other revenue streams, such as boarding alpacas, and not as much on the selling of alpacas," said Connie, "and we focused our business plan on that. Because of our focus and ability to stay on track with our mission, we are now known for the fineness of our fiber and we often run out of yarn before our season ends in October!"
The alpacas, including alpacas boarded at their ranch by other individuals, and their yarn shop are Thomas's full-time job.
Be prepared for change
Beth Osborne of The Alpaca Hacienda in Temecula, California, originally entered the alpaca industry concentrating solely on the breeding of high-end breed stock. When compared to other livestock, the North American alpaca industry is still in its infancy and until recently, the focus of the industry was developing a national herd with high-quality fiber. Now, with more than 230,000 registered alpacas, alpaca business owners can shift their focus to other qualities of this livestock.
"The alpaca industry followed the natural progression of any livestock industry," said Osborne. "But the change in the business doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater!"
Osborne's focus today is to be an asset to her community by providing jobs, hosting community events and tours and providing community service hours to high school students. Osborne also concentrates on her farm store where she sells handcrafted alpaca fiber products. She also cares for alpacas other owners board at her ranch, which provides additional income."I have built a family of boarders and we gather at the farm for felting days, where we create items to sell in the store," said Osborne. "We've begun making nuno scarves, which shoppers have come to expect. Around the holidays, they sell like hotcakes!"
Dr. Jeri Booher, owner of Timberland Alpacas in Forest Grove, Oregon, and co-president of CABA, also knows that as with any business, change can happen at any time, and can directly affect your operation.
"When the economy took a hit, all businesses were affected," said Dr. Booher, "Successful business owners adjusted accordingly."
Becoming part of an agricultural community
Joining organizations focused on the alpaca and livestock industry offers countless resources to help ensure a successful alpaca ownership. Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. regional affiliates, FFA, 4H, State Farm Bureaus and County Agricultural Extension offices can provide access to local resources. Everything about the care of any livestock is easier when you have help and support to guide you in the proper direction instead of reinventing the wheel on your own.
Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. (AOA), headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, serves as the national livestock association for alpacas in North America. As the largest alpaca association in the world, AOA facilitates the expansion of a strong and sustainable alpaca industry through the tracking of bloodlines, registration and transfer of alpacas, national educational outreach, the national show system, marketing, public relations and its highly respected judges training program.
The AOA affiliate organizations support ranches within geographical areas. For complete list of affiliates, and for more information on how to join AOA, visit www.alpacainfo.com.
"The owners of the rescued herd were not active members of any of the national, regional or local organizations that we are aware of," said Lona Nelsen Frank of ALPACAS of Tualatin Valley, LLC. "They did not participate in industry events or shows. They did not form mentoring partnerships with successful alpaca business owners. They were not part of the alpaca community. They do not represent our industry."
A labor of love
While many alpaca business owners do, indeed, enjoy their morning cup of coffee while watching their herd in the field, this is just a small portion of their day. Just like any livestock owner, alpaca owners put a lot of labor into their business.
Stacie and Skip Chavez, owners of Albuquerque Alpacas in the North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, start each morning and end each day caring for their herd. They check on the well-being of each animal, feed and water them, and then go into the field and barn to clean manure.
Stacie arranged for Seed2Need, a local organization that grows food for people in need to pick up manure every other week. Alpaca manure is a rich soil conditioner that improves soil quality and its ability to retain water. Now, Seed2Need sells composted alpaca manure to help fund their efforts.
Ensuring proper shelter, solid fencing, general health checks and regular vetting and assisting in the birth of crias (baby alpacas) are just some of the other day-to-day tasks a successful alpaca business owner faces.
The common element you will find with all successful alpaca business owners is that they enjoy what they do. And there are so many things about this livestock to enjoy. The alpaca industry is, in many cases, 100 percent American made from start to finish. Employees are being hired to work on farms, creating jobs for Americans. The alpaca industry receives no government subsidies or other similar support. Alpacas are environmentally friendly. When compared to other livestock, alpacas are a safe animal for children to work with, and the entire family can get involved.
"Alpacas are my 'glass of wine'", says Stacie. "I get out of my car after my marketing job and can sit in the middle of a field surrounded by these beautiful animals. It is the perfect end to a stressful day."
For more information about the alpaca industry, to locate a farm near you, or to view a calendar of upcoming shows and events, visit www.alpacainfo.com.