Alpaca Farming Choices & Agistment

If you've seen alpacas at shows or open farms and are thinking of becoming part of a fast developing industry with great potential, then you're thinking of starting out with alpacas.

At this early stage, it's important to consider what your goals might be, so you can work towards them from the outset. This way, you'll be best established to achieve those goals and get the most out of your alpacas.

Do you want to build a successful business on a larger scale? Or do you want to keep it small and simple? Even if you're not sure what scale you may develop to, it's important to start out by giving yourself the greatest range of options. For example, if you're interested in the fleece industry, you may want to breed for low-micron fleece that's best for soft garments, and so starting out with an older alpaca with high-micron fleece isn't the best option.

Small scale farming can involve home production and local sales of your alpaca products, such as through craft markets or local businesses. Some people want alpaca fleece for felting or for their own knitted garments. The cottage industry focuses on individual, handmade products, and while these may command high prices, they're not produced on a highly profitable scale.

To make the most of the alpaca industry's potential, large scale farming can be a profitable venture. In large scale farming you will likely breed for specific traits in your animals, such as low-micron fleece, a specific colour, such as natural fleece colours or the pure white that's best for dying, a higher micron fleece for carpets, or aim to create a stud service. Stud services are at an advanced stage, as they require top quality animals, such as those who have won at shows, and have a documented excellent progeny. Once you have developed your reputation, you could also run your own agistment service. There is a wide range of options available for larger farms, as well as the opportunity to drive the development of this young industry.

No matter what you aim to achieve, planning from the outset will give you the best chance of reaching your goals.

Agistment

Even if you don't have your own property, you can still own alpacas.

Agistment is a stepping stone for new owners, in which you house your alpacas on another person's land. It can allow you to take unexpected investment opportunities while not yet prepared to support alpacas on your own land. It is also an option for those who don't plan to own property, but wish to invest in alpacas for fleece and breeding purposes. The agreement between the agistor and agistee protects the owner's investment, making sure their alpacas are properly cared for.

An agistor agrees to provide grazing land and water supply at all times for their fostered alpacas, and other feed as needed. They guarantee proper care for the agistee's alpacas, keeping them safely fenced and healthy. This includes drenching and vaccinations, as well as compiling data for the owner. They agree to keep the owners immediately up-to-date about illness, injury, theft or death, and to organise veterinary attention if necessary when the owners cannot be contacted. The agistors also agree to bar other animals from their property that may negatively affect the health or well-being of the alpacas. The agistors are not held responsible for circumstances including death, theft or illness of the alpacas that were beyond their control, and not due to negligence.

The owners are entitled to visit their alpacas by appointment with the agistor. The agistee accepts the risk of the loss of their animals, or insures the animals against theft and death from any cause. The agistee pays the agistor an agreed fee to cover their alpacas and any weanlings, as well as the cria throughout their adolescence.

Additional costs can arise if extra hand feeing is required, or if bought food prices increase. The new costs must be mutually negotiated. These agreements are in place to protect both parties, and if you're considering making the move to agistment, you should consider only experienced, reputable alpaca farmers who are members of the AAA. This is important for protecting your investment and for avoiding unpleasant future scenarios.

Alpacas are low-maintenance animals, providing flexible investment and farming options. Even if you don't have the spare space on your property, or don't own farming land, you can still invest in your own alpacas. You can breed your alpacas while agisting them, removing the necessity of land ownership and maintenance by sharing the resources of other farmers. If owning property is a dream you're soon to realise, you can use agistment to develop an alpaca herd before you move onto your own property, so that you are able to make full use of your land as soon as you occupy it.

Agistment also supports those who wish to show their alpacas in competitions, but do not have the resources to house them. By agisting show alpacas, the animals have company as part of a natural herd life, which is the best way of living for these highly social animals.

Regardless of where you're at with alpacas, there are options for you to start out with these wonderful animals.