1988: THEY COST HOW MUCH?
That's insane! We'll never do that.
1993: Labor Day weekend: We buy two female alpacas.
So how did we get from there to here?
I grew up in southern California, Barry in Chicago - both city kids who liked animals. We were
working, me as a biologist, Barry with his own dental practice. We had a small farm with sheep,
Pygora goats, chickens, ducks, bees, and hazelnuts.
Around 1988, we went to a wool show. I walked around a corner and was bowled over by a
beautiful face with big dark eyes and adorable fluffy bangs.
"Wow," I said. "World's cutest llama! It's not a llama? It's an alpaca? I gotta have one. How
much do they cost? What! That's insane. Who'd ever pay that much for an animal?" And we
But we were so drawn to them that we kept going places where we could see them - to the fair,
to the exotic animal show, to fiber festivals. Weren't going to buy - just wanted to look. But over
3 or 4 years, their attraction was still strong, and we kept seeing that the first breeders we'd met
were still alpaca owners (most of them still are). It wasn't a temporary flash-in-the-pan deal. We
talked to them, and though there were different personality types involved in the business, from
quiet and low-key to outgoing empire builders, they all seemed like solid stable business people.
The prices had stayed high. It didn't look like they were going to drop soon, much less crash.
In addition, we had the example of horses. Our horses weren't expensive, but they were boarded
at a barn with very expensive animals: $20,000 geldings! These horses were never going to be
productive; their only use was recreational, but people were making a living buying, selling, and
working with them.
In our area, there was a small group of farms who got together regularly for education and
socializing. If we did raise alpacas, this group would be a source of support for us - to learn how
to care for alpacas, to help market and publicize them. (This little group was Columbia Alpaca
Breeders Association, which was soon putting on one of the largest shows in the country.)
We started to think we might take the plunge. We visited local farms and others wherever we
were vacationing. We'd tell people, "We're not ready to buy; we just want to see what's out
there, look at barns, fences, etc." Everyone was happy to spend several hours chatting and
showing us around.
And finally we bought our first two. We still think it's a good business. But it's a very very big
step. Some of the objections we hear are:
1. Prices are going to crash. Well, they hadn't in all the years since 1984 when alpacas first
arrived in North America - until the Great Recession when people lost their jobs and their farms.
But what has happened is that now there's more of a spread in the price range as people
recognize that some animals are better quality than others, that some are older with fewer
productive years in front of them or younger with months to go before they’ll be ready to breed, or
as some breeders use lower prices as a marketing tool.
I do think prices are down to stay; they may or may not recover somewhat as the recession ends.
But even if I buy an alpaca today and her price drops by, for instance, 50% tomorrow, that's still a
very expensive animal. It would take a little longer to recover our costs, but think how much larger
our potential customer base would be.
2. They're like emus; the whole market will crash. The first difference between alpacas and
emus is that alpacas don't have 20 babies at a time. And while an emu is a highly useful animal,
the breeders never organized themselves with a processing and marketing set-up.
We have support from several national organizations. AOA runs magazine and TV ads, which are
very effective at pointing people to the website; from there, they're directed to farms all over
ARI (the Alpaca Registry) handles registrations (which confirm pedigree by DNA tests) and
maintains a database of the national herd.
3. I don't know how to care for them. About half of alpaca owners have no livestock
experience; some have never even owned a pet. But the folks who sell you your animals will
teach you how to handle them; nearby farms and your vet will help, too.
There are herd health and neo-natal (birthing) clinics given at some vet schools and at some
shows. Taking a "sheep production" course at our community college was very helpful.
You may have an affiliate group like CABA or AAWO near you; our meetings often feature a
speaker (on topics like pastures and weeds, fiber processing, alpaca massage, health care, taxes)
and farm talk, during which we can either brag or get advice on problems.
4. I'm not good at selling. Neither am I; I worked in a research lab and am not very talkative.
But my friends from work and ordinary life would be stunned to see me around sheep and alpaca
events - you can't shut me up. The passion, excitement, and enthusiasm we have for our animals
shows, and it's contagious.
I often say that I've never sold an alpaca; people have bought them from me, but I haven't sold
them. Almost everyone who sees an alpaca wants one; they may think it's impractical for them,
but - they want one.
5. I don't have big bucks to spend. Or you just don't want to spend money like water. I
certainly understand that; I'm frugal, to say the least (as you can probably tell by my website).
I'm in a minority here. There are plenty of people who believe an expensive barn, grounds
landscaped to impress the bus tours, travel to shows all over the country, and a massive ad
budget are necessities. But there are also plenty of us misers.
After the initial expense of purchase, the maintenance costs for alpacas are lower than for most
other livestock. You can find relatively low-cost ways to do business: a free or low-cost website,
the AOA Marketing Program, bartering or trading for services or animals, a pen at the county fair or
You can succeed on your own terms.
6. I don't have any place to keep them. This would seem to be the biggest barrier. However,
many people start by boarding (agisting) their animals at someone else's farm. This has several
advantages: you can start growing your herd without waiting for property to become available or
for fences and barns to be built; you can start with just one alpaca without needing a companion
for her; you have someone to show you the ropes and possibly do some selling for you.
Some people have never moved on to having their own farm, but have been very successful with
their animals living at one or more boarding facilities.
If you think alpacas are for you, or that they might be:
• Visit the Alpaca Owners Association website (www.alpacainfo.com) and request an information
• Use the AOA website to locate farms in your area and arrange a visit. Go to small farms as well
as the large well-publicized ranches. Listen to different points of view on "the ideal alpaca."
• See if the AOA website lists upcoming shows, seminars, or other events near you.
• Join AOA. The cost is under $200/year, a small expense in relation to the amount you'd spend on
an alpaca. You'll receive Alpacas Magazine and be able to attend the National Conference and the
National Fleece Conference.
If you're still not sure, consider purchasing two or three young animals (halter trained "pet quality"
or “fiber males”). Test the waters: can you handle them, can you give them the care they need,
does hay make you sneeze, do you feel tied down, do you actually like them?
Well, this is an extended epistle - I did say you can't shut me up. If you have concerns that I
haven't dealt with or just further questions, please phone or email me. I'd love to hear from you.
They're wonderful animals and raising them gives us so much pleasure.
Barry & Linda Bolewicz
EasyGo Farm, Hillsboro OR
bolewicz at netzero dot net
|www.easygofarm.net All rights reserved.
They cost HOW much?!!
Overcoming sticker shock.