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Monday, January 14, 2013

Are You All In?

March 24th was a beautiful day at the ranch for our open house! Rhonda said to be sure and send her thanks to the many visitors and new friends that braved the hillside road and were rewarded with a perfect day with the alpacas. The alpacas were in a good mood and full fleece. Rhonda’s incredible trophy haul from all the championships at the Houston Livestock Show decorated the barn, and our son kept the pastures, and therefore everyone’s shoes, clean. There wasn’t even any “spit”!
My father always said “In Texas, you never complain about too much work or too much rain” but we were close to complaining when it rained the next week, almost right up to shearing day. Wet fleeces don’t store very well. As it turned out, we had nothing to worry about. The skies cleared and the shearing madness went on for two days. Now the alpacas are all “stick figures” again, and are much cooler. We have dozens of bags of fleece to play with now.
The day after our open house, CBS Sunday Morning ran a piece showcasing two alpaca farms. Both of these farms’ sole income is from alpaca herds that are far smaller than ours. The question asked during that show, and one asked of us frequently, is “can you make a living doing this?”. I think the answer is “it depends”. It has been my observation that the farms that thrive by exclusively raising alpacas are the ones that commit completely to the idea. They start with a good business plan, obtain the best quality alpacas they can afford, and go through a transition period of building their business before becoming full time alpaca ranchers. These ranchers make use of all aspects of the alpaca from selling their offspring, producing and selling fiber products, and even selling the compost! With good business practices, many farms are already making a living with alpacas. Of course, alpaca ranchers will say that one of the biggest benefits is the lifestyle of being able to work with beautiful, peaceful, cooperative alpacas all day!
For those who do not want to go “all in”, alpacas make a great side business that can keep up an agricultural property tax exemption and provide side income. All one needs is a little land, water, shade, predator protection, a love for animals, and a trustworthy alpaca breeder to get you started.