So, Why Alpacas?
(Short answer: because they're awesome!)
Charismatic, easy on the eyes (and the environment), and remarkably simple to handle and care for, alpacas are in many ways an ideal livestock for anyone of any age. They produce a yearly “crop” of luxury fibre with both commercial and cottage value. They can produce lovely fibre well into old-age, while also offering hours of entertainment and unquantifiable amounts of enjoyment. What more can a person ask for?
Alpaca fibre alone is a prized commodity that has survived the test of time, straight out of antiquity. The quality of fleece can be comparable to (or nicer than) cashmere, with anywhere from 12x to 28x the annual production of the average cashmere goat. Alpaca’s also produce longer fleece, with higher yields than do sheep of a similar fineness.
There is more that alpacas have to offer than just their fleece. These are highly specialized pseudo ruminants who subsist on very little forage, and are adapted for an arid, high altitude environment that is often poor in feed quality. That means that they are very efficient in their consumption and produce a low-odour dung pellet which can be placed directly on plants without fear of nitrogen burn. Although fresh alpaca dung can be used directly on plants in place of traditional manure, alpaca manure that has had time to compost makes for excellent soil and is prized by gardeners, farmers, and anyone who grows plants. The alpacas make the process easy by utilizing communal dung piles, which makes cleanup quite easy.
As charismatic, intelligent animals, alpacas can be quite sociable and are extremely easy to train by anyone of any age. They are popular for 4H projects and nearly every farm has at least one “PR” animal who enjoys field trips, educational outings and basically just soaking up as much attention from as many people they can. Many alpacas make excellent ambassadors, and can be trained to pull small carts, complete obstacle courses, pack day-packs for hiking, and even be used as therapy animals.
Alpacas and llamas are gentle on their environment, with padded feet that do not churn up pastures or hard pack them like their hoofed counterparts. Their mouth anatomy leads them towards browsing, so they tend to crop the plants they eat, rather than tug, while also enjoying a wider variety of vegetation than many other species.
In relation to other livestock, alpacas are much kinder to fences, farm infrastructure, and pastures. Although they may scratch the occasional itch on a fence, their small size and quiet nature means they rarely cause the fence any harm, and they have little interest in challenging it— indeed, most alpaca fences are designed with the intent of keeping predators out, not keeping the alpacas in. No large chutes, heavy steel aisles or squeezes are needed to house alpacas. Most of their care and handling can be done alone, or with a partner, while the animal is simply haltered and held in place. The only regular maintenance requirements are annual shearing, toenail trims as necessary, and vaccinations and deworming on an as-needed basis.
Alpacas eat much less feed than many other livestock species, and other than compromised, growing, or pregnant animals, do not require supplemental grains (although being highly food motivated, alpaca treats do help!). As browsers who crop the plant, they don’t tear grass up by the roots, nor do their padded feet churn up the soil like hoofed animals. Communal dung piles mean easier pasture cleanup and easier parasite prevention and management. They can be raised on a small scale (and are often a livestock of choice for acreage owners), or on large scale, to suit anyone’s needs.
Really, after meeting alpacas for the first time, a much harder question to answer is “Why Not Alpacas?”.