By Patricia A Cobbold
Prior to the European colonisation of the Americas, Alpacas were already highly prized. They were primarily used as a source of meat, but clothing and blankets were also made from the soft dense alpaca fleeces, the hides were also used, and the manure was used for fuel.
Not much has changed since those times as far as their uses, but it serves as a good reminder to identify the benefits of your investment in your Alpacas.
Meat - Whist the Alpaca is still eaten in some parts of the world, here in the UK they have not been added to any menus - yet. Given the monetary investment in the Alpaca one could only imagine that the price of an Alpaca steak would require a good bank balance!
Fleeces - Alpacas are sheared once a year and at this time, care is taken in collecting the beautiful fleeces. There are many ways of reaping the monetary rewards of a good fleece and decisions rest entirely on the owner as to how this is done. Many sell the fleece in its entirety; some process it and sell it for others to spin (carding); some spinning the fleece themselves, or it can be taken to a Mill and the yarn sold; and some go as far as to make lovely luxurious garments for resale. Whatever the option, there is the opportunity for monetary reward at shearing time.
Fuel - In the Americas dried alpaca manure was, and probably still is, used as fuel. Unlike most animal manures, the small pellets of the Alpaca manure, are easily collected and dried. An amount is then squashed in to brick like shapes and left to completely dry. They can be used as a biomass fuel, burning for 1-2 hours. Thankfully, Alpaca manure has no smell!
Fertiliser - The Alpaca is a ruminant with three stomachs and this very efficient digestion system ensures very little organic matter in their manure. Because of this there is no need to compost the manure but it can be spread directly around plants. It can also be spread onto the ground, allowing the rain to take it into the ground, or can be generally dug in like other fertilisers. Alternatively place some of the manure in water and use the liquid to water your plants. It really is excellent, whichever way you use it. The manure is rich in nitrogen, and potassium, and provides an excellent source of nutrients for optimal soil and plant health.
As an aside from the above, there is much to be gained from breeding Alpacas and selling them. Ensuring you are honest about the history of your animals, set a good price and offer a good after sales support - will ensure that you have many referrals.
Here in the UK, Alpacas (both Suri and Huacaya) are classed as pets, and therefore are subject to VAT. In order to recoup the VAT on your animals and all the other things you need for them (shelters etc), you should become registered for VAT. The HRMC website is very helpful in this regard or your accountant can help you. It does mean good record keeping of your financial income and spending, and filing quarterly reports on line, but the returned VAT helps with the cost of feeding your alpacas in the future.
The above are all monetary ways of getting a return on your investment. There is however no monetary value equal to the sheer joy of getting to know your animal and becoming friends.
Patricia Cobbold is an experienced Alpaca Breeder in Wales. She also works with her alpaca fleeces, both spinning and weaving. She says that looking after alpacas along with her sheep, goats and chickens, has been a huge learning curve for both her and her husband, but a very pleasurable one. Patricia's website gives useful information about alpacas and her smallholding.