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Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week



Permalink What can you tell me about starting an alpaca or llama farm?

Answer: Llamas or alpacas can be a good addition to a farm or ranch—alpacas as an alternative livestock enterprise and llamas as guard animals or recreational animals. They fit well into a diversified farming operation. Marginal pastureland is suitable for raising llamas and alpacas, with some supplemental feeding under certain conditions.

There are currently more than 158,000 llamas and more than 170,000 registered alpacas in North America. Both llamas and alpacas are members of the Camelidae family. The llama and alpaca have been domesticated in South America for many centuries. There the llama is used as a beast of burden, as a fiber source, and as a meat source. The alpaca is used primarily for fiber production but is also as a meat source in South America.

Llamas and alpacas are quiet, intelligent, easily trained animals that can provide fleece and potentially a variety of services to the owner. They are adaptable to different climates and terrains. Alpacas and llamas offer a comparatively low-impact livestock alternative. Their padded feet do not have the same effect on the ground as hooves. In addition, they have efficient digestive systems and tend to consolidate feces, helping to control parasites and ease manure collection.

Before starting a llama or alpaca enterprise, it is advisable to visit as many existing llama or alpaca operations as possible, to pick up ideas and learn about options. Pay particular attention to regional farms because care and feeding may vary in different parts of the country due to climate, parasites, and terrain. Each llama or alpaca operation is unique. Gathering many ideas will help in creating an operation that suits a producer’s particular situation.

Previously, when starting to raise either alpacas or llamas, the initial capital investment in breeding stock was fairly substantial. Though stock can still be expensive, since the mid-1990s the price of most llamas has been reasonable, and the price of alpacas has decreased as their numbers in the United States have grown. Raising llamas or alpacas is considered a high-risk enterprise by banks and other agencies and, consequently, a large owner investment is usually needed to obtain a loan.

As with any agricultural business, there are potential tax advantages associated with llama and alpaca production. If the animals are actively raised for profit by the owner, expenses such as food and veterinary care can be written off.

Alpacas are classed as livestock, which enables farmers to operate under agricultural business rules. According to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, there may also be tax benefits for passive owners who invest in alpacas. It is important for llama and alpaca owners to stay current with tax law changes.

Before considering a camelid operation, find out whether any permits or licenses are required for raising llamas or alpacas in your state. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website links to states' and U.S. territories' import regulations for animals and contact information for state veterinarians. For more information, visit www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/animals/animal_import/animal_imports_states.shtml.

The property where llamas or alpacas will reside must be zoned for livestock. Check with your zoning authority before you purchase any animals. In addition, note that transporting llamas or alpacas across state lines can require considerable paperwork, testing, and vaccinations. Consult with your veterinarian or your state veterinary office for rules and requirements on interstate transport of llamas and alpacas.

To learn more, consult the ATTRA publication Llamas and Alpacas on the Farm, available at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/summaries/summary.php?pub=406.

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