A beginners guide to buying alpacas in the UK

Perhaps you are considering buying alpacas in the UK, maybe you are thinking of buying alpacas as either a hobby or as a business enterprise. It can be confusing with all the advice available from so many different places. This is our beginners guide to buying alpacas in the UK.Wellground Lilly Pilly

There are many reasons for buying alpacas in the UK and first you should decide how you would like alpacas to be a part of your life. Decide on the reasons that you would like to keep and breed alpacas, as your buying decisions should be based on your future breeding plan. In this guide I will outline the different reasons for breeding and keeping alpacas and I will explain how we have interpreted those reasons to suit our own plan.

Why do you want to keep or breed alpacas in the UK?

This is probably the most important question to be answered first. The answer will generally fall in to one or more of the following categories. The commercial alpaca breeding reasoning starts at the top of the list, moving to a hobby based reasoning at the bottom.

  1. As a commercial enterprise, a business breeding elite alpacas for their fine fleece to create wonderful soft luxurious alpaca yarns and products from the fleece which will provide an income. This will require animals with the very finest elite fleeces if the yarns are to be of a high enough quality to provide a regular return.
  2. As a commercial enterprise, a business breeding elite alpacas of the very highest standard as seed stock and stud stock to provide breeding alpacas with elite fleeces to the flourishing UK alpaca industry.
  3. Breeding alpacas to show them at Alpaca Shows, this can be used as a marketing tool to show the level of breeding you have attained, showing either alpacas or the alpaca fleeces is a very social occasion. For some, showing alpacas is more of a hobby than a business and it has become quite a social scene in the UK.
  4. Breeding alpacas for the UK pet industry, however this area has suffered from the ravages of the global downturn and with the recession, people have less money available for pets. This is probably an area to avoid in the short term.
  5. Breeding alpacas for your own enjoyment, as pets and just for the pleasure of owning these wonderful, charming endearing creatures with none of the stresses of profitability and marketing.

Of course, you could choose a combination of the above, but generally it would be fair to say that the UK alpaca breeders seem to be largely made up from two groups. The more commercial breeders specialise in 1. 2. and 3. above and the more hobby related breeders concentrate on 3. 4. and 5. Having considered all of the above, it should be easier to decide on the quality of alpacas you will need for your breeding programme.

As with most things in life, quality is key with breeding alpacas, with the improvement in the alpaca fleece quality, comes an increase in it’s commercial value.

The Wellground Way

At Wellground we breed alpacas as a commercial enterprise, a business creating elite alpaca yarns as well as breeding alpaca ‘stud stock’ and ‘seed stock’, we rely heavily on 1. and 2. on the list, occasionally 3. showing ‘fleeces only’ to suit our needs. Click Here to find out more about Wellground’s alpaca showing policy. This approach has proved very fruitful since we started breeding alpacas in the UK in 1999.

What breed type of alpaca should I buy ?

There are two breed types of  alpacas, the Huacaya and the Suri.

The Huacaya type has a rounded, fuller look, this is due to its fibre growing vertically out of its skin in small bundles with a tight crimp which gives it the appearance of having volume to its fleece. The Huacaya wool is more suitable for creating commercial alpaca yarns.

The Suri type wool grows out of the skin in bundles and locks without any crimp. This makes the Suri locks twist and hang down along the flank of the alpaca giving it an appearance of dreadlocks to the untrained eye. The Suri fleece is more complicated to process and although has it’s merits, we believe the Suri type tends to be favoured more by the hobby breeder in the UK.

The Wellground Way

At Wellground, we decided to breed only the Huacaya type of alpaca. From the high quality Huacaya fleece shorn from our alpacas in May each year, we create luxurious alpaca yarns which are sold as knitting yarn as well as adding value to the yarn by selling ladies hand knitted fashions, including ski wear and baby clothes. We also breed Huacaya alpacas to provide alpaca stud stock and seed stock to the UK elite alpaca industry.

What colour alpacas should I buy?

Alpacas come in a lot of colours. They come in 22 officially recognised colours and lots of shades in between, running from white at one end of the scale to black at the other end.Coloured Alpacas

There are several considerations when it comes to selecting the colour of your alpacas. It will very much depend on your decisions at the top of this page regarding the reason you wish to breed alpacas. Certainly for reasons 1. above, you will need to consider either who is buying your products, be it raw fibre, spun alpaca yarn or garments made from it. There is a demand for raw fine solid white Huacaya alpaca fleece in the UK, companies are offering to buy this in bulk at a price variable controlled by market forces. It is preferable to have consistent colour in a fleece for this purpose as well as being ultra fine, solid colours made up from just one constant shade is  important.

If you are considering adding value to your alpaca fibre by creating yarns and fashions from the fibre, colour matters a great deal. To create a range of vibrant, desirable colours, the fibre needs to be dyed. We can make a few natural colours by blending our natural shades of alpaca fibre in the spinning process. This however leaves us with only a few usable natural shades, some of which are not so desirable to the customer, basically in terms of natural shades, you can only go darker from a white starting point. For example: having a paddock full of brown alpacas will seriously limit your yarn shade options, black alpacas more so.Wellground Close Encounter

To help us, we can look at the historic use of alpaca fibre in Peru, over centuries of breeding for commercial purposes, ultra fine solid white Huacaya alpaca fibre was the preferred product to meet the needs of the fleece processors. White is the finest shade of alpaca and lends itself to take on other colours in the dyeing process.

If  showing alpacas is a main consideration for breeding them things are different, then the colour choice may be dictated by alpaca show rules, colour classes and championships. If it is important to the breeder to win rosettes, then it is probably wise to consider breeding for a chosen championship classification.

Finally, if the breeder wishes to breed alpacas for the pleasure of enjoying the animals in their paddock alone, then colour is simply a matter of taste and ones own personal preference.

The Wellground Way

At Wellground, we specialise in elite white alpacas, our alpaca colour decision has been dictated by the fact that we make elite alpaca yarns from our fibre, so for this purpose we breed and keep ultra fine solid white alpacas. We do have one or two brown elite alpacas, the fleeces from those we use to blend with the white fibre to create natural shades of alpaca, from white to very light fawn.

 Having decided why you wish to keep or breed alpacas, how do you select your foundation alpaca herd.

When selecting alpacas as part of any quality breeding herd, the basics requirements are: Good health, good reproductive capability, no genetic faults, and selecting type and colour to fit your own breeding goals and business plan.

Nic Cooper of Southern Alpacas Stud in New Zealand wrote a very useful guide to buying alpacas, he kindly gave me permission to reproduce it on our web site,  the piece is so effective and so helpful, there is no point in me trying to write anything better. It would be like trying to reinvent the wheel, just a slight adjustment to suit the current UK market. Nic wisely writes about using the four ‘P’ s of purchasing alpacas, here is the advice he gives, to look at these specifics in this order.

  • Progeny:  genetic quality (genotype) is best judged by looking at the alpaca’s offspring — not just one or two, all of them.   ‘Genotype’ is best described as; the study of what alpaca regularly produces in the way of progeny, rather than how the alpaca presents it’s self. Consistently good progeny equates to genetic strength. Progeny can be measured by visual inspection or judged at Alpaca Fleece Shows.  Looking at progeny is an excellent way of assessing underlying genotype.
  • Pedigree:  younger animals, or newer studs, have no progeny.  In this case the pedigree of the alpaca (available with British Alpaca Society registered stock) assists in judgement.  Look for parents with good progeny records, siblings with show winning records, herd sires used by respected breeders.  These are indications that the offspring will carry the quality traits of the parent.  Pedigree is a reasonable way of assessing genotype. Pedigree is harder for the newcomer, because it assumes prior knowledge of world renowned bloodlines.  This means research. Naming a stud “Captain Fantastic”, does not mean it is fantastic. South American countries have not yet developed registries.  Imports therefore have no pedigree and usually no progeny data. This makes it very difficult for anyone to select quality breeding stock, caution should be advised.
  • Phenotype:  is best described as, how an alpaca “looks”.  Phenotype is important, you have to live with your choice.  You have to like the way an alpaca looks in your paddock. When progeny and pedigree data are not available, phenotype is all there is to assess an animal.  Phenotype can be unreliable for identifying an underlying genotype. However, you can gain some confidence by selecting alpacas from one of the UK’s more successful and respected breeders.
  • Price:  clearly the price of the alpaca has to fit the depth of your pocket.  Generally higher quality animals carry higher prices.  But beware the reverse price “snob” syndrome.  Whilst a cheap price generally means lower quality, a higher price does not of itself guarantee better quality.
Conclusion.

When looking to select a foundation herd of high quality alpaca, the two most important aspects have to be Progeny and Pedigree.  If the ultimate test of progeny cannot be viewed, as a minimum standard, the animal must be registered with the British Alpaca Society herd book. The BAS Pedigree Certificate must be able to show the lineage of the alpaca. The breed certificate should show signs of breeding improvement, listing respected bloodlines within the pedigree.

Nearly twenty years ago, when alpacas were first imported to the UK from South America, we were forced into accepting a lower standard, where no pedigree records were available. This is not the case today. Some of the Worlds highest standards of alpaca breeding are now here in the United Kingdom.

 Finally: Should I be careful about Biosecurity when buying alpacas ?

Yes you should. What is biosecurity? and how important is it.  Well biosecurity can be classed as many things, but ideally it would be made up from a series of strict and meaningful measures to protect alpaca stock from contracting and passing on infectious diseases. It is important to know that the alpacas you are considering buying have been kept in a safe environment. Please make sure that you are not buying animals that could be carrying something that could lead to problems and veterinary expenses.

The level of biosecurity available at each UK alpaca establishment will vary according to their individual plan.

Badger Proof Fencing

Tornado Badger Proof FencingOne of the risks to alpaca stock, like many mammals in the UK can be bovine TB. It is important not to over emphasise this risk, but some alpaca breeders wisely take precautions to prevent disease spread to their alpaca herd from the the wildlife vector. Badger proof fencing, if properly installed will prevent access to the alpaca grazing to most mammal wildlife including badgers.

Disinfectant Boot Wash

Responsible alpaca breeders will always have a disinfectant boot wash or shoe matting available for visitors to the farm to use. Simple measures to ensure alpacas are kept safe from harm will reassure you that the breeder has an interest in the biosecurity of the alpacas he/she is selling.

The newcomer to alpacas would be wise to consider the biosecurity measures in place at an alpaca farm where stock is being purchased. It will be for the newcomer to decide which of the above measures, or a combination of the above measures will be sufficient for him/her to be acceptable.

The Wellground Way

At Wellground, we have tornado badger fencing trenched into the soil around the entire perimeter of our alpaca farm. We have a full and detailed alpaca biosecurity plan that we ask visitors to our farm to adhere to. At Wellground we take biosecurity very seriously indeed, we no longer show our alpacas at halter shows and our herd sires are not available for external use. We are satisfied that we have taken every precaution possible to reassure the newcomer to alpacas that their purchase of animals from Wellground will come with a ‘peace of mind’ of knowing they come from the very safest environment.

Karl and Lisa Birch now own our Wellground core herd of Elite Alpaca Genetics, they live on their smallholding at WillowBank Alpaca Stud at Dusty Fox Farm, Thurlaston in Leicestershire. Please contact them for information about breeding elite alpacas in the UK, you will find them incredibly knowledgeable and immensely helpful. Click Here for their contact details.