If you’re considering getting alpacas, it’s important to think about how large (or small) you want your herd to be. So I sat down to research the answer to this question: how many alpacas should you get?
An alpaca herd should be no less than 2-3 compatible alpacas. A herd of alpacas can be as large as pasture space, shelter space, time, breeding preference, finances, and ability to properly care for the animals allows. Here is a practical guide to determining how many alpacas to get.
Ready to figure out how many alpacas to get? Let’s do this.
This is How Many Alpacas You Should Get
Based on my research, you should get at least 2 alpacas – although some alpaca ranchers and breeders say that minimum herd size should really be 3. The ranchers and breeders also recommend that new alpaca owners get some hands-on experience with alpacas before bringing any to their backyard homestead.
Many of these ranchers will, when asked, let you come volunteer at their ranch for a while to get a feel for how keeping alpacas really is. So if you can go, do! It’s a great way to see alpacas up close and what caring for them is really like.
Based on my research and advice I’ve been given, then, here is the general guideline for how many alpacas you should get to start your herd for your backyard homestead. This does assume you’re accounting for all of the herd size factors mentioned later in this article, though. So make sure you read all of those, too!
It’s best to start with a small herd (of 2-3 alpacas) and go from there. You can always add to your herd by buying more or breeding.
Then, if it turns out that keeping and raising alpacas isn’t for you? Well, then you’ve only got to rehome a single group of alpacas, rather than a large herd of them.
In any case, let’s see how many alpacas you should get. We’ll create a handy table you can use – and then we’ll go through every factor listed within the table in more detail.
|Alpacas are herd animals||Alpacas generally do best with a herd. There are some exceptions, but it dramatically increases the amount of work you’d have to do.|
|Males versus females versus wethers (castrated males)||Intact males (machos) shouldn’t share a pasture with females. Wethers could, though.|
|Alpaca status: pet versus livestock||Pet alpacas may require more time and attention – but may need fewer animals and overall space.|
|Outdoor space||Generally, you can graze 5-6 alpacas on an acre. Less pasture space is required if they can eat hay. More space is required for rotated pastures.|
|Indoor space||Alpacas generally need 6-8 feet of indoor space each. This can mean a barn or a 3-walled shelter, depending on the weather conditions in your area.|
|Alpaca expenses||Buying alpacas can cost anywhere from $200-$10,000+ each. Yearly maintenance usually runs anywhere from $200+ each, depending on feed and care costs.|
|Alpaca related profit||It depends on how you manage costs, work, and outsourcing.|
Ready to learn more about the individual factors that will impact how many alpacas you should get? Let’s go into those next.
Do Alpacas Need to Be in Pairs?
Alpacas are herd animals that can get depressed, sick, or have other health issues if they’re alone. They need a herd. So make sure that they at least have another alpaca buddy to keep them company.
There are a few exceptions to this – where if they’re being added to a herd of sheep or goats, some alpacas will adopt those as their herd. However, integrating an alpaca into a herd of other animals is a gamble. Not every alpaca can pull it off – and neither can every herd of goats or sheep!
So if you aren’t willing to take that gamble, then make sure that your alpacas at least come in a pair.
Many of the alpaca ranchers and breeders I came across in my research said that having three alpacas was their minimum herd size recommendation – and so they actually didn’t recommend pairs. In fact, some breeders may not sell you a single alpaca – or even two of them. If that’s the case, you may need to find another breeder – or see if you can talk them down to buying the single pair of animals for the time being.
Should I Get Male or Female Alpacas?
How many alpacas you get will also be affected by the sex of the alpacas. This is because alpaca gender directly affects alpaca behavior – especially breeding behavior.
Generally, your end goals for raising alpacas will determine the sex of the animals you get.
|Goal for Alpacas||Recommended Herd Gender||Notes|
|Pets and/or fiber production||1. Wethers|
3. A mix of wethers and females
|Hembras are generally more expensive than wethers.|
2. Hembras and machos
|Machos and hembras will need to be kept in separate spaces until you want them to breed. If space is an issue, you may opt to just get females and pay for stud service.|
But what are hembras, wethers, and machos? Those are the gender and sex options of alpacas. Let’s break that down next.
|Machos (Intact males or studs)||2-3+ years old||$1000-$10,000+||Machos will try to breed with any hembras.|
|Wethers (males that were castrated or gelded)||None.||$200+||Great pets, protectors, and sources of fiber.|
|Hembras (females)||18+ months old||$100-$2000+||Great pets, fiber source, and for breeding.|
|Cria (baby alpacas, gender neutral)||Per the sex||Variable.||They’re just cute I had to include them!|
Is breeding alpacas one of your backyard homestead end goals? My research indicated that female alpacas don’t ovulate on a schedule – instead, the act of breeding stimulates the ovulation. So alpacas can be bred any time of year, but breeding is required for a pregnancy.
Oh, and intact males will try to breed with a female any chance they get. However, already-pregnant hembras want nothing to do with the machos. This overly amorous behavior can lead to safety issues, which is why it’s important to keep hembras (pregnant or not) and machos in separate pastures and stalls unless you specifically want them to breed.
If you aren’t sure what your end goals are for raising alpacas as part of your backyard homestead, that’s okay. It might be worth figuring that out first. Or, start with a couple of wethers. That way, you’ll minimize your investment while still getting most of the non-breeding-related benefits.
Do Alpacas Make Good Pets?
Alpacas can be great pets, yes! They’re kind, gentle, hard to provoke, and almost cat-like (rather than dog-like) in how they act around people.
If you want a herd of them, they can be a fantastic, outdoor type of pet (who just also happens to be livestock that produces amazing fiber).
They can also live inside – a fact that surprised me. However, if you’re going to keep an alpaca inside your house, it’s far easier if it’s a single alpaca – and not the whole herd. To read about keeping alpacas inside, read my article on it here.
In any case, alpacas are generally loved and adored by all those who raise them – and each of the ranchers I found in my research specifically mentioned how they love raising alpacas – because they are more than just livestock – they’re also pets.
How Much Pasture Space Your Alpacas Will Need
Generally, alpacas need about the same space that regular-sized sheep do.
In other words, an acre of unrotated pasture space can generally support 5-6 alpacas. If you want to rotate your pastures, you’ll need 2 acres per every 5-6 alpacas. If you have less space, two alpacas can do just fine on a half of an acre of land.
If you have less space, you can still keep alpacas – but you’ll need to supplement their feed with hay.
Be sure to check with your zoning laws and regulations. They should mention the minimum space required for specific types of livestock in your area. They’ll also detail whether you’re zoned to be able to have larger livestock, like sheep, llamas, and alpacas, in your backyard homestead.
Available pasture space on your lot is something to consider in your plans. For example, here are some things we have to consider in our plans.
We live on a half-acre lot that’s zoned residential-agricultural. If that was pure pasture, we could support two alpacas on it without much issue – and minimal hay supplementation. However, our lot isn’t pure pasture – we’ve got our house on it!
Even so, we’re zoned for multiple larger livestock animals. But in order to do so safely, we will need to supplement our animals’ pasture grazing with hay, even if we just had a single animal (which we won’t – because herd animals need to be comprised of at least 2-3 individuals). Our current plan is two alpacas and two dwarf-sized goats – and a whole lot of hay.
Barn and Shelter Space Requirements for Your Alpacas
Based on my research, alpacas want their own 6-foot by 8-foot space in a barn or shelter during warm weather. If it’s too hot, alpacas may want to be kept cool in a shaded, indoorsy area – and they’ll want space for a breeze. That’s why the 6-foot by 8-foot space per animal is a good guideline.
During cold or inclement weather, an alpaca’s personal bubble (and space requirements) shrinks considerably.
Even so, the alpaca ranch barns I’ve seen don’t necessarily give each alpaca their own 6-foot by 8-foot stall. Instead, it looks like they just make sure there’s enough room for all of their alpacas to be inside and comfortable-ish when they’re inside.
In these instances, though, we’re talking about giant barns – and probably hundreds of alpacas. And they’re separated into four to five groups or more: unbred hembras, pregnant hembras, machos, wethers, and cria.
So as long as you’ve got enough space for all of your alpacas to be inside, it may be enough. And depending on your location, the shelter may only need to be something minimal, like a 3-sided, roofed shelter.
Here in Utah, though, we can get hurricane-strength winds. So I’d feel more comfortable having a solid barn that our alpacas could run into when canyon winds start howling.
But even for our snowy winters, I’ve seen other alpacas in the area that preferred to be outside – provided the wind wasn’t blowing like crazy. After all, alpacas are from the snowy mountains of Peru!
Are Alpacas Expensive to Keep?
Alpacas don’t have to be super expensive to keep, no. The main costs you should anticipate include the following.
|Purchasing alpacas||$100+||This will depend on the sex, condition, lineage, and type of alpaca.|
|Hay||$200-400+ per year||It will depend on how much pasture you have, how many alpacas need hay, and other factors.|
|Basic supplies||$50-200+||Things like alpaca-grade toenail trimmers, shearers, etc.|
|Veterinary care||$200+ yearly||This depends on how much you have your vet help with regular care, checkups, worming, and other health factors.|
|Barn, shelter, or shed for alpacas||$2000+||If you already have a barn or shed, this cost will be far less.|
|Feed supplies||$300+||Things like buckets, hay feeders, and other storage items.|
|Books or guides||$30+||Not necessary – but sometimes nice to have!|
If you’ve already got some of these items, then your cost would be less. Or if you have items that can be multi-purposed, then that will also cut down on your projected alpaca expenses. Like if you’ve got dog toenail trimmers, I’ve read that some alpaca owners use those to trim their alpaca’s toenails, too.
Our projected yearly costs for having alpacas, once we’ve got the basics covered and paid for, is about $300 per year – for a pair of alpacas. This included estimates for feed, shearing, doing a lot of the regular care ourselves, and having the wool spun into yarn. Please note that this projection doesn’t include veterinary care.
How Many Alpacas Do You Need to Make a Profit?
Making a profit off of alpacas is going to depend on an awful lot of things – so it’s really going to depend on how you do things. So there isn’t a definitive answer to how many alpacas you’ll need to make a profit. Instead, the most important factors are going to be:
- how you define profit;
- how much work you’re willing to do on your backyard homestead (versus outsourcing, which costs money instead of time);
- and what sales you’re willing to make and/or sell.
Now, this whole subject could be a long post in and of itself. Even so, let’s go over things quickly so you can get an idea of how many alpacas you’ll need to make a profit.
First, it’s going to depend on your definition of profit. If you’re operating under a traditional business model, then this is the financial model you’ll be familiar with and use.
Sales – Expenses = Profit
For us, profit isn’t a huge part of the equation. We enjoy our backyard homestead and that’s the main reason we do it. We do try, however, to make it pay for itself.
Personally, I prefer to flip that around via the “Profit First” model (and it’s a fantastic business finances idea and book). So for us, this is the model we use.
Sales – Profit = Expenses
In other words, we have a dual focus. First, we pay ourselves after making a sale from our backyard homesteading goods. Then, we also focus on minimizing our expenses.
But by doing this, we don’t have to get hung up on the fact that we can’t have a giant herd of alpacas on our land. We’ll instead focus on finding ways to make money with what we’ve got – and minimize expenses by doing things ourselves. Which brings us to the second point.
Second, how much work are you willing to do yourself versus outsourcing it?
For example, I’ve read about alpaca owners who don’t have land – and they pay as much as $100/month to board their alpaca on an alpaca ranch. Paying someone $100 per month to board my alpaca doesn’t make much sense to me – but it did to them.
We’re more in the “do it ourselves” camp – which means a lot of research, asking for help, figuring things out, and even a whole lot of trial and error. It also means I’m researching and learning how to do most of the care ourselves here at home – and using the vet as a valuable resource with a fee.
Finally, you need to decide what you’re willing to make and/or sell. With one exception, the more work you do yourself will mean a greater profit.
For example, you’ll earn more money if you’re willing to card the fiber yourself, spin it into yarn, and make your own hats, gloves, or other items to sell than if you outsourced some of those processes.
The general exception to this is if you go into breeding. Selling cria can be a profitable venture – but it can be risky. The alpaca and llama bubble of years ago was based on speculation, after all.
People bred (llamas and) alpacas to sell the babies to others – who would then breed and sell more animals to sell to others. It was a giant, unsustainable alpaca pyramid scheme.
So if that’s the kind of monetary getup you’re wanting to get into, it could be profitable to get into breeding – but only if you’re also showing your animals (which takes time and effort). In that case, it could be worth it. It is, however, still based on some level of speculation. All animal shows and breeding programs are. That’s just how it is – and that’s okay.
That’s not our preferred method to make money, so we would stick with the fiber production process. However, something important to keep in mind with that methodology is this: there is simply no way to compete with the volume of alpaca fiber and products that are exported from Peru – at least not as a backyard homesteader.
So you won’t be able to compete with the volume and price. You’ll have to find other ways to make your backyard homestead, alpaca-based products (and services) special – so that you can bring in a profit no matter how many alpacas you have in your backyard homestead.
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