Tips for Success in the Alpaca Biz #1
Tip #1 – Don’t Forget About the Older Girls
You are about to choose the females that will make up your foundation herd. Financially, this may be the biggest investment you will ever make and you want to make the right choice. As you gaze out across the pasture, the weanling females playing in the field catch your eye. Those cute faces just tug at your heart strings. The youthful maidens (females who have not yet produced offspring) still have that fuzzy face with the added advantage of possibly being pregnant or ready to be breed to your favorite herdsire. And then there are the older pregnant females who have one or more cria. Their fleece is not as soft as it used to be from having multiple cria and let’s face it, they just are not as cute as the younger females.
So how do you choose that perfect herd? Do you go with your heart and pick one of those cuties pronking in the pasture or pick one of the less exciting older girls out in the field?
Ten years ago I was faced with the same question. I knew this was a business, and I wanted to pick the highest quality girls for my money. I selected three females, 1 proven female (Alcina), and 2 maidens (Babetta and Black Coral). Looking across the field, Alcina would not have been anyone’s first, second, or third choice other than the fact that she was grey. What caught my attention was the fact that all her cria had won blue or red ribbons. What made this short little import even more attractive was that she was bred to a nice male and due in a couple of months. Babetta was a pretty suri with super fine fleece whose full sister just sold for a near record price at auction. She was due in a few months and meant a quick return on investment. From a business stand point , Babetta was a no-brainer. Black Coral was not due for 7 months but she was black, had a fine fleece, and bred to a top male. She was the alpaca that I just had to have.
The time finally came for my first alpaca birth. Alcina delivered her cria like a pro and had plenty of milk. That cria went on to win at several shows and actually sold before he was a year old. To this day, at age 15, Alcina’s production record is second to none.
A month after Alcina’s delivery, Babetta went into labor. Babetta had a dystocia (difficult birth – the cria got stuck) because his legs were not in the correct position. Not a pleasant image for the first cria birth I had ever witnessed. With veterinary intervention everything turned out okay. Babetta has not had the same issues delivering since and she went on to be one of my best suri production females.
Black Coral was another story altogether. She went into labor and after many vet calls, the vet decided she required a c-section. The cria was delivered dead and it was determined that Black Coral had a stricture that would never allow her cervix to open up wide enough to deliver normally. That was just not the way to start out my first year in the business.
I learned my lesson after that first year. I purchased a proven female, Qie, with a track record of easy births, plenty of milk, and ribbon winning cria. Qie always had textbook births, plenty of milk, and excellent quality cria. My next purchase was a 10 year old girl, Blanca, bred to an outstanding male. I was hesitant at first, but Blanca’s cria had always been phenomenal. I got Blanca at a steal because no one wanted to deal with an older girl. Blanca gave me the foundation of my suri breeding program.
I don’t think anyone in the alpaca business will ever have a first year quite like mine. That first year taught me a lot about these old, reliable girls. They give you a healthy cria every year with no fuss and without any lost production time. If you just have to have that cute fuzzy face alpaca, make sure her dam and other females in her line have good reproductive records.
Advantages of choosing an older alpaca for your foundation herd:
- You know if she is able to get pregnant, maintain the pregnancy, and have a cria.
- You know if she has trouble at delivery.
- You know if she produces plenty of milk.
- You can see the quality of her cria.
- You can tell if her fleece maintained its fineness after several cria.
*Remember: Always have the vet examine the alpaca, young and old, before purchase.