SOURCE: Kansas State University

December 15, 2008 07:00 ET

K-State Veterinarian Says Education Is Necessary Before Becoming an Alpaca Owner

MANHATTAN, KS--(Marketwire - December 15, 2008) - They're as soft as cashmere and as huggable as your best friend. They also make great companions and can have high value. These are just some of the reasons alpacas have become common livestock and pets, according to a Kansas State University veterinarian.

However, before jumping into the alpaca industry, Dr. Meredyth Jones, clinical assistant professor at K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, said it is important for would-be buyers to educate themselves. That's something she suggests doing before purchasing any animal.

Alpacas, animals native to South America, can be high financial investments, costing between $5,000 and $15,000; if interested in purchasing a breeding male alpaca, the cost can reach $50,000 to upward of $100,000.

Alpacas are an agreeable livestock option for people just starting a farm because they need less land and they're less likely to cause injuries than cattle. While Jones said alpacas might kick or spit, she compared being kicked by a 150-pound alpaca to a 1,000-pound cow, which can have very different outcomes.

Alpaca owners can make money by selling the alpaca offspring and the alpaca fiber. However, when selling the offspring, Jones said the male babies, or crias, have a low value if they're not of breeding quality. Some alpaca farmers are also spinners and knitters and sell items that they make from the alpaca fiber, such as scarves.

"The problem is that the public has not largely grasped onto the concept of alpaca fiber," Jones said.

If purchasing an alpaca, Jones recommends buying at least two instead of one because alpacas have a significant herd mentality and don't do well by themselves.

She also recommends housing the alpacas separately from other animals because they're susceptible to diseases, and a multispecies farm could spread diseases back and forth.

While Jones said the alpacas are not necessarily high maintenance, it is important to monitor their health.

Alpaca maintenance requires an annual shearing in the spring and annual teeth trimming, as well as feet trimming a few times a year. They also require vaccination and de-worming programs like other animals.

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