The Washington Times-Herald

Features

December 20, 2011

Pet Talk: Investigate before buying an alpaca

Montgomery. AL — Imagine a plateau high in the Andes Mountains covered by nothing but South American camelids and shrubbery. Over the past 20 years, this picture has changed as some South American camelids have found new homes in the United States living very different lives than their predecessors.

The domesticated South American camelids – alpacas and llamas – are sprouting up on farms across the United States. Their intelligence and docile nature make them easy pets for agricultural settings.

Dr. Juan Romano, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), says that South American camelid interest has increased over the years prompting new South American camelid curriculum for veterinary students.

“Alpacas and llamas are the two most common types of South American camelids in Texas,” Romano said. “Llamas are larger than alpacas with thicker wool. Alpacas’ wool is fine making it more suitable for sweaters and special suits. Alpacas also have ears that stick straight up, while llamas have ears that fold over like bananas.”

Romano says the low-maintenance nature of alpacas and llamas make them viable animals for those with limited agriculture and animal raising experience.

Romano adds that they also make great companion animals, because of their protective nature and their cat-like personality.

“In 2007, the Texas government allowed camelids to be used for livestock purposes so we saw an influx of South American camelids farm growth then,” Romano said. “Today, Texas is one of the most populated states with South American camelids, especially Alpacas.”

Prior to starting a South American camelid farm, it is advisable to speak with a veterinarian and do your research. Initial investment varies. South American camelids farm basic requirements are a simple shelter, fencing, forage, clean water, and fiber.

“Even though the initial investment may seem feasible, right now it is hard to fund a ranch in the United States, because our prices are not competitive with South American ranches cost of production,” Romano expressed. “It is important to do your research and understand the market before you invest in a farm.”

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