People always ask us ‘Why alpacas?’ Well, the answer is pretty simple really. We fell in love with them. One day, we were on a short break in Prague, and we decided to visit the local zoo. There, we met the strange animal that was to shape our destiny. He was a brown, goofy looking, long necked sheep. He was very friendly, and he came up to us for attention, and we stayed with him for ages.
Over time, I must have googled alpacas, found out that they were a lucrative business, both in the UK, and around the world, and one day, when Lorna and I were discussing her health problems I suggested moving to Spain, and breeding alpacas for income. We made some enquiries, visited a few farms, and fell in love with the animals.
Alpacas come in a range of 22 natural colours, from white, through fawn, to brown, and also grey and black colours. The ancient Incan societies used to breed alpacas, and referred to the fleece as ‘Fibre of the Gods!’ The recent worldwide population of alpacas originates from the altiplano in the Andes, and in the early 1990’s people started to import the animals into the UK, the US and Australia. Throughout Europe alpaca breeding is still relatively unknown, however there is an industry built up around it that includes clothing (alpaca fleece has no lanolin, and is therefore hypoallergenic, and is considered to be of equivalent quality to cashmere), bedding, selling the animals as pets and chicken guards, and selling show quality animals to be used to compete in competitions and win prizes. Obviously the better animals you have to breed with, the better quality the offspring, and therefore the price you can command for sale. The real reason alpacas exist is because of the quality of the fleece, but most farms make money by producing the best animals they can, and selling them on to new breeders. In 2010, there was one stud male, in the US, that sold for $675,000. One animal!
We looked into buying alpacas in Spain, and found a farm that could supply us with animals, the industry was still very much in its infancy in Spain, and we hoped that if it took off as it had done in other countries around the world, we would be getting in at the start of something very big. Sadly, it is taking a lot longer to emerge in Spain as a real alternative for farmers, as here they are very traditional, and would much rather keep a goat, that will cost a fraction of the price yet provide the family with milk, and meat to eat. They struggle to understand how you can justify high prices for an animal that stands around looking pretty and only gives you a ‘harvest’ of fleece once a year. With only three hundred or so alpacas in Spain, the fleece market is yet to take off as well. We are forever hopeful that one day, when the world is in slightly better shape, maybe, just maybe alpacas will take off in Spain.