Becoming an alpaca rancher is the best thing we've ever done, and this is our story-- which could be yourstory too....
I (Cindy) grew up in Burbank, CA, and spent every possible moment around horses. Later on in life I even trained Arabian horses while I was getting my teaching credential! After getting my credential, I moved to Agoura Hills where I taught 4th grade while raising 2 boys and 2 girls. My youngest just turned 29. I can’t believe it-- where did the time go??
Meanwhile, Doug grew up on Ste. Genevieve, MO, then lived in Florida for many years where he was a Systems Engineer, until a divorce and a field assignment brought him to Long Beach, CA.
Starting Out with Alpacas
After living in Agoura for 10 years, I began to be restless, wishing I could keep my horse in my yard, so I started looking for a more rural setting. I never dreamed I would stumble onto 14 acres in Moorpark! I started looking for a way for this new property to pay its own property taxes—you know, avocado or citrus trees. Fortunately a friend introduced me to alpacas. It was love at first sight! I could have started a herd with just a few acres or boarded at another ranch, but I had a dream to run my own facility. That was the beginning of this grand adventure. After some careful planning, I decided to take a big chance, take a leave of absence from teaching and throw all my energy into raising alpacas.
In 2002 Doug and I met on eHarmony.com. He had never even had a pet growing up, but he was curious about what kind of animals I was raising and why. We were both surprised at how good a match we were, and 3 years later we got married. Doug retired from being an engineer in aerospace, and brought his systems engineering to ranching. We've discovered that there are lots of systems on a ranch!
Alpacas at Windy Hill is now on 25 acres in Somis.We even have our own well so Doug has made everything green. The alpacas love having green pasture, and Doug keeps the sprinkler system running efficiently.
The Alpaca Community is Supportive
I will always be a teacher at heart, but now it’s all about alpacas-- teaching animals, school groups, new clients. I have gone to countless alpaca workshops, seminars, and association gatherings. One great thing about the alpaca industry is that there’s always something new to learn. You can get a “college education” from the industry itself. People are unbelievably helpful. There is a listserve with over 700 ranches who help each other out with everything from vet issues to how to build a fence, and what toys alpacas like to play with. There are lots of websites to help you market your alpacas, too.
Taxes and Traveling with Uncle Sam’s Blessing
We've done a bit of traveling to broaden what we know about alpacas. In November of 2001 I attended the Australian Alpaca Association’s National Show and Sale in Canberra, Australia. What a great event! I also got to visit other farms in Australia, as well as tour Sydney -- all tax deductible. And we’ve been all over the U.S. on alpaca business. We've visited ranches in Ohio, Oregon, New York, Kentucky, and New Jersey, as well as going to shows in Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and California.
In fact, because raising alpacas is an agricultural industry there are tons of investment and tax advantages, especially when you have other income while you are building up your herd. You can’t beat agriculture for investment value. My accountant keeps showing me new benefits. I can enjoy fun and educational activities, enhance my business, meet new people, and have tax advantages too. Take time to check out Section 179 of the IRS code!.
Woolly Huacayas or Silky Suris-- How Do You Choose?
Like any livestock, when you invest in the best, you have a better chance of a return on your investment. When I first started my herd, I bought Huacaya alpacas-- the kind with the fuzzy teddy bear faces. As I have studied more I have become increasingly interested in Suri alpacas --the ones with silky locks that drape and flow with the breeze. The 2 types are basically the same except for the fiber difference, like people with straight or curly hair. Alpacas come in more than 22 natural colors. In fact, alpacas have a wider range of natural colors that any other fiber animal! Our favorite alpacas are silky, shiny suris --the rarest kind. They can be expensive, but for me they are worth planning for. Both fibers have their different uses in the fiber market, and many spinners and weavers have personal preferences. One of the most interesting markets is the huge American crafts industry.
Room to Grow with Fiber and Livestock in the U.S.
If you own your own land and have good alpacas you can probably expect to offset much of your alpaca upkeep from the sale of the fiber to private parties. When the industry has grown and the fiber market is truly developed, the return for fiber will be much more predictable. Right now we need more alpacas so that we have enough American fiber to meet the demand. It's a “breeder’s market”, so we're making more alpacas as fast as we can. In other words, the biggest money is coming from so many people wanting to own alpacas and get into the business.
We feel the demand will continue to grow. There is no better fiber in the world, and no other livestock can give such a good return on your investment while requiring so few acres. Raising alpacas can be the ideal agricultural investment for people like us who want a country lifestyle, but don’t want a huge ranch. Being tired of the "Rat Race" and the desire to leave the city has had a dramatic affect on the appeal of alpaca industry.
Cottage Industry is a Natural with Alpacas
We are fortunate in the U.S. to have so many people who enjoy making their own fiber products. Unlike Peru and Bolivia where the emphasis is on commercial production, much of the the U.S. alpaca fiber output is being snapped up by crafts people . White fiber will likely always dominate the commercial mills because it can be so easily dyed, but natural-colored fiber has a real niche in this land of self-starters, so we have decided to emphasize colored animals for our personal herd. Local spinning and weaving guilds are hungry for this luxurious fiber.
All In the Family-- the Ideal Business
There is something for every member of the family in this business. Young children can care for these gentle animals, and elderly family members seem to have a special rapport. We have friends with special needs children who are building a special future with alpacas. Alpacas make the ideal family business, no matter what phase of life you are in. Doug and I are having more fun than ever!
Alpaca Ownership with a Safety Net-- Easy to Start
Several families board their alpacas with us while they are preparing their own ranch. We keep their animals for them while they build their herd and learn about the business.
Each boarder pays a monthly fee for us to take care of their alpacas until they have land of their own. Many alpaca owners start their herds this way. We have alpacas here at Windy Hill that are worth $500 all the way up to 10's of 1000's of dollars. As you can see, the price range for alpacas is as diverse as the colors. Every breeder shapes his or her own destiny in this business with the decisions they make about their investment in each animal. And because they are an investment, each alpaca is 100% insurable for mortality and theft.
Travel the World On-Line with Alpacas
There are literally hundreds of alpaca websites which contain a wealth of information. They range from ranch sites to fiber products to veterinary advice. There are also some great trade associations and registries like AOBA, ARI, Calpaca, SoCalpaca, the Suri Network, and ABC-the Alpaca Breeders Coop. One nice thing about the alpaca industry is that so many people are using the internet. This has given us the ability to communicate from country to country or state to state. We are able to look at studs in hundreds of ranches to make breeding decisions, or we can visit them in person. I bought an internet design program and designed this whole web site myself.... everything. It may not be as slick as some, but it has been fun and it’s the real me.
There's More Fun on the Way!
We specialize in educational events at Windy Hill--once a teacher, always a teacher, you know. Come and make new friends! Call and make an appointment to come see us soon. A career in alpacas is exciting because it is always growing and changing, just like the animals themselves. In the next 6 months we are expecting over 50 crias, or babies. It's like Christmas! What color will it be? Boy or girl? Solid or multi-colored? If you take ten females and breed them right, a year later you will have 20 alpacas. Now, those odds beat the Stock Market any day. And all the while, you are building a herd for your future and participating in the exciting world of Alpacas! We have several world-class, award-winning alpacas right here in Somis. Please come and join us in one of our Windy Hill Events soon. We'd love to have you visit!