Alpaca High: an article by Anthony Turner

 I have often heard, “Ostriches, Llamas, Alpacas, it’s all bubbles” and yet If you investigate emus, ostriches, llamas, alpacas, etc., you’ll find each industry faces very different challenges

Alpacas and Llamas should be a no-brainer. The world market for their fibre already exists. The concept was to get enough of them here in UK. to create our own sub-market. There’s no problem with that concept

Challenges for us include the economy and how alpacas were initially marketed as investments and “luxury” livestock. We targeted a specific demographic with pitches to buy breeding stock, and it worked – but the high-end prices dictated that new owners were likely to be those with plenty of disposable income, which, mostly, meant the age group that had already put kids through college and were well along in their careers, e.g., baby boomers.

It worked and the focus was clearly on breeding and sale of alpacas. That’s how we pitched it, and that’s how those that bought in pitched it to their clients. That was the market then. Many ignored the fibre aspect, since, if you can sell one alpaca for £10K or more, there’s little impetus to sell 2 kilos of fleece at the farmer’s market (not saying I agree, just saying that’s what happened).

Then the economy tanked. Our favoured demographic was one of the hardest hit groups, because pension plans and other investments withered away just as the job market tightened. Try being 55-65+ and looking for a new job, esp. one that pays enough, while your investments suddenly are paying nothing. There went the disposable income.

Not only that, but that same group is the sandwich generation — caring for aging parents while still assisting children. Some have health challenges of their own. As a result of job insecurity, investments drying up, and family needs, many decided it was time to exit the industry. If it’s going to take ten years to recover from the Big Recession and you are already 60 or 70 years old, what would you do?

So here we are today with a different market. But, it’s not that there’s no market, it’s just different. Prices are way different. Buyers are tending to be younger, more into alpacas as a family livestock endeavour, and definitely looking for sustainable, green options. Oh, yes — let’s add to that, wanting to actually DO something with the fleece.

My opinion — this is a great demographic for building the camelid fibre market in the UK.

One of my friends has sold ten alpacas so far this year, which, out of a herd of 30-something, is a lot. Admittedly prices are low compared to just a few years ago. But that’s the new market. I still think the very top breeding stock, once we establish which animals they are, will continue to command way-higher prices — that’s how all other livestock industries work.

Yes, our industry is facing challenges and we need to re-examine our goals and models in light of today’s economy, but I am still very excited about the opportunities ahead of us, especially having seen the results of research into the properties of Camelid fibre and its application across an astonishing range of industries. The response of everyday public to the fibre section at the National Show earlier this year demonstrated the enthusiasm that awaits us for anything Alpaca and Llama, and this will be amplified a hundred fold when the new multi million pound International  Centre  at Telford opens its doors to our National show next year.

Hold on tight for the take off!

 

Anthony Turner

BAS Director & Committee Member (ex)