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New Alpacas Arriving Home on the Farm

The Beginner’s Guide to Purchasing a Starter Alpaca Herd

Do you love alpacas? Are you longing to start an alpaca farm? I get it, not so long ago I was in the same position. I was so excited when we bought our first alpacas and brought them home. Heck, I'm still excited when we buy alpacas.

One of the first steps in starting an alpaca farm is to purchase a starter alpaca herd. This could be three, ten, or twenty alpacas. Regardless of the number, it's an important step and one I'd like to help with. In today's post, I'll walk through the key things you need to know about buying your first set of alpacas.

As I cover the tips and recommendations, keep in mind I am referring to a starter herd purchase. The same criteria will most likely apply as you grow an existing herd, but today I’ll present it with the new alpaca owner in mind.

Minimum Standards of Care for Alpacas

Before you start to shop for alpacas, you need to make sure you can cover the minimum standards of care. There is more involved here than people think, which is why I'll touch on this subject right away.

First things first, here are some basics to know about raising alpacas:

  • You need to have at least three alpacas of the same sex. We recommend five as a starter number. Alpacas are herd animals, so they need a herd to feel physically safe. If they don’t have a herd, their mental health suffers, and this quickly leads to a physical decline.
  • Males and females cannot live together in the same pen or barn. The males’ desire to breed will compromise the female’s health and will eventually kill her if you leave them together. This applies to gelded males too. Gelding an alpaca takes away the ability to produce offspring, but it does not take away the ability to have intercourse. Frequent intercourse chews up a female's insides and this leads to death.
  • Alpacas need space to move. They cannot live in a backyard, and they need an area big enough to roam and play. If you don’t have adequate space, you’ll have sad alpacas and a whole lot of fighting.
  • Alpacas need shelter from the elements. A barn or three-sided shelter that will protect them from extreme cold, heat, or rain is needed. While I know alpacas don’t have this in their native Peru, this is considered a minimum standard of care in the USA.
  • Alpacas need proper fencing. Alpacas are prey animals and they have no defense capabilities. The fence is to protect them from predators. We recommend a five-foot, no-climb fence to help keep the alpacas safe and away from roaming dogs or coyotes. Due to their thick fiber, alpacas do not do well with electric fencing and it is not considered best practice for use.
  • Alpacas cannot be housed with other livestock. An alpaca does not have the physical fortitude to withstand parasites from sheep, goats, cows, etc. They also cannot protect themselves against kicking horses or ramming goats. I wrote an entire post on this subject and you can learn more at my post titled Raising Alpacas With Other Animals.
  • Alpacas will need electricity in extreme weather. Alpacas are not "boujee" animals, but they do need water in winter, and this may require a heater to prevent freezing in cold weather. In warmer months they’ll fans to keep themselves cool. Even in Northern Michigan, we have fans running in every barn throughout the summer so the herd can get out of the sun and cool off in front of a fan when desired.
  • Alpacas need ongoing care. Someone will have to give shots monthly in white tail deer country, trim toes and heads occasionally, and shear their fiber annually. Most farms do the routine shots and trimmings themselves and outsource shearing. Alpaca shearing is hard work, and it is best to have professional alpaca shearers to help.

If you’ve read my above list and I didn’t scare you, then we’re moving in the right direction!

Important Things to Do Before You Buy Your Alpaca Herd

Now let’s talk through some of the things you should do before buying. This isn’t a huge list, but it is an important list.

Do Your Research

Buy books and learn as much as you can about alpacas, their care, and raising them as a business. Be careful about asking questions or reading comments in Facebook groups. A lot of information is just wrong. I mean really wrong. Alpaca Farm Life is a good Facebook group and anything said by Ruthanne McCaslin can be taken as gospel. She is a very experienced alpaca vet with decades of experience. I love her and all the free help she provides our community.

Create a Budget for Farm Setup

Make sure you understand the cost of shelter, fencing, running electricity, and hay so you have a good sense of the funds needed to get started. This cost will be in addition to purchasing your starter herd. Learn more about budgeting in my blog post titled Alpaca Cost and Understanding the True Expense of Care.

Join the Alpaca Owners Association (AOA)

By joining the AOA before purchase, you'll have the ability to look up data on animals you'd like to buy. This will allow you to not just look at the alpaca you're considering but also look at their parents, grandparents, and offspring. The AOA offers additional tools to help evaluate animals or plan a breeding strategy.

Visit Several Alpaca Farms

Visit several breeders so you can meet the alpaca herd, get a feel for the animals, and see the farm setup. Ask the farm owners questions about their breeding program, health care, and operations. When I see someone come for a visit with a pen and paper I’m super happy, because I know they are serious and they want to take good care of their future herd. Expect to spend a few hours at each farm.

Choose a Breeder You Trust and Connect With

When alpaca buyers visit us my husband and I both make ourselves available to provide information and answer questions. And I’ll be honest, I’m interviewing you as much as you are interviewing me. I need to get a good vibe from you, and you need to get a good vibe from me. If we don’t have that connection, this isn’t a good fit, and the sale should not happen. You need someone you trust, feel comfortable with, and will be accessible to help and answer questions after the purchase.

Expect to Receive Contracts and Read Them Carefully

Do not purchase anything without a solid contract and paper trail. If you do not understand the contract, ask questions. Many contract terms can be confusing to new owners, so ask questions and keep asking questions until you are comfortable.

While we are talking about contracts, let's review a quick list of what should be included in the contract for your alpaca purchase:

  • Contract date
  • Seller name and address
  • Buyer name and address
  • Names and AOA registration numbers for each alpaca
  • The purchase price per alpaca
  • Financing options or payment terms
  • Breeding options (for females)
  • Breeding guarantees and/or remedies for infertility
  • Delivery options or fees
  • Process and timing of ownership transfer (passage of title)
  • Risk of loss
  • Warranties or lack thereof
  • Proper care guidelines
  • Jurisdiction for disputes

We’ve bought lots of alpacas from many different farms and ranches. The contracts were different for each farm, and some were thin and disappointing. You want details so you know what you are buying and what remedies you have if you don’t get what you thought you purchased.

Alpaca Purchase Criteria

Okay now let’s move on to the fun stuff. Let’s review what you should consider when you are looking at individual alpacas to purchase.


Lineage should be considered when selecting alpacas for breeding. The alpaca population in the USA has many very strong genetic lines, with some lines being prepotent for certain traits like fineness, crimp, or staple length. The Alpaca Owners Association has complete lineage information on every registered alpaca in the United States. A formal AOA certificate should be reviewed for each alpaca before purchase. Reviewing this data will also help you make sure lines to no overlap so you'll have lots of options for breeding your males and females.

Coefficient of Inbreeding

The coefficient of inbreeding is a calculation that measures how inbred an individual is. This can be calculated for a proposed offspring by combining a potential male and female. The Alpaca Owners Association website has a tool for figuring out this calculation and each registered alpaca in the AOA’s database will also have a calculation based on their lineage. This can be very helpful in creating a starter herd and for making sure an individual alpaca is not inbred.


Conformation includes traits associated with body structure and soundness. These characteristics would include things like bite, ears, legs, body capacity, body score, proportions of body, testicles, and genitalia. Poor conformation can also be a sign of genetic defects or poor health, so look closely at this for each alpaca. It takes many breeding cycles to improve poor conformation, so this must be one of your top criteria.


Phenotype refers to traits such as color, fiber density, crimp frequency, crimp amplitude, staple length, fineness, uniformity, etc. The importance of these individual characteristics will vary based on the usage of the alpaca herd. If you are purchasing an alpaca for the show ring, you would tend to place greater emphasis on crimp and uniformity, while a herd used for fiber production would place significant value on staple length. Histogram data is a fabulous way to compare one alpaca phenotype to another.


Some alpaca buyers will have strong preferences for color, while others won't care at all. Alpaca fiber comes in a wide range of colors, from white and beige to different shades of brown, rose grey, silver grey, and black. White, beige, and fawn alpaca fiber can be easily dyed so knitters love it, but black and silver grey alpacas are beautiful and provide rich natural colors for yarn and clothing. You might decide to be a light breeder or a dark breeder or have a mix of all colors. Knowing your preference before you buy is important because you'll want to match this to your future herd's visible and background color.

Color Genotype

Color genotype refers to the color you do not see. We can know not just the visible color, but also the background color of an alpaca. This helps us determine what colors the alpaca can produce in breeding. For example, a fawn alpaca might be a black alpaca in disguise. This means that even though the alpaca is fawn, it can produce black alpacas. My husband and our friend Lynn Edens have led the pursuit of this research in the USA and our farm is very focused on knowing an alpaca’s color genotype and using this in our breeding programs. We provide this information to our buyers so they can make better decisions on purchases. Some old-school alpaca breeders have yet to come around to this new testing, so you might not find color genotype information available on all of the alpacas you review.


While age is important for all the standard reasons, it is also important when mixing in male alpacas. You cannot place young males with older breeding males. It is not physically safe to do so. Another consideration with age is how soon you’d like an alpaca to breed vs. how long you’d like that alpaca to breed. We cannot breed female alpacas before age two, so there will be a wait if you purchase a cria (baby). But that said, some females can breed until they are 15 or 16 years old, while some will need to stop around age 10. Age should be used in calculating your return on investment.

Breeding Experience

If you are looking to breed alpacas, experienced males and females can be very helpful in getting started. An experienced female will know exactly what to do when that baby arrives, while a maiden may not be as quick to get that baby started. Similarly, a proven male breeder will know exactly how to court the ladies and get them to stay still while breeding. An inexperienced male may not be able to get the ladies to cush (lay down) or might not know how to keep them still if they are a roller (yes some ladies like to roll around while making babies). Young alpacas can suck you in with their cuteness,  but it comes with a possible need to help them get started in their breeding careers.

Overall Health

Review the alpaca from head to toe before purchase and look for signs of illness, weight issues, or neurological concerns. If the alpaca is smaller than it should be or has a protruding backbone, it might be hiding an illness. If the alpaca walks funny or struggles to get up, this might be a sign of neurological issues and previous illnesses.


If you care about interacting with your alpaca herd, watch the movements of the herd you visit. Are they friendly? Do the alpacas seem eager to interact with the humans? Are they aloof or withdrawn? While an alpaca's personality won’t matter to some breeders, alpacas are lovely animals and when raised correctly, they will be sociable, loving, and interactive. You can learn more about wooing alpacas in my blog post titled How to Make Friends With an Alpaca.

Breeder Reputation

Choose a reputable breeder who is knowledgeable and experienced in raising alpacas. Review their website, check online reviews, and ask around to see if you can get a feel for their experience and reputation. Select a breeder who wants to help you find the right alpaca for your needs and not just sell you an alpaca. There have been lots of situations where we don't have the right alpaca for someone, and instead of just selling them the wrong one, we use our network to locate the ideal alpaca at another farm. This shows the breeder is focused on you and your needs and not just making money.


As you interact with alpaca farms, watch closely for signs of respect and strong ethics. Are you comfortable with this breeder? Do they offer photos, do they offer fiber data like histograms or EPD ratings, and will they provide a structured contract with terms and conditions of sale? If you are not receiving ample information on your purchase or answers to your questions, consider shopping elsewhere.


There are a lot of nuances to know about raising alpacas. While they are technically easy keepers, they are not like other animals and there is a lot to learn. Make sure you buy from someone who will mentor you long-term. And by mentor, I mean someone who will pick up the phone and guide you through a delivery, illness, or business decision. These are the people you want to buy from and they are the people you want to create a long-term relationship with.

When Asking Questions: One note I'd like to make on asking questions is I run into people who are looking to buy their first alpacas and when they ask questions they don't listen to the answers. They have preconceived thoughts in their head or knowledge from raising other livestock, so they tune out anything I say. For me, this is a red flag and I don't want to sell you any of my animals. If you're brand new to alpaca farming you need to listen when you ask questions. If you're going to dismiss my experience and research for incorrect assumptions you've made or bad information you've read on Facebook, you won't end up with any of my animals. This isn't because I'm being stubborn. It's because I question if you can and will take good care of my alpacas. I'll only allow alpacas to go to quality homes, and when you're overly stubborn about protecting misinformation, that means my alpacas won't be taken care of properly. And that means no sale.

Factors That Influence the Cost of an Alpaca

I gave you lots to think about and consider, but we’re not done. We know need to touch on the cost of your starter herd. The cost of a starter alpaca herd can vary widely depending on several factors, including the quality and pedigree of the animals, their age, their breeding status, and the geographic location of the seller.

Below are things that will impact the cost of your alpaca herd purchase.


Older females will many times be less expensive than younger ones, however, they will not have as many breeding years available. They are a great option for starting with a smaller budget. And as a bonus, they come with experience so you don't have to help them figure out breeding and parenting.

Show Record

Show-quality alpacas will be far more expensive than a fiber-focused herd. A fiber herd can be purchased for as little as $1,000 per alpaca, whereas a show-level alpaca will be a minimum of $5,000 and can span well past $100,000 per alpaca. Know what you need, so you don't over or under-buy.

EPD and Histogram Data

The better the data, the more expensive the alpaca. This is because EPDs and histograms help us separate the high performers from the underperformers. The better the fiber quality and offspring potential, the higher the cost of the starter herd.

Not sure what a histogram or EPD is? Don't worry, I got you. Read through my blog titled Histograms vs. EPDs to learn more about this data.


Friendlier alpacas cost more money. Everyone wants alpacas that are loving and want to cuddle. Since that is developed and it takes time, these alpacas are not easily found. That means the demand is greater than the supply, which means the price goes up.


There are areas in the USA where there are few alpaca farms. This means there is a limited supply, which will dictate a higher price. Again, it is a supply and demand calculation. Don’t be afraid to travel to purchase alpacas. We’ve bought many alpacas from New York and we’ve sold alpacas to farms as far away as South Carolina.

AOA Registration

An unregistered alpaca will be far less valuable than one that is officially registered with the Alpaca Owners Association. This is because an unregistered alpaca has an unknown genetic history, it could be inbred, and its offspring cannot be registered with the AOA. Do yourself a favor and skip the unregistered alpacas. You just don’t know what you’re getting.

More Thoughts on Breeder Reputation

Consider online reviews when researching farms. While not all reviews can be trusted, you can spot a real one by the depth of details and the tone of the writer. If you're considering buying alpacas from a ranch with poor reviews, think twice. If the owners of the ranch are professionals, check reviews for the professional side of their life.

Before we bought alpacas from Kim and Nancy, I reviewed Kim's professional reviews. She is a doctor and I knew I'd hear the good and bad online if I looked. Well, I only found good about Kim. And when I say good, I mean everyone was raving about Kim's amazing bedside manner and how caring she was with patients. You can bet this same care and love is also transferred to her alpaca herd. This mattered to me and it was a factor in moving forward with buying 20+ alpacas from these ladies.

Here is an example of a review on Google from Tara (one of our alpaca buyers):

First of all, the grounds are gorgeous. The ranch is immaculate, and the animals are very well-kept and beautiful. Just a word to the wise - there is a good chance that visiting may make you desperately want to quit your day job and move away from the city to play with Alpacas all day. Please don't say I didn't warn you.

About the farm: The owners are incredibly lovely and gracious. Not only did they give me a ton of information about Alpacas prior to my first Alpaca purchase and visit to the farm; they also let me spend time with them before I decided to purchase my first herd.

Their farming techniques and stewardship for the land is unparalleled. I’ve visited several other Alpaca farms before I decided to do business with Rebecca and Jason; other farms would tell me they would not allow anyone to interact with the animals. Hence, spending time with them and being allowed to see them was very important to me prior to my investment.

I love that the owners treat all the Alpacas like family members which makes the animals very social and sweet. The beautiful store where they sell a lot of beautiful Alpaca products, from sweaters to hats and gloves, to ornaments, candles and mugs is incredible. Check the farm schedule before you go. So what are you waiting for? Go frolic with some adorable Alpacas already!

Here is a Google review from a woman named Erica who I don't personally know:

This is one of the best day trips we’ve taken in the Traverse City area. The tours are AMAZING!! The Alpacas are adorable, happy, social, and well cared for. The owners are very passionate about their farm and it shows.

My takeaways, which may be different than your takeaways, are things like being well cared for, passionate about the farm, animals being well-kept, sweet, and social. Those words resonate with me because that is what we strive for in raising our herd. We do love them, we do treat them like family, and we do make sure they are well cared for.

And that is who you want to buy from. I'm not saying to only buy an alpaca from me, but I am saying is set standards for your purchase and those standards should be more than just fiber quality.

Scam Warning: There are many people on Facebook and Craiglist presenting alpacas for sale and these offerings are 100% scams. I was so frustrated I wrote an article about it to help educate buyers. Part of your homework is to also read Beware of Alpaca Sales Scams so you can protect yourself.

Do You Have Questions?

When purchasing a starter alpaca herd, it's important to consider a variety of factors from fiber characteristics and lineage to the reputation and experience of the breeder. Doing your homework and working with a reputable breeder is the key to a successful purchase and a happy herd.

Do you have more questions? I’ll do my best to help. Just drop in a comment below and let me know how I can help you make your first alpaca purchase a good one!

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