Inside an Alpaca Farm

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They are gentle, neat, fluffy, and friendly–and provide great sweaters too. What could be better than alpacas?
After years of living and working in New York, followed by years of owning a successful inn in Vermont, Bill and Linda Ley were looking for a new, fulfilling, and fun next step. They chose Alpacas.


We both decided it was time to leave the rat race and take on a new challenge in a more rural setting. Both of us came from a hospitality and marketing background, so the decision to go inn-hunting in upper New England seemed like a natural move. After a full year of looking for the perfect inn in the perfect country village, in 1987 we found just the right place and moved to the idyllic town of Dorset, Vt.

However, after running the inn for 13 years 24/7/365, we decided that we wanted to radically change our lifestyle and do something that would allow us to work on our own schedule and at our own pace.

When we had our inn, we were fortunate to meet a number of incredible people from very diverse fields and parts of the country. One couple introduced us to alpacas. After a few visits to their farm and falling head-over-heels in love with these enchanting creatures, we made the decision to invest in the purchase of our first alpaca. As soon as our Alpaca was old enough, we had her bred, and 11-plus months later, we had our first cria (baby) and our herd doubled in size. Very soon after that, a couple from California made an offer on our inn, and we took that as a sign that it was time to leave innkeeping and buy a farm.


Alpaca breeders come from many walks of life. For some, alpacas are a source of income, for others a source of pleasure. Young couples with children might own three or four alpacas and enjoy caring for them. Retired couples are often owners. The family whose members include a hand-spinner might own two or three animals for fiber production. Alpacas are fiber-producing members of the camel family, raised exclusively for their soft and luxurious wool. Their fleeces are sheared once a year, or sometimes every two years in cooler climates. Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of cashmere-like fiber per animal, per year.


Alpacas are safe; they don’t bite or butt. Even if they did, without incisors, horns, hoofs or claws, little harm can be done. They are small and easy to handle. They’re intelligent, which makes them pleasant to be around and easy to train. The alpaca’s feet are padded, which keeps even the most delicate terrain undamaged. A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer. And best of all, an alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm sweaters for its owner’s comfort.


Regional shows are usually two to three days in length and will have anywhere from 100 to 800 entries.

There is also a three-to-four-day national show with 800 to 1,200 entries.

There are many different competitive classes, distinguished by the age, color, and sex of the entry. There are “full fleece” classes, which judge the entry on conformation and the quality of the fleece; there are “shorn” classes, which judge the alpaca solely on its conformation; there are “fleece” classes which judge fleece off the animal; and there are “composite” classes, which judge the “shorn” animal and its already shorn fleece with a composite score.


Quality breeding-age females range between $5,000 and $20,000. Champions are selling for closer to $30-40,000. Young, unproven, high-quality stud prospects routinely sell for prices ranging from $2,500 to $15,000.