MANTUA, Ohio – Anthony Stachowski has struck gold with what he calls a “huggable investment.”
Stachowski, 47, who retired from his veterinarian practice this year, was one of the first people to own alpacas in this country. When 150 Chilean alpacas were first imported to North America in 1984, Stachowski bought 50.
Stachowski was raised on an Arabian horse farm just across the street from Stachowski Alpacas on Route 44 in Mantua, Ohio. He practiced veterinarian medicine, mostly horse care, for 22 years.
Stachowski said he grew up around animals and owned a few llamas, a cousin to the alpaca, before he bought the Chileans.
“When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance to bring something wonderfully unique here,” said Stachowski.
Before 1984, it was illegal to import alpacas into the United States mostly because of the fear of foot-and-mouth disease. There were only 15 in the United States prior to ’84, and they were all in zoos.
“The problem was we just hadn’t discovered them yet,” said Stachowski. “These are animals that had been raised by the Indians of South America for 3,000 years. Only the strongest survive, so they are a very pure and healthy animal. They are not wild animals. They were designed and domesticated for clothing.”
It wasn’t until 1993 that the Peruvian government allowed alpacas to be imported to North America. Prior to that date, a Peru native could spend 10 years in prison for selling an alpaca outside the country. Approximately 700 Peruvian alpacas were brought in and are now the most sought-after. Stachowski owns the largest pure Peruvian stock in North America.
Chilean alpacas are the most numerous in the United States. There is also a small number of Bolivian alpacas. Stachowski said Bolivian alpacas are believed to be in between the Chileans and Peruvians in quality.
“We know also have what is known as the American alpaca, which is essentially a mix of the others,” said Stachowski.
Stachowski was instrumental in writing the registry for these animals. He insists Alpaca Registry Inc. (ARI) is one of the purest registries in the industry.
To register an animal you have to have DNA and blood testing done on both of the parents and the cria (a baby alpaca), said Stachowski.
“You don’t have to rely on anyone’s word because you have scientific proof that baby belongs to those parents. It would be easy to pass a baby llama as a baby alpaca to someone who doesn’t know how to tell the difference.”
An alpaca is two to three times smaller than a llama. Alpacas can weigh up to 160 pounds whereas a llama can weigh 350 pounds.
Their cashmere-like fleece is a high commodity. There are two types of alpacas – Huacaya and Suri. The Huacaya’s fleece is wavy, similar to many of the sheep breeds. The Suri’s fleece has no crimp and hangs almost like long, thin dreadlocks.
The animals are shorn annually or biannually, and the fleece is sent to Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA). Producers may be paid anywhere from $1 to $6 an ounce for the fleece. One animal gives about six pounds. The fleece is then sent to Peru where it is spun into garments and blankets or made into teddy bears and sold back to the producer at wholesale.
“Producers control their own destiny,” said Stachowski. “We don’t let Wal-Mart get into our business.”
Stachowski says both the Huacaya and the Suri fiber is popular amowithng spinners. The fleece is luxurious, strong and resilient. It is easily dyed and is found in 27 colors.
Huacayas make up about 90 percent of the U.S. alpaca population.
Stachowski gives many reasons, other than the high fiber prices, why he has been able to stay in the alpaca business. He says the markets aren’t saturated with alpacas therefore producers are able to keep prices up. There are about 25,000 alpacas registered in North America and the registry was closed to imports in 1998.
“These animals are not potbellied pigs or ostriches. They are not a trend or a fad,” said Stachowski. “I have been doing this for 16 years, and there will still be a strong market in 10 years.”
The alpaca’s gestation period is 11 months, allowing her to bear only one cria a year. There have been no multiple births recorded.
Artificial insemination and embryo transfers have yet to be successful in alpacas, which also keeps their numbers down.
Stachowski says most of the money he makes with alpacas comes from selling breeding stock. A male can sell anywhere from $1,500 to $20,000. Females start at $8,000 and go up to about $30,000. In fact, a white, male Peruvian sold for $226,000 in Ohio recently.
Alpacas have a 12- to 20-year lifespan, and Stachowski says every two years you get a 50 percent return on your investment.
“The market is so strong that I could buy a pair today for $20,000 and in two years sell their offspring for $20,000,” said Stachowski.
The overhead is low, too, Stachowski said. You can raise eight to 10 alpacas on one acre. They need no special diet, fencing or housing. They mostly graze and eat hay, with the occasional supplement of a pelleted “ration balancer,” which supplies the vitamins and trace minerals for bone development and healthy cria. Stachowski keeps about 600 alpacas on less than 200 acres of land. He also has 24 llamas.”They are the perfect animal for the small farmer with a little bit of money. Or the farmer who wants to sell a lot of his sheep and buy a couple of alpacas,” said Stachowski.
He sells alpacas all over the country and ships animals to other countries as well. “I sell to people who are just starting out or those who want to upgrade their animals.”
As a vet, he has found alpacas cost less per head for vet care than any other livestock. He also says because they are so hardy, they didn’t cost him any time away from his veterinary practice.
Alpacas are induced ovulaters – once they are bred, they ovulate. This adds convenience for the breeder.
“You don’t have to watch them come into heat or calculate when they are going to ovulate. The animals work around your schedule. You don’t work around theirs,” said Stachowski.
With so little care needed, Stachowski employs only three other people to tend to the animals and housing. There are also two secretaries who work in Stachowski Alpacas office.
Stachowski spends time away from the farm at shows and conferences. His animals have won many blue ribbons at state, national and international shows.
“These Suri and Huacaya Peruvians on my farm are the top 20 percent of alpacas in the United States,” said Stachowski.
He is a judge for the Alpaca Llama Show Association and a member of Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, ARI and AFCNA. He recently led a tour of the Altiplano, or high plains region, in Peru and was a judge for the International Alpaca Festival Show and Conference.
According to Stachowski, alpacas are definitely a niche market – a niche market with profit potential like no other.
“After 16 years, the prices are at their highest ever. The market gets stronger every year,” said Stachowski. “You don’t have to work 14 hours a day like a normal farmer. What other farmer do you know who could retire from a veterinarian practice to be with his animals?”
For more information about Stachowski Alpacas, call 330-274-0280 or visit www.alpacaworld.com.
Visit the following Web sites to get more information about the alpaca industry:
* Alpaca Registry Inc. – www.alpacaregistry.net
* Alpaca and Llama Show Association – www.llama.org/alsa
* Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association – www.aoba.org
* Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America – www.alpacafibercoop.com