Monday, September 23, 2013

Alpacas a Natural Lawnmower

We get a lot of rain during the spring in the Pacific Northwest.  This creates fast growing grass, that easily grows 4 to 6 inches a week.  The moisture and height of the grass makes it very hard to cut with a standard push lawn mower.  Our property has about 2 acres of grass that we need to maintain.  About a 1/2 acre lot is near the house and is the part we normally mow.  The other 1.5 acres are maintained by a neighbor every so often with a tractor.  Thinking in a permaculture mindset, mowing a field or lawn is a waste of bio energy. We are wasting fuel and human energy to mow something to the ground then compost it in a pile.  We are also reaping very little reward from the grass itself.

A goat is an obvious solution to turn a field into food, but I don't really want a goat because they can be hard to contain, destructive in the wrong areas, and I do not like goats milk.  Brandi, was flipping through Craigslist's ads and saw Alpacas listed for $45.  We stewed on it for a while and a week later after some research determined they would make a great addition.  Alpacas have no upper teeth so they don't pull the grass out of the ground like a cow or horse.  They also don't consume as much as a cow or a horse. Six alpacas can easily be sustained on an acre, so we are told.  They also do not try to escape the fence like a goat.

We contacted the person that ran the alpaca rescue farm. After talking with her we ended up getting 4 at first. The three older female alpacas were $45 a piece and a male yearling for $100.  Of course, my wife wanted the cute yearling.  Alpacas are very social animals. When the younger one was brought out its mate became depressed.  The lady decided to give us his mate for free; therefore, we ended up with 5 in all for about $300 with delivery.

After having them through the spring and summer, we ended up having to buy some hay, oats and alfalfa. The food expense runs us about $40 a month for 5 Alpacas.  A bale and bag of oats (rotating each day) lasts about 4 weeks.  One of the reasons we require so much extra feed is because I have not had a chance to finish fencing in the other 1.5 acres.  Next, year I expect this bill to drop significantly.

The alpacas tend to eat just about anything which was one reasons I didn't want a goat.  They keep the blackberries trimmed back, but also like the take the leaves off of trees and vines.  I had to put a make shift fence around all the fruit trees.  My fix will be as the trees mature they will all start their canopy at about 6ft which is the highest the alpacas really reach.  To protect bushes outside the fence, I will have to use chicken wire or something to stop them from sticking their nose through.  Another nice thing with alpacas is as fall hits, they suck up the fallen leaves. This means no raking.

One of the best products the alpacas produce is poop.  They are communal poopers, which means they go in one spot.  We found they like to expand on this spot as time goes on slowly moving it, even if you keep it clean.  The poop can be directly applied in the garden because it is not hot like chicken poop.  I put some in the raised beds this season and the cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers took off.  The rest I will use to improve the pasture.  When we rotate them to a different paddock, the poop is turned into the ground from the communal spot.

The other valued product that the market likes is alpaca fiber.  We were the least interested in this.  We had 3 of the alpacas sheared, the others were sheared already when we got them.  Brandi, is looking into taking spinning classes to learn how to work with the fiber.

So far, the alpacas have been a fun experience and work much better than a lawnmower.  They even edged like a trimmer along the fence.  They require little work.  As a bonus they give us much better fertility.  They might cost a little more than just mowing, but nothing like what a single horse would cost.