I aspire to run my very own alpaca farm. Really, I do. It’s a cockamamie brain-egg hatched during my senior year of high school when I made the decision to apply to Duke without conceiving of an alternative plan. No safety school. No gap year. Nothing. Call me foolish, call me naive, just don’t call me Shirley. It was Duke or bust.
Thus, as a defense mechanism to deflect external inquiries about a seemingly apocalyptic universe in which I was denied admission, I devised a farcical measure to partake in such an obscure venture as alpaca herding. Rather than look rejection dead in the eye and settle for less, I claimed I would move to Peru or Bolivia or some other distant Andean land and start my new pastoral life there. My faux infatuation with alpacas began years prior, so it was not completely unbelievable that I would embark on such an asinine endeavor.
To those befuddled few rhetorically wondering to themselves, “Hmm, what is an alpaca?”, allow me to explain. Alpacas, simply put, are like Joe Biden. They’re kind, loyal creatures and make for really hilarious memes. While often mistaken for their ornery Camelid cousin, the llama, alpacas are loving and gentle and about half the size. Once the cherished treasure of an ancient Incan civilization, alpacas are now the nobility of the textile industry, producing one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibers. They are also adorable and intelligent and can even do tricks. In conclusion, alpacas rock. And so, to honor my admiration for these majestic creatures and to mask the many internalized insecurities about my future, I devised a ridiculous scheme to herd them.
Alas, it was not to be. Come one December eve, I found that I would have to put my alpaca aspirations aside in order to pursue my education. I had been accepted into Duke; it was bitter-sweet.
Still, years later, I often wonder about a flipped reality in which I was forced to decipher my true intentions regarding the infamous alpaca schtick. When I had started the gag, I never imagined that I actually would have followed through with it. It was a joke, a distraction, a means of gaining attention. What would I have done if confronted with the decision to actually operate an alpaca farm? To procrastinate studying for final exams, I decided to do some research and delve into the alpaca trade: what I found may surprise you.
As the world's finest livestock business, alpacas share many of the same attributes of gold, real estate, oil and stocks—all of which are supposed to increase in value over time. Taking up alpaca herding is relatively straightforward. They are easy to transport, have a relatively long and trouble-free reproductive life span, and can be fully insured against loss. Breeding alpacas offers an excellent opportunity to create a profitable business. Along with the sale of fur, alpaca breeding is treated as any other livestock business by the IRS including tax advantages and incentives.
Another benefit of owning alpacas relates to the concept of compounding. Savings accounts earn interest, which if left in the account, adds to the principal value. The increased value earns additional interest, thereby compounding the investor's return. Alpaca breeders also witness the effects of compounding over time. Alpacas reproduce almost every year, and about one-half of their offspring are female. When a herder retains the baby alpacas, they begin producing more cute, little alpaca babies. This is not to say that alpacas should be treated solely as a commodity; they are living, breathing creatures after all. Yet, because an alpaca can sell anywhere from $15,000-$500,000, alpaca compounding can be immensely profitable.
Alpaca fiber sales also pay for the maintenance of the alpacas each year. Alpaca coats grow five to six inches and produce seven to ten pounds and sometimes even more fleece per year. Current prices paid for clean, high-quality alpaca fleece range from $3 to $5 an ounce. Using these established figures, an alpaca fleece weighing seven pounds which sells for $4 per ounce would produce a $448 income, which should be sufficient to cover annual feed costs, veterinary fees, and other maintenance expenses. This cycle repeats itself every year and makes the alpaca one of the few types of livestock that can virtually pay for its own room and board.
So, as it turns out, herding alpacas isn’t such a crazy concept after all. What had started off as a joke, could become a fantastic means of profit turning, business fundamentals learning, and fun. Though I probably will not follow through with it for some time, we all need to realize that there are more options open to us than we think. Alpaca herding is an extreme example, but the things that we perceive as unattainable and impractical, could very well serve as meaningful livelihoods.
In college, we are presented with only so many career paths that we can sometimes be blind to the infinite possibilities for our futures. Through information sessions and career fairs, we have come to view life beyond university with View-Masters instead of with binoculars. We click and switch between images of aspirations on our singular reels of a perceived tomorrow without peering out from beyond our plastic lenses to breathe in the world around us. Post-graduation opportunities are not binary decisions between graduate school and consulting or Broadway and Microsoft; there is more out there than we can possibly have imagined.
So, don’t limit yourself to what other people are doing. Be a rebel. Search for openings you didn’t know you could find or blaze trails of your own. Become a golf ball diver or cheese sculptor or professional mattress jumper. Write a book. Teach a class. Build an app. Life is too short to accept convention. As for me, who knows? Maybe I'll Peru-se my options, and alpaca my bags after all.
Grant Besner is a Trinity sophomore. His column, “you said duty,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.