Seven years ago, long before the alpaca ranch was even a twinkle in Dad’s eyes, I went to Ecuador. It was part of a travel class. We studied some aspect of Ecuadorian ecology for a quarter, and then spent about a month with our professor travelling there.
It was an amazing trip, although the environmental degradation and widespread poverty wore on us. Stock animals that aren’t native to the area have been introduced, no doubt with the best of intentions, but they contribute to the ongoing loss of biodiversity.
This herd of llamas will provide wool, protection and even meat for their owners, and have been a part of the ecosystem for much longer than cattle or pigs. Feral pigs damage trees and crops, eat bird eggs, and can be dangerous to humans. Cattle require large ranges of open space, and are often the cause of deforestation.
Llamas and alpacas graze on a variety of different species of grasses and forbs (flowering plants that aren’t woody and aren’t grasses – like daisies). They clip plants instead of yanking them up by the roots, and eat 5-10% of the forage required by horses. All these traits make them excellent stock, especially in fragile ecosystems. As the impact of non-native stock begins to extend beyond the environment and into the daily lives of people across the world, in the form of food shortages and poor water quality among other problems, we may find ourselves switching back to the animals that evolved in the places we live.
Our ranch, which is located in a semi-arid area, benefits from their low impact life style as much as the ancient Incans did. Though alpacas certainly aren’t native to the Great Plains of the United States, their efficiency, a product of the extreme environments of the Andes, makes them spectacularly low impact stock.
And can anyone guess what I got my degrees in? It wasn’t spinning…