The Alpaca Bubble Bursts
November 8, 2014 5:09 AM   Subscribe

"The biggest marketing pushes were calling them a huggable investment and attracting people who just thought they were gorgeous little lawn ornaments."

An all-too-familiar story -- a commodity (alpaca wool) becomes more valuable, and people start buying the commodity's precursor (alpacas) as an investment. Then the precursor becomes more "popular" than the commodity, forming a bubble. And when the bubble bursts, the remnants include plunging prices, wiped-out retirement funds, and neglected livestock.
posted by Etrigan (38 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Alpaca.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
posted by HuronBob at 5:11 AM on November 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


One word. Chinchillas.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:32 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's tough to make money in the fibre business. In a sustainable way, I mean - not just by speculation in fashionable animals. With sheep, your business model for stock management is eating the ones who don't produce premium fleece... and people in North America are oddly squeamish about eating alpacas. Alpaca fibre is limp, saggy and boring to knit with - the yarn is always going to be a limited market, it doesn't have the appeal of wool and it's generally not available as superwash (who wants to hand-wash everything?) Even in the native range of the camelids, sheep have become more popular for fibre production. On the other hand, at least alpacas aren't trying to actively kill themselves every day in new and exciting ways like sheep do.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:34 AM on November 8, 2014 [25 favorites]


Did I forget to shut off SimCity 2000 last night? Weird, I don't remember it having a "MetaFilter" feature...
posted by indubitable at 5:36 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


This makes me want a ranch so I can rescue All of the Alpacas. And wear an endless supply of soft, floppy sweaters.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 5:36 AM on November 8, 2014 [10 favorites]


But emus are still a guaranteed money maker, right?
posted by 445supermag at 6:04 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have friends with emus in New Hampshire. Well, they had emus... They list power in a snow storm, the generator crapped out, and their emu heater stopped. Emus are not meant for those frozen climes. It was pretty horrible.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:15 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wrote a huge screed about how stupid people are who think that farming is an easy way to make money instead of a way to break your heart and lose all your money, but the iPad ate it. My whole family are farmers and coal miners. One job takes your health and breaks you and you know with a certainty that it will never give you compensation in line with the backbreaking toil involved. At least when you're a miner you get paid overtime working seven days straight every week.
posted by winna at 6:24 AM on November 8, 2014 [28 favorites]


I know a bunch of fiber people, and we've been wincing at alpaca people for a long time. They're pretty delicate creatures when you take them out of the climate they were domesticated in, and their fiber is lovely but not as game-changing as the inexperienced folks spending massive money were led to believe. I feel bad for them, and worse for the alpaca.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:33 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I don't know how the alpaca people honestly expected to make money - that's what always baffled me. There was just no clear path to profit, even if you ignored the cold realities of livestock farming. Poor alpacas.

It always baffled me that there are no strong licensing requirements when it comes to livestock farming. It seems like I'm always hearing stories about horrific rescue situations with livestock arising from inexperienced and inadequately capitalized owners. At least when a restaurant fails (another ludicrously risky business people romanticize) there aren't hundreds of starving animals left in the wake of the disaster.
posted by winna at 6:43 AM on November 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Good! I'm fed up with everyone going on and on and on about fucking alpacas!

(I'm allergic to alpaca, and I live for the day when I can pick up nice fancy skeins of yarn without worrying if I'm going to start sneezing.)
posted by Katemonkey at 6:46 AM on November 8, 2014


I live in rural Maryland, where there are lots of alpaca farms. It has been really strange visiting them and having the owners brag about $10K stud alpacas and then try to sell me alpaca socks made in Peru from Peruvian alpacas.
posted by acrasis at 6:51 AM on November 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Interestingly, there is no “license to farm” required. One can’t be a barber in North Carolina without completing at least 1,528 hours of training, apprenticing for 12 months, and passing an exam, whereas anyone can choose to start farming tomorrow.

This kind of thing is a shame. I can't cut people's hair without a whole bunch of training, but I can drop hundreds of animals into hell just by cutting a check. I'm trying to find if there are any guidelines for care for livestock animals not directly intended for meat purposes but it looks like most of the rules apply either to dogs, cats, meat animals or poultry.
posted by winna at 6:57 AM on November 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


I used to live near a llama farm in New Jersey, and I always wondered whether the same thing was going to happen to the llamas. At least with emu herds you can get oil and meat and leather out of them and nobody's saying they can't eat the fluffy cuties.
posted by immlass at 7:17 AM on November 8, 2014


What do you call a group of alpacas? A Pack of Alpacas? An Amalgamation of Alpacas? An Agglomeration of Alpacas? A Passle of Alpacas?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:20 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Goddamit, @AlpacaFacts is already taken.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:21 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


There is a store in Mall of America called "Alpaca Connection." It's my go-to when I'm explaining to people who've never been about how that place is bananas and has everything.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:00 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


I live rural-ish and there are several alpaca farms nearby, though I think they're pretty small operations, and I have an acquaintance who keeps a couple basically as pets (outdoor-only pets!). They are adorable.

I can't imagine anyone presenting the idea that raising livestock is a great passive money-making opportunity. I'm having trouble imagining who would buy the argument, either; I'm guessing people with limited experience with any sort of animals.
posted by jaguar at 8:14 AM on November 8, 2014


Metafilter: "Your new friends will make you immensely wealthy and you will create the greatest time of your life.”
posted by sneebler at 8:21 AM on November 8, 2014


I wrote a huge screed about how stupid people are who think that farming is an easy way to make money instead of a way to break your heart and lose all your money, but the iPad ate it.

Farming's like a lot of blue collar things that people don't do much anymore in that it's really easy to romanticize. It's like construction, which office workers that saw Office Space romanticize as DOING A REAL THING and MAKING SOMETHING WITH YOUR HANDS. Which it is, but it's also standing in a half-finished building in the middle of winter trying to find your tools when the meth head coworker the foreman won't fire stole them all. People want the fulfilling part but forget you have to do all the rest of it, too, especially in things like farming where your option is basically "work til you die" or "starve."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:43 AM on November 8, 2014 [24 favorites]


DirtyOldTown: the crazy thing is that the alpaca store has been there basically since the mall opened, so over 20 years now (I grew up in a nearby suburb and have been by the store many times).
posted by MillMan at 9:05 AM on November 8, 2014




Plenty of alpacha available on Tampa Craig's List for under $300. I have a friend who keeps llamas, mainly it seems, for their poo. It evidently does not stink and makes a great fertilizer for the garden when mixed with water for a "fertilizer tea".
posted by HappyHippo at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2014


Those poor alpacas!

We have an alpaca farm somewhere in our vicinity, and they sell socks, soap &c. in local stores. They also sell wind-up toy alpacas. I have been threatening to buy one for my parents for Chanukah.
posted by thomas j wise at 10:23 AM on November 8, 2014


I wrote a huge screed about how stupid people are who think that farming is an easy way to make money instead of a way to break your heart and lose all your money, but the iPad ate it.

Yes, those people are stupid. Those stupid stupid people, how stupid, they did a stupid thing and now they're ruined. Stupid people don't deserve money, or well-being, or a good life. Push them down into their Stupid Pit, with the other stupid stupids.

(Quietly, nervously wonders if I'm stupid myself, about some things, and worries that, if I am, if my flavor of stupidity might be the one singled out for punishment this month.)
posted by JHarris at 11:24 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh no, I'm stupid too, JHarris, we all are. But it takes a special kind of stupid to risk the lives of dozens or hundreds of other creatures along with yours on a whim.

I guess I feel so strongly about it because as I said I'm always on these mailing lists for rescue operations for horses or llamas or other animals that people bought with no idea how to take case of them or what would happen when the money runs out. Dragging innocent lives into your ill-considered money-making scheme is a whole new level of stupid. Normally I feel sorry for people who screw up their lives, but I've seen too many starving animals to have sympathy for the humans involved in their shady operations.
posted by winna at 11:55 AM on November 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


But it takes a special kind of stupid to risk the lives of dozens or hundreds of other creatures along with yours on a whim.

A special kind of human stupid. Ugh. Humans are the worst.

I can believe there's an alpaca goods store in the Mall of the Americas because Minnesota is cold and alpaca is so snuggly warm. I like knitting with it, but anything I make from pure alpaca is far too hot to wear in Tucson. I like an alpaca/silk blend myself (because it's cooler and I'm a total yarn snob.)

We drive by this place, Cienega Creek Farm, on the way to my father-in-law's. They make really lovely natural-color yarn that I've picked up at some local fiber festivals.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:04 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh no, I'm stupid too, JHarris, we all are. But it takes a special kind of stupid to risk the lives of dozens or hundreds of other creatures along with yours on a whim.

I disagree. There is no special kind of stupid. Everyone who keeps animals for profit may encounter the same situation these people did, just from the workings of random chance.

My comment was made to respond to the need people feel to other those who made bad decisions. One person may act in a way that endangers domestic animals, and we can righteously shun those people. But another may act in a way that's not environmentally safe and create messes for future generations to clean up. Or might perpetuate attitudes among friends that cause problems for women. Or do any of a host of other things. Just navigating our complex world opens one up to a vast array of ways that we make life worse for other living things, directly and indirectly, human and animal, living and not-yet-born.

I do feel strongly about this, I do want to see animals protected, and the couple mentioned in the article should have provided better for their animals. But I think it's possible that they didn't get into the alpaca raising business expecting it to be easy. If you don't have the money for animal food, then, you don't have the money for animal food. Maybe they should have planned better, or maybe no amount of planning can save you from bad fortune indefinitely.
posted by JHarris at 12:15 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Alpaca steak is delicious. I will eat your alpacas, sirs.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:50 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Nah- these guys sounded extra arrogant (and stupid.) They bought a zillion animals even though they didn't know what they were doing, and then they built some brand new barn for them (WTF?) and then discovered they didn't know what they were doing so let them starve. They have all the responsibility of 8 year olds with no supervision and too much money.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:55 PM on November 8, 2014 [6 favorites]


Correction: A previous version of this story stated that alpaca owners were placing their animals in freezers to induce hypothermia. In fact, the person quoted was stating that alpacas are slaughtered and placed in freezers as meat in order to cut the costs of caring for the animals.
This is bleakly hilarious.
posted by xiw at 2:10 PM on November 8, 2014 [13 favorites]


I wasn't being sarcastic though - I really do think humans are the worst. And I don't think "oh sometimes people have bad luck" excuses the Silvers in this article. When their farm was closed down, they had close to 200 animals they couldn't feed or care for. They started with 50 animals (still a lot of livestock!) but never managed to sell a single animal for a high price, and despite that let them breed up to 100 or more offspring? It sounds very irresponsible.

And not recognizing that trying to profit only from stud fees and selling offspring is a total bubble economy is naive or stupid, or both. Alpacas are *big* (bigger than many ponies) - they were never going to become the next trendy suburban house pet, and the only logical reason to really own them (since you can't ride, race or milk them as far as I know) is to shear them for fiber, or if you're already running a real working ranch and would like just one or two around. There was never going to be a vast expansion market in alpacas and it seems pretty stupid for people not to have seen that.

I'm still boggling at these people thinking they could maintain and profit off a herd of 200 alpacas! The Arizona farm I linked to (that seems to be a successful operation) has alpacas, llamas, vicunyas, goats, and a few horses - and I bet their livestock count still isn't as high as 200.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:09 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I work in the fiber industry and once got hired to teach a bunch of people who'd gone out and gotten alpacas without knowing a damn thing about what you can do to the fiber to make it actually marketable. Hint: don't shove gross, dirty fleeces into plastic garbage bags in your garage and think you're going to sell them for $100 a pop. Ugh. So they end up selling to the alpaca pool and barely earn back what it cost to shear them.

Note: the funniest thing in the world is watching a bunch of Australian shearers who work the hobby farm circuit in the US each summer. The owners are FLIPPING THEIR SHIT while these pros, who are used to doing hundreds of animals in a day do your 12 alpacas and a guard llama who hates everyone in about 2 minutes flat.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 3:51 PM on November 8, 2014 [11 favorites]


Well, I think you guys have a point. I'm still putting together my thoughts in this direction, so will let it drop.
posted by JHarris at 4:33 PM on November 8, 2014


The only alpacas and/or llamas* I see here are either pets (or whatever you call it when someone with a ranchette keeps a couple of livestock animals in a field for no economic purpose whatsoever) or as guards protecting sheep and goats. I guess they must come from somewhere but I've never driven by a field full of them.

* I know they are different animals, but I'm never sure which is which when I see them in fields.

I do wish that animal cruelty laws were stricter, both for uninformed hobby/beginner farmers and for big industrial operations, but there's still no preventing willful stupidity.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:01 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


does this mean that all of the alpaca blankets that i'm currently "watching" on eBay are going to suddenly get a lot cheaper? how about Merino sheep, are people investing those too?
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 9:23 PM on November 9, 2014


(Fiber nerd perspective, not shepherd or bulk buyer, but friends with people who are, and who talk.)

I'm not sure about the alpaca, the thing about the bubble was that it had to do with costs associated with breeding and the animals themselves. I sometimes see overpriced fiber but I don't expect that will translate into a huge effect on average fiber prices. (They may go up if enough people are culling their herds.)

My impression of Merino is that it's a much more stable market, and that both the shepherd and buyer side of the equation are content with where things are right now. A lot of the cost with Merino is that it's more of a pain to process than coarser wools, with more loss along the way.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:30 AM on November 10, 2014


does this mean that all of the alpaca blankets that i'm currently "watching" on eBay are going to suddenly get a lot cheaper?

No, because most of the alpaca for sale in the US is imported from South America, and is as cheap as it's going to get. The bottom falling out of the US alpaca bubble isn't going to lower any alpaca wool prices.

how about Merino sheep, are people investing those too?

Thankfully, sheep (not being quite as cute and anime-eyed as alpacas) have been spared being the next trendy money pit for idiot speculators.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:07 PM on November 10, 2014


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