Firstly, welcome Deborah! We would appreciate any information you might offer about goats and the other animals listed if possible. That goes for advice offered by other enthusiasts.
I'm not familiar with the forum format, so advanced apologies if I've missed the concept and not got it correct.
My partner and I have just acquired a small farm of 5 hectares in the Andes, at an altitude of 2500 meters above sea level. We are new to farming and permaculture and very enthusiastic about our newly chosen off-grid lifestyle. We are in the very early stages of putting the farm and farmhouse into operational and living conditions which will take time to fully accomplish. We are considering keeping several types of animal in the future that may include any of the following: goats, sheep, llamas and alpacas. The farm has a main open space, some of which is divided into lots and recently used for cultivation. There are also several large and small terraces and an abundance of fresh water year round, vital in this semi-arid and cool subtropical steppe climate. There are numerous mature trees offering shade. Many areas of the farm have been abandoned for years and need clearing of thorny shrubs and weeds. Additionally, there are some meadow areas, some of which can be partially used for the animals to graze, and for landscaped recreational gardens and other multipurpose use.
POTENTIAL UTILITY AND ECONOMIC BENEFITS
1. - How does the dung of the four listed animals compare for enriching the soil? Are there any other pros or cons to consider in this specific area?
2. - There already exists a reasonable supply of goat's milk in the community. How does sheep's milk compare in taste, quantity of production etc? I've only ever tried it in the form of cheese. Also, I'm told that llamas produce milk suitable for human consumption and is also used to make cheese, although I know little about its taste, quality, nutrition or quantity. Does that go for the alpacas too? If so, again how does it compare? Cheese is an area of production that interests us. Artisanal cheeses for the house and for small scale sales. If milking the other three types of animal is similar to that of goats, we will be able to learn from the local community, if not please indicate.
3. - Although not vegetarians (I was, however, for a decade in my youth), we haven't decided on whether or not to occasionally consume, for ourselves or for guests, any of the animals that we otherwise care for. If one is to continue to eat animals, then why not those, with the certainty, that they have been well cared for, slaughtered as humanly as possible, and 100% organic. This is a debate we may be having for a while yet. So animal food production might be limited to dairy, eggs and honey.
4. - Fibre production. This is where the goat loses out, if I'm not mistaken. Alpaca fibre is highly regarded for its fine quality and fetches the highest price. Regarding the use of llama fibre and the market for it I'm still uncertain, but I hear it is used locally. In terms of quantity of production per animal, what could we expect? And how often are they shawn? I've read that llamas are shawn once every two years. Are there any other considerations on this subject that we should be aware of?
5. - How much land, per each type of animal I've listed, would be needed in order to lead a contented and relatively free range life? As I previously mentioned, the farm has good access to water with irrigation channels and a stream that weaves its way around much of the meadow areas. The animals could be given controlled access to meadow areas (as living lawnmowers) some of which could be made permanent with fencing. There is an area of approximately 1/2 hectare currently unirrigated and unused and full of thorny shrubs and other semi-arid highland vegetation, but with a water course nearby, ideal for the goats and sheep to roam freely. Would the two llama breeds be content to eat such vegetation and to spend time there too, as long as they get to spend time to graze pasture? We are also open to the idea of extending the property to enable more roaming space for our animals in the future. Much of the surrounding land is unproductive and unused and might be put to good use this way.
6. - Are there any other considerations that we should take into account? I would like to know which species would be the least destructive of ornamental vegetation in an environment offering ample fresh grass? It's the living lawnmower idea again. Some of the meadow areas are planned for landscaped gardens and recreational use. We're aware that, with patient and appropriate training, llama males in particular have been used as for carrying packs of reasonable weights and even small carriages. Their smaller cousin the alpaca is no longer used this way, but with lighter weights, I believe they could be. This would be especially useful to us when harvesting and would save us the need for a donkey or mule.
Clearly, we have plenty of work and research ahead of us, but I hope my questions and points of interest are pertinent and useful to others as they are to us 😊
Hello Rafael, I can offer my experience with a couple of your questions:
1 - We have both goats and Llamas. From reading, the Llama manure seems best by the numbers, and is certainly easiest to collect as our Llama always goes to one of a few spots in the pasture to deposit it.(very easy to shovel into buckets) For years we used it directly into the soil without any composting with no negative issues. We currently have a certification that requires us to compost it for 120 days, so thats what we do. We also use our goat droppings but in a much more indirect method of just letting them graze our food forest areas and deposit them everywhere.
3 - We eat animals because I prefer knowing where my meat comes from, this is of course a personal decision.
4 - We shave our llamas for health/heat purposes but have yet to spin yarn out of it, but that is on our to-do list! We shear every year just so he doesn't get too hot, we are in zone 6 and have a few 90F+ degree summer days.
5 - Hard question to answer, would vary by animal species, plant growth rates etc... Im probably the wrong person to comment on this because we load our land very lightly. (we have a dozen or so goats, a llama, ducks and chickens on 15 acres) But we practice paddock rotation so they never spend much time in one place.
6 - Goats will browse a variety of plants, for ours anyway grass is not on the top of their list, they seem to prefer bushes/trees, but they certainly eat grass too. Our llama eats almost exclusively grass/herbacious plants. Im so glad you asked about Llama packing, our male can carry 80-ish pounds all day long, anywhere we can walk he can walk, in fact he walks many places we would rather not (up steep hills, etc...) Our llama has a personality sort of like a cat, he doesn't dislike people but he really does care if we worked with him or not. He is content to just walk around an eat, not as affectionate as our goats.
I can respond to #2. We have both Nigerian Dwarf goats and East Friesian sheep that we milk and use the milk for personal consumption. We drink it, make ice cream, yogurt, kefir, cheese, use the whey for making bread, etc. My kids all love both the sheep and goat milk. We've tasted some pretty bad goat milk in the past and weren't sure we would like the goat milk, but it has surprised us... we LOVE it! The sheep milk seems to be higher in fat (very creamy and the cream separates faster than the goat milk) and seems to make a higher amount of cheese vs. the goat milk so we usually make our milk products out of the sheep milk and drink the goat milk. I say "seems" because we haven't measured or done anything scientific to prove it, but eyeballing it that is our experience (and may vary depending on what they are eating or our particular animals). However, I must put in here, that once the sheep were adjusted to the forage here (as opposed to their former home) we have had zero problems with them. They have been very easy to care for. The goats have been incredibly hard to fence in the woodsy forage we want them to eat... My husband is definitely making plans for how we can just have sheep at this point, lol. Just our experience however. We are new and lacking in experience!
The sheep not only give us great milk, but their fleece isn't bad either. I'm not a connoisseur but I do like to knit and spin. The particular goats we have don't give us that option. Also, we are thinking of cross breeding the sheep to produce a hardier lamb that will be for meat production... not sure yet.
On a side note... both the sheep and the goats love our hostas (ornamental vegetation around here) and other ornamental plants. We've managed to keep them away from the Hazelnut trees though. We see the goats sampling bark, but not the sheep. Our sheep seem to prefer the broadleaf plants like plantain, dandelions and trilliums and will eat some leaves from low branches. To my husbands frustration (who would rather have lawnmowers that keep it looking nice, lol) they leave the tall skinny grasses intact.
Anyhow, I hope that is helpful. Congratulations on your new venture!
Lots of great info already shared on this! It sounds like you're trying to choose between the animals, but I think it's a better idea (and more in keeping with permaculture principles) to have a variety. They all eat slightly different vegetation and have different purposes. Goats and llamas, however, are not lawn mowers, so if you need someone to eat grass, the sheep would be your best bet, although they even prefer weeds. Goats and llamas would rather eat leaves from trees and bushes.
Llamas and alpacas are camelids, and although I know nothing about making cheese with their milk, I have heard that camel milk is the new "thing" and it's very expensive. However, it's not easy to make because the milk doesn't have all the right enzymes for curd formation. So, I'd suggest finding a local mentor who is doing what you want to do.
Although alpaca people would have you believe otherwise, llama fiber is very nice! There are also some goats that produce fiber, such an angoras, and actually all goats produce cashmere to stay warm in the winter, although it is a very small amount, which is why cashmere is so expensive. Every fiber has a different purposes though. Even the scratchiest sheep wool would be fine for making rugs. If you want to make scarves, then choose an animal with finer fleece.
There is an old Spanish proverb that says "milk from the goat, butter from the cow, and cheese from the sheep," which I think offers some pretty sound advice, although I also really love goat cheese. In another thread, you can see we are talking about length of lactation for goats, and it can be anywhere from 6 months to a few years, depending upon the genetics. Sheep, however, have a MUCH shorter lactation. With most breeds, they only produce for about 4 months. Those that have been bred specifically for milk may go up to six months, but that's it, which is why sheep cheese and yogurt are so expensive. You have to feed them for 12 months, even if they're only producing for 4-6. So, makes sense to get a triple-purpose breed that is good for milk, meat, and fiber.
Without seeing the land and knowing things like rainfall, it's impossible to estimate number of animals per acre for your particular situation. I always recommend that people start small anyway with just a few animals. If they have babies, it's really easy to grow fast!
How very perceptive of you, in the theme of fibre production only, we were thinking that it would probably be important to have enough animals of one type, eventually. We're not planning on processing the fibre in any way at this stage, but selling it in its raw state. However, we are open to the idea of keeping a variety of animals.
Like you, we love goats' and sheep's milk cheese and we'll definitely be starting off small. The old Spanish proverb certainly sounds like words of wisdom and I'll check out the thread on lactation that you indicated.