Alpacas are clean and intelligent. They produce fibre that is as fine as cashmere, soft, silky and much warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool. Alpacas come in a variety of colours, including white, black, brown, grey, fawn and any combination of these colours, the widest assortment of colours of any fibre bearing animal.
Alpacas are indigenous to the High Andes of the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They are ideal for Hobby Farms and small acreages since 1 acre of productive pasture can sustain 5 to 8 animals. Alpacas are quiet, peaceful animals and make soft humming sounds to communicate. Alpacas are easy to raise, can be handled by anyone, and are safe around children. Alpacas are extremely hardy and adaptable to most climates, elevations and conditions. Alpacas get along with goats, sheep, donkeys, horses, cats and family dogs. Alpaca adults weigh an average of 50 to 60 kilos. They live 20 to 25 years. Alpacas require little space. A 4-foot field fence makes a sufficient enclosure. They are suited to pasture on marginal land. Alpacas eat around 1 kilo of hay per day when there is insufficient grass and will enjoy alfalfa and sometimes a feed supplement.
Female alpacas are usually first bred at one or two years of age. Their gestation period averages 11½ months. Males are usually ready to breed between 2 and four years of age. As a rule, they give birth during the day, usually between 10:00am and 3:00pm.
Alpacas make cleaning the paddock an easy task, as they “go” in only a few spots. Alpaca droppings are practically odourless and are excellent for enriching soil. Alpacas are easily transported in a van or trailer. They usually lie down in transit. Alpaca shows and competitions can promote a single alpaca or an entire herd. Alpacas have a high aesthetic appeal. Alpacas very rarely spit at people—usually only when nervous or overexcited.
Alpacas are small endearing animals of the camelid family. They were domesticated over 5,000 years ago, and became a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization. Their fine cashmere-like fleece was reserved solely for royalty. These amazing animals provided the food, fuel and clothing for a civilization that thrived in an otherwise hostile environment.
Alpacas have a life span of 20 to 25 years. Adults weigh 100 to 175 lbs and stand 34 to 36 inches at the withers. Baby alpacas, called cria, generally weigh 14 to 20 lbs at birth. Gestation is around 11 months. Alpacas communicate through soft humming noises and unique body language.
Now alpacas are raised for their exquisite fibre, and are enjoyed for their delightful personalities as well as their sound financial returns. Alpacas produce one of the world’s finest and most luxurious fibres, known for its fineness, lustre, light weight and insulating quality, which is eight times that of wool! With the exception of mohair, alpacas produce the strongest animal fibre in the world. As alpaca fibre becomes finer, this unique strength does not lessen, thus making it very desirable.
Alpacas have two different fleece types with quite different characteristics: huacaya fleece and suri fleece. Often the alpacas are referred to as simply huacaya or suri. The huacaya, the most common, has a crimped or wavy fleece whereas the suri has straight, lustrous, fine fibre. In full fleece, the huacaya has a full, fluffy appearance, while the suri is elegantly draped in long pencil locks. Alpacas are the only animals in the world that come in so many different colours, with 22 officially recognised. Prized for its unique silky feel and superb handle, alpaca fibre is highly sought after by the large textile manufacturers of Europe and Asia. Various worsted and woollen mills across Europe offer custom processing of alpaca fibre—carding, blending, dyeing and processing into many products. Sweaters, blankets, mitts, socks, shawls, hats, duvets can be purchased through various home-based businesses.
Alpaca fleece is at the head of specialty fibre industries world-wide. They are clean, intelligent, peaceful animals that are easily handled and are safe around children; caring for them is not difficult. Fences should be designed to keep out dogs, coyotes and other predators. A three-sided enclosure or lean-to is adequate for shade, as well as winter wind protection. Alpacas require 2 pounds of low protein hay daily, and fresh water. They require little space; 1/8th of an acre per animal is often sufficient if you can rotate the pasture regularly, making them an ideal small acreage livestock. They defecate in fixed areas, thus clean-up and parasite control is a relatively easy job. Alpaca droppings are almost odourless, and are high in nitrogen and potassium, making them an excellent fertilizer. They are easily transported in a pick-up, van or trailer and usually lie down in transit. Alpacas are extremely hardy and adaptable to most climates, elevations and conditions.