What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas are members of the South American Camelid Family. This family is comprised of the vicuna, guanco, llama and alpaca. Unlike the llamas, which were primarily used as pack animals in South America, alpacas were raised for their cashmere-like fiber, once reserved for Incan royalty. They have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. Alpacas and llamas are native to the Andean Mountain Range of South America are primarily found (in order of increasing numbers) in Bolivia, Chile and Peru. In South America, alpacas and llamas are used for their meat, fiber, and llamas for their ability to pack. While there are just 3 million alpacas in South America, there are only about 140,000 in the United States. There are alpacas Down Under in Australia and New Zealand as well. Alpacas are often raised as an alternative to sheep farming. The majority of the North American alpaca population is in the western states.
There are two types of alpacas, both of which are represented in the United States, the Suri and the Huacayas. The Huacayas fiber has a wavy or crimped appearance while the Suri alpaca’s fiber does not. The Huacayas characteristics enhances its use in spinning.
Alpaca Diet and Care
Alpacas are grazers and like cattle, they chew their cud. They have a spilt upper lip which prevents them from damaging the vegetation’s roots. They require good quality hay (primarily grasses) and are supplemented with grain and mineral mixes to meet their proper nutritional requirements.
Like llamas, they have communal dung piles, that is they defecate in fixed areas and avoid grazing these areas thus keep parasite infestation low. They are on strict deworming programs and require annual boosters of certain vaccinations.
Alpacas average lifespan ranges 15-25 years
Alpacas average height is 36 inches at their shoulders
Alpacas weigh on the average: 100-180 pounds (1/2 to 1/3 the size of a llamas)
Their average gestation is 335 days (11 1/2 months) but can range from 320-376 days
Alpacas have single births, twins are very rare
The average weight of a newborn alpaca is 15-19 pounds. Babies stand and begin nursing within 30 minutes after delivery
Alpacas come in 22 natural colors with varying patterns
Alpacas do not require special fencing or a lot of acreage (5 to 8 animals/acre)
Female alpacas can be bred back as early as 2 weeks after parturition and may start breeding as early as 12 months of age though they should not be bred until they reach maturity around 24 months of age.
Male alpacas can begin to breed between 2-3 years of age
Alpacas are very social animals and communicate to each other with humming noises, body and head movements
Alpacas are considered a livestock investment, as they can be depreciated yearly