Alpacas were first domesticated over 6,000 years ago from the Andes region in South America. They can be found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
There are 2 types of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. The Huacaya has a dense tight (teddy bear like) fleece, whereas the Suri’s fleece hangs down from the body, like dreadlocks.
Yes, alpacas are closely related to Llamas. They both belong to the South American Camelid family, along with the guanacos and vicunas. They are also related to camels. The main differences are that the Llama is twice the size of an alpaca and has banana shaped ears, whereas the alpaca has spear shaped ears. The Alpaca is a fleece animal, whereas the Llama is a pack animal.
The Spanish term for a male alpaca is a ‘macho’ and a female is a ‘hembra’. A baby alpaca is called a ‘cria’ and weaned cria are called ‘weanlings’.
Alpacas usually live from 15-25 years and weigh approximately 120 – 175lbs. They are usually 40” tall at the withers.
Alpacas are very peaceful animals who hum to each other. They are clean, intelligent animals and make great pets, companions and fiber producers. They are inquisitive, but shy animals and do not like being touched on the top of their heads. You are more likely to get a good response from an alpaca if you let them approach you, rather than chasing them!
Alpacas come in a wide range of colours from white through to fawn, brown, grey and black.
Alpacas are sensitive animals and are easily trained to walk on a lead and can be handled by both adults and children with ease.
It is not unheard of, but not advised to keep an alpaca by itself as it is a herd animal and will suffer from stress with no companions of its own kind. Ideally, alpacas should be kept in groups of 3. Alpacas get security and contentment from having other alpacas as companions.
3 Alpacas can be kept on half-an-acre of land, with a minimum of 4ft high fencing. Obviously this is dependent on the quality of the pasture. Rotation of paddocks is beneficial.
Alpacas benefit from a field shelter, unless there is adequate shade available from trees etc.
Alpacas are ruminants, having 3 compartments in their stomachs. This means that the food goes into one part of the stomach when they eat it, but then they will bring it back to chew again later. It then goes to a different compartment. This means they get more goodness from it ie ‘chewing the cud’.Alpacas graze on grass in the summer and hay is offered in the winter. Also a specially formulated vitamin/mineral mix eg camilibra is given daily.
Female Alpacas are usually bred at 18-24 months of age. The gestation period is around 11.5 months. They usually only have one cria, but twins have been recorded in recent years. The female is then remated 2 weeks after giving birth.
Cria are usually weaned at 6 months and weigh around 35-40kg. They are put in a paddock, away from and out of sight of their mothers. The cria should be wormed a week prior to separation to avoid even more stress. At this stage you do not have to separate male and female cria from each other, but this should be done before the male is 1 year old. Even though it is unusual for males to start ‘working’ until they are 2-3 years old, it is not unheard of! Weigh the cria regularly to make sure that they maintain their weight. Once weaned, after 6 weeks, the female cria can go back in the paddocks with their mothers. The male cria should not be put with working males until they are around 2 years old as the older males will dominate them until they are ‘working’ and can cause subservient behaviour in youngsters.
Alpacas get along with sheep, goats, horses, donkeys, cats, dogs and chickens to name but a few! Alpacas can be used as guard animals to protect sheep in lambing season and also to protect chickens from foxes.
On the whole, no as alpacas are gentle creatures unless they are provoked, then they may spit. You are more likely to get caught in the cross-fire of 2 spitting alpacas, rather than a direct hit!!
Yes, alpacas can kick. However, you can desensitise them at a young age by handling, touching their hind legs. If you have a ‘kicker,’ make sure you keep as close as possible to them so there is the minimum impact! Fortunately an alpaca’s foot is made up of a soft pad, so injuries to humans are minimal.
It is very rare for an alpaca to bite a human. Alpacas only have teeth on the lower jaw at the front, which meet a hard upper pad on the top. Friendly alpacas can sometimes chew on your clothing, but this is an affectionate gesture, not a bite.
Alpacas are gentle on the land as their feet are made up of a soft pad and, thus, do not churn up the ground. Alpacas tend to do their ‘business ’in certain areas, making ‘pooh picking’ simple. Their droppings are virtually odourless and make great manure or can be dried out to make logs for multi-fuel burners!
Alpacas should be transported in a closed trailer. If possible, always have a companion to alleviate stress. They usually sit down when in transit.
The Huacaya Alpaca is shorn once a year, usually in the Springtime. Suri’s can be shorn every other year. An average fleece weighs between 2-3kg. Alpaca fleece produce excellent fibre for spinning, which is light, warm and durable.