What is an alpaca?
How to Start
Raised in their natural habitat of the Altiplano, or high altitude
regions of Southern Peru, Bolivia and Chile, the Alpaca has developed
more thermal capacity in it's fiber than almost any other animal.
Alpacas have been domesticated for over 5,000
years and their popularity is only now becoming internationally
recognized. This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan
royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.
Alpaca can be blended with wool, silk, and mohair, and dyes easily.
The average adult alpaca weighs between 100 and
175 pounds and stands about 36 inches at the withers. The average
life span of these herd-oriented animals is about 20 years. Alpacas
are timid and gentle, yet curious. They are easy to care for,
readily trained and adapt well to all climates. Instead of hooves,
they have padded feet with two toes making them gentle on the
land. As ruminants, they efficiently convert grass and hay to
energy, eating significantly less than most other livestock animals.
There are two types of alpacas - the Huacaya
and the Suri. While their body types are identical, they appear
distinctly different because of the unique fibers they produce.
The fiber of the Huacaya alpaca is dense, crimpy, and wool-like,
while the fiber of the Suri is straight, lustrous and hangs in
a "dread-lock" fashion. Depending on the processing method, either
type of fiber can be used for worsted or woolen products. Since
their fiber grows continuously, alpacas are usually shorn once
a year in the Spring.
Alpaca herd management is uncomplicated, easy
and fun. They prefer grazing and browsing in open pastures, although
seasonal supplementation with good quality hay, low protein pellets
and mineral mix maybe recommended. They require only simple shelters
for protection from the elements. Fences are needed more to keep
predators out than to keep alpacas in. Occasional grooming, toenail
trimming, vaccinations and parasite control comprise the majority
of regular care. Annual shearing can be done with hand shears
or sheep-sheering equipment.
Females can begin to breed at about 15 months
(or 95 pounds), while males begin breeding between 2 and 3 years.
Alpacas do not come into heat but, instead, are induced ovulators
and are able to breed year round. Pregnancy may be confirmed by
a variety of tests.
The alpaca's gestation period is approximately
eleven and a half months, most often resulting in one healthy
baby, called a cria. Most births occur during
daylight hours and require no human assistance.
Alpacas are devoted and protective mothers until weaning at 5
or 6 months.
Breeding for general health, reproductive vitality, conformation and fiber quality is both an art and a science that becomes more predictable as the alpaca industry matures. Even so, the cria's color is often a surprise and a delight to both the experienced and the inexperienced alpaca breeder alike.
Alpaca fibers are among the softest of all animal
fibers. Alpaca fiber is seven times warmer and
three times stronger than sheep's wool and does
not feel scratchy like other animal fibers. Their fleece does
not contain lanolin and does not have guard hairs, making cleaning
and processing very simple and enjoyable. While alpacas come in
22 natural colors - more than any other fiber-producing
animal - their fiber retains its luster even
when dyed with non-chemical dyes. Alpaca fibers are sought after
by fiber artists for spinning, weaving, knitting, felting, lock
hooking and many other fiber arts. Used alone or blended with
other fibers, such as cashmere, mohair, silk, wool or cotton,
alpaca products are a luxurious pleasure both to the eye and to
The Alpaca has the habit of defecating in fixed areas
and avoids grazing around piles, thus parasite infestation is
low. These piles also make the job of cleaning pastures much easier.
The firm, dry pellet produced by the Alpaca makes an excellent
No other farm animal can equal the Alpaca in offering sound investment
returns from easily managed, fully insurable animals on a small
acreage. The North American Alpaca industry will remain focused
on breeding stock for many years due to the slow reproductive
rate, import restrictions and current demand. The demand
for Alpaca fiber is so great among fashion designers
and textile mills, that it will be a long time yet before we are
able to satisfy that market.
Every Alpaca breeder believes there is no greater delight
than owning animals which are as intelligent, charming, and beautiful
as the Alpaca. As the future unfolds, Alpacas and their beautiful
fleece will take their place at the head of the specialty fiber
market. The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) and
the Canadian Alpaca Breeders Association are available to help
both current and future alpaca breeders stay informed of the industries
Alpacas make good investments as well as practical
pets. They are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease-resistant.
Alpacas have soft padded feet, are gentle on the land and can
be easily transported in the family van. They make wonderful companions
and great 4-H projects for a child.
The financial returns of owning a small herd
of alpacas are generous. Alpacas can provide a satisfying addition
to one's investment portfolio with the added benefit of encouraging
a healthy lifestyle and family cohesiveness. It's easy to see
that alpacas are a stress-free investment you can hug.
Alpaca owners enjoy a strong and active National Breed Association (AOBA) with a growing number of Regional Affiliates, a developing wool co-op and committees addressing every aspect of the industry.
The Alpaca Registry (ARI) has a state-of-the-art system to document
bloodlines and stringent screening for health and quality of imports.
Alpacas must be blood typed in order to be registered. Most alpacas in the U.S. are registered.
How do you get started?
[Source: Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association]