Answers To Frequently Asked Questions About Alpacas
Do you want to find out more about raising exotic livestock alpacas
on your small acreage farm and creating fine handspun fiber crafts
from your own alpacas' fiber? Here are some frequently asked
questions and their answers:
What is an alpaca?
Alpacas are members of the camelid family along with llamas, vicunas
and even camels. Alpacas originated in the Andean mountain
range of South America and have been imported in the United States
over a period of the last thirty years. Vicunas are the smallest,
alpacas are the next largest, then llamas, and within this group,
camels are the largest. Alpacas are about three feet tall at the
withers and weigh around 150 pounds full grown. Within the
U.S., alpacas are rare and unusual enough to be considered exotic.
There are two types of alpacas: huacayas and suris. We raise
both types of alpacas here at Park View Alpacas. Huacayas
and suris differ in their body styles and fiber characteristics.
Cross-breeding is not encouraged in the industry. Huacayas
have a more compact body style and their fiber is more crimpy and
similar to sheep's wool (although not oily at all) while suris have
a more lanky look with longer necks and legs. Suri fiber hangs
in locks and is physically more similar to hair. Suri fiber
widely known for its high luster or shine.
Huacaya Alpacas (Almost 90% of U.S. Alpacas are huacayas)
Colorful Suri Alpacas (About 10% of the U.S. alpaca population are suris.)
Alpacas are smaller than llamas and have straight ears.
Llamas have curved, banana-shaped ears and larger, barrel-shaped
bodies. Llamas have coarser guard hairs interspersed throughout
their coats, although these can be removed during processing.
Llamas are known to aggressively protect members of their herd (even
alpaca herds) and are therefore frequently added to alpaca herds
as "guard llamas." Back to top.
Why do people raise alpacas?
Alpacas are raised ultimately as a fiber animal, just as some
sheep, goats, and rabbits are. The fleece is sheared off annually
in the spring and regrows throughout the summer and winter.
A sheared alpaca fleece generally weighs between three and eleven
pounds. A high fleece weight is one characteristic that alpaca
breeders strive for (along with other health and fiber considerations).
They are not raised in this country for their meat. There are
pet quality and breeding quality (show quality) animals. Some
fiber enthusiasts and spinners like to keep pet quality alpacas
in order to hand-spin the fiber from their own animals.
While national organizations work to establish and stabilize the
alpaca fiber market in this country, alpaca farmers earn significantly
more money by breeding and selling alpacas rather then their fiber.
Alpaca prices have stayed high and remained high since alpacas
were first imported into the U.S. beginning in 1983. Why?
The U.S. Alpaca market is protected by the national registry
(Alpaca Registry, Inc., ARI) against a flood of imports lowering
the prices. Only offspring of currently registered alpacas can
be registered with ARI.
The unique and extremely desirable characteristics of their
alpaca fiber is likely to keep them in high demand.
Your investment multiplies: A healthy, breeding female can
have one cria (alpaca baby) each year for many years during
adulthood. Healthy alpacas can live for up to 25 years.
Even if you don't have a farm, you can own alpacas and have them
boarded (agistment) and still enjoy the benefits of a growing herd
and tax deductions.
For more information on the financial and tax benefits, visit the
Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association Website at www.aoba.org/investments.htm
There is a tremendous price range in the animals that has to do
with the sex, pedigree, and physical characteristics. Pet
quality alpacas can be as little as several hundred dollars while
award-winning herdsires have sold at auction for close to $200,000.
You will generally see prices for breeding quality female alpacas
between $8,000 and $35,000. Back to top.
What is special about alpaca fiber?
Alpaca fiber is of a very high quality, similar in fineness to
that of angora rabbits and cashmere goats, but the fiber is hollow
giving it insulating characteristics similar to the vacuum inside
a thermos. This makes the extremely light and fine fiber also
very warm. Unlike llama fiber, pure alpaca fiber is free from
coarse guard hairs. The entire blanket fleece is usable in
making fine garments. Back to top.
Are alpacas friendly to people?
Alpacas can learn to be very friendly to humans from close contact
and training. They can spit like llamas, but generally do
not spit at people. They spit more often at each other to
establish leadership or when fussing over shared food. Back
How much land do they need to live on?
Alpacas can live comfortably with as many as five alpacas per
acres. They require less acreage than the same number of horses
or cows, making an excellent animal for even very small farms.
Back to top.
How do you take care of an
Alpacas should be put on a schedule of routine, periodic
vaccinations and worming medications. Most alpaca farmers
provide a shelter from the winter storms and the summer sun.
They need hay year-round that is normally supplemented with a grain
and salt minerals. Back to top.
Recommended Reading List
If you want to learn more about alpacas, here are
some books you might consider purchasing. Also, if you join the
Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association, they have an reading library
Secrets of the Andean Alpaca, The Field Guide: Assessing
Fiber Characteristics and Conformation
This is an excellent guide to selecting a high quality alpaca
for purchase based on their body characteristics (called conformation)
and their fleece characteristics. It's not available through
Amazon.com but well worth the extra effort to get a copy and
includes a buyer's assessment checklist, available on CD from
the original author at http://www.saltspringer.com/ebook/orders/
or try Steven's Llamatique at http://www.stevenstique.com/
(send them an email) for their last one or two hard copies.
Alpacas Magazine (quarterly). Available in bookstores,
just ask for them to stock a supply or order back issues from
AOBA at 970-586-5357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A subscription to this magazine is also part of membership in
AOBA, Alpaca Owners & Breeders Association.
I believe all of these are available through Amazon.com:
Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, A Health and Management Guide
by Clare Hoffman, DVM and Ingrid Asmus. Short and full of excellent,
practical basic care information.
Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care by Bradford B. Smith,
DVM, PhD, and two other authors. Essential reading to prepare
for the birth of your first cria on the farm.
Once you get some animals on the farm, you might also want these:
The Alpaca Book by Hoffman/Fowler
Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids by Dr.