Alpacas are members of the South American Camelid Family. This family is comprised of the vicu&ntilda;a, guanaco, llama and alpaca. Unlike the llamas, which were primarily used as pack animals in South America, alpacas were raised for their cashmere-like fibre, 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.
Alpacas are found in two distinct types:
Huacaya alpacas produce a fleece that appears similar to sheep’s wool. It is tightly crimped and stands perpendicular to the alpaca’s body. These alpacas are the more common type. Good quality huacaya alpacas will produce as much as 5kg of luxurious fleece every year.
Suri alpacas possess a fleece that hangs in long curly locks and they can have the appearance of an angora goat. Suri alpacas are known for the lustre of their fleece, a highly desired trait in the commercial textile industry.
Alpacas produce one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibres. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colours than any other fibre producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends).
The average lifespan of an alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11½ months.
Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud. They are pseudo-ruminants, and chew cud like a cow. They do well on low protein hay or pasture, provided it has a balanced mineral content. Supplementary feeding should be given in winter and to females in the later stages of pregnancy.
Adult alpacas are about 90cm tall at the withers and generally weigh between 55 and 90kg. They are gentle, intelligent and easy to handle.
Alpacas are social animals who do best when pastured with other alpacas. They produce one offspring a year. Alpacas usually give birth during the day, and birthing is generally trouble free and very quick. Crias (alpaca neonates) usually stand and nurse within one hour.
Alpacas don’t have incisors, horns, hooves or claws. Alpacas are fastidious in their habits, and will tend to form communal manure piles, which assists in controlling their parasite load. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.