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The Alpaca (vicugña
pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. The camels that most people are familiar with are the ones
with humps; the dromedary of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Southern
Asia, and the Bactrian camel of China and Tibet. However, there are four other
camelids (without humps) that are indigenous to South America: two of them,
llamas and alpacas, have been domesticated for thousands of years; whereas the
other two varieties, guanacos and vicunas, continue to roam in wild herds
The alpaca comes in two breed-types: huacaya
(pronounced wah‑KI‑ah) and suri (SOO‑ree). Huacayas, the more common type,
account for about 90% of all alpacas, and have fluffy, crimpy fleece that
gives the animals a teddy bear-like appearance. Suris, on the other hand, grow
silky, lustrous fleece that drapes gracefully in beautiful pencil-locks
People often confuse
alpacas with llamas. While closely related, llamas and alpacas are distinctly
different animals. First, llamas are much larger, about twice the size of an
alpaca, with an average weight of about 250 to 450 pounds, compared
to an alpaca whose weight averages 100 to 200 pounds. Llamas are
primarily used for packing or for guarding herds of sheep or alpacas, whereas
alpacas are primarily raised for their soft and luxurious fleece.
have been raised as domestic livestock for thousands of years and since the
end-product of alpacas is their fleece, like sheep, they are classified as
livestock by both the United States and Canadian federal governments.
All members of the
camel family use spitting as a means of negative communication. They do get
possessive around food, and thus may express annoyance by spitting at other
alpacas that they perceive are encroaching on "their" food. Also,
they often spit at one another during squabbles within the herd (usually
involving two or more males). From time to time alpacas do spit at people on
purpose, but it is more common that humans get caught in the cross-fire between
alpacas, so it’s best to study their behavior and learn to avoid the most
are very quiet, docile animals that generally make a minimal amount of sound.
They generally make only a pleasant humming sound as a means of communication
or to express concern or stress. Occasionally you will hear a shrill sound,
called an "alarm call," which usually means they are frightened or
angry with another alpaca. Male alpacas also "serenade" females
during breeding with a guttural, throaty sound called "orgling."
No — they
are safe and pleasant to be around. They do not bite or butt and do not have
sharp teeth, horns, hooves, or claws as other types of livestock do. They move
gracefully and adroitly about the field and are therefore unlikely to run into
or over anyone, even small children. Occasionally, an alpaca will reflexively
kick with its hind legs, especially if touched from the rear, but the soft
padded feet usually do little more than just "get your attention."
a general rule, the answer is no. Alpacas have very strong herding instincts
and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive. Gender-appropriate (or
neutered) llamas sometimes will successfully bond with an alpaca. Otherwise, it
is best to provide each alpaca with a companion alpaca of the same gender.
are a small and relatively easy livestock to maintain. They stand about
36' high at the withers (where the neck and spine come together); weigh
between 100 to 200 pounds; and establish easy-to-manage, communal
dung piles. The alpacas need basic shelter and protection from heat and foul
weather, just like other types of livestock, and they also require certain
vaccinations and anti-parasitic medicines. Their fleece is sheared once a year
to keep them cool in summer. Additionally, their toenails need to be trimmed on
an as-needed basis to ensure proper foot alignment and comfort. Interestingly,
alpacas do not have hooves — instead, they have two toes, with hard toenails on
top and a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, which minimizes their effect on
pastures and makes them an "environmentally friendly" animal.
these animals are environmentally friendly and require so little pasture and
food, you can usually raise from two to eight alpacas on an acre of land,
depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, access to
fresh water, etc. They can also be raised on a dry lot and fed grass hay.
Consult with your local USDA office for specific local recommendations.
the shelter requirements vary depending on weather and predators, as a general
rule alpacas need at least a three-sided, open shelter, where they can escape
from the heat of the sun in summer and from icy wind and snow in winter. If
predators (dogs, coyotes, bears, etc.) are present in your neighborhood, then a
minimum of five-foot-high, 2' x 4' no-climb fencing is strongly
recommended. Traditional horse fencing with 6' x 6' openings is
not recommended, as curious alpacas have been harmed by putting their heads or
legs through the openings.
mainly eat grass or hay, and not much—approximately two pounds per
125 pounds of body weight per day. The general rule of thumb is
1.5% of the animal’s body weight daily in hay or fresh pasture. A single,
60 pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of about 20alpacas
for one day. Grass hay is recommended, while alfalfa should be fed sparingly,
due to its overly rich protein content. Alpacas are pseudo-ruminants, with a
single stomach divided into three compartments. They produce rumen and chew
cud, thus they are able to process this modest amount of food very efficiently.
Many alpacas (especially pregnant and lactating females) will benefit from
nutritional and mineral supplements, depending on local conditions. There are several
manufactured alpaca and llama feeds and mineral mixes readily available;
consult with your local veterinarian to ensure you are feeding the appropriate
diet for your area. Alpacas also require access to plenty of fresh water to
have two sets of teeth for processing food. They have molars in the back of the
jaw for chewing cud. But in the front, the alpaca has teeth only on the bottom
and a hard gum (known as a dental pad) on the top for crushing grain, grass, or
hay. Unlike goats and sheep that have long tongues which they sometimes use to
rip plants out of the ground, alpacas have short tongues and nibble only the
tops of grasses and other plants, resulting in less disturbance of the
vegetation. However, alpacas are also browsers and will often eat shrubs or the
leaves from trees if given the opportunity. This requires monitoring to ensure
they do not consume harmful products.
most cases, cria are born without intervention, and usually during daylight
hours. A cria normally weighs between 15 and 19 pounds and is usually
standing and nursing within 90 minutes of birth. The cria continues to
nurse for about six months until it is weaned.
are raised for their soft and luxurious fleece (sometimes called fiber). Each
shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fleece per animal, per
year. This fleece, often compared to cashmere, can be turned into a wide array
of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries and blankets. The fleece itself
is recognized globally for its fineness, softness, light-weight, durability,
excellent thermal qualities, and luster.
start by comparing alpaca fleece with wool from most breeds of sheep. In
general, alpaca fleece is stronger, lighter, warmer, and more resilient. Finer
grades of alpaca fleece (known commercially as "Baby Alpaca") are
believed to be hypo-allergenic, meaning it does not irritate your skin as
sheep’s wool sometimes does. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece contains no
lanolin and is therefore ready to spin after only nominal cleaning. Prized for
its unique silky feel and superb "handle," alpaca fleece is highly
sought-after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters,
weavers, etc.) as well as the commercial fashion industry.
fleece has a great variety of natural colors, making it very much in vogue:
16 official colors (white; beige; and shades of fawn, brown, black, and
grey) with many other subtle shades and hues. White, light fawn, and light grey
can be readily dyed, thus offering a rainbow of colors for the fiber artist.
Alpaca fleece can also be combined with other fine fibers such as merino wool,
cashmere, mohair, silk, and angora to attain incredibly interesting blends.
are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of Ecuador,
southern Peru, northern Bolivia, and northern Chile. Alpacas are considerably
smaller than llamas, and unlike llamas, alpacas are not used as beasts of
burden but are valued only for their fiber. Alpaca fiber is used for making
knitted and woven items, much as sheep's wool is. These items include blankets,
sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos. The fiber comes in a wide variety of colors from white to black and many shades in between. Alpacas and llamas differ in that alpacas have straight ears and llamas
have banana-shaped ears. Aside from these differences, llamas are on average
1–2 feet taller and proportionally bigger than alpacas.
have been domesticated for thousands of years. In fact, the Moche people of
Northern Peru often used Alpaca images in their art. There are no wild alpacas.
The closest living species are the wild Vicuña, also native to South America.
Along with Camels and Llamas, the Alpaca are classified as camelids. The Alpaca
is larger than the Vicuña but smaller than the other camelid species.
the various camelid species, the Alpaca and Vicuña are the most valuable
fiber-bearing animals: the alpaca because of the quality and quantity of its
fiber, and the vicuña because of the softness, fineness and quality of its
coat. Alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals. Instead, they were bred
exclusively for their fiber and meat.
are social herd animals that live in family groups consisting of a territorial
alpha male, females and their young. They are gentle, elegant, inquisitive,
intelligent and observant. As they are a prey animal, they are cautious and
nervous if they feel threatened. They like having their own space and may not
like an unfamiliar alpaca or human getting close, especially from behind. They
warn the herd about intruders by making sharp, noisy inhalations that sound
like a high pitch burro bray. The herd may attack smaller predators with their
front feet, and can spit and kick. Due to the soft pads on their feet, the
impact of a kick is not as dangerous as that of a hoofed animal, yet it still
can give quite a bruise, and the pointed nails can inflict cuts.
the United State and Canada alpaca herds range in size from just a few alpacas
all the way up to a few thousand.