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The alpaca is a domesticated member of the camelid family – the others being llamas, guanacos, vicunas and of course the camel. Alpacas are native to South America – from the high altitudes of the Andes of Chile, Peru and Bolivia – where they have been kept for their luxurious fleece for thousands of years.
General Alpaca Facts
Alpacas are about 90cm high at the shoulder and an adult weighs between 50 and 80 kg. Alpaca cria should be 6-10 kilos at birth. They can weigh as much as 12-15 kg. The young are called cria. Castrated males are commonly known as wethers. They live for up to 20 years and females can breed for about 15+ of these. The gestation period is 11 - 12 months and they nearly always give birth in daylight hours and usually with no assistance needed. Alpacas rarely have twins.
Alpacas in New Zealand
There are currently about 4,000 registered alpacas in NZ. As the alpaca is still quite rare, coupled with their slow breeding rate, this makes them quite a valuable (bloodstock) animal. A registered breeding female can be purchased from NZ$5,000 to a five figure price for top show quality stock. Stud males can fetch similar sums -- up to well over NZ$100,000. Young males and wethers average at around NZ$1,000
There are two breeds of alpaca: huacaya and suri. Officially they are one species. The Suri alpaca, of which there are few in NZ, has a fleece with long 'dreadlocks' which hang loose and long. Huacaya (pronounced "wakaya") alpacas have fibre which is shorter and denser. Ninety five percent of alpacas world wide are huacaya.
How much land is needed to keep alpacas?
Alpacas can be stocked at a rate greater than sheep. The alpaca is 0.7 of a stock unit, which means 4 to 6 animals per acre depending on your grass. This means that many people who only have small acreages are able to farm alpacas.
Do alpacas need shelter?
Alpacas are very hardy – a hedge or fallen tree will provide adequate shelter, but an open fronted field shelter is best and can be very useful for occasional housing – they tend to use their shelter more in summer. In winter conditions of heavy snow indoor housing of alpacas in a barn is a sensible option.
Do alpacas need special fencing?
No, alpacas rarely challenge or jump fencing. 7 strand sheep fencing is the most suitable. Barbed wire and electric fencing should be avoided as this gets caught in their fleece.
Do I have to feed alpacas anything special?
Alpacas eat most grass and occasionally browse in the hedge. They should have a little hay when grass is short and there are Alpaca Mixes readily available from feed merchants to ensure they get the necessary vitamins and minerals – they need a very small amount of this each day – it also helps to keep them tame! They must always have access to fresh water.
Do alpacas make a lot of mess?
No – their feet are padded and they do not poach the ground. They tend to use dung piles – these are easy to pick up and can go straight on the garden – it makes very good fertilizer.
How do you transport alpacas?
Alpacas travel with little fuss – they lay down once the trailer is moving. If you are going on a long journey take some water and hay and also put down some alpaca dung on the floor of the trailer – this encourages them to relive themselves when they need to. It is important to only transport alpacas in a proper livestock trailer or a vehicle which has been specifically adapted to carry livestock.
Do alpacas spit?
Most spitting between alpacas occurs at a crowded feeding area and when a male alpaca shows too much interest in a pregnant female. They will occasionally spit at a person but only when really upset by what is being done to them or if they are protecting their young when first born. An alpaca will not necessarily spit regurgitated green matter but instead may only air spit.
When can alpacas be mated?
Some female alpacas can get pregnant when they are less than 12 months old. Most breeders mate their females at 12-18 months by which time they have already grown a good strong frame. Stud male alpacas tend to start working from 2 years. Alpacas are induced ovulators so are able to get pregnant at any time of year. It is climatically best to have cria born in spring, summer or autumn, except in the far north where winter births are possible.
No. Alpacas are herd animals and cannot be kept on their own. A minimum of two is required, but preferably a group of three would be better. Also a female cannot be kept without the company of at least one other female.
I only want to keep alpacas as pets and do not wish to breed from them.
In this case you need to purchase castrated males or wethers. These will be the cheapest alpacas to buy as they are not breeding stock. Alpacas can be wethered at 9-12 months and early wethering stops testosterone and keeps them friendly into later life.
What colours are alpacas?
Alpacas come in a whole range of natural colours - white, fawn, brown, grey and black. Some alpacas are multi-coloured and these are often called "fancy". White fibre is popular for large scale commercial outlets as it can be dyed. Natural colours are also popular with smaller craft or eco-businesses as they can make clothing which are natural, clean, and "green".
How do you shear alpacas?
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in Spring when the weather is warm and before seedset. Alpacas are shorn stretched out on the floor or a shearing table, restrained by the legs. This protects both the alpaca and shearer from sudden movements causing cuts. One side is shorn first; the alpaca is then rolled over and the other side shorn. An alpaca will cut anywhere from 1-5kg depending on the age and quality of the animal.
What are the outlets for the Alpaca Fleece?
Alpaca fleeces can be sold to manufacturers (large or small) or to hand spinners. However the best return for alpaca is to add value yourself and make fine alpaca products that you can sell. Currently the industry is bloodstock (based on sale of offspring) and unless adding value yourself, fibre will not give an economic return on the purchase price of the animal.