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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 3ft high at the shoulder and an adult weights between 110 and 180 lbs. Alpaca cria should be 15-17 lbs at birth. They can weigh as much as 26-29 lbs and if below 15 lbs, they might be premature. The young are called cria. Castrated males are commonly known as geldings. They live for 15 to 20 years and females can breed for about 12 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 the United States
There are about 53,000 alpacas in the United States and there are alpaca breeders right across the country from Florida to Alaska. The states with the largest number of alpacas are Ohio, Washington, Oregon, Colordo and California. As the alpaca is still quite rare in the US, coupled with their slow breeding rate, this makes them quite a valuable animal. A breeding female can cost between $5,000 and $30,000 depending on its quality. Stud males can go for $10,000 upwards. Young males and geldings can start from $500.
There are two breeds of alpaca: huacaya and suri. Officially they are one species. The Suri alpaca, of which there are very few in the US (only about 9,000 in the US), 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 are huacaya world wide.
How much land is needed to keep alpacas?
Stocking rates are similar to sheep which is 4 to 6 animals per acre in a good quality pasture. 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. 4ft high 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. In the US most breeders mate their females at 18-24 months by which time they have already grown a good strong frame. Stud male alpacas tend to start working from 2-3 years. Alpacas are induced ovulators so are able to get pregnant at any time of year. It is best to have cria born in the spring.
Can I own only one alpaca?
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 young males which are not good enough quality to breed from. These will be the cheapest alpacas to buy as they are not breeding stock.
What colors are alpacas?
Alpacas come in 22 natural colors ranging from white, fawn, brown, grey and black. Some alpacas are multi-colored and these are often called fancy. White fiber is obviously popular as it can be dyed any color. Natural colors are also popular as they can make clothing which contains no dye.
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 over the farm gate to hand spinners. Other outlets you can supply your fleece to are:
Alpaca Fiber Coop of North America (AFCNA)
New England Alpaca Fiber Pool