Alpacas are camelids, cousins to camels, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. Alpacas are about one third the size of llamas and have proportionally smaller ears and snouts than their llama cousins. There are two different kinds of alpacas. The suri alpaca is the very rare alpaca and has very long, fine, dreadlock-type fiber. The huacaya alpaca is the second type of alpaca and is the more common of the two. The huacaya alpaca has thick, dense, crimpy fiber and resembles a teddy bear when in full coat.
The huacaya alpaca is characterized by a fiber that is dense, crimped, and woolly. This abundant coverage gives the huacaya a soft and huggable look and explains the overwhelming popularity the huacaya enjoys worldwide. The huacaya is a hardy and healthy animal that produces a fine and highly-prized fiber. The new and burgeoning alpaca fiber movement will be literally built on the backs of these plush and puffy little "teddy bears." Alpacas are native to South America, in the high Andes Mountain countries of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. They were introduced into the U.S. in 1984.
Alpacas are NOT used as food, they are raised for the fiber (or fleece) they produce. An alpaca herd is a superior investment opportunity with excellent tax write-offs and financial gain compounded through the years as you enjoy your animals. The alpaca fleece is prized for its fineness, lightness in weight, luster, and hypo-allergenic properties. Alpaca clothing and home products are pure luxury. Alpaca clothing is more five times stronger than sheep’s wool, and has better insulation properties. An adult huacaya can produce between 3 and 10 pounds of fleece per year. The calm, curious, affectionate, and fun disposition of the alpaca provides many hours of enjoyment and entertainment for their owners, friends, and family. Alpacas have become the new show animal, with many shows throughout the U.S. and Canada. There are even some in our local area. Alpacas are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children. A very calm breed, they are not prone to rearing up, as a horse would if startled Alpacas are becoming the elite pet to own for all of the above reasons. Start up costs for raising alpacas can very, depending on the type of animal you wish to raise. A pet quality male can cost as little as a pedigree dog, while a prize winning female can cost as much as a thoroughbred horse.
Alpacas much prefer open pastures to a closed shelter, or stall, but easily take to stables, barns, and enclosed areas in the worst of harsh weather. They are content with simple shelters in the cold winter months and appreciate good ventilation, shade, and fans in hot weather. It is not uncommon to see one of our alpacas sleeping outside in the late fall-early winter. Be sure shelter is available at all times, if they want it, they will use it.
Alpacas are extremely "earth-friendly." In their pasture they graze the grass down evenly but do not destroy the root system. They also have soft padded feet which don’t chew up the pasture area the way other live stock does. Alpacas consolidate their waste materials in one area of their paddock, which allows for easy cleanup and minimizes the spread of fecal parasites into their grazing areas. They require basically the same type of care as a dog or cat with regular worming and annual inoculations. You do not need to groom them regularly, but shear them once a year in the spring to protect them from the coming hot weather. Their fleece needs to be picked if you plan on showing them, and that, of course, requires some care before you show. Alpacas require their owners to provide them with fresh water daily and grass hay (if pasture is insufficient for their feed). Specially formulated grain is provided (approximately one-half pound per day per adult animal) to supplement the necessary vitamins and minerals needed which are not found in most pastures in North America. An owner must also make sure that in hot weather there is adequate shade and ventilation, augmented by fans, for the animals' safety and comfort. We even have wadding pools, and set up sprinklers for our animals, so they are comfortable on the hottest days. Toenails need trimming on a regular basis. At around one to two years of age teeth may need to be filed and this may be done by a veterinarian.
Alpacas are very inexpensive to maintain. The cost of feeding them will vary throughout the year. In the winter, when snow covers the ground, you will need to supply the entire diet, but in the summer, you only need to supplement the alpaca diet. Fresh grass is always preferable to grass hay. We feed each alpaca daily grain supplements year-round (one to two cups), but give them (under vet advice) more in the winter months, especially pregnant and nursing mothers. Alpaca pellets are a mixture of grain and supplements (vitamins and minerals) and can be found at many feed stores.
Alpacas are shorn once per year in the spring before it gets too hot. Raw fiber can be sold directly to hand spinners and other craft people. You can have your fiber processed by a commercial mill and spun into yarn. Alpaca fleece is easy to work with. You can even spin it yourself for a variety of apparel and craft projects .Alpaca fiber is classified as a rare specialty fiber. It is five times warmer than sheep wool fiber and more luxurious than cashmere. There are more than 22 natural colors of alpaca fleece. An infinite array of natural colors can be produced by blending these fibers. Alpaca fiber can also be easily dyed. Alpaca fiber is strong and resilient and has more thermal capacity than almost any other animal fiber. The fiber actually contains microscopic air pockets that contribute to the creation of lightweight apparel with very high insulation value. Alpaca fiber does not itch as wool often does because it does not contain lanolin and has a smooth cell structure.