is an alpaca ?
Alpacas are members of the Camelid family, originating from the
Andes region in South America. They are closely related to their
larger cousins, the Llama.
many kinds of alpacas are there?
There are two just two distinct types of alpacas. The only significant
difference between them is in the appearance of the fleece. The
most common type is the 'Huacaya', which has relatively straight,
dense and "fluffy" fleece, which grows out from the body. This gives
it a "Teddy Bear" look. The 'Suri' alpaca is rarer, and has a fleece
with long, curly, lustrous locks that hang straight down, rather
like a Wensleydale sheep. More of a "Rastafarian" look, in this
long do alpacas live?
About 18-20 years on average - sometimes longer. They will also
keep breeding up to this age.
do you do with an alpaca?
The Alpaca is kept for its wonderful fleece, and is shorn annually.
The typical yield of good quality fleece from a single animal is
around 2-4 Kgs., and as much a double this amount from the very
best animals. It has been bred in South America over several hundred
- possibly thousands - of years to produce a very fine soft fibre
in a wide range colours. The alpaca is also quite intelligent, with
a great variety in character between different animals, and so makes
an ideal companion animal, as long as it is kept in a group. It
is not used for meat (at least not in the UK!), so no DEFRA paperwork
as it will never enter the food chain. They are also very useful
in keeping foxes away from our hens!
so special about alpaca fibre?
The alpaca fleece provides a soft, lightweight, lustrous fibre,
second only to silk for strength, comparable to cashmere for luxury
and more durable than both. It is thermally efficient and does not
pill like cashmere. It is also much more acceptable on the skin
for those with an allergic reaction to wool, due to its very smooth
fibre structure, and also the absence of any trace of lanolin, which
can also provoke an allergic reaction. Before the Spanish conquest,
their fleece was known as the "Fibre of the Gods". Only Inca royalty
were allowed to wear this luxurious fibre, upon pain of death.
many different coloured alpaca fleeces are there?
Alpacas have a greater variety of fleece colours than any other
fibre animal. There are at least 22 distinct natural colours, including
a true rich black, through chocolate brown and russet, as well as
various shades of grey, honey and fawn, to a light champagne and
finally pure white.
are alpacas so popular?
Alpacas are one of the easiest animals to care for. They are generally
gentle and easy to handle. They are intelligent animals and quite
easy to train. Alpacas rarely kick or spit unless extremely provoked
do alpacas behave with children?
Being very social animals, alpacas tend to be quite protective towards
small children, as long as they don't get too boisterous. Alpacas
are easily halter trained and are gentle enough to be handled by
children. However, remember that alpacas are not pets and may not
tolerate rough treatment.
alpacas be considered as pets?
Not really. They prefer the company of other alpacas to humans.
They won't react well to the sort of rough handling a house pet
such as a family dog would tolerate. They won't normally romp across
the paddock to greet you and beg to be petted and scratched behind
their ears. That being said, we have a 2 year old female who does
all these things, so she obviously hasn't read this FAQ! This is
a clear example of the very different personalities you get between
one alpaca and another.
alpacas easy to train?
Alpacas are easy to train. They are generally very intelligent and
can be readily trained to accept being led on a halter, getting
in and out of a trailer, accepting the handling of their feet for
toe-nail trimming, etc.
alpacas spit or kick?
Alpacas spit as a sign of dominance over other alpacas. They may
spit if they are very frightened and will also spit at males to
show they are pregnant and not at all interested in their attentions!
Owners are not usually targets, but may accidentally get in the
do alpacas communicate?
They use body language a lot, employing ear, body and tail movements,
coupled with a variety of soft humming sounds. Alpacas also can
emit a shrill alarm sound, if they spot a fox, for example.
Alpacas may occasionally cluck with their tongue to express disapproval.
Male alpacas make a unique sound, called orgling, when they mate.
The girls apparently find this a big turn-on!
much land do I need for alpacas?
Stocking density can be relatively high, at around 5/6 per acre.
They are very efficient grazers, needing only 60-70% of the acreage
required for sheep. They also thrive on poorer grazing, as their
stomachs have adapted to work better on a diet high in roughage.
They are not hoofed animals, but have soft padded feet with two
toenails, so are much less likely to poach their grazing.
easy is it to farm alpacas?
Because alpacas have been bred to cope with the harsh environment
of the Andean plateau (Altiplano), alpacas are generally healthy,
easy to care for and remarkably disease free.
Alpacas graze through the summer months and are supplemented with
hay in winter. Breeding females and growing youngsters also benefit
from a vitamin and mineral supplement added to their feed.
Alpacas require little regular care other than occasional toe-nail
trimming two or three times a year. Annual inoculations and worming
are commonly performed, but will vary according to local conditions
and herd management. In our herd, we find we don't need to routinely
worm our animals, as alpacas have a high natural resistance, we
have enough fenced space to rotate paddocks on a regular basis and
they don't share grazing with other stock.
They also don't have any of the other common problems you get with
sheep - footrot, flystrike, etc. They don't usually try to escape
from their paddock; so simple 4 foot stock fencing will keep them
in. They're clean at the rear end; so don't normally need "dagging"
(if you don't know, don't ask!).
easy is it to transport alpacas?
Alpacas can be easily transported long distances in vans or trailers
providing they have access to water and a 'comfort break' every
sort of shelter do alpacas need? Alpacas just need a very basic
open shelter to keep out driving wind and rain in winter, and provide
some shade in summer. They do not need housing over winter.
what age do alpacas start breeding?
Females can be bred at around 18 - 24 months old. Female alpacas
are induced ovulators, so they can be bred anytime, but Spring mating
is preferable. Alpacas can be mated again 2-3 weeks after giving
birth. Males will start work at about 2 - 3years.
long is an alpaca pregnant?
Typically 325 - 365 days.
alpacas have problems giving birth?
Very rarely. Generally, labour will last about 15 - 30 minutes,
but this can be quite variable. Our record is 2 minutes! This is
quite unusual, however. Most give birth in the morning, and in any
case always during daylight hours, unless there is a serious problem
with the pregnancy. A new mother will sometimes give birth later
in the day. Crias weigh 15 to 20 lbs at birth and will usually stand
to nurse within an hour.
alpacas have multiple births?
The normal case is a single cria (the proper name for a baby alpaca).
Twins are rare, and survival of twins is even rarer.
I need to own my own alpaca stud male?
No. In fact we would advise strongly not to do this, unless you
wish to breed non-commercially or purely for the "pet" market. If
you wish to breed to improve the quality of your alpaca herd, you
will need access to a wider range of genetics that a single male
alpaca could provide. Buying several top quality stud male alpacas
would be prohibitively expensive for a small breeder, unless you
were planning to run this as a separate business. It is therefore
preferable to buy in stud services, either on a per service basis,
or by participating in a stud pool. (See below).
Note also that mature males need to housed quite separately and
securely from the females, and should not run together, except at
mating times. This is one of the best examples of an exception to
the rule "Alpacas don't escape from paddocks" !
do alpaca stud services cost?
Stud fees vary widely depending on the pedigree and proven performance
of the stud. Prize winning animals will often command a still higher
fee. Single service costs tend to be high.
However, a stud owner will usually give a substantial discount for
multiple services. You can often improve this discount further by
teaming up with another breeder.
For the small breeder starting out, a good strategy is to negotiate
access to the stud genetics you need at the same time you purchase
of your breeding females. You will generally get a better deal on
a package than if you try to buy females and stud services separately.
Another approach once you have a bigger herd is to become a member
of a stud syndicate, where you purchase a share in one or more stud
alpacas and share access to other animals within the syndicate.
This can give access to a wide choice of genetics at a relatively
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