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Lowton Farm
Devon, England

Alpaca Breeders FAQ

South West Alpacas
Lowton Farm,
England, UK

Tel: 01647-252038




What 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.

How 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 case!

How long do alpacas live?
About 18-20 years on average - sometimes longer. They will also keep breeding up to this age.

What 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!

What's 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.

How 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.

Why 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

How 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.

Can 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.

Are 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.

Do 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 way.

How 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!

How 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.

How 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!).

How 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 few hours.

What 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.

At 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.

How long is an alpaca pregnant?
Typically 325 - 365 days.

Do 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.

Do 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.

Do 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" !

What 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 low cost.


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  last updated August 27, 2008
SouthWest Alpacas is an independent UK alpaca breeder, based in Devon, south west England, UK. We took up alpaca breeding for their wonderful fleece, not to mention their calm temperament, and the simplicity of farming alpacas. Their luxurious natural fibre is light, strong, soft & warm, and it comes in 22 natural colours, from 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. It also holds dye very well, which makes alpaca fibre ideal for organic or hypoallergenic clothing & fashion, from hats to gloves, jumpers & scarves or scarfs. Alpaca fibre is an untreated natural fabric, making it ideal for people with allergies & sensitive skin. Our website offers a wealth of information on alpaca breeding, alpaca fleeces & alpaca yarns. We also offer links for information on luxury knitwear - designer knitwear - alpaca clothing & knitwear - as well as alpaca fur toy animals.