:: Alpaca 101 ::
What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas are fiber-producing members of the camel family raised
exclusively for their soft and luxurious wool. Their fleeces are
sheared once a year, or sometimes every two years in cooler climates
each shearing produces roughly 5-8 pounds of fiber per animal,
There are two breeds of alpacas: the suri and the huacaya. The
main difference between the two is their fleece production. The
huacaya fleece has waviness or “crimp,” which gives
huacayas their fluffy, teddy-bear-like appearance. Suri fleece
has little or no crimp, so the individual fiber strands cling
to themselves and hang down from the body in beautiful pencil locks.
Height - Alpacas stand approximately 36” at
the withers (the point where the neck and spine meet). They are
about 4.5 to 5 feet from toe to the tips of their ears.
Weight - Female alpacas weigh anywhere from about 110-150 pounds;
males weigh roughly 140-180 pounds. Some larger males and females,
however, will weigh in over 200 pounds.
Toenails - They have a hard, protective upper toenail that grows
out and down and must be trimmed every few months. The bottom of
their feet is a soft pad with a leather-like consistency. Due to
the low body-weight, there is not a lot of weight distributed on
those soft, padded feet. Therefore, there is little damage done
to the ground compared to other forms of livestock.
Fiber - Alpaca fiber is stronger and more resilient than even
the finest sheep’s wool. Unlike sheep’s wool, however,
alpaca contains no lanolin and is ready to spin right off the animal.
It comes in 22 distinguishable colors. It is considered hypoallergenic,
because of the way the scales of alpaca fiber lie down against
the shaft of each hair follicle, so it doesn’t irritate the
Teeth - Alpacas only have bottom teeth for eating. What’s
on the top is a hard gum pad against which they crush grain, grass,
hay in a back and forth grinding action. They have a split upper
lip that makes the back-and -forth motion easier. They have very
short tongues that are attached to their jaw, so they can’t
grab hold of plants like goats and sheep and pull them up by the
roots. Instead they nibble the plants down to about the 1/4 inch
level and it can grow back quickly.
- Safe, they don't bite or butt. Even if they did, without incisors,
horns, hoofs or claws, little harm can he done.
- Small and easy to handle and do not require any special shelter.
- Useful: they produce fine and valuable fleece as well as
make wonderful pets.
- Intelligent, which makes them pleasant to be around and easy
- Beautiful; they come in over 22 colors, and are clean and
pleasant to be near.
- Not butchered in order to be profitable.
- Considered disease-resistant animals, which lowers insurance
and veterinarian costs.
- Adaptable to varied habitat, successfully being raised from
Australia to Alaska and from 15,000 feet to sea level.
- Rare outside of South America and cannot be mass-produced.
- Easy to transport, which allows them to be traded across
the country or around the world.
The primary thing alpacas eat is just plain grass or hay.
Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, as it has a
high protein and calcium content that can be unhealthy for
alpacas. Alpacas don’t eat much. We give them a grain
supplement - about 1/4 - 1/2 cup either once or twice a day.
We also sprinkle on a teaspoon of trace minerals on their
chow. Alpacas are ruminants with a single stomach divided
into three compartments, so they produce rumen and chew cud.
They are very efficient food producers.
Pacas poop and pee in group piles, so scooping and pasture
clean-up is easy. The paca poop is one of the richest organic
fertilizers available and needs minimal composting before putting
on your plants. And the poop is virtually odorless, so doesn’t
attract flies like other manures.
How many alpacas per acre?
One acre of grassland can support 4-7 alpacas depending on
fencing, layout, rainfall, and other factors.
The joy, ease of care and potential profitability of raising
alpacas has attracted people from many walks of life to become
breeders. For some, alpacas are a primary source of income,
for others a part-time business venture, but a source of pleasure
for both. Young couples with children can enjoy the benefits
of owning and caring for alpacas as a rewarding family experience.
People who have raised their kids and are seeking a business
and lifestyle to enjoy as they approach retirement are often
owners. Ultimately, whether making the switch from a fast-paced,
corporate way of life, or adding alpacas to an already established
rural setting, breeding these unique, gentle animals can provide
both income and pleasure, all included in a peaceful, stress-free
lifestyle. Made possible since alpacas can be raised on relatively
small acreage and they are clean, safe, quiet and intelligent.
There are also plenty of family-oriented alpaca events around
the country, including local and state fairs, alpaca farm open
houses and auctions, and larger shows hosted by alpaca organizations.
You can find more and more 4H activities around alpaca husbandry
for children. Today many breeders also choose to get involved
in selling products made from alpaca fiber as a hobby or an
additional home-based business venture. The spinning and weaving
of fiber is a skill that can lead to profits. Farm stores complete
the picture of the alpaca lifestyle.
Alpacas have brought impressive financial returns to families
all across America, but it's the fun and hands-on nature of this
lifestyle that has really captivated people searching for a simpler
and more rewarding way of life. Even if you don't have the land
and are committed to a full-time career, you can still begin your
alpaca adventure by purchasing and boarding at a nearby alpaca
farm or ranch.