1. What is an alpaca?
Alpacas and their close relatives llamas, are members of the camelid family, as are camels, guanacos and vicunas. The main differences between alpacas and their llama cousins are that alpacas are smaller, friendlier and the alpacas have luxurious fiber.
Alpacas come in a wide variety of 22 natural colors ranging from bright white to true black with all shades of brown, grey and rose grey.
2. What is a cria?
A cria is the name for a baby alpaca. Weaned crias are known as weanlings or tuis. In Spanish the adult males are known as machos and the adult females are hembras, or dams.
3. What do you do with alpacas?
There is a growing market for alpaca fleece. Income from sale of alpaca fleece is typically adequate to cover the cost of care (food, medical, etc.), so they earn their keep. Alpacas are primarily raised as an investment opportunity in North America. Currently the market value for alpacas is in the animals themselves – breeding them and selling the offspring provides a very good return on investment.
4. Do alpacas make good pets?
Many people do have alpacas purely as companion animals. They can make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations. They are more cat-like than dog-like in their attitude towards us humans – somewhat timid but very curious and intelligent. Most alpacas, with time and handling, will eat out of your hand and walk on a halter. Some enter their alpacas in performance events, such as obstacle courses and have a lot of fun doing so. Most alpacas are especially sensitive to being touched on their heads and legs. They each have their own personality and some are quite cuddly and affectionate!
5. How much do alpacas cost?
Prices range from around $300.00 for a gelded male with no breeding potential to many thousands of dollars for top quality breeding males and females. Females can be worth anything from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands depending on their age, quality and breeding history. The girls are valuable because of their ability to produce crias which can be sold providing good returns on the initial investment. Top quality males with good offspring have a high value as breeding animals. They can also command high incomes for their owners in stud service fees.
6. Are alpacas dangerous?
Absolutely not! Treat them with respect and they will respect you. They are wonderful, gentle animals – very safe for adults and children alike (in fact they are often very curious and enchanted by children and make great 4H animals). They don’t bite, they don’t butt and it is uncommon for them to kick. They are sensitive around the back legs and will instinctively kick out if they sense a threat from the rear but they do have soft padded feet so injury is not likely.
7. Do alpacas spit like llamas?
Yes, like the rest of the camel family, they can. It is probably their only vice and one of their only defence mechanisms. The good news is that alpacas rarely spit at people. If a person does get hit it is usually because they got caught in the crossfire between two alpacas, squabbling over food or attention! The spit is a fine spray of partially digested grass, not too pleasant smelling, but it brushes off once dry.
8. What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are semi-ruminants which means they chew cud like a cow or a deer. The bulk of their diet is made up of low protein hay or pasture grass. They are from a harsh climate so their bodies are very efficient. There are a number of commercially available alpaca feeds, but these should be rationed as a vitamin and mineral supplement. Their primary food source should always be good quality grass and/or hay. They do not drink a lot of water (another of their natural adaptations for survival in the mountains of South America) but access to clean, fresh drinking water is a must at all times. Some alpacas enjoy fresh kitchen leftovers like apple cores, broccoli stems, celery leaves and corn husks. Offering these “rare delicacies” by hand is a great way to bond with your alpacas!
9. Are alpacas easy to keep and care for?
Yes. They are small and easy to handle. Being hardy animals, alpacas are highly resistant to disease. A simple protocol of worming and annual vaccinations is recommended. The need for veterinary care is minimal with alpacas. They do not challenge fences, and any fence suitable for sheep is suitable for alpacas. Barbed wire should be avoided. A barn is nice but not necessary for their comfort. A simple three sided run-in so they can get out of the elements is acceptable. Alpacas come from the harsh climate of the Andes Mountains, so they are pretty tolerant of cold conditions but do not fair as well in extreme heat – hence the need for a shelter to provide shade. Sprinklers or wading pools can be great comfort to them during the highs temperatures of summer. Their earth-friendly padded feet do not damage pastures.
10. Do alpacas get along with other animals?
Alpacas are naturally wary of members of the canine family but get used to them if they share the same area. They can be easily kept in the same pasture as sheep, goats, llamas etc. , but we do not recommend this. Caution should be used when pasturing alpacas with horses and/or cows due to the risk of the alpacas being injured if kicked.
11. What is involved in breeding and birthing alpacas?
Female alpacas are ready to breed around 15 months of age. They do not have a breeding season and can usually be mated at any time of the year. We breed our females in the Spring or early Fall. Alpacas require ‘live breeding’. Like cats and rabbits alpacas are induced ovulators, which means that the act of breeding causes them to ovulate. The gestation period is approximately 11.5 months. Births are usually trouble free, taking about 15 – 30 minutes, and most often occur in the daylight hours – usually on sunny days. Typically, no help is needed in the delivery. The whole process of breeding to birth is relatively easy and problem free!
12. How often do alpacas need to be sheared?
Alpacas are usually shorn once a year, usually in May, for their own comfort. Depending on the density of the fleece each adult alpaca will usually produce from 3 – 10 lbs. per year. Some of the high quality stud male’s production can often be higher!
13. What is so special about alpaca fibre?
The fleece shorn from alpacas has a silky shine, and super soft feel, yet contains no lanolin and is hypoallergenic. People who have allergies associated with sheep’s wool can comfortably wear luxurious alpaca garments. Alpaca fibre is 6 times stronger and yet finer than sheep’s wool. It is as soft as cashmere. Evolving in freezing temperatures at high altitudes has given alpacas more thermal capacity in their fibre than any other fibre bearing animal. The fibres grow with hollow air pockets which create a thermal, insulating effect. Alpaca fibre is officially recognized in 22 natural colours, 250 different shades, and is highly prized. It is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts and coats, as well as soft, light, warm sweaters, vests, shawls, hats, scarves, mitts, socks etc. Because of it’s thermal properties, coarser fibres are ideal as quilt filling and felted garments.