Adorable, docile and soft, alpacas are prized as pets and cattle around the world. There are no wild alpacas. Alpacas are domesticated versions of vicuñas, South American ruminants that live high in the Andes. Alpacas are related to llamas, which are domesticated versions of another wild Andean ruminant, the guanaco. While llamas are used as pack animals, alpacas are raised mainly for their soft wool.
Guanacos and vicuñas are found throughout the Andes Mountains. They are descended from camelids that developed in North America and migrated to South America 3 million years ago, according to Phil Switzer, an alpaca breeder based in Colorado. These animals evolved into guanacos and vicuñas, and about 6,000 years ago, people in the Andes began to domesticate them. There are two breeds of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. Huacaya alpacas are more common, according to Switzer.
The main difference between the breeds is the length and fineness of the wool-like fiber, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The Suri have very long fibers ("silky dreadlocks," according to Alpaca Ventures), while the Huacaya have a more compact "crimpy" fleece, with shorter fibers.
Alpacas are very social creatures. They are gentle and curious and with training can become great pets. Herds often include animals of different species or taxonomic families, such as llamas, goats and sheep, according to the FAO.
Alpacas spit when they are distressed or feel threatened. They will sometimes spit at each other when they are competing for food or trying to establish dominance. They won't spit at people or bite unless they have been abused.
Alpacas hum; they make a sound like "mmm,". However, they also shriek when danger is present, and make a sound similar to a "wark" noise when excited. Fighting males scream, making a warbling bird-like cry.
Alpacas in a herd all use the same area as a bathroom instead of defecating in random areas like many animals do. This behavior helps control parasites, according to the FAO. Males often have cleaner dung piles than females, according to Alpaca Ventures. Females tend to stand in a line and all go at once.
Alpacas breed once a year, and as livestock they are often induced to breed at any time. The female alpaca has a gestation period of 242 to 345 days and gives birth to just one offspring. The birthing process can take up to seven hours, according to National Geographic.
The baby alpaca, called a cria, weighs 18 to 20 lbs. (8 to 9 kg) when it is born. The cria is weaned at 6 to 8 months, and females are ready to reproduce at 12 to 15 months. Males take a bit longer to mature and are ready to mate at 30 to 36 months. Alpacas live up to 20 years.
Unlike wool, alpaca fleece contains no lanolin, and requires no chemical-scouring agents for processing. This, combined with its natural hypoallergenic properties and softness, makes alpaca garments comfortable, even for sensitive skin.
Stop by and visit our farm, and say hello to our herd! Shop our farm store for alpaca yarn, alpaca clothing, knitting supplies, weaving supplies, and spinning supplies!
Q: Do Alpaca spit?
A: They will sometimes spit at each other when they are competing for food or trying to establish dominance, and one of our boys "Big Baby Glen Davis" spits when I don't feed him fast enough!
Q: Are alpaca easy to raise?
A: Yes! Not only are they easy to take care of, but the cost is about the same as feeding a pet dog! They eat hay, alpaca feed, daily minerals, fresh water and fresh grass!
Q: How much land does it take to raise alpaca?
A: Alpaca are small acreage livestock. You can raise 4-5 alpaca on 1 acre of land.