Frequently Asked Questions
In the United States alpacas are raised for their exquisite fiber and are enjoyed for their delightful personalities, as well as their sound investment returns.
Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Inca civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture. Found mostly in Peru, Chile and Bolivia, alpacas have recently been designated national treasures in Peru. Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in an array of colors from white through the greys and blacks, and palest fawn to rich dark brown. Garments made from alpaca fleece, once reserved exclusively for Incan royalty, are now being enjoyed around the world.
Alpacas are clean, intelligent, peaceful animals and are a pleasure to be around. They are the easiest livestock to care for. An adult alpaca requires 8-10 bales of orchard grass hay per year, a minimal amount of supplements and, of course, fresh water. Fences should be designed to keep out predators. A 3-sided enclosure is adequate for shade, as well as winter wind protection. They require little pasture--6 to 10 alpacas per acre make them an ideal small acreage livestock. They have common dung piles, making cleanup a snap and vastly reducing parasite problems. Alpaca droppings are almost odorless and make an excellent fertilizer for flowers and gardens. Alpacas are extremely hardy and adaptable to virtually all climates and altitudes. Their padded, hoofless feet are easier on pasture than any other livestock animal.
There are two types of alpacas--the "huacaya" with crimpy fiber that stands out from the body like sheep and the "suri" with fiber that drapes from the body in ringlets. Adults weigh 130-190 pounds, stand 34-36" at the withers, and have a lifespan of 20+ years.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are alpacas different from llamas?
While both are members of the camel (camelid) family, they are distinctly different animals. Just as a llama is different from a camel, the alpaca is different from the llama. In fact, the alpaca is more closely related to the vicuna than the llama, and the llama is more closely related to the guanaco than the alpaca.
Can you pack with an alpaca?
Generally, no. The alpaca lacks the bone structure to support weights much greater than their own natural body weight. While an alpaca might tolerate a small daypack, it might damage the animal's fiber. For back-packing, their much larger cousin, the llama, would be much better suited.
Are alpacas dangerous?
Absolutely not! They are safe and pleasant to be around. They do not bite or butt, and do not have horns, hooves, or claws. Occasionally, an alpaca may kick with a hind foot if touched from the rear, but the soft, padded feet usually do little more than "get your attention."
How do you transport an alpaca?
If traveling for short distances, they can be transported in a mini-van. Alpacas usually "cush" (sit down) and very rarely have "accidents" inside the vehicle. Longer distances generally require transport in a livestock trailer.
So what do you DO with these animals?
Alpacas have a couple of important uses. First of all, they produce a soft, luxurious fleece, comparable to cashmere, that is turned into a wide array of products from garments to teddy bears to felt. The fleece itself is known globally for its fineness, softness, light weight, durability, excellent thermal qualities, and luster. Additionally, alpacas represent an excellent investment and income-generating potential. Many alpaca breeders rely on the sale of their animals and finished goods for a large part (or sole source) of their income.
How much acreage does it take to raise
Because alpacas are so environmentally-friendly, you can usually raise five to ten alpacas per acre, depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, etc. They can also be raised on dry lot.
Are alpacas easy to care for?
Alpacas are small, easy livestock to maintain. They should have basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather. They do not challenge fences. Being livestock, however, they do require certain vaccinations and must be on an anti-parasitic control program. Additionally, their toenails need to be rimmed every couple of months and their fleeces sheared off once a year.
What do alpacas eat?
The primary thing alpacas eat is just plain grass or grass/orchard grass hay. Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, as it has a high protein content that can be unhealthy for the alpacas. One to one-and-a-half, 60-pound bales of hay will usually feed between 20 to 25 alpacas each day. Most alpaca owners give their animals some type of supplemental grain, especially in the winter. Some owners also give their animals food pellets as a nutritional supplement or training reward. Alpacas should also have access to free-choice salts and trace minerals and, of course, fresh water.
Do alpacas spit?
All members of the camel family use spitting as a means of communication. The time you'll usually see this is around the feeding area, when some of the animals can become possessive about what they consider to be "their food." It is also an aggressive behavior that you may observe if two alpacas are fighting. But it is rare that an alpaca would spit on a human on purpose (although humans sometimes get caught in the cross-fire!)
How long do they live?
Truth is, we're not really sure. In South America they can live for 15-20 years. But the alpaca was only recently brought to North America (significant numbers were first imported in 1984), so we don't have enough data yet to know how long they will live under the conditions found here. We hope they will live at least twenty years, and perhaps significantly longer.
The first known record of alpacas is in the drawings on the walls of caves found high in the Andean Mountains. Alpacas were the domestic sheep of South America. They became the foundation of a prosperous civilization living high above sea level. Fiber from the alpaca was uniquely suited to clothe the Andean Indians in their harsh environment.
The Incas conquered the Indians and captured their precious "cattle." Alpacas became the basis of wealth for the Incan society. Even after the Spanish conquered Peru, the alpaca was considered legal tender, or money, by its Indian population.
The South American alpacas are raised today in the Andes Mountains at very high elevations. They were moved from the lower pastures of the Puno Baja to the high altitude of the Puno Alta by the conquering Spaniards to make room for Spain's merino sheep. The available pastures are limited in size and carrying capacity. As a result, the South American alpaca population has not grown to meet the potential demand for its fiber.
In 1984 the first alpacas were imported to the United States from Chile and Bolivia. In 1993 the first Peruvian stock made its way to the United States.
Alpaca fleece is valuable because it combines so many positive, commercial attributes into one fiber.
Alpaca fiber is unusually strong and resilient. The strength of the fiber does not diminish as it becomes finer, making it ideal for industrial processing.
Raised at high altitudes in freezing cold, the alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fiber than almost any other animal. The fiber contains microscopic air pockets which create lightweight garments with high insulation values.
Alpaca is soft, supple and smooth to the touch. The cellular structure of the fiber produces a soft handle unmatched by most other specialty fibers.
Alpaca is easily dyed any color and always retains its natural luster.
Alpaca has a natural, rich luster which gives garments made from 100% alpaca high visual appeal.
Alpaca is compatible with either the woolen or worsted manufacturing systems. Fabric made from alpaca can range from bulky tweeds to fine gabardine.
People who own alpaca sweaters will find they last practically forever. Alpaca does not easily tear, pill, stain or create static. It is easily cleaned.
Alpaca produces beautiful yarns either handspun or machine made. Alpaca's long staple length makes it ideal for processing as either woolen or worsted yarns. Manufacturers also like to blend alpaca with cashmere, mohair, silk, cotton and wool.
Many qualities are used to determine a fiber's value. Factors such as handle, luster, crimp and fineness are used to evaluate an alpaca fleece. Alpaca end products can range from incredibly soft sweaters, high quality cloth blankets and even felted items to include upholstery and rugs, which can be made from the coarser fiber. Luxury garments such as sweaters, shawls and even lace are made with the finer alpaca fiber.
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Last Updated: April 20, 2011