ORIGIN OF ALPACAS
Alpacas originated in the South American Andes mountains in the countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. During the 1980's, they were imported into the United States in relatively large numbers. Now the national registry (Alpaca Registry, Inc., ARI) is closed to new imports, effectively protecting the U.S. market.
Alpacas are related to llamas, and camels as members of the camelid family.
Llamas are significantly larger than alpacas. Llamas have curved, banana-shaped ears versus the alpacas' spear-shaped ears, and llamas have different kinds of wool coats than the alpacas do. Alpaca fleece has been refined for centuries to create a very fine, single coat that can be used straight off the alpaca without need for dehairing.
TYPES OF ALPACAS
The alpaca comes in two breed-types: huacaya (pronounced wah‑KI‑ah) and suri (SOO‑ree). Huacayas, the more common type, account for about 90% of all alpacas, and have fluffy, crimpy fleece that gives the animals a teddy bear-like appearance. Suris, on the other hand, grow silky, lustrous fleece with heavier locks that hang down, lending the animals a shaggy look before shearing. All of the alpacas on our ranch are huacayas.
CARING FOR ALPACAS
Alpacas need the basic requirements of any farm animals: clean water, food, and shelter from the harshest hot and cold weather. Shelters vary from 3-sided run-ins to heated and air-conditioned barns.
Fencing requirements vary depending on the area that you live and how you would like to divide up your herd. Alpacas are separated into groups of males and females so that breedings can be individually managed. For wilderness areas, you may need fencing to keep out coyotes, bears and mountain lions.
Most alpaca farms implement a worming and vaccination routine that is suitable to their area of the country with guidance from their local veterinarian.
Alpacas eat grass and hay. One alpaca will eat one to two flakes of hay per day depending on their weight. Since they weigh only a fraction of what horses and cows weigh, each alpaca eats a correspondingly tiny fraction of what the larger farm animals will eat.
We have found that once the basics of fencing, shelter and water are set up, daily care needs are minimal. Alpacas are easy to care for and a joy to be around.
Females generally give birth without any human help. And should you need to take alpacas to the vet, they’ll “cush” comfortably (folding their legs beneath their bodies) in the back of a minivan or SUV.
ALPACAS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Instead of pulling grass out by the root, alpacas nibble off the top of the plant. Their soft padded feet are very gentle on pastures.
One of the unexpected perks of alpaca ranching is access to alpaca manure for use as a high-quality, chemical-free soil amendment/ fertilizer valuable for your gardens, and highly desired by neighboring farms and gardeners.
Alpaca poop is bean-shaped and they use communal dung piles (all go in the same place), which makes collecting their valuable droppings very convenient.
Cold Manure - Alpaca manure releases its nutrients slowly, extending the time nutrients are available to plants, and can be added directly to soil with no risk of burning plants.
Alpaca manure is an excellent soil enhancer for your garden. It improves soil by increasing aeration, water infiltration, moisture-holding capacity and decreasing soil density. It has a very low odor, compared to other manure, making it ideal for vegetable gardens, flower beds, pastures as well as inside plants.
Fresh alpaca beans can be spread directly into the soil, or they can be mixed with water and made into a fertilizer "tea".
FLEECE AND FASHION
Alpacas are shorn once a year in a process that does not harm the alpaca.
Each alpaca produces between two and 12 pounds of fleece each year.
Alpaca fleece is luxurious, soft and beautiful, and grows on the alpacas in 22 natural colors (more colors than any other fiber producing animal)!
Due to its extraordinary soft feel, strength and fineness, alpaca fleece is highly desired from fiber artists to high fashion, and is used to produce products ranging from rugs to yarn to suits and everything in between.
Alpaca fleece is practically water-repellent and, unlike sheep’s wool, lanolin-free and therefore hypoallergenic.
Alpacas produce a cash crop: alpaca fleece!
ADDITIONAL FUN FACTS
Alpacas are very quiet, docile animals that generally make a minimal amount of sound. They generally make only a pleasant humming sound as a means of communication or to express concern or stress.
Alpacas have a lifespan of roughly 15 to 20 years.
Alpacas need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive, so we recommend purchasing two or more animals when starting your herd.
Alpaca only teeth on the bottom, and a hard gum (known as a dental pad) on the top for crushing grain, grass, or hay.
Alpaca cria normally weigh between 15 and 19 pounds when they are born, and are usually standing and nursing within 90 minutes of birth.
Alpaca meat, also known as Viande, is one of the healthiest and most flavorful meats in the world, and one of the oldest food sources of the Incas an Pre-Incas in South America.
Lean, tender and sweet, it is rich in proteins, low in calories and fat, and has the lowest level of cholesterol of any meat.
Substitute in recipes for red meat and poultry
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU PURCHASE AN ALPACA
Alpacas have a life expectancy of about 20 years. Females reach breeding age by 16-24 months, males don't reach sexual maturity until about 24 months. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. The gestation period of an alpaca is 11-1/2 months (~350 days).
You can raise 2-3 alpaca on as little as one acre, but if you want to become a breeding farm, you will need several acres. Male and female alpaca need separate pastures. We suggest a minimum of 5 acres to start your alpaca ranching experience.
Alpaca should NEVER be purchased as a single animal. Alpaca need other alpaca to remain happy and healthy. A good breeder is an invaluable tool in your life with these wonderful creatures.