What is an Alpaca?

The Alpaca (Lama pocos), are camelids, members of the South American camel family Camelidae; cousins to camels, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. Alpacas are about half the size of llamas and have proportionally smaller ears than their llama cousins who have "banana" shaped ears.

Alpacas are slender-bodied animals with a long neck and legs, a short tail, a small head and pointed ears. They have a life span of 15 - 20 years, and grow to a height of approximately 1 metre at the shoulder, and can weigh up to 70 kg. The female alpaca gestates for a period which averages 335 days, after which time she gives birth to a young or cria with a birth-weight of 6 - 8 kg. Alpacas are the most important of the lamoids for wool production.

Alpacas are alert, curious, calm and predictable. They need the companionship of other camelids, and will huddle together or move en masse when frightened or wary.

Alpacas make a variety of sounds such as clicks and snorts but are best known and loved for their humming. They make this humming sound in a variety of situations such as when separated from their herd, when one female gives birth, the other pregnant mothers may hum to the delivering mother and new cria, and when grazing, they hum in different tones. Alpacas rarely spit at people unless frightened or abused, but will use this form of communication with each other to register a complaint.

Facts

Lifespan - 15 to 25 years average

Average Height - 1metre at the withers

Average Weight - up to 70kg or about one-half to one-third the size of a llama.

Average Gestation - 335 days

Reproduction Cycle - Alpacas can become pregnant without waiting for a cycle. They are spontaneous ovulators who can be remated approximately 3 weeks after the birth of the cria.

Birth - Birth weight is normally around 6-8kg. Babies (crias) can often stand and nurse within 30 to 60 minutes following birth.

Colour - The alpaca comes in eight basic colours-natural white, natural light fawn, natural fawn, natural light grey, natural grey, natural rose grey, natural dark brown, and black. There are 22 recognized colours with many variations and blends. Alpacas most often come in solid colours.

What are the different names associated with the Alpaca?

Cria - an alpaca baby born after a gestation of eleven months or 335 days. Crias usually weigh approximately 6-10 kilos at birth. Crias can usually stand and nurse within the first hour after birth and often frolic around the mother's side within that time. They are born during daylight hours. Infant mortality is very low and birthing problems are few. Alpaca mothers are usually devoted and protective.

Dam - An alpaca's mother.

Female - In Spanish, the females are known as hembras.

Male - In Spanish, the males are known as machos.

Weanlings or tuis - An alpaca 6 to 12 months old.

What are the native countries of the Alpaca?

Alpacas are native to the high Andes Mountain countries of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia where they were domesticated, while Guanacos were mostly wild and Vicunas limited to small numbers only. The present distribution of alpacas is limited to central and southern Peru and Bolivia. Alpacas are the most limited in range and the most specialized of the four lamoids, being adapted to marshy ground at altitudes from 4,000 to 8,000 metres.


Macchu Picchu
Macchu Picchu

What is the History of the Alpaca?

For thousands of years, Alpacas have coexisted with humans. The alpaca has been bred by the native people of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia for more than 4,000 years. The Andean civilization of the Andes Mountains gave the animal a central place in their society; using Alpacas in religious ceremonies and clothing themselves from their fleece. For several thousand years, the Andean people domesticated and selectively bred Alpacas to produce a surprisingly large array of colours and very fine, dense fibre. During this time, Alpaca fibre was virtually a secret from the rest of the world. During the period of Incan civilization, the wearing of robes made of alpaca and vicuna wools was reserved for the nobility and royalty. Peasants caught wearing Alpaca clothing were punished, sometimes even put to death.

What is a suri alpaca?

The suri is distinguished from the huacaya alpaca by its unique fibre characteristics. The suri is relatively uncommon and has very long, fine, dreadlock-type fibre. The fibre grows parallel to the body while hanging in long, separate, non-crimped locks. Though often white, increasing colours are being bred. One of their charms is their extremely silky, soft fleece. There is no crimp in their fibre, but their fleece falls in pencil locks, making these animals look like they have dreadlocks.

What is a huacaya alpaca?

The huacaya alpaca is characterized by a fibre that is dense, crimped, and woolly in appearance. This abundant coverage gives the huacaya a soft and huggable look and explains the overwhelming popularity the it enjoys worldwide. Like the suri, the huacaya is a hardy and healthy animal that produces a fine and highly-prized fibre.

What are the fleece characteristics of the two breeds?

Two breeds of alpaca, the huacaya and the suri, were developed in pre-Columbian times. The fleece of the suri is fine and silky and grows long enough to touch the ground if the animal is not shorn. The fleece of the huacaya is shorter and coarser by comparison. It has thick, dense, full, puffy fleece with crimpy fibre when in full coat. It is much more common than the suri with ninety-five (95%) percent of alpacas being huacaya. Both fleeces are soft and free of guard hair and are considered luxury fibres in the textile trade because of their unique qualities. Tuis or weanling alpacas provide the finest fleeces. The alpaca's fleece is remarkably light-weight, strong, lustrous, and high in insulation value. While alpaca is in itself a superb fibre, it is sometimes combined with other fibres such as wool, cotton and silk to make high fashion garments, dress and light-weight suit fabrics, and is also woven as a pile fabric used both for coating and as a lining for outerwear. Depending on its characteristics, alpaca can be used to create a multitude of end products.

Can I get started with alpacas even though I do not own land?

We offer agistment (boarding) services (conditions apply). Dependent upon your requirements we can formulate a contract that provides the services you need for your alpacas.

Who buys alpacas?

Alpacas are purchased by various types of people for a wide range of reasons. Some enjoy the farming potential and see alpacas as an exciting new vocation, some enjoy it as a second and more relaxed career, and some just enjoy the animals as pets. Currently many Australian sheep breeders are purchasing wethers as guard animals to protect their flocks from predators.

Do people in Australia eat alpacas?

Generally speaking the alpaca is not yet considered as a meat for consumption in Australia, however a small niche industry is developing for the restaurant market.