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FAQs / Alpaca Information                                                          Page d’accueil française

When buying your first alpacas, it is important to know why you want them, whether for pets, lawnmowers or a possible additional income. We hope that this information page goes some way to letting you know the realities and possibilities of keeping these wonderful animals.

What Are Alpacas?

Alpacas, along with llamas and camels, are part of the camelid family. Native to South America, alpacas have been domesticated for over 5,000 years and currently form a thriving industry in many countries across the world, notably in Australia, the British Isles, the USA, Canada and much of mainland Europe.   

The Spanish conquest of South America resulted in the mass slaughter of many alpacas and the few survivors had to retreat to the altiplano of the high Andes, enduring extreme temperatures. Baking in the scorching heat of the day and withstanding the freezing cold at night, they survived on sparse, low-value vegetation to become the remarkable animal they are today.

There are two types of alpaca: huacayas and suris. Huacayas produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fibre, whereas suris possess silky, pencil-like locks, which resemble dreadlocks. The latter are prized for their longer and silkier fibres, and are rarer, representing just 20% of the total alpaca population, since their fleece offers less protection against the cold in the South American mountain climates.

Suri Alpaca










Suri Alpaca

Huacaya Alpaca











Huacaya Alpaca


The life span of an alpaca is 15-20 years, with an average adult weight of between 50-80 kg, and average height of 1 metre at the withers.

Mating and Gestation

MatingUnlike most domesticated animals, alpacas are induced vulators, and only release eggs in response to mating. Ovulation is triggered by hormones liberated as a result of coupling and takes place 24-48 hours afterwards. The awaiting sperm will then hopefully fertilise the newly-released egg. Once the female has ovulated, she will reject any further advances from the male by spitting off.
If no pregnancy results from the mating, the female will once again become receptive.

he average gestation period for an alpaca is 335 days, butBirth generally varies between 330 and 360 days. Be aware that in some cases females will go over 12 months! The young alpaca are called cria and normally weigh in at around 6-7 kg. They are usually born between 9am and midday, giving the cria time to acclimatise to its surroundings before nightfall.

Caring For Alpacas

Alpacas are herd animals, and should never be kept alone, as they become stressed when unable to see other alpacas. A starter herd should therefore be composed of at least two alpacas, preferably three. Males and females would normally be kept separately.

The stocking rate for alpacas is 5-6 animals per acre. Since alpacas do not challenge fencing, four-foot sheep fencing with stock netting is adequate, but remove barbed wire and avoid electric netting. Wherever possible, a grazing rotation should be implemented: divide the paddock up, separating your herd into small groups, and move each group to a different part of the paddock from time to time. A catch pen is also useful for conducting routine examinations, and regular feeding to the designated area will enable you to take hold of your animals when required.



Alpacas are hardy animals and can live outdoors all year, but must have some form of shelter, whether trees, hedges or purpose-built field shelters. They should be handled calmly and gently, and can be halter-trained, usually from about six months. Always make sure there is sufficient grazing and provide hay, especially during the winter months. Fresh, clean drinking water should be constantly supplied. Pregnant and lactating females, along with other animals during winter, require a supplement concentrate feed, ensuring their intake of trace elements, minerals and vitamins, which boosts their bone growth and development. It should be noted that since alpacas do not use licks, the most effective sources for essential vitamins (notably vitamins A, D and E) are additional feed stuffs or injection.

Toe nails need to be trimmed three or four times a year. Teeth should be checked twice a year, and expert advice sought to rectify any abnormalities. Males’ fighting teeth, which can develop from 18 months old, should be removed by a professional. Alpacas should be given twice-yearly vaccinations against clostridial diseases and the entire herd should be wormed fairly regularly.

Alpacas tend to leave their droppings in only a few places in the paddock, which makes cleaning up a relatively easy task, but one that should be carried out daily to minimise the risk of infection and parasites.


Fibre and Shearing

Alpaca is a speciality fibre, highly sought after as one of the world’s most luxurious fleeces. Once reserved for Inca royalty, alpaca wool is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers across the globe.

The fleece weight averages 3-5 kg, and there is a wide range of natural fleece colours from white, through fawn and brown to black.



Huacayas need to be shorn once a year, in May, June or July, once the weather starts warming up, although shearing for suris can be carried out every other year. Females should be shorn between calving and mating or between 6 weeks and 45 weeks of gestation.

The animals should be kept as dry as possible before shearing - it may be necessary to keep them inside the night before to make sure.

Genetics - What's it All About?

The aim of breeders here in France and Europe is to improve the quality and quantity of the national herd, thus making alpaca fibre a viable alternative to conventional sheep’s wool and kick-starting an industry of its own.

Ever since animals were first domesticated, man has influenced and enhanced certain traits to his advantage by way of selective breeding, whether it’s to increase milk production in dairy cows, obtain a better grade of sheep’s wool or have a foal that will run faster than the mare. Alpacas, having always been a domesticated animal, are no exception.



Alpaca wool is one of the finest fibres available and is recognised for being extremely soft and light, whilst at the same time maintaining great warmth. Together with its lustrous qualities, this makes it an ideal candidate for luxurious winter evening wear.

With this in mind, the alpaca breeder aims his breeding programme to produce a good quality fibre that shows a good crimp and density in an huacaya, and good locking and sheen in a suri.

Nevertheless, all alpaca fibre is usable and most can be spun, it is the quality of the fibre that determines its use and ultimately, the quality of the end product.

 

High Quality Fleece  Poor Quality Fleece

FAQs

Are alpacas related to llamas?   
Yes: alpacas, llamas, guanaco and vicuna all belong to the South American camelid family.

What is the difference between llamas and alpacas?
Alpacas are bred primarily for their excellent fibre. Llamas are much bigger than alpacas and have a double coat, with short softer fibres and long, coarse guard hairs, which make garments made from llama fleece coarser and more likely to irritate the skin.

What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are ruminants, eating grass and chewing their cud like cows, although during winter, supplementary feeding with hay and concentrates may become necessary.

Are alpacas intelligent?
Alpacas have a curious nature and find gates with ease. They are quick to learn routine and adapt easily to change.

What sound do alpacas make?   
Alpacas emit gentle humming sounds, but when a threat is present they will let out an alarm call to warn the surrounding alpacas of the danger.

Are alpacas dangerous?
Not at all. They are amiable creatures and do not bite or butt- they even seem to have an innate affinity towards children.

Need I worry about strange dogs or foxes?   
An alpaca’s protective instinct is strong, especially with regard to their young. Unless weak or injured, they will ward off foxes or dogs, but be aware that this instinct is not at its strongest until the alpaca reaches about 2 years of age. Once used to a particular dog, a domestic pet for instance, alpacas will tend to ignore it.

Do Alpacas Spit?
Like llamas they do, but very rarely at people. It is a gesture within a herd to establish hierarchy.

Do Alpacas Like Water?



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