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.
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
Unlike 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.
average gestation period for an alpaca is 335 days, but
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
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
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