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What is an Alpaca?


The Alpaca
The Alpaca belongs to the Camelid family.  There are two Old World camels-- the Bactrian and the Dromedary--and there are four New World camels--the Alpaca, the Llama, the Guanaco, and the Vicuna.  They are modified ruminants, meaning that they have three stomachs and chew their cud similar to cows.  The Alpaca is descended from the wild Vicuna of Peru. There are two types of Alpaca:, the Huacaya and the Suri.  These are both the same species, the only difference being the unique qualities of their fiber.
south america alpacas
Where do they come from?

Alpacas come from South America. They live mostly in the Altiplano region of Peru, Bolivia and Chile at an altitude of between 14,000 and 17,000 feet above sea level. Alpacas were domesticated around 7000 years ago and used as a commodity in the marketplaces of the Incan culture.  Alpacas were a renewable resource that could support an entire family with just a small herd.  Alpacas provided fiber for clothing and textiles, fuel (dung) for heating and cooking, meat and each year there were new animals to trade or sell. 
The Huacaya is the more common Alpaca.  Its fiber grows straight out from the body, giving it a "fluffy" appearance like a sheep.  Good Huacaya fiber has crimp in each strand, is an even length across the alpaca's body, is soft and lacks coarse “Guard” hair. HUACAYA or SURI? The Suri is much more rare.  Its fiber hangs in locks.  Suri fiber is slick and shiny like silk, and also quite soft.  The shine-or luster-and silkinessare the result of the longer scale length on each fiber. Fine Suri will have even length and consistent lock across the coat, making it look like a million dreadlocks.
huacaya alpaca What do they eat?
Alpacas graze on pasture, orchard grass or grass hay.  Any nutrients that they cannot find in their grazing can be easily added through a mineral supplement.  To discover which elements are missing, most farms send a sample of forage to a lab for testing.  Then a mineral supplement, or crumble, is created with the right balance of Zinc, Selenium, Copper and other trace minerals to make their diet complete.   
suri alpaca

What about the waste?
An alpaca’s digestive system makes them very efficient users of food.  Because of this efficiency, Alpaca dung is an excellent fertilizer. Alpaca’s very alkaline diet creates dung which is so low in acid that you can use it immediately in your garden or on your most precious plants. 

Are they easy to take care of?
Alpacas are a very hardy species of animal.  They have adapted successfully from their rugged terrain in the Altiplano to the comfortable pastures of North America.  They require food, shelter and a clean source of water.  Add once yearly shearing, toenail trimming and worming and you have the basic care and management of an alpaca.

Do they spit or bite?
Alpacas have a bottom row of 6 teeth and a hard upper palate for foraging grasses.  They cannot bite due to the lack of upper teeth.  They do develop canine teeth or “Fighting teeth” at about 2 years of age.  These can easily be trimmed by your veterinarian to avoid their use during neck wrestling bouts or other natural behaviors to test for dominance in the herd.  As for spitting, Alpacas can spit but they usually reserve this special communication for other Alpacas who crowd them at the feeding station or invade their space at the water trough.

alpaca pasture

How much land do you need?
Alpacas can be pasture fed at the rate of 10 to 12 to an acre of land.  If you choose to feed hay as their only source of forage then you can keep them on a smaller parcel of land as long as they have room to self-exercise and plenty of space at the feeders.

Do they get along with other animals?
Alpacas are herd animals.  They will run from anything that scares them.  They should be kept in a secure fenced area for safety from predators but they have very little issue with Goats, Sheep and other small livestock.  It is not recommended to pasture them with cattle or horses simply because of the size difference.

How hardy are they?
Alpacas have not been found to be susceptible to most large livestock diseases.  They receive yearly inoculations against tetanus. Because the alpaca has been in North America for such a relatively short period of time, 20 years, the research community is continually working to discover anything that might be a threat to our precious animals.  They are vigilant in bringing updated information to alpaca breeders.
 
Do you have to worry about predators?
In the wild, Alpacas are at risk from all large predators. In North America, Alpacas can be protected from predators such as dog packs, bobcats and coyotes with adequate perimeter fencing, livestock protection dogs and even Llamas.  Yes, Llamas.  Llamas have the size necessary to take on most predators and will bond with the alpaca herd and protect them when necessary. A combination of good fences and protective animals should keep your Alpaca herd safe and happy.
livestock guardian dogs great pyrenees anatolian shepherd
alpaca padded feet Are they destructive to pastures?
No.  Alpacas have several unique features which make them a very environmentally friendly livestock.  Unlike horses and cows, Camelids don’t have hooves.  They have soft pads on their feet with two toenails on each foot.  This foot structure makes the animals very easy on pasture since they don’t cut deep tracks or destroy tender grasses when walking on them.  When they graze, they nibble on only the tops of the grass so they do not clear pastures so much as trim them.  Alpacas are also neat.  They use communal dung piles and choose one or two areas in each pasture for use.  This makes clean-up very easy and cuts down on possible parasite problems from dung left to decay in the field. 
Why do we raise them?
Like sheep, we raise them for breeding stock and FIBER.  And what fiber it is. With all its unique thermal properties, the lightness of weight and the softness of cashmere, Alpaca fiber is a natural luxury fiber.  Our task now is to produce enough quality animals to develop a full fiber industry in this country.  We breed for the best qualities and continue to insure the health and well being of this fabulous animal for ourselves and future generations.
alpaca high fashion suri fabric

Why haven't I heard more about alpacas?

There are actually two reasons. 1. Alpacas were only introduced to this country in 1984 and 2. Alpacas reproduce very slowly.  Alpacas have been the treasured livestock of the Peruvian people for centuries.  They guarded that treasure for many years, not allowing any exportation of the animals from the country.  Political upheaval and uncertainty in the past 40 years has disrupted many breeding programs in Peru and caused concern that the continuation of the Alpaca breeding program might be in jeopardy.  The Peruvians decided that for the health of the species they needed to allow exportation so that Alpaca herds could develop and thrive in other countries.  In 1984 a group of entrepeneurs from the U.S. coordinated the first importation of Alpacas into the United States.   Since that first importation there have been several others and some breeders began to be concerned that the quality of the animals being imported would begin to deteriorate. It was determined that a registry would be necessary to provide a measure of basic conformational and health standards for Alpacas entering the country The Alpaca Registry was developed as an offshoot of the Llama registry where the bloodlines of each animal are documented and stored.  The Alpaca registry has now been closed, meaning that only offspring of registered alpacas can be registered now. We work with the bloodlines that were originally brought in by those first intrepid investors. 


What is the future of the breeding business?

With a gestation period of 11 months and only one cria delivered at a time, the Alpaca reproduce very slowly in comparison to many other livestock animals a fact that only increases their value. We will be in a breeding market for  years to come.  It is estimated that we will need 1,000,000 fiber producing Alpacas before we can develop a commercial fiber industry in the United States.  We currently have 220,000 Alpacas in this country.  If they give birth to one healthy cria per year and they produce 50% female cria we have a minimum of 10 years before we have enough Alpacas in this country to support a commercial fiber industry.  New breeders are an essential element in the success of this future fiber industry.


crias running in pasture

Alpacas at Windy Hill ~ 7660 Bradley Rd. Somis CA 93066 ~ "Alpaca Ownership with a Safety Net"
www.alpacalink.com ~ info@alpacalink.com ~ (805) 907-5162

"Cindy's motto of Alpacas ownership with a safety net is 100% accurate. I see Cindy not only as a business colleague but as a mentor. She is extremely supportive and encouraging as well as generous with her time and sharing of information. If someone is looking to get into the alpaca business, there is no one better at educating you. When I first became interested in the business, I joked that I needed an adult 4-H and then I met Cindy who's ranch has become the best learning ground. I couldn't ask for a better person to work with."
Cindy Myers
Owner, Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum