GENERAL ALPACA INFO

Alpacas are unique in appearance, yet share several traits with their camelid cousins, llamas and camels. They are relatively small (125-200 pounds and 32-40" tall), long lived (20 years), and easy to care for and manage.

Alpacas are a gentle and intelligent breed. They are social animals and are happiest when kept with other alpacas (while they have been successfully run with sheep or goats, a lone alpaca will show many signs of stress). Alpacas can produce one offspring per year and can have up to 20 during their lifespan. They are fastidious in their habits and will tend to form communal manure piles, which assists in maintaining a clean living environment and controlling the spread of parasites.

They are intelligent enough to train quickly to a halter and lead. They are relatively easy to care for and generally do well on a good quality grass hay where sufficient pasture is unavailable. It is possible to keep as many as 10 alpacas per acre of pasture and more if their feed is provided through other means.

There are two distinct types of alpacas: Huacayas, the more common type, grow their fleece in a way that appears similar to sheep's wool. It is tightly crimped and stands perpendicular to the alpacas' body. Good quality huacaya alpacas will produce as much as 10-12 pounds of luxurious fleece every year. The second type, Suris, grow their fleece in long curly locks. Suri' fleece appears more similar to that of an angora goat. Suris are known for the luster of their fleece, a highly desired trait in the commercial textile industry.

Alpacas were first imported into the United States in the 1980's as livestock (they had only been in zoos prior to that). There are currently nearly 180,000 alpacas in the US and approximately 4,000 ranches raising them. The national herd size is growing, but with the slow reproductive rate of alpacas, it means that it will increase slowly in the years to come.


SOME ALPACA FACTS

Life Span: 15 - 25 years

Height: 32 - 40" at the shoulder

Weight: 125 to 200 lbs.

Gestation: approximately 340 days

Birth: A single baby, called "cria" is normally delivered without assistance during the morning hours. Twins are rare, occurring once in about every 2,000 births.

Offspring: Crias weigh 15 to 20 lbs. at birth and can usually stand to nurse within the hour. They are weaned at 5 - 6 months after which they are called "tuis" until they reach breeding age.

Reproduction: Female alpacas are first bred from 14 - 18 months at which time they are called "hembras". Female alpacas are induced ovulators, so they do not have a "heat cycle" and can be bred anytime. They are capable of producing one offspring a year for as many as 20 years. Alpaca mothers can often rebred 2-3 weeks after giving birth. Male alpacas reach breeding age at about 3 years, at which time they are called "machos".

Fiber: Alpaca fiber is softer than merino and has a higher tensile strength than sheep’s wool, creating a far more durable garment. There is a lucrative niche market for this luxurious, resilient fiber both at the local level and on the international export scene. With the ever-developing fiber market, we will hopefully see the use of alpaca fiber increase in the next few decades.

Color: Alpacas come in 22 "recognized" natural colors, but countless variations exist. These colors range from pure white, to various shades of fawn and brown, through rose and silver greys, to black. In addition to the 22 natural colors, the lighter fleeces also have the advantage of being readily dyed.

Health: Because alpacas and their ancestors are specially suited to the harsh environment of their Andean homeland, alpacas are generally healthy, easy to care for and remarkably disease free.


ALPACA BEHAVIOR

Alpacas demonstrate a "striding" gait unique to camelids. Rather than walking with alternating front and back legs, they will lift both legs on the same side when walking forward. (Camels also walk this way, creating a swaying motion that has led to them being called, "The ships of the desert.")

Herds of alpacas will generally stay in close proximity to each other. In fact, an early sign of illness in an alpaca will often be that they have separated themselves from the rest of the herd.

While often called "huggable" because of their teddy-bear appearance, most alpacas tend to be stand-offish. They generally do not like human touch, although they will tolerate it when it comes time for normal husbandry tasks.

Males will readily form bachelor herds, and if kept out of sight of females will co-exist peacefully. However, if females are visible then the males may become quite aggressive towards each other. It is not uncommon to see them wrestle each other to the ground, ram each others chests, or even attempt to castrate each other with their sharp "fighting teeth" (which should be removed as soon as they erupt at age 2-3).

Alpacas tend to be most active in the morning and at dusk. It is not uncommon to see play behavior in the late afternoon and early evening, especially with the youngsters. They will chase each other around the pastures at high speed, and will occasionally be found "pronking". The pronk, as it is known, is a springing gait. The legs can hardly be seen to move as the animals spring about the pasture, often chasing each other, and clearly expressing joy.

They have excellent eyesight and will often spot things at long distance that mere humans are unaware of. We have seen our herd get quite excited at cattle on a hillside a mile away, cats hiding in the tall grass, or at night possums, raccoons, or other animals that we have been totally unable to see or identify. They can spot a strange dog from a significant distance, and the herd will gather together and sound alarm calls.

They have a wide range of vocalizations, the most common being a gentle "hum". They have a distinct, loud and piercing alarm call. They can sometimes be heard clucking their tongues, usually towards their young.

Alpacas are extremely curious. Youngsters will often approach such novelties as birds in there pasture, obviously trying to figure out exactly what they are seeing. (This can be problematic with things such as poisonous snakes, and snake bites are not uncommon.)

Their herd instinct is strong, and they form clear bonds with their herd mates. When a herd suffers a death, there are often signs of mourning. Likewise, when a former herd mate returns (like a female returning to the farm for breeding) the entire herd will excitedly run out to greet them. This herd bonding is striking, and unlike any other livestock that we have encountered.


HUACAYA ALPACAS

Huacaya (pronounced "wuh-kai-uh") alpacas are the more common of the two fleece types and the type raised here at Epic Alpacas. Their fiber is dense and stands perpendicular to their body, much like would be seen in sheep.

Huacaya alpacas are by far the most common type, constituting 90% of the world's population.

The Huacaya's dense, fluffy fleece makes it perfectly adapted to the harsh climate of the Andean highlands, where temperature swings can be extreme. Some theorize that the prevalence of the Huacaya type is at least in part the result of their native climate, suggesting that the Suri type may have been more common prior to the Spanish conquest, when they were tended at much lower elevations than where most alpacas are found today.

The most sought after traits in a Huacaya are density and fineness of fleece. These traits can be extremely difficult to attain simultaneously, there being some anecdotal evidence that fineness and density are somewhat antagonistic. Still, significant progress has been made in breeding Huacayas with high yields of sub-20 micron fleece in recent years.


SURI ALPACAS

Suri Alpacas are distinguished by their long flowing locks of fleece, similar to the fleece of an Angora goat. The Suri fleece type makes up less than 10% of the global alpaca population and is known for it luster and drape, and is most often seen in woven fabrics.