One of the oldest domesticated livestock known to mankind, the majority of alpacas in South America are from Peru – around three million, and then Chile and Bolivia. They have been bred for their superior fleece which is used for a wide variety of clothing. These gentle animals have been revered by the natives in South America for centuries and are an integral part of the spirituality of the people. They believed that the
alpaca was a gift from the Gods and so held a special part in their history. Today, they also become a part of you. Each alpaca with their own deep melting eyes enters a part of your
heart. With their gentle and spiritual manner they give so much to us and yet ask so little in return. As a result of this mild mannered personality, children work with the alpaca in the 4-H and both men and women find them easy to work with.
Types: There are two types of Alpacas, the Huacaya and the Suri. Each is distinguished by conformation and distinctive fleece.
Thick, dense fleece growing vertically from the body. The fleece has brightness and sheen and frequently has defined crimp. The Huacaya alpacas comprise approximately 90% of the world’s alpaca population.
Long silky fibre that grows parallel to the body
hanging in long distinctive pencil locks. Has an
exquisite luster with a smooth hand.
Shelters and fencing:
On the West Coast of Canada, we are indeed fortunate in that our weather is conducive to raising alpacas, as we do not have extremes of cold and heat. These conditions allow us to have shelters that may be a lean-to or three sided shelters. Alpacas do not need to be housed in barns.
Along with adequate shelters, predator control is a must. The defenseless alpaca is unable to fight off any predator. Part of a proper predator system may include high fencing, livestock guard dogs and guardian llamas; each of these working together form a team.
Each farm will work out a health program with their vet, this may include medications for worming, vitamin deficiencies, selenium deficiencies, clostridial diseases and parasites control. Many of these are regional issues and testing should be carried out before incorporating these into your herd health. Always work with your veterinarian as he/she will advise you on what care is required.
Alpacas have a three-chambered stomach and are modified ruminants. Their manure is in a pellet form, and is a great asset to gardeners as the manure has little or no odour and can be put on the gardens raw; it does not burn vegetables or flowers. The alpaca’s manure piles (dung piles) are usually in communal piles, making pasture clean up a much easier task!
The female alpaca is an induced ovulator, which means that the act of the breeding, combined with the male orgling (a sound the male alpaca makes from his throat) and an open female all assist in the ovulation and impregnation. The gestation on a baby alpaca (cria) is approximately 345 days. Of course we have ladies that go longer and some are shorter, just like humans. Twinning in alpacas is rare, 1-20,000. Today there is research going on in embryo transplants and artificial insemination.
An average size for an alpaca is 34” (85 cm) at the withers, with males weighing between 120 and 200 pounds (54 to 90 kilograms), and females weighing between 95 and 175 pounds (43-80 kilograms. The birth weights on crias (baby alpaca) range from 12 to 24 pounds (5.5 to 11 kilograms).
Shearing takes place once a year, usually in the spring, allowing the alpaca to be cool in the warm weather and time to grow fleece for the fall and winters. Shearing is also done for the animal’s health which allows us to process their wonderful fleece. Go to our fibre page to read more:
Alpacas in the show ring:
When entering your alpaca in a show, you do not groom or comb your animal’s fleece. You would remove the larger pieces of vegetation while not changing the lock structure of the fleece. In the show ring, the judges will be looking at conformation (animal structure) and the qualities of the fleece. Some of the areas of fleece judging are:
Fineness and handle
Uniformity of micron
Character (style of crimp)
Lock type/ Density
Lack of Medullation (Primary Fibres)
Clean Fleece Weight
There are many facets of the alpaca industry, from the superior fibre to the alpaca products, breeding programs, fibre animals (pet stock), to alpacas used as therapy animals, alpaca shows and seminars. Today’s alpaca breeder is an informed breeder and always enjoys having visitors to the farm, so we can talk “Alpaca” We encourage you to research the industry and visit as many farms as possible.