Many visitors to our website ask interesting questions, which we wanted to share with you. Please feel free to contact us if you have other questions for this section. Enjoy learning about the amazing, magical alpaca!
II. Care of the Alpaca
III. The Animal
|1:||What is AOBA?|
|2:||What is The Alpaca Registry?|
|3:||What is the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA)?|
VII. Costs and Investment Concerns
VIII. How Do I Get Started?
I. General Information
Alpacas are camelids-cousins to camels, llamas, guanacos, and vicunas. They are smaller than llamas and guanacos, but larger than vicunas. Alpacas are about half the size of llamas and have proportionally smaller ears than their llama cousins. There are two different kinds of alpacas. The suri alpaca is the very rare alpaca and has very long, fine, dreadlock-type fiber. The huacaya alpaca is the second type of alpaca and is the more common of the two. The huacaya alpaca has thick, dense, crimpy fiber and resembles a teddy bear when in full coat.
|Lifespan||15 to 25 years average|
|Average Height||36 inches at the withers|
|Average Weight||100 to 175 pounds or about one-half to one-third the size of a llama.|
|Average Gestation||335 days|
|Reproduction Cycle||Alpacas can become pregnant without waiting for a cycle.|
|Birth||Birth weight is normally around 15 to 17 pounds. Babies (crias) can often stand and nurse within 30 to 60 minutes following birth.|
|Color||The alpaca comes in eight basic colors-natural white, natural light fawn, natural fawn, natural light grey, natural grey, natural rose grey, natural dark brown, and black. There are approximately 22 recognized colors with many variations and blends. Alpacas most often come in 5 solid colors.|
2: What is a suri alpaca?The suri (pronounced “sir’ ee”) is distinguished from the huacaya alpaca by its unique fiber characteristics. The fiber grows parallel to the body while hanging in long, separate, non-crimped locks. Suri fiber locks are made up of high-luster fibers and drapes down the sides of the body in a twisted or flat form of various size. Suri fiber has excellent luster, a slick hand, and extreme softness. Suris are adaptable to both hot and cold climates and have extraordinary intelligence, vigor, ease of pregnancy, delivery, breeding, and care.
The fashion industry, spinner, and weavers covet suri fiber for its cashmere-like softness, silky luster, warmth, lightness, and durability, which far exceeds sheep’s wool. Its fiber comes in many different colors and can be dyed. Suri fiber can blend with wool, silk, and other high-quality fibers and can be knitted, crocheted, or woven.
Suri alpacas are extremely rare. They represent only a very small percentage of the world’s alpaca population. In North America, their present population is approximately ten percent of all North American alpacas and will never increase beyond this percentage. We believe that the suri alpaca is a safe investment because of its rarity and inherent beauty.
The suri is a rare phenotype of alpaca which had been declining in South America. They appear to be making an extraordinary comeback in the “newer” countries which are breeding them, such as the USA. Though often white, increasing colors are being bred. One of their charms is their extremely silky, soft fleece. There is no crimp in their fiber, but their hair falls in pencil locks, making these animals look like they have dreadlocks or a wet perm.
The huacaya alpaca is characterized by a fiber that is dense, crimped, and wooly in appearance. This abundant coverage gives the huacaya a soft and huggable look and explains the overwhelming popularity the huacaya enjoys worldwide. Ninety percent of the North American alpaca herd consists of huacayas, and this plurality will remain virtually unchanged in the decades that lie ahead.
Like the suri, the huacaya is a hardy and healthy animal that produces a fine and highly-prized fiber. The new and burgeoning alpaca fiber movement will be literally built on the backs of these plush and puffy little “teddy bears.”
Alpacas are native to the high Andes Mountain countries of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia.
- An alpaca is a superior investment opportunity with excellent tax write-offs and financial gain compounded through the years as you enjoy your animals.
- The alpaca fleece is prized for its fineness, lightness in weight, luster, and hypo-allergenic properties. Alpaca clothing and home products are pure luxury.
- The huggable, lovable, curious, and fun disposition of the alpaca provides many hours of enjoyment and entertainment for their owners, friends, and family.
- Alpacas make excellent show animals with universal appeal to both children and adults. Alpacas are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children. They are always fun to take to family gatherings, parades, nursing homes, schools, and to use as 4-H projects.
- Alpacas are becoming the elite pet to own for all of the above reasons.
a. Cria-an alpaca baby born after a gestation of eleven months or 335 days. Crias usually weigh approximately 15 to 19 pounds at birth. After about 30 minutes to one hour, crias can usually stand and nurse. They are born during daylight hours. Infant mortality is very low and birthing problems are few. Alpaca moms are almost always devoted and protective.
b. Dam-an alpaca’s mother.
c. Female-in Spanish, the females are known as hembas.
d. Male-in Spanish, the males are known as machos.
e. Weanlings or tuis-an alpaca 6 to 12 months old.
f. Yearling-an alpaca 1 to 2 years old.
Please do not own just one alpaca! Alpacas are herd animals. We have heard that they will sometimes die in isolation. If you can afford it, buy pregnant females because they can get your herd started faster. Many people have asked for breeding pairs, but this is not a good way to begin your new herd because stud males should not be in constant contact with pregnant females and you should keep strict control over breeding. Geldings are inexpensive males and can be purchased to provide company for your females or herdsires. Males under the age of six months are okay to keep enclosed with your females, but you need to separate them when they are older. Once the female gives birth, she has her own companion and there is another member of the herd. One typical starter package consists of two males and two females to keep each other company. Another popular plan involves purchasing two to three bred females initially and the addition of a breeding male in the following year.
Breeders offer agistment (boarding) services and some offer sharecropping. Sharecropping means that you buy the animals but leave them on the farm where you bought them just as you would if you were paying boarding fees. However, when you sharecrop, there are no monthly expenses. You do not need to worry about feed, insurance, boarding fees, routine vet bills, etc. The farm pays all expenses in return for half-interest in the offspring. However, sharecropping applies only to females.
Alpacas are purchased by various types of people for a wide range of reasons. Teachers, doctors, pharmacists, psychologists, bankers, business managers, accountants, real estate brokers, corporations, housewives, the young, the middle-aged, and active investment-conscious retired people are all purchasing alpacas. Some enjoy the investment potential and see alpaca farming as an exciting new vocational vehicle, some enjoy it as a second and more relaxed career, and some just enjoy the animals as pets.
I am happy to say that in the US, we do not kill and eat these magnificent, treasured animals. We do, however, shear their wool once per year and enjoy the by-products of their wondrous wool.
II. Care of the Alpaca
Alpacas generally need approximately one acre per five animals. This, of course, depends on the acreage. You can keep ten alpacas per acre, but you will need to supplement the grass with hay and clean up more often as well as rotate your pastures. The more grass you have in your acreage, the less hay you will need.
This, of course, depends on many variables, i.e., how many animals you have, how much help you have, and the type of infrastructure (machinery, layout, etc.) you are utilizing.
1. Feed them grass hay or grain (available at most farm/feed stores specifically for alpacas) once or twice a day.
2. Clean the pastures thoroughly at least twice each week to keep the animals and their fiber clean. Recommend once-a-day cleaning in small pastures or paddocks. After a cria is born, extra attention is needed to maintain the pasture in a clean and safe condition.
3. Keep water areas fresh and clean.
4. General monthly maintenance-worming, nail-clipping, etc. if needed.
5. Schedule some stress-free leisure time each day just to enjoy them.
Alpaca husbandry and management is not difficult. Occasional grooming, trimming of toenails, and sometimes teeth along with annual shearing are the major areas. Annual vaccinations for tetanus, clostridia organisms, rabies, and lepto (in endemic areas), and control of parasites is recommended. Please consult a vet knowledgeable about alpacas.
Alpacas much prefer open pastures to a barn, shelter, or stall, but easily take to stables, barns, and enclosed areas in the worst of harsh weather. They are content with simple shelters in the cold winter months and appreciate good ventilation, shade, and fans in hot weather. Alpacas are “earth-friendly” and cause minimal stress on their pastures. They have padded feet and graze in an efficient and non-destructive manner. Free choice of hay, fresh water, grain, and a three-sided shelter will maintain them in comfort.
Mesh fencing (2×4) or chain-link (coated is great) should be placed around the perimeter of your property to discourage predators. Alpacas do not challenge fencing, but you need to keep them safe from other animals. The larger mesh fencing or the board fencing places the alpacas at risk when they try to nibble on the grass on the other side and may allow predators to slip through into your pasture/paddock areas.
Alpacas are very easy to maintain, especially when compared to other types of livestock. We own horses, exotic birds, cats, dogs, and have several types of fish in our pond. The alpacas are easier to take care of than all our animals, except, of course, the fish. Indeed they are quite “user-friendly” regarding care, and they give more than they receive.
1. Alpacas are extremely “earth-friendly.” In their pasture they graze the grass down evenly but do not destroy the root system.
2. Alpacas consolidate their waste materials in one area of their paddock, which allows for easy cleanup and minimizes the spread of fecal parasites into their grazing areas.
3. They require basically the same type of care as a dog or cat with regular worming and annual inoculations.
4. You do not need to groom them regularly, but shear them once a year in the spring to protect them from the coming hot weather. Their fleece needs to be picked if you plan on showing them, and that, of course, requires some care before you show.
5. Alpacas require their owners to provide them with fresh water daily and grass hay (if pasture is insufficient for their feed). Specially formulated grain is provided (approximately one-half pound per day per adult animal) to supplement the necessary vitamins and minerals needed which are not found in most pastures in North America.
6. An owner must also make sure that in hot weather there is adequate shade and ventilation, augmented by fans, for the animals’ safety and comfort.
7. Toenails need trimming on a regular basis. At around one to two years of age teeth may need to be filed and this may be done by a veterinarian.
Alpacas are not bothered by cold weather and will often be found sleeping outside with snow and/or frost on them. They should always, however, have access to shelter.
Shearing is a must in the spring to help keep alpacas comfortable in the summer months. Shade, fans mounted close to the ground, and a soaker water hose should be provided to help keep them cool.
This cost will vary throughout the year. In the winter, you may need to supply the entire diet, but in the summer, you only need to supplement the alpaca diet. Fresh grass is always preferable to grass hay. We feed each alpaca daily grain supplements year-round (one to two cups), but give them (under vet advice) more in the winter months, especially pregnant and nursing mothers. Alpaca pellets are a mixture of grain and supplements (vitamins and minerals) and can be found at many feed stores. Use rodent-proof storage containers so you may purchase in volume. Some ranchers mix this grain/pellets with rolled corn and molasses. Check with your alpaca vet for his/her recommendation. We own six dogs of various sizes, and it costs us less to feed an alpaca than any one of our dogs.
III. The Animal
Most alpacas are gentle and cooperative with humans. Pet-quality denotes the alpaca, usually a gelded male, whose value derives from his fiber. Children especially love these huggable little creatures, and the feeling is mutual, for alpacas seem to exhibit a special warmth in their reactions to human crias. They are usually very tame and can be enjoyed in parades, as therapy animals in nursing homes and hospitals, as 4-H projects, and in their official role as farm mascots.
No. Alpacas are non-aggressive and tend to move away when they feel threatened. They assert dominance with other members of their herd, but are submissive and non-threatening towards humans. Their feet are padded, they do not bite, and they are small enough to be safe even around small children.
Alpacas are intelligent, inquisitive, curious, and highly adaptable. They tend to follow the lead of the dominant members of their herd, but cooperate with their handlers during halter training, loading for shipment, and at other times when their individual responses are more noticeable. They learn new tasks quickly and seem to enjoy interacting with humans.
Alpacas will occasionally spit at each other. This is usually exhibited during feeding and other times when dominance is being asserted. This does not injure the other alpacas and no member of the herd seems to take the spitting too seriously. Alpacas, unlike llamas, do not spit on people. They are much too well-bred for such rude behavior.
Approximately 335 days.
This varies, but generally a 15 to 18 month old female and a 28 to 36 month old male will be ready to begin breeding.
No. Alpacas breed through induced ovulation, which requires physical copulation between male and female.
No. They can carry a small child or light backpack, but for heavier loads, the larger llama is much more appropriate. As our animals are treasures to us, we do not tax or stress them in any way.
They travel very well. A family minivan, station wagon, utility vehicle, or trailer can be used to transport alpacas. We use an air-conditioned, heated two-passenger van with a divider between us and the alpacas for traffic safety. Alpacas can be transported in planes as well. Once they are in transport, they lie down and relax. Generally they are more at ease when transported in groups of two or more. Alpacas learn to jump in their transport and will lie down, look out the window and enjoy the ride.
Alpacas are shorn once per year in the spring before it gets too hot.
- Raw fiber can be sold directly to hand spinners and other craft people.
- By joining the North American Alpaca Fiber Cooperative, your fiber can be pooled with other North American alpaca breeders and made into a variety of designer apparel.
- You can have your fiber processed by a commercial mill and spun into yarn.
- Alpaca fleece is easy to work with. You can even spin it yourself for a variety of apparel and craft projects.
Alpaca fiber is classified as a rare specialty fiber. It is five times warmer than sheep wool fiber and more luxurious than cashmere. There are more than 22 natural colors of alpaca fleece. An infinite array of natural colors can be produced by blending these fibers. Alpaca fiber can also be easily dyed. Alpaca fiber is strong and resilient and has more thermal capacity than almost any other animal fiber. The fiber actually contains microscopic air pockets that contribute to the creation of lightweight apparel with very high insulation value. Alpaca fiber does not itch as wool often does because it does not contain lanolin and has a smooth cell structure.
- Fiber type
- Tensile strength
The above characteristics may be altered by husbandry, breeding, nutrition, and management procedures. It is vital to have a consistent nutritional program during the alpaca’s growth period to ensure uniformity of fiber growth.
[Diagram coming soon!]
No! The sale of fleece will only help cover annual expenses of maintaining the animal. Remember, the alpaca business is a breeding-based industry. Profits are made by breeding and selling the animals from your farm. A fiber-based industry may develop in the future, but experts in the field estimate that his will require at least another 10 to 15 years.
AOBA (ah-oh-buh) stands for the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association. It is the organization that provides information to members regarding alpaca events, has an excellent library, and promotes the alpaca breeding industry. It is a strong and active national breed association with a growing number of regional affiliates and AOBA-sanctioned national committees focused on addressing all aspects of the alpaca industry. AOBA was formed in 1988 to:
- Promote public awareness and membership.
- To educate its members on the care and breeding of the alpaca.
- To promote the growth of the alpaca industry.
- To foster the establishment of the breed outside of its origin and by encouraging husbandry and breeding procedures based upon, but not limited to, herd health, soundness, and wool production.
The Alpaca Registry was established to help ensure accurate records and has a state-of-the-art record-keeping system to document bloodlines. Alpacas must be blood-typed in order to be registered. Every alpaca in the US should be registered.
This fiber cooperative accepts fleece from its members and turns the treasured textile into quality alpaca garments and products. Members benefit from a ready outlet for their fiber, and the cooperative works to increase awareness of and demand for the luxurious clothing, yarn, textiles, and home products.
VII. Costs and Investment Concerns
Alpaca prices vary and depend on many factors. Among these are the animal’s sex, quality (conformation, fiber density, luster, etc.), and color. (See section on “The Alpaca” for more information.) You may also view The Alpaca Gallery®; for specific pictures and prices of animals you may be interested in purchasing.
Look at both. Which do you enjoy looking at most? There are fewer suri alpacas than huacaya alpacas in the world and in the U.S. Alpaca.com®; L.L.C. sells both suri and huacaya alpacas; however, we specialize in quality animals to meet the specific needs of each prospective buyer. Suri alpacas, for centuries, were bred to yield only white fiber, and colored suri alpaca were culled from the South American herds. In North America there is at this time a focus on the colored suri and these animals command premium prices. Whatever type of animal you choose, select the best quality you can afford. Five years from now, you will be glad you did, for you will have hopefully developed an outstanding, high-quality herd.
We recommend you buy the best alpacas that you can afford. You can certainly get started with less expensive alpacas; it will just take you longer to develop the best quality animals. However, you can save money by buying the lesser quality females and breeding up with quality herdsires. If you are only interested in fiber, then start with the less expensive neutered males. The fiber from a gelding can be just as valuable, and you can use it for your alpaca creations or sell it to weavers and spinners.
- Quality. Buy quality foundation stock. All future returns on your investment will depend on the quality of your offspring. It stands to reason that high-quality animals will sell for high prices, and poor-quality animals sell for lower prices. It is most important to purchase the very best foundation stock you can afford.
- Quantity. If you can begin your herd with a purchase of several pregnant females, you have increased your chances of a faster return for your investment. Only one pregnant female has a 50/50 chance of a female birth. If your one female delivers a male, you can only produce income if it becomes a herdsire, and you must wait two to three years for the herdsire to develop.
- Age. How fast you receive a return on your investment also depends on the age of the alpaca. If you buy a five to six-month-old female, you must wait until she is approximately 1 � years old to become pregnant, and then an 11-month gestation after that until you have a cria to sell, and then you must wait five to six months before you sell it as a weanling. If you purchase a pregnant female that is close to birthing, you will have offspring to sell much sooner. View Alpaca.com®;’s The Alpaca Gallery®; and/or Alpaca.com®;’s Online Auction to select your investment or pet-quality alpaca(s).
- They are pleasant, gentle, clean, do not smell, and are earth-friendly.
- They are easy to take care of-low maintenance, hardy/healthy.
- They produce beautiful fiber that is in high demand because of the low supply of these rare and beautiful animals.
- There are tax advantages in a recognized and sanctioned livestock venture.
- They are very enjoyable to be around and make you laugh.
Today, it is a breeders’ market, and this will continue for some time. Years from now, the alpaca will still be valuable because of the intrinsic value of its remarkable fleece. The fiber production in this country will increase until eventually there will be enough volume to enter the mass market with domestic alpaca products. Alpaca farmers can opt to send their fiber to the Fiber Co-op. The Co-op also offers its members the opportunity to purchase wholesale alpaca products to sell retail however they choose.
An alpaca can be insured so you are protected from financial loss. The cost to insure is approximately 3.25 to 3.5 percent of its value per year. You do not need to insure all your animals; it depends on your risk tolerance whether you will want to insure the less valuable ones as well. The cost of insurance can go down with each year of ownership. Alpacas are depreciated over a five-year period. For example, if you pay $20,000 for an alpaca, you depreciate the animal at a rate of $4,000 per year over a five-year period. The second year, you may reduce your insurance by $4,000 and then eliminate insurance after five years of ownership. Please seek the advice of an accountant so you may take the best tax advantage available to you.
This cost depends on your level of experience with animal care, local vet costs, personal luck, and health of your animals as well as your need and level of concern. As you become more experienced in the care of your alpacas, you will be able to do many things yourself. Seek the advice and help of a good alpaca veterinarian and learn from him/her.
Yes. The price of quality breeding stock will, however, remain high. Breeding-based businesses are the same in that the best animals will always sell for the highest dollars. The United States will eventually have a commercial market for inexpensive alpacas used only for their wool.
VIII. How Do I Get Started?
Alpaca.com®; L.L.C. specializes in finding and brokering the sale of alpacas varying from pet quality to the most elite breeding stock. Our personal herd consists of high-quality suris. Our services work together and are exclusive to Alpaca.com®; L.L.C. They include:
- The Alpaca Finder (selective search)
- The Alpaca Gallery®; (photos and video)
- The Alpaca.com®; Online Auction (reserve auction with photos and video)
- The Alpaca.com®; free consultation service based on honesty, integrity, and truly caring that you succeed.
This exclusive combination of services brings alpacas to the world via the global community. Visitors are most welcome to our website 24/7 and to our farm by appointment. We truly enjoy helping others enjoy these wonderful animals!
Please call our farm office at 1 (866) ALPACAS or 1 (734) 995 1500, and we can assist you in answering any further questions and in getting you started in the alpaca business as a pet owner or as an investment/business owner. We try to make this process fun and exciting and relieve you by taking care of burdensome details and guiding you as you begin your new venture. You may also look through The Alpaca Gallery®; or The Alpaca.com®; Online Auction to view the quality alpacas available for purchase.