What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas are members of the camelid family and as such are related to camels, llamas, vicunas and guanacos. Llamas are pack animals and alpacas are bred for their beautiful fleeces.
Where do they come from?
Alpacas came originally from South America where they are still mainly found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They have been domesticated for about 6,000 years.
Is there more than one type of alpaca?
Yes – there are two types, the Huacaya with its dense and crimped fleece which feels soft to the touch and the Suri which looks as though it has dreadlocks as the fleece hangs in narrow locks. The Suri fleece should be fine, silky and with a lustrous sheen which feels cool when touched. We at Old Brick Farm have chosen to breed Huacayas. Their fleeces should be fine, bright, dense and free from course hairs and above all feel lovely.
How long do they live?
On average 13-18 years
Are they friendly?
As with all animals much depends on how they have been handled since birth. They are shy flight animals who when unsettled run away! Their only defence is to spit or kick but this usually only happens if they feel insecure or threatened. All of our young alpacas are halter trained but we do have a couple of females who were not trained as youngsters (before we purchased them) and they prefer not to wear halters and go for walks around the farm!
What do they weigh?
Adult alpacas weigh 50-80kgs and stand about 36” tall at the withers (shoulders).
Are they easy to look after?
Alpacas need to be fed daily, checked at least twice a day for any signs of distress, ill health etc. They require annual vaccinations, shearing and teeth trimming and periodic toe nail trimming. I would suggest that you get to know your local large animal veterinarian to be sure that he is happy to treat for camelids should the need arise.
Do they need a lot of space?
Ideally 2 – 5 alpacas can be kept per acre but stocking density depends on the quality of the grazing and the time of year. When possible it is adviseable to rotate the grazing areas so that the pasture has time to recover. They are gentle on the land (little poaching) having soft flat pads and they tend to poo in designated spots around the paddock, known as middens.
What do they eat?
Alpacas love to graze and will be seen nibbling hedgerows as well as eating grass and hay. We also feed ours a small amount of camelid feed in order to ensure that the alpacas receive the necessary vitamins and minerals to maintain optimum health. During the dull winter months we also give our alpacas an additional vitamin supplement. They also need access to fresh, clean drinking water.
Do they make good pets?
Alpacas are wonderful time wasters! You will find that you can happily spend hours just watching them in their paddocks as they are such gentle and fascinating animals. They are easy to train and very gentle with children. They soon learn to take food from your hands and will usually walk happily on a halter.
Are they easy to breed?
The females usually have their first cria at about 30 months after mating at around 18 months. Gestation is about 11.5 months. Alpacas are induced ovulaters which means that they can be mated at any time. Twins are rare and birthing is usually straightforward and in daylight.
What colour are alpacas?
There are 22 fleece colours ranging from white to fawn and brown to black. Some alpacas show a variety of colours and these are known as “multis”.
How often do they need shearing?
Alpacas are shorn annually, normally in the late Spring/early Summer when the weather is less chilly.
Do they need special housing or fencing?
Our alpacas are not keen on very wet or very hot weather and so we have provided field shelters for their use. Good high hedges can also give shelter. Barbed wire and electric fencing should be avoided and as alpacas can jump, a 4’ high fence is recommended. We use stock wire with a double strand of high tensile wire.
Can alpacas be kept on their own?
Alpacas are herd animals and so should not live on their own. Ideally they should live with at least one other alpaca as they do get stressed if separated. Alpacas can be kept with sheep and goats and some owners keep them with horses and donkeys.