Alpacas are in the camelid family. They are gentle and curious animals. There are two different kinds of
alpacas, huacaya (pronounced: wha-KI-ah) and suri (pronounced: sur-E).
The huacaya and suri are distinguished by their fleece. Huacaya fleece is wavy, crimpy, and fluffy. Suri
have fleece that resembles dread-locks. Alpacas were originally imported into the US from Chile, Peru or
Bolivia. Shearing is done once a year, usually in the spring months. Each full grown alpaca yields between
5 to 10 pounds of fleece. This fleece, after very little preparation, can be spun into yarn. Lower-grade
fleece can be used to make felted items, such as hats, rugs, slippers and toys.
Alpacas are approximately 36 inches tall at the withers (the area where the neck & spine come together)
and weigh between 100 to 200 pounds. Alpacas have two toes with soft pads (like dogs and cats). They
have incisors only on the bottom front of their mouths. Camelids have three distinct compartments in their
gut and stomach, making them ruminant animals. Normally, a female can start breeding at 18 months. The
normal gestation period for a female is 335 to 355 days. Most births (95%) require little or no human
intervention. A baby alpaca is called a cria.
They require only a few hay flakes a day plus grain, minerals and lots of fresh water. They are extremely
easy to work with. They are easy to halter train in a few sessions. Alpacas are herd animals and do not
thrive well when alone. Normally two to six alpacas can be put on a one acre dry-lot. Usually ten or more
alpacas can be put on an acre that has more lush pasture. They are safe around children.
The price of an alpaca depends largely on its quality, judged by its conformation (body structure), its fleece
and genetic bloodline. Generally females bring higher prices than males, however to date the highest
prices paid for alpacas have been for the few highest quality males.
A Short History of the Alpaca:
As mentioned above, alpacas originate from South America and are members of the camelid family. You
will find a thriving alpaca industry today in Bolivia, Peru and Chile. The somewhat better known llama and
less known vicuna are also members of the camelid family and like the alpaca originate from South
America. The relationship between alpacas and the camels native to other regions of our world is a
recognition of the similarities between the animals. Some but not all of these similarities are their soft
padded feet, their digestive system, their long necks and some of their behaviors, such as everyone's
favorite behavior of spitting. Nobody really knows why the alpaca, llama and vicuna came to be in South
America while their larger "relatives", the camels came to be on other continents of our world.
Among the indigenous people of South America, the Incas, alpacas were raised for their fine fleeces. This
prized fiber was woven into clothing for the royal class and high officials of Inca society. In the 1500's when
European people conquered the region, they brought sheep and cattle with them. The alpaca was viewed
as a competitor and was quickly pushed out. If it had not been for the fiber which also had become prized
in Europe for its luxurious softness, one can only wonder if we would have the alpaca living among us today.
Others had tried to raise alpacas outside of South America but it wasn't until the mid 1980's that alpaca
farming began to make serious inroads into countries outside of Bolivia, Peru and Chile. From 1984 to
1998, there were large scale importations of alpacas into the United States. Similarly, Canada also
imported and registered alpacas into a separate Canadian registry. These imported animals became the
genetic base for all registered alpacas in North America. Since 1998, no further alpaca importations into
the US have been allowed. Despite this restriction, the alpaca herds in the US have continued to grow as
more people recognize the value of alpaca farming. Just twenty years after the first large scale
importations into the US, alpaca livestock sales alone have grown to approximately eighty million dollars