About Alpacas Early Morning

What is an Alpaca?

Alpacas are members of the camelid (camel) family.  They are mild-tempered animals with an inquisitive nature.  Alpacas are one of the camelid species. There are four species of South American camelid: while Llamas and Alpacas are domesticated, the Vicuna and Guanaco remain wild and are protected species.

There are two different breeds of alpaca: the Huacaya (wah-KI'-ya) and Suri ("surrey"). Although both types of alpacas are physiologically nearly identical, one major physical difference is their fleece. Huacaya fleece has some "waviness," or "crimp" to it, thus giving hyacayas a fluffy, "Teddy Bear-like" appearance. Suri Alpacas are distinguished in the camelid family because of their unique fleece characteristics. The fiber grows parallel to the body while hanging in long, silky, distinctive locks that gently cascade from their bodies. Suri fleece presents an elegant and graceful look when compared to the Huacaya Alpaca. Suri fleece is also highly desirable in the fiber market and commands a premium price in the range of four to six dollars per ounce.

Indigenous to South America, the alpaca is raised for its soft fleece. Their fleece is sheared once a year in the Spring time, yielding roughly three to seven pounds of fiber. After only minimal preparation, it is ready to be spun into yarn (for knitting, crocheting, and weaving) or used to make felt (for creating hats or cloth). Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends).This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.

Alpacas stand approximately 36 inches tall at the withers (the area where the neck and spine come together) and average between 100 and 200 pounds. They require only modest amounts of food (approximately 1 1/2 to 2% of their body weight in hay or pasture grass per day), plus free access to fresh cool water and free-choice minerals. We supplement our alpacas' diets with additional grains and fiber nutrients, depending on specific nutritional needs and gestation status. 

A Brief History of Alpacas

Alpacas have coexisted with mankind for thousands of years. The Incan civilization of the Andes Mountains in Peru elevated the alpaca to a central place in their society. The imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from alpaca and many of their religious ceremonies involved the animal. Museums throughout the Americas display textiles made from alpaca fiber.

The Spanish conquistadors failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. For a time, alpaca fiber was a well-kept secret. In the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire, England rediscovered alpaca. The newly industrialized English textile industry was at its zenith when Sir Titus began studying the unique properties of alpaca fleece. He discovered, for instance, that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The alpaca textiles he fashioned from the raw fleece were soft, lustrous, and they soon began making their mark across Europe. Today, the center of the alpaca textile industry is in Arequipa, Peru; yarn and other products made from alpaca are sold primarily in Japan and Europe.

Outside of their native South America, the number of alpacas found in other countries remains limited, though growing in Australia, New Zealand Canada, United States, China and England. In fact, 95 percent of the world's approximately three million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

The Alpaca Lifestyle

The joy, ease of care and potential profitability of raising alpacas has attracted people from many walks of life to become breeders. For some, alpacas are a primary source of income, for others a part-time business venture, but a source of pleasure for both. Young couples with children can enjoy the benefits of owning and caring for alpacas as a rewarding family experience. People who have raised their kids and are seeking a business and lifestyle to enjoy as they approach retirement are often owners. Ultimately, whether making the switch from a fast-paced, corporate way of life, or adding alpacas to an already established rural setting, breeding these unique, gentle animals can provide both income and pleasure, all included in a peaceful, stress-free lifestyle.

This lifestyle is made possible since alpacas can be raised on relatively small acreage and they are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease resistant.  Alpacas have soft padded feet, are gentle on the land and can be easily transported.

There are also plenty of family-oriented alpaca events around the country, including local and state fairs, alpaca farm open houses and auctions, and larger shows hosted by alpaca organizations, the largest and most impressive being the annual Alpaca conference and show presented by AOBA. Some breeders also choose to get involved in selling products made from alpaca fiber as a hobby or an additional home-based business venture. The spinning and weaving of fiber is a skill that can lead to profits.

Alpacas have brought impressive financial returns to families all across America, but it's the fun and hands-on nature of this lifestyle that has really captivated people searching for a simpler and more rewarding way of life. Even if you don't have the land and are committed to a full-time career, you can still begin your alpaca adventure by purchasing and boarding at a nearby alpaca farm or ranch. A retired doctor who is now a full-time alpaca breeder had this to say, "I would rather raise alpacas than anything I've ever done. Breeding alpacas is a labor of love and can be very profitable."