Frequently Asked Questions
Alpacas are incredibly interesting animals and attract much attention. Whether you are just getting started or well into your alpaca adventure, there's always something new to learn. Most of the questions you will have are listed below. If you need more information just us a note on our Contact page.
People often confuse alpacas with llamas. While closely related, llamas and alpacas are distinctly different animals. Llamas about twice the size of an alpaca, with an average weight of about 250 to 450 pounds, compared to an alpaca whose weight averages 100 to 200 pounds. Llamas are primarily used for packing or for guarding herds of sheep or alpacas, whereas alpacas are primarily raised for their soft and luxurious fleece. Llama fiber can be harvested but due to its qualities it generally has different uses than alpaca.
Other than size, there are differences in llama appearance (ie conformation, structure) compared to alpaca. They have a flat back and banana-shaped ears. Llama and alpaca can interbreed and produce a fully reproductive offspring.
All members of the camel family use spitting as a means of negative communication. They can get possessive around food, and thus may express annoyance by spitting at other alpacas that they perceive are encroaching on "their" food. Also, they often spit at one another during squabbles within the herd. From time to time alpacas do spit at people on purpose, but it is more common that humans get caught in the cross-fire between alpacas, so it’s best to study their behavior and learn to avoid the most vulnerable situations.
Alpacas are very quiet, docile animals that generally make a variety of sounds. They communicate using sounds as well as body posture, tail, and ear movements. They generally make a humming sound to express concern or stress. Mamas and babies communicate by humming or mama will make a soft clucking sound to direct baby. Occasionally you will hear a high pitched sound, called an "alarm call," which usually means they are frightened or angry with another alpaca. Male alpacas also "serenade" females during breeding with a rhythmic, throaty sound called "orgling." Dominance among herd members might be expressed by screaming at each other until the argument is settled.
Alpacas are gentle, curious animals and pleasant to be around but generally tolerate people. They are not aggressive or mean nor do they attack. Based on size alone, they are easier to manage than larger size livestock. They do not bite or butt and do not have sharp teeth, horns, hooves, or claws. They move gracefully about the field and are therefore unlikely to run into or over anyone, even small children. Occasionally, an alpaca will reflexively kick with its hind legs, especially if touched from the rear, but the soft padded feet usually do little more than just "get your attention."
Alpacas are raised for their soft and luxurious fleece (sometimes called fiber). Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fleece per animal, per year. This fleece, often compared to cashmere, naturally is a wide variety of colors from pure white, fawn to a range of browns and jet black. The fleece itself is recognized globally for its fineness, softness, light-weight, durability, excellent thermal qualities, and luster. That fleece can be turned into a wide array of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries, blankets, rugs, and other home goods.
In addition to selling the fleece and the animals, many alpaca owners operate a retail store selling alpaca end-products—either on or off their farms. Products are sold directly to consumers at their store or over the Internet. Many also sell alpaca products through craft fairs, farmer's markets, and retail sites. Sales of these end-products can provide supplemental income to alpaca owners.
Owners invested in breeding alpacas have the benefit of the annual fiber harvest and might also show in competitions. Other owners participate in 4-H or FFA programs and some enjoy alpacas for pleasure. For those who don’t have the property to raise alpacas, they might invest and ‘agist’ (ie, board) alpacas as an investment or for pleasure.
Alpaca are raised for their fiber and production spans their lifetime so for this reason alpaca are raised for fiber production. This is also true in South America where there are thousands more alpaca than other countries. In the US there is not a meat market for alpaca like there is for cattle and hogs so slaughtering is uncommon.
Alpaca are confused with emus, an animal that was once popular to raise for meat among other things. The biggest difference between an alpaca and emu is alpaca are mammals and emus are birds. Birds lay eggs. Mammals have live births.
The average lifespan is 15 to 20 years. The longest documented lifespan of an alpaca is 27 years.
They are smaller in stature than other livestock and relatively easy to maintain. They stand about 36' high at the withers (where the neck and spine come together); weigh between 100 to 200 pounds, and generally establish communal poop piles. The alpacas need basic shelter and protection from heat, extreme cold, and adverse weather, just like other types of livestock. They will need veterinary and healthcare in some circumstances therefore having a veterinarian familiar with alpacas is important. They might require certain vaccinations and anti-parasitic medicines. Their fleece is sheared at a minimum once a year. Alpacas do not have hooves — instead, they have two toes per foot, with hard toenails on top and a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, which minimizes their effect on pastures and makes them an "environmentally friendly" animal. Their nails need to be trimmed on an as-needed basis to ensure proper foot alignment and comfort. They have teeth only on the bottom front (with a dental pad on the top front) that needs to be trimmed as needed.
A herd of 4-5 alpacas needs approximately one acre of grassland. This can also be hay and pasture combination, or ‘dry lot’ with adequate amounts of quality hay. The amount of space depends on terrain, rain amounts, and land availability.
While the shelter requirements vary depending on weather and predators, as a general rule alpacas need a place where they can escape from the heat and weather. An open shelter with a roof or possibly a three-sided shelter are sufficient. If predators (dogs, coyotes, bears, etc.) are present in your neighborhood, then a minimum of five-foot-high, 2' x 4' no-climb fencing is strongly recommended. Alpaca do not challenge fences but they do like to rub against them so it is important that they are strong. Traditional rail fencing or wire with openings that are 4”x4” is not recommended, as curious alpacas have been harmed by putting their heads or legs through the openings.
Providing herd mates is important to help alpacas live their expected lifespan. They have very strong herd instincts which means that they rely on each other (same species) and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive and maintain lower stress levels. They also develop strong bonds with other alpacas. Gender appropriate (or neutered) llamas sometimes will successfully bond with an alpaca. Otherwise, it is best to provide each alpaca with companion alpacas of the same species and gender, keeping males and females separate.
Yes, they are much cleaner than most livestock. Alpacas have a minimal aroma and tend to attract fewer flies in the summertime than other forms of livestock. Furthermore, alpacas often defecate in communal poop piles. In smaller herds, there may be three or four of these areas in a pasture, spread throughout about 10% to 20% of the pasture. Larger groups increase the percentages, but overall it makes for easy clean-up, reduced opportunity for parasites, and better overall hygiene in the herd. Alpaca manure can be collected and used for fertilizer because of the rich nutrients it provides.
Alpaca groom themselves by taking dust baths (ie, rolling in dust holes) so expect that these will be part of your pasture. Grooming by owners is usually not recommended because shampooing and brushing destroys the character of the fiber. When skin issues arise it might be necessary to groom them to minimize the spread so that the fiber can remain healthy and useable.
Alpacas are browsers and grazers. What and how much an alpaca eats depends on their reason for being owned, age, and health. Alpacas mainly eat grass or hay, and not much—approximately two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. The general rule of thumb is 1.5% of the animal’s body weight daily in hay or fresh pasture. A single, 60-pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of about 20 alpacas for one day. Low protein grass hay is recommended, while alfalfa should be fed sparingly, due to its overly rich protein content. Alpacas are pseudo-ruminants, with a single stomach divided into three compartments. They produce rumen and chew cud, thus they are able to process this modest amount of food very efficiently. Many alpacas (especially females that are pregnant, lactating or alpacas young or old) can benefit from nutritional and mineral supplements, depending on local conditions. There are several manufactured alpaca and llama feeds and mineral mixes readily available; consult with your local veterinarian to ensure you are feeding the appropriate diet for your area. Alpacas also require access to plenty of clean, fresh water to drink.
Alpacas have two sets of teeth for processing food. They have molars in the back of the jaw for chewing cud. But in the front, the alpaca has teeth only on the bottom and a dental pad on the top for crushing grain, grass, or hay. Unlike goats and sheep that have long tongues which they sometimes use to rip plants out of the ground, alpacas have short tongues and nibble only the tops of grasses and other plants, resulting in less disturbance of the vegetation. However, alpacas are also browsers and will often eat shrubs or the leaves from trees if given the opportunity. This requires monitoring to ensure they do not consume harmful products.
Generally, yes. Alpacas are amazingly resilient animals and have adapted successfully to the extremes of both very hot and very cold climates. During hot, humid months, alpaca owners take precautions to make sure that the alpacas do not suffer from heat stress. These include shearing at times appropriate for the heat, providing fans and ventilation, offering cool fresh water for drinking, and hosing off their bellies (where heat is dissipated) and/or providing ground sprinklers on very hot days.
Alpaca babies are called cria and in most cases, it is a single cria birth that doesn’t require intervention, and often during daylight hours. A cria normally weighs between 12 and 17 pounds and is usually standing and nursing within 90 minutes of birth. The cria continues to nurse for at least six months until it is weaned. Because of their herd mentality, they learn alpaca behaviors from their mothers and herd mates. For this reason, it is important that babies are not separated from their mothers sooner than weaning and weaning is managed to minimize stress.
Alpacas are intelligent animals and because of their herd mentality, learn at a young age from their mothers and herd mates. For this reason, it is important that babies are not separated from their mothers sooner than weaning. They easily recognize unfamiliar surroundings, people, and noises. They can be easy to train with correct techniques. It is best to start training them when they are young so that they will accept a halter and learn to follow on a lead. Many owners also enjoy training them to walk through obstacles; some even compete with their alpacas at shows where they walk over, through, and around objects and also jump over small hurdles. Also, it is helpful to acclimate alpacas to ride in a trailer or van if they ever need to be transported to a vet, show, or another farm. Alpacas are easy to transport, as they normally cush (lay down with their legs folded under them) when traveling.
Alpacas are raised for their soft and luxurious fleece (sometimes called fiber). Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fleece per animal, per year. This fleece, often compared to cashmere, can be turned into a wide array of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries and blankets. The fleece itself is recognized globally for its fineness, softness, light-weight, durability, excellent thermal qualities, and luster.
In addition to selling the fleece and the animals, many alpaca owners operate a retail store selling alpaca end-products—either on or off their farms. Products are sold directly to consumers at their store or over the Internet. Many also sell alpaca products through craft fairs, farmer's markets, and retail sites. Sales of these end-products can provide considerable supplemental income to alpaca owners.
Let’s start by comparing alpaca fleece with wool from most breeds of sheep. In general, alpaca fleece is stronger, lighter, warmer, and more resilient. Finer grades of alpaca fleece (known commercially as "Baby Alpaca") are believed to be hypo-allergenic, meaning it does not irritate your skin as sheep’s wool sometimes does. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece contains no lanolin and is therefore ready to spin after only nominal cleaning. Prized for its unique silky feel and superb "handle," alpaca fleece is highly sought-after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters, weavers, etc.) as well as the commercial fashion industry.
Alpaca fleece has a great variety of natural colors, making it very much in vogue: shades of white, beige, fawn, brown, black, and grey. White, light fawn and light grey can be readily dyed, thus offering a rainbow of colors for the fiber artist. Alpaca fleece can also be combined with other fine fibers such as merino wool, cashmere, mohair, silk, and angora to attain incredibly interesting blends.
Simple answer—yes. Anytime you are investing money, you need to take all the necessary steps to help assure that your investment maintains its value, and registered alpacas do just that.
Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. (AOA) is the largest alpaca pedigree registry in the world. AOA provides services to alpaca owners all over the world although primarily provide pedigree registration and member services to the United States and Canada. AOA is one of the few livestock registries of any kind that requires that every animal is DNA tested back to its parents before being registered. As a result, AOA registered alpacas are highly desired.
Yes, there are many alpaca shows (both show ring and fleece judging competitions) held throughout North America where owners can showcase their animals and fleeces. Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. (AOA), and Alpaca Llama Show Association (ALSA) certifies regional shows and fairs throughout the United States.
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