An alpaca is a fiber-producing member of the camelid family, which includes alpacas, Dromedary and Bactrian camels, llamas, vicunas, and guanacos. The alpaca is a cute, intelligent animal that will win you over the moment you see one. It has fine, dense fiber; a curious, gentle spirit; and an elegant neck. They are native to the Altiplano region of the Andes Mountains of South America, primarily in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. As a result of their harsh living conditions, Alpacas developed into hardy animals with thick fleece to withstand the cold. Alpacas are smaller than llamas.
There are two types of alpacas, the suri (su-ree) and the huacaya (wah-kai-yuh). The huacaya Alpacas are bred primarily for their soft luxurious fleece, which is very similar to cashmere. Huacaya have a bushy topknot on their head and a wooly, dense fleece that is sheared once a year. This fleece has a crimp, or waviness, similar to sheep's wool, but does not have the greasiness found in sheep's wool. Suri Alpacas have silky, hanging locks of lustrous, penciled fiber that look like dreadlocks. Alpacas lay down (cush) to rest and breed. Baby alpacas (cria, pronounced "cree-ah") are born after 11 months gestation and live to be about 20 years of age. Adult alpacas range between 150 to 200 pounds and stand about three feet at the withers. Alpacas have padded feet and use community manure piles, thus keeping pastures clean and preserved. Several alpacas can be raised per acre, and their fiber is available in 22 natural colors. Alpacas communicate via humming sounds that are very pleasant and soothing to humans. Like their cousins, the llama, alpacas do spit, but mostly at each other to communicate dominance.
From 1984 to 1998, some specially selected alpacas were imported into the United States from South America. There have been no other importations, and the American herd is now closed. Because the only breeding stock available to improve the bloodlines is here in the US, breeding Alpacas is a good investment opportunity. Alpacas also make practical pets because they are small and easy to handle. They are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease-resistant. Alpacas have soft padded feet that are gentle on the land and can easily be transported in the family van. They make wonderful companions and great 4-H projects for a child. They are safe - don't butt or bite. However, alpacas do not live alone (they are a herd animal) and you need to own at least two, or stress may set in, the animal will not eat, and could die.
Alpacas have only one baby, called a cria, at a time - twins are extremely rare. When giving birth, alpacas do not usually require any assistance, and have their young while standing. Alpacas give birth normally between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. A cria is weaned at about six months. The mother is usually mated again in about 21 days. The Alpaca Registry is the breed registry for Alpacas and was created for maintaining the value of Alpaca bloodstock. The registry is a state-of-the-art and highly sophisticated system to document bloodlines. Almost every alpaca in the United States is registered, and Alpacas without registration papers are difficult to sell. As a result of the registry, bloodlines have been kept pure, and cross breeding with other camelids has been virtually eliminated. Alpaca owners also enjoy a strong and active national organization, The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA), with a growing number of Regional Affiliates and AOBA sanctioned national committees addressing every aspect of the industry. We belong to NEAOBA, the New England Affiliate of AOBA.
Alpacas have existed for thousands of years and were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization. The imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from alpaca and many of their religious ceremonies involved the animal. The Spanish conquistadors almost obliterated the alpaca and the native pastoralist who cared for them because they failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. The alpaca survived because of its ability to adapt to climates and terrain too harsh for European livestock.
For a long time, alpaca fiber was a well-kept secret. In the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of London, England rediscovered alpaca and introduced the luxury fiber to the European market. Sir Titus studied the unique properties of alpaca fleece, finding that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The fiber from U.S. alpacas is only beginning to contribute to the global fiber market but is presently supporting an ever-growing domestic cottage industry of spinners and weavers around the world.
Alpacas produce one of the finest and most luxurious, natural fibers in the world. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in 22 natural colors – more colors than any other fiber producing animal. Unsurpassed in its insulation properties, alpaca is lightweight and can be worn year round. It is also ultra soft and hypoallergenic, but also ruggedly durable. And unlike the popular synthetic fleeces, alpaca is natural fiber and environmentally friendly. No petroleum products are used! Alpacas yield an average of 5 to 8 pounds of fiber per animal per year. It is naturally waterproof. The cellular structure is less prickly than many other fibers, so few people are allergic to alpaca fiber. It does not contain grease or lanolin, making it easier to clean. It is easily dyed and can be processed into either worsted or woolen products. It can be spun, woven, knitted, crocheted, and felted.
The goal of the alpaca industry in the North America is to build a herd large enough to support the commercial production of alpaca products. Today, breeders work to continually improve the quality and quantity of alpaca fiber, without compromising the health, conformation and reproductive vitality of the animals. Alpaca owners enjoy The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) accepts fleece from its members, and turns the precious textile into quality alpaca garments and products. Members benefit from a ready outlet for their fiber, while the cooperative works to increase awareness of and demand for this every day luxury.
Alpacas have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years and are one of Mother Nature's favorite farm animals. They are sensitive to their environment in every respect. The alpaca's feet are padded and leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged as it browses on native grasses. Because it is a camelid, the alpaca can thrive without consuming very much water, although an abundant, fresh water supply is necessary.
The alpaca does not usually eat or destroy trees, preferring tender grasses, which it does not pull up by the roots. South American Indians use alpaca dung for fuel , while gardeners find the alpaca's rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables. A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites, and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer. An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm, sweaters for its owner's comfort. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts. Alpacas are considered disease-resistant, which lowers insurance and vet bills.