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Alpaca Facts



What are Alpacas?

Alpacas are members of the South American camelid family which include, in order of size: Llamas, Guanacos, Alpacas and Vicunas.

Alpacas and llamas were domesticated over 6000 years ago by the early civilizations of the Andes. The Alpacas' cashmere-like fleece was used to produce clothing for the Incan royalty whereas the larger llama was used to transport cargo on the steep Andean trails.

In the 16th Century, when the Spanish conquistadores invaded Peru and Chile, they brought with them European livestock such as Merino sheep and almost wiped out the Alpaca breeding herds which numbered at that time some 30 million animals.

  Peruvian Alpaca herd  

The surviving animals found refuge on the altiplano of the high Andes (4-5000m) where they did not have to compete against the invaders' sheep. As a consequence, they developed an ability to survive in extremes of temperature and to live on the sparse vegetation and a low protein diet.



The result is that today's Alpaca is a very hardy and adaptable animal and is mostly found in the Andean mountain ranges of Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Around the middle of the 19th century, the English textile merchant Sir Titus Salt discovered the qualities of the Alpaca fibre. Today, his mill and model village in Saltaire, Shipley near Bradford, England have been renovated and nominated as a World Heritage site.

Queen Victoria is reported to have owned and worn dresses made from Alpaca and Prince Albert himself enjoyed discussions with the textile manufacturers of the period about the fabric designs produced from their own Alpacas. Indeed during Victoria's reign an Alpaca coat became an essential item of the wardrobe. It also became part of the family heirlooms being passed down through the generations, thus was its hard wearing ability.


There are two types of Alpaca: the crimpy Huacaya whose fleece has a wavy quality and grows perpendicular to the skin, and the Suris with their locketed, lustruous fine fibre which hangs in ringlets vertical to the skin. If a Suri fleece is allowed to grow it can sweep the floor and drape like curtains. This type of Suri is called a Wasi.


Alpaca varieties



Alpacas are domesticated from the Vicuna. Llamas are domesticated from the Guanaco. Therefore the two should not be cross bred. The offspring of this match is called a Huarizo or Misti, dependant upon which species the dam or sire comes from. Sadly the fibre from this animal is coarser and shorter and therefore less desirable to a textile processor.

  Alpaca appeal  

The appeal of Alpacas

Alpacas are among the more unusual domestic livestock in the world. Sadly since the Spanish invasion there are now fewer than 3 million in all of South America and only about 65,000 in North America and around 45,000 in Australia.



Countries importing them are growing, and include New Zealand, Canada, Europe and Scandinavia. In the UK we currently have around 45,000.

Alpacas are commonly raised for resale as genetic/breeding stock and for the sale of their precious fibre. They are one of the premier livestock investments, and the market demand for their offspring and fibre is strong. Nevertheless, they also make wonderful pets and a paddock full of these animals is truly a sight to behold. What beautiful lawn mowers and maintenance free.


They come in 22 natural colours in more than 200 shades ranging from white to beige, fawn, brown, grey and black which means that the need to dye the fleece is lessened. The fleece is also free of lanolin, making the processing of the raw fibre relatively easy, without the use of harsh chemicals.


Alpaca colours



Because they are not bred for their meat they are not an animal destined for slaughter and so, if well looked after, can live to their full life span of 20-25 years. They are intelligent and in most part, non-aggressive and therefore easy to train. Inquisitive but shy, gregarious and extremely affectionate when well cared for and accustomed to their handler. They communicate with each other by humming and the use of body language, and have the most amazing big eyes with very long eyelashes.

They are gentle around children so day to day care can be enjoyed by all the members of the family without risk of injury. They need little space and are easy on their environment. Stocking is 5-6 to an acre but in minimums of three, as they are herd animals and need to have at least two companions if they are to remain happy and healthy.

Although Alpacas spit amongst themselves, it is as a way of expressing dominance. Females will spit at males when not receptive to breeding, but spitting at humans is as a response to fear.

They are very clean animals and use a central dung pile which is odourless, and when collected makes excellent fertiliser because it is low in nitrogen, which means it can be added directly to the plants without burning their base.

Alpacas are ruminants and have a three compartment stomach. Old meadow grass mixes are ideal for their diet as they are lower in protein, although it is recommended that an additional coarse mineral mix be provided. During the winter months when the grass lies dormant, good clean hay should also be provided. They are gentle on the pasture as they have soft padded feet with two toes. An adult eats approximately 1 kg of hay a day.

  Alpaca shelter  

Alpaca maintenance

Alpacas rarely challenge fencing and are therefore easily contained within a simple post and sheep netting fence. But just like us, when our hair gets wet we very quickly become cold, therefore a minimal shelter should be provided for protection against adverse weather conditions.



Alpacas must be vaccinated every six months against clostridial diseases, with a booster given to pregnant females 4-6 weeks before birth to ensure immunity in the new born cria. It is also good practice to check for worms 3 or 4 times a year by sending dung samples off to the vet. If the results are negative then worming injections are not required. Teeth also should be given a regular check and the fighting teeth of a mature male removed. Toe nails are trimmed as and when required.

Shearing should take place every spring in order to prevent heat stress in the summer months. Regular shearing also ensures that fibre is of a consistent length for use by manufacturers and craftspersons. A fleece from one Alpaca can produce as much as 5 kg of premium fibre. It is a good idea to retain the fibre on their bonnet, as this acts as both sunshades for their eyes and a hat against sun stroke.


Fresh water must be supplied daily to prevent microbes developing, and the container cleaned daily and preferably kept above ground, as Alpacas do love to 'go for a paddle'. Constantly wet fleece becomes brittle and breaks off, thus it becomes unusable as a textile.


Shorn Alpacas



Alpacas use a 'field toilet' and form dung piles, thus extremely hygienic when compared with other animals. These dung piles allow the pasture to be cleaned efficiently and effectively. If undertaken regularly, preferably on a daily basis the 'dung piles' will consume approximately 10% of the pasture. However, if not cleaned regularly this increases to 20%. Pasture cleaning on a daily basis is also a good way to spot early signs of ill health amongst the herd.

Research undertaken by David Anderson's team of Vets at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, shows that Alpacas and Llamas are considered to be low risk for ground water contamination because:

"Alpacas consume similar amounts of water as other grazers of comparable size, but eat less per body weight, and their faecal output being proportional to their dry matter intake. Pesticides are uncommonly used in Alpaca farming because of the limited need to do so, therefore the potential environmental impact is negligible. Compared to traditional livestock species, Alpacas and Llamas are not known to be carriers of important pathogens, and uncommon carriers of secondary pathogens".

Ideally suited to 'urban farm' settings.



Alpaca reproduction

Female Alpacas are best bred at 18-24 months of age dependant on size and weight. They have a gestation period of 11½ months, rarely giving birth to live twins and are ready for rebreeding from 21 days after delivery.

Males are mature at around 2½ years of age. When mating they make a sound referred to as 'orgling'. The volume can be quite loud when several breedings are taking place at the same time.

The female Alpaca will produce one cria a year weighing between 6-9 kg. They deliver their cria naturally and in the main without the intervention of humans. Indeed, such is their nature for a private birth, that the delivery can often be delayed when obviously being observed by humans.

  Ultrasound scan of Alpaca foetus in womb  

Common signs for an impending birth are swelling of the vulva, bagging up of teats and frequent visits to the dung pile. The new ‘Mum’ could also take herself off to be away from the rest of the female herd. Once the cria is born, the invitation goes out and everyone gathers around to welcome the new infant and celebrate with ‘Mum’.



At this time, if other alpacas are in adjacent pastures, they also run to their fence line and crane their necks for a sight of the new member of the family. A wonderful sight to observe.

In the altiplano the births normally take place during daylight hours to ensure the cria is up and mobile before nightfall. This is imperative to their survival against predators and the cold Andean nights. But feeling safe and free from predators, births can take place anytime of the day.


Babies stand and begin nursing within 30 minutes after delivery and usually reach 40 kg by their first birthday. They will start to graze within one week of being born and are generally weaned at 6 months of age. Dependent on size, this then allows the new foetus to grow healthily and mother time to re-condition prior to the arrival of the next generation.


Baby Alpaca ready to nurse



An adult Alpaca will weigh between 55-80 kg (120-170 pounds) and stand up to around 1.7 metres (five feet six inches), to the tip of its ears.

Alpaca herd Sires now available
Alpaca herd Sires now available
The British Alpaca Society  
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