Information on Alpacas
I am thinking about getting an alpaca. I have an acre of land. Is that enough space? Can you give me some information about the animals?
Alpacas are in the Camelid family which also includes camels, llamas, guanacos and vicunes. Native to the Andes Mountains in South America, alpacas and llamas were domesticated more than 6,000 years ago and played central roles in the ancient Incan civilization. Alpacas were brought to the United States in 1994 and today number a little over 10,000.
Alpacas produce a cashmere-like fleece, considered one of the world's finest natural fibers. In North America, the primary market for the fleece is hand spinners. South America, which produces much more fiber, sells mainly to Japan, Europe and England. The fleece comes in 22 natural colors.
In addition to being valuable for their fleece, alpacas make excellent companion animals because of their gentle, non-aggressive dispositions. They are easily trained to a lead and are gentle enough for children to handle. They do not bite, claw, kick or butt. They occasionally spit at other alpacas, but rarely at people. Alpacas are ruminants meaning that they have four parts to their stomach and chew their cud like cattle, sheep, goats and deer. They are normally grazing animals and can thrive on pasture or hay of lesser quality than needed for most other ruminants. You can easily stock five animals per acre. They are normally social and are happier and better behaved living with other alpacas.
The average lifespan of alpacas is 15-25 years. Alpacas average 36 inches at the withers (shoulders) and weigh 100-175 pounds. Their gestation is 11 1/2 months. They usually give birth to one baby, called a cria, which weighs 12-20 pounds. There are two breeds of alpaca: huscaya (the most common) and suri. Huscaya fleece is wavy and fluffy; suri fleece grows in hanging spirals. Alpacas are hardy animals, well adapted to the harsh winters and scanty food supplies of the Andes. In winter, you need to provide them with shelter from wind, rain and snow. A three-sided building or lean-to is adequate. Hot, humid summers are much more stressful for them. They need shade and sometimes fans to cool and circulate the air. Shearing usually is done in the spring. Occasional grooming and toenail trimming are recommended. Veterinary care should include dental care, parasite control and vaccinations against tetanus, clostridial diseases and rabies in some areas. Additional information about alpacas is available from the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association or from your veterinarian.