Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. Alpacas are now being successfully raised and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad. There are two types of alpacas - the Huacaya and the Suri. The lifespan of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11.5 months. Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud. Adult alpacas are about 36" tall at the withers and generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. They are gentle and easy to handle. Alpacas don't have incisors, horns, hooves or claws. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.
Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. 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.
Click here for information on Alpaca Shearing.
Alpaca owners 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.
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.
The Alpaca Registry has been established to help ensure accurate records and has a state-of the-art system to document bloodlines. Alpacas must be blood typed in order to be registered. Virtually every alpaca in the U.S. is registered.
Why do people in so many countries call alpacas "The world's finest livestock business?" For any business asset to be valuable, it must possess certain qualities that make it desirable. Gold is scarce, real estate provides shelter, oil produces energy, bonds earn interest, stocks are supposed to increase in value, and diamonds symbolize love. Alpacas share many of these same attributes.
Around the world, alpacas are in strong demand, and people pay high prices for them. They are scarce, unique, and the textiles produced from their fleeces are known in the fashion centers of New York, Paris, Milan, and Tokyo. There are excellent profit opportunities and tax advantages available to alpaca breeders. Historically, the alpacas value has sustained ancient cultures, such as the Incas of Peru. Today, alpacas represent the primary source of income for millions of South Americans. History has validated the value of the alpaca.
Livestock has been a traditional representation of wealth for many cultures around the world, long before financial stocks were sold on the New York Stock Exchange. The richest families of ancient times counted their wealth by the size of their flocks of sheep or herds of cattle. Today, wealth as a result of livestock ownership is not as common, but opportunities do exist for profitable farms and ranches. Tending to a graceful herd of alpacas can be an exciting way to earn a source of revenue and live a rewarding lifestyle.
Since 1984, alpacas have appeared, almost simultaneously, in several countries where they have never been seen before. The U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England and many European countries have all acquired the foundation for national herds. There are even beginning herds in Japan and South Africa, among others. What makes this animal so desirable? The bottom line: alpacas can be both profitable and enjoyable.
Finally, alpacas are easy to transport, which makes it easy to move them from one location to another. They have a relatively long and trouble-free reproductive life span, and alpacas can be fully insured against loss.
Since ancient times, the South American Andes Mountains have been the ancestral home to the prized alpaca. Their fleece was cherished by members of the Incan civilization (referred to as "The Fiber of the Gods"), and their graceful herds of alpaca roamed the lush foothills and mountainous pastures. In the 17th century, Spanish conquistadors killed a large part of both the Incan and alpaca populations, forcing the retreating survivors to seek refuge in the high mountain plains known as the Altiplano. The high altitude and harsh landscape ensured only the hardiest of these creatures survived, and these ancestors of today's best bloodlines have provided a gene pool producing hardy, agile animals with dense, high quality fiber. In 1984, a small group of importers brought the first of a carefully selected herd of highest quality alpacas into the United States and Canada, and they immediately became a beloved part of the North American landscape.
Peru, Bolivia, and Chile are still home to the largest percentage of alpacas in the world, and alpaca breeders in the United States have learned much from their southern neighbors. Alpacas are a member of the camelid family, which also includes dromedary and Bactrian camels, llamas, vicunas, and guanacos. They are a modified ruminant and chew their cud similar to a cow, although they have three stomachs rather than the true ruminant, which has four. Alpacas selectively graze, eating pasture grasses and hay, a fact that makes feeding alpacas relatively inexpensive. A daily mineral supplement rounds out their diet.
There are two different alpacas types, the suri and the huacaya. The suri has fiber that grows quite long and forms silky, pencil-like locks. The huacaya has a shorter, dense, crimpy fleece, giving it a very woolly appearance.
Alpacas have soft padded feet, making them gentle on their pastures, and they have no top teeth in the front. The average height of an alpaca is 36" at the withers, and they weigh from 100 to 175 pounds. Alpacas are small and gentle enough to travel short distances in the family minivan and are easily handled by most people.
Alpacas have a life span of 15 to 20 years, so you can enjoy your alpaca for a long time. Not only do they have a long reproductive life, they will provide fleece for a lifetime, making your investment long-lived.
An alpaca's gestation period is 11 to 12 months, and they have single births (twins are extremely rare). A baby alpaca, called a cria, usually weighs between 15 and 20 pounds.
Alpaca fiber comes in 22 colors that are recognized by the textile industry, and there are many blends in addition to that. Alpacas are shorn for their wonderful fleece each year, which will produce 5 to 10 pounds of soft, warm fiber that is turned into the most luxurious garments in the world. When it comes to raising alpacas, there is something for everyone.
Living With Alpacas:
Alpacas are a lifestyle choice with benefits and opportunities for the whole family. What are the rewards of adding alpacas to your lifestyle? As more and more people are discovering, raising alpacas can add a dimension to family life that many find to be just what they have been looking for in terms of relaxation, fun, and a potential source of income.
Who Can Breed Alpacas? Anyone!
Raising alpacas is a lifestyle and investment available to many, from the empty-nester to a family with children to the professional looking for an outlet to daily stress. While the individuals and families who have decided to experience the alpaca adventure are widely diverse in their backgrounds, they share a common love for animals and a desire to remove stress from their lives. Alpacas meet the qualifications for such a lifestyle effortlessly. Families with children will appreciate how alpacas are so gentle and easy to handle, and they may want to become involved in the many family-oriented events around the country. Fairs, auctions, shows, and on-the-farm activities are just some of the events in which to participate.
The highly prized fleece of the alpaca has inspired many to start in-home "cottage industries" which involve shearing the alpacas and spinning the fiber of their own animals into yarn that can be made into high quality apparel while others market the fiber through the support of organized fiber co-ops.
Alpacas require a small amount of acreage compared to other livestock; the average farm is less than 10 acres. They eat pasture grasses and hay. A small three-sided barn or shelter is adequate for a small herd. The size of the herd is up to the individual's personal goals. The fact that alpacas are "easy keepers" makes them an attractive alternative investment. Owners still living in the city or suburbs can board their animals at many established alpaca farms, building their herds with an eye to the future when they can become more hands-on by raising their alpacas themselves.
Alpaca breeders from all walks of life interact with each other by participating in shows and open houses, co-owning animals, and by sharing their acquired expertise. This mutual interest and support has been the start of many lifelong friendships. The pleasure of owning the beautiful and gentle alpaca is a reward in itself. The prospect of enjoying shared family activities with this very huggable animal while reaping the financial rewards of owning and breeding alpacas increases the pleasure many times over.
Raising alpacas is a labor of love. The escape from a fast-paced urban lifestyle to the quiet, pastoral surroundings of raising and breeding alpacas is a prescription for healthier, less stressful living.