An alpaca is a camelid and is closely related to camels and llamas. There are two types of alpacas, Suri and Huacaya. The Suri have long dreadlock looking fiber where as the Huacaya are more fluffy looking, like a teddybear.
General Alpaca Information
What does it take to raise alpaca? Not much! Alpaca are fairly easy animals to raise versus other livestock. An alpaca will eat about one bale of hay per week, if you’ve ever had horses or cows you’ll know they eat one bale each day. We feed our alpaca second cut hay which has more nutrients. We also have automatic heated waterers and clean the bowl about once a week. We have to shovel the manure daily because we like our paddocks to be clean. The cleaner the paddock, the cleaner the fiber and that’s our product, so it benefits us during shearing time to keep everyone clean. The alpacas will periodically have their nails and teeth trimmed as well as a yearly shearing of their fiber.
Alpaca are herd animals and need to be together. We learned when we were first looking into entering the business we needed to buy at least two but preferably three. We started with two and quickly realized a third would have been better because the two were looking for the rest of the herd for months.
Alpaca are very curious animals! They will always check out something new or someone new who is visiting the farm. If they see something out of the ordinary they have a unique “alert” call that notifies the herd of danger. If you’re looking for a warm cuddly teddy bear in an alpaca you are going to be disappointed BUT if you can keep your hands in your pockets and let them come to you then you're going to have a crowd of alpaca checking you out!
Alpaca gestation is somewhere between 340-360 days. A mature female alpaca is always ready to be bred because they are induced ovulators which means they are stimulated to ovulate at the time of mating. This is why we need to manage breeding closely or you will have cria when you’re not expecting. Winter birthing isn’t preferred unless you live in warmer climates or have heated barns. The optimal time to rebreed is 21 days after delivery. We time our breedings/births so we have cria born in late spring/early summer. This give the cria months to grow their coats for winter.
The alpaca manure look just like coffee beans and so they are called beans. It doesn’t have that overwhelming smell like other farms you’ve been to and it doesn’t attract the flies. Alpaca beans are rich in nutrients and can be put right into your flower garden or on the lawn, it won’t burn your crop. We also like to make “alpaca tea” which is when we seep the beans in the water overnight and water plant directly with the “tea” that was made!
An alpaca is shorn once a year. The way in which it is typically done is by tethering the alpaca on the ground so they are restrained. This protects the animal and the shearer from getting hurt. Once the alpaca is tethered, the shearer will shear one side of the alpaca, then he will role the animal to the other side and shear the rest of the fiber. On average, an alpaca will produce 3-7 pounds of fiber a year. While the animal is restrained, owners will also have the alpacas teeth and nails trimmed.
Alpaca fiber is often compared to cashmere for it’s soft luxurious characteristics. Fiber has the warming capabilities as wool but with out the itchy component because the shaft of their fiber is smooth unlike wool which have barbs. Alpaca fiber is also hypoallergenic because it doesn't have any lanolin in it, which some people are sensitive to.