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Thinking About Alpacas? Some Basic Questions and Answers
Alpaca farming continues to gain popularity among all sorts of people. Some are attracted to the lifestyle of owning a small ranch. Others see alpacas as an investment opportunity (although we would consider this a business, No Investment!) Those with a special taste for spinning and knitting may be attracted to the idea of growing their own source of beautiful fiber. Whatever the reason, choosing to raise alpacas is not an easy decision. We’ve put together a set of questions and answers that we hope you’ll find useful.
Q: What “breeds” and colors are alpacas?
AND: There are two varieties of alpaca: huacaya and suri. You can view images of each on our website (see resource box below). Both varieties have a very soft fleece, although they look very different.
Huacayas are “fluffy” or “creepy” and often “wobbly” to the touch. Suri fleece has a straight fiber often with a higher sheen that hangs down and tends to form “dreads”. Both fiber types are popular in the textile industry, with cria fleece generally fetching the highest price. Almost all of the approximately 130,000 alpacas in the United States are Huacaya. Only about 5% are Suri. There are eight “base colors” of fleece found in alpacas: white, light, fawn, brown, gray, black, multicolored, and “indeterminate.” This actually means that there is a wide range of colors as well as some patterns. Pure white is very popular in the textile industry because it can be dyed almost any color.
Q: Do alpacas spit?
AND: Oh yes. But not as often as you think, and rarely in humans. Spitting is both a defense and a way of communication. Often that communication is about who claims the food or who wants to be “in charge” of the day.
And…just so you know…the spit in this case is NOT saliva. They are true gastric juices, often including partially digested hay. It is a beautiful experience.
Q: What space do alpacas need?
AND: Alpacas have three-chambered stomachs, making them highly efficient grazers, more so than almost any other farm animal. A grazing density of 6 to 7 alpacas per acre is often reasonable, although density varies widely with soil conditions, climate and forage quality. Remember that if you plan to keep a breeding herd, you will need several fenced pastures to accommodate groups of different sexes and to rotate pastures. Fencing is required. The good news is that alpacas generally respect fencing. A 4′ or 5′ no-climb horse fence is a cost-effective option. If you don’t have space for alpacas, consider ranch boarding. Many alpaca owners start out this way.
Q: Are alpacas loud? Will my neighbors complain?
AND: Although we can’t answer the second question (it depends on your neighbors!), the answer to the first is that alpacas are generally very quiet. They hum softly, especially when they are a little nervous. If they see something really disturbing, they may make a quivering call that some describe as a cross between a squeaky toy and a hawk’s cry.
Such a call usually means that they have seen a domestic cat in the pasture…
Q: We do not plan to breed alpacas. Do they make good grazing pets?
AND: Definitely! Many people feel that the best alpacas for grazing pets are neutered males, often called “fiber boys”. Alpacas are a herd animal, so you will need at least 2, preferably 3. Alpacas are not like dogs. They are alert, curious, calm and very good at sniffing when you are working in the yard. However, they are most likely to spend time with the herd, not their humans.
Q: What do you do with alpaca fleece?
AND: Alpacas produce fiber that is, bar none, the finest in the world for spinning and weaving. do you knit Then you probably already know about the exceptional qualities of alpaca yarn. Many small mills will take the fleece, wash it, card it and spin it, with several layering options. Knitting yarn from animals you own is very rewarding! are you spinning You can ask the mill to give you pure fleece or rovings. If you’re not into fiber arts, you can sell your fleece to mills, spinners, or even fiber cooperatives.
Q: How big are alpacas?
AND: Alpacas are camel-like, but small. Babies, called crias, generally weigh between 12 and 22 pounds at birth. Adults generally weigh between 120 and 210 pounds. A good adult stands about 36″ at the shoulder and can probably look you in the eye if you’re under 5’3″. This means that they are much smaller and may feel less intimidating to some people than their larger cousins, the llamas (who are also very cute – don’t get me wrong!). Alpacas are generally easy to work with when you know how to handle them, even though they can weigh more than you.
Q: How long do alpacas live? How much of that time are they actively reproductive?
AND: Alpacas generally live between 17 and 22 years and are usually very healthy for most of that time. We currently have a 14-year-old girl on our ranch who is expected to scream this summer and often leads the herd on runs around the perimeter of the pasture! Females can be ready to start breeding at 18 months of age. Males mature a bit more slowly and are usually ready to start breeding around 30 months.
Q: How long are females pregnant and how long does it take after giving birth to breed again?
AND: The gestation period in alpacas ranges from a minimum of around 325 to a maximum of around 360 days, with an average of around 345 days. Separate births are the rule. Alpacas are normally bred again about 3 weeks after birth.
Q: What are baby alpacas like?
AND: Very cute. Incredibly cute. Crazy cute after all. They are usually on their feet within about 30 minutes of birth and are actively nursing within an hour. Although they are a little shaky on their legs the first day, they are up and with the herd very quickly. Weight gain during the first two weeks can be about a pound each day. Aside from some basic postnatal care and some vitamin and vaccine shots, crias generally need little special care. Crias will nurse for 6 months, so mom will need extra calories and protein for breastfeeding.
Q: What care do alpacas require?
AND: A small herd of alpacas is quite easy to care for. Fresh water, good hay, a small daily dose of grain and a little mineral salt should be sufficient for feeding. As natural foragers, alpacas will eat almost anything your pastures provide, including (thankfully) blackberry vines. However, some plants are poisonous to camels. The library on our website has a link to a good book on the subject and you can find more information online. For shelter, depending on your climate, alpacas need a simple 3-sided covered shed or barn. Alpacas are generally sheared once a year, often in early May here in the Pacific Northwest. Check out the news section of our website for some before and after pictures. Shearing is a job for a professional, but it is relatively easy to work with an established local ranch and get into their shearing parties. In warm weather, especially in southern climates, heat stress can be a problem. Special cooling may be required.
Like other farm animals, alpacas are susceptible to various parasites, both internal and external. Your vet will likely have a management plan that you can adopt. Alpacas’ hooves need regular trimming (every 3 to 6 months, your mileage may vary), but if your alpacas are trained to know the “foot” command, trimming shouldn’t be a problem.
Q: How do I take the next step?
AND: First, set your goals. Breeding? Growing fibers? Herding pets? Second, determine your timeline: how soon and in what order do you want to achieve these goals? Third, decide on your budget and decide whether you will have your own pasture or keep your animals on a ranch. Fourth, don’t rush to find animals that will help you achieve your goals. Take your time. Take your time. Talk to people from several multipliers.
Want to know more? You can start by visiting our website. Here are some resources to help you figure out which direction is right for you. We also invite you to contact us through the site, and if you’re not too far away, come visit our ranch! If we don’t have what you’re looking for or are too far away to be practical, we can suggest ranches in your area.
Copyright (c) 2009, Inti’s Gift Alpacas
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