Alpacas are a gentle and intelligent breed. Alpacas produce one offspring a year. Alpacas are a social animal and do best when pastured with other alpacas. Fastidious in their habits, alpacas will tend to form communal manure piles, which assists in controlling their parasite load.
Alpacas have an affinity for children and house cats. Their intelligence means that alpacas are quick to train to a halter and lead. They are relatively easy to care for, and generally do well on a good quality grass hay where sufficient pasture is unavailable. It is possible to run as many as 10 alpacas per acre of pasture.
Alpacas are found in two distinct types. Huacaya alpacas produce a fleece that appears similar to sheep's wool. It is tightly crimped and stands perpendicular to the alpacas' body. These alpacas are the more common type. Good quality huacaya alpacas will produce as much as 12 pounds of luxurious fleece every year.
Suri alpacas possess a fleece that hangs in long curly locks. Suri alpacas' fleece has the general appearance of an angora goat. Suri alpacas are known for the luster of their fleece, a highly desired trait in the commercial textile industry.
Alpacas were first imported into the United States in the 1980's. There are currently around 50,000 alpacas in the US, being run on approximately 2000 farms. The alpacas slow reproductive rate means that the national herd size will remain relatively small for many years to come.
Alpacas come in a range of colors, 22 basic colors and then 250 different shades.
They are fully insurable, unlike the stock market.
There are two breeds of alpaca:
Huacaya, the most common, has a very crimpy fleece that gives them a "fluffy" appearance and Suri: more rare, having a very silky hair-like fiber which grows in tight spirals and drapes down into pencil locks.
A Male Alpaca is called a Macho.
A Female Alpaca is called a Hembra.
A Baby Alpaca is called a Cria.
An Alpaca that turns one year old is called a Tui.
They live for up to 25 years.
They can breed from 1 year of age and then on until around 20 years old.
Alpacas have soft feet with Pads under their Toe Nails.
Alpacas do not spit unless they are really provoked and then it is rare.
Alpacas have only bottom Teeth like a sheep, and they never bite.
You can run Alpacas on as little as 2 acres of land.
Alpacas belong to the camelid family which include camels.
Camelids have evolved over 37 million years.
Alpacas have been domesticated for some 7,000 years now.
Alpacas are the easiest animal in the world to herd (round up).
There are only 3.5 million Alpacas world wide and 2.7 million reside in South America.
Alpacas were treasured by the ancient Incas in South America for their fine fleece.
Large numbers of Alpacas still exist in South America, despite a decline after the conquest of the Incas. South America can no longer increase it's population of Alpacas. The future of these animals is in North America, New Zealand and Australia due to the grazing available.
Alpacas are usually shorn annually but can be shorn every 2nd year to obtain a longer fleece.
Shearing involves conventional sheep-shearing equipment but the animal is restrained. The annual yield per animal is around 6 pounds with top animals reaching 12 pounds.
The first fleece or Cria fleece commands a premium because of it's extra fineness.
Other than Shearing and the usual de-worming and vaccinations Alpacas require little else.
Toenails and teeth may occasionally need trimming. Alpacas do not suffer with fly-strike or foot-rot.
Female Alpacas are pregnant for 355 Days and only produce one Cria at a time. Birthing is relatively easy and trouble free and 99% of the time is in daylight hours.
Alpacas are induced ovulators and can be bred throughout the year.
Breeding success can range as high as 100% in North America, while in South America it is around 40% due to harsher conditions and less careful animal husbandry.
Alpacas do not require all that much in the way of care. They need to be fed and watered daily. In the heat of the summer they may need to be watered more than once. It is important that they have a fresh supply of water at all times. Alpacas also need to be given shots once a month for parasite control. Of course, since you feed and water an animal you must clean up after it.
Alpaca births are about 99% problem free. Once and a great while you may need to assist the mother but in most cases the cria is out in about ten minutes. The cria should be up and nursing within an hour. The gestation time for an alpaca is about 340 days, although a mother may hold an early spring cria a little longer. A mother and cria should be separated for two days from the rest of the herd, so you can monitor progress of the cria and give it time to become sure footed so other alpacas do not accidentally hurt it. It is important to make sure that the mother passes the after birth cleanly and undamaged.
Most female alpacas can be bred between the ages of 14 and 18 months. After having the cria, the female is re-bred between 14 and 17 days after giving birth. This is the optimal time for conception. It is said that female alpacas take better care of themselves when pregnant. After 60 days a blood test should be done to confirm the pregnancy. Females have been known to reproduce until the age of twenty.
Male alpacas have been known to impregnate a female alpaca as young as 18 months, but in most cases you are looking at two to three year time frame. They can breed up to the age of 18 in some case.
Conformation of an alpaca is how it looks. It is very important when selecting an animal. The frame of the animal should look proportional, the ears should not be to big,the legs should be straight, the fiber coverage should go all the way down the legs, the bite should be right, the spine should be straight and last the animal should stand upright; like it is showing off. The more the animal looks like a llama, the worse off.
There are several different feeders there for purchase. I found making mine was the best thing to do. Keep in mind to keep your feeders no more than 16 inches off the ground, so cria can feed too. I found long narrow troughs are best for grain, five gallon buckets are best for water because they are easier to dump for fresh supply, and hay feeders with catch basins are best because they create a place for hay to fall other than the ground, where it will later get discarded.
There are many forms of fencing on the market today. The only two really recommended for alpacas are no climb fence and high tensile. The main purpose of the fence is to keep predators out. If you choose no climb fence make sure it is at least five foot high. The poles should be no more than ten foot apart. A lot of farms in my area use this type of fencing, but it is very costly. I chose seven strand high tensile fencing. It is about 70% cheaper than no climb. I have had no problems with the fence and I am very happy with it. The poles can be spaced as far as 30 foot apart with no sags in the wire. You use spring loaded tensioners to keep the fence tight. A tree can fall on the lines and not break the wire, the fence will hit the ground and once the tree is removed it will spring back up. When using high tensile fence, it is highly recommended to electrify it. Your animals will quickly learn and stay away from it.
Fiber is also an important part of an alpacas make up. The fiber should be very dense, have lots of crimp, a good staple length (at least six inches), and a low micron count. The lower the micron count the finer the fiber. A good micron count for an animal is 21-25, an average one is 26-29, and an excellent one is anything under 20. Alpacas are sheared once a year, usually in the spring before the hot weather. Your location will determine when you sheer your animals.
Guard dogs are not a necessity to an alpaca farm but, are a good fit. They can help control predators and protect them from harm. They are good with children and can be a friend to the alpaca. Three types of guard dogs are the Great Pyrenees, the Burmese Mountain Dog, and the Anatolia Shepard. They all make great livestock guardians. Here at Kindred Kreek we raise Great Pyrenees to protect our animals.
Nutrition is a very important element of the alpacas diet. It is important to have high quality grass hay, a well maintained pasture, a quality alpaca grain, and a vitamin blend. Your hay should consist of just grasses. The preferred is pure orchard grass. A pasture should consist of a mixture of grasses to coincide with the different changing climates throughout the year. In our area a mixture of mostly orchard grass followed by Kentucky Blue, brome, and red clover is used. It is very important to feed your animals correctly to maintain a healthy weight.
It is important to have a mixture of grasses to make up your pasture. In our area, orchard grass, Kentucky Blue, brome, and red clover are the preferred mix. You should stay away from perennial and annual rye grasses because the are bad for alpacas. Pastures should be designed in no more than one acre plots and should be easily accessible from any point. Division of pastures is a good choice to allow you to rotate your animals so that you can allow for re-growth of your pastures. It is also a wise idea to have catch areas toward the barn so it is easy to round up your alpacas without them running circles around you.
This may sound absurd, but most alpacas go to the bathroom in the same area. They locate this "potty" by scent. It is helpful to help them start a desired "potty" by placing some of their beans in the area most convenient for you to clean and maneuver around. A potty can be constructed of wood framing to maintain the beans in one location and easy clean up. I recommend at least a 42 by 42 inch potty.
I have found that a bunch of small stalls are better than a few big ones. This gives you the diversity to separate animals according to your needs. You can fit up to nine animals in a 10 by 20 foot stall. You stall height should be at-least 4 foot, with no more than a 5 inch gaping between boards (so no sneaky heads can get through). When constructing doors for your pens, make sure that you can still get a wheel-barrel into them (we were not so smart).
Tools for the job can be very simple or very extravagant depending on your finances. We use a simple leaf rake, pitch fork, and a scoop shovel. You will need a type of mower to maintain your pasture, toe nail clippers, at least a set of manual sheers for quick touch ups, syringes and needles, a birthing kit is recommended, and alpaca coats for extreme conditions. More expensive equipment is nice to have but it is not necessary to raise healthy alpacas.