Alpaca come in 22 official colors and two fleece types (Huacaya and Suri ), but their natural variegation can number into the thousands.
Both type of fleeces are soft and free of guard
hair. Close to Ninety-five percent of alpacas are huacaya, with
full, puffy fleeces, teddy bear fleece. The lustrous, straight fiber of the suri
fleece hangs in long locks, giving the suri an entirely different
appearance from the Huacaya. Both fleece types are considered luxury
fibers in the textile trade. Alpaca is considered hypo allergenic as it does not carry any lanolin, is moisture wicking and odor resistant. It is warmer than wool and lighter as well.
Alpacas are a domesticated member of the camelid family. Also included are llamas, guanacos, and vicunas from South America, and the Bactrian and Dromedary camels from Asia and Africa. Originating on the plains of North America about 10 million years ago, a common ancestor to the South American camelids migrated to South America about 2.5 million years ago. Two wild species, vicunas and guanacos, emerged. Approximately 6,000 years ago, alpacas were created through carefulselective breeding which was heavily influenced by the vicuna, who still carry similarities in size and fiber with the alpaca.
Today there are approximately 3.5 million alpacas in the
Andean highlands. Since the
major first importation into the U.S. in 1984, the herd in North America has increased to about 20,000. Alpacas are popular internationally for their luxury
fiber and as pet, show, and investment animals in many countries.
Male alpacas reach sexual maturity at about 2 1/2 years of age, although have been known to have 'surprise breedings' as early as 6 months of age. Females are generally first bred after 16 - 20 months of age. Alpacas do not have a heat (estrus) cycle and can be bred any time of the year. An average gestation of 335 days or 11 months, produces a single baby (called a cria) which is normally delivered from a standing position during mid-morning. Birthing of twins, is extremely rare and if they occur, rarely survive.
While generally disease resistant, as with all animals, basic care of yearly vaccinations,
worming, and regular toe and occasional dental care is
recommended. Alpacas are shorn yearly to
harvest their highly desirable fleece, and to ensure they do not suffer from heat stress. Here in New Brunswick, we shear May-June. This allows them to survive the heat in summer and enough fleece growth to keep warm in the colder winter months.
What do they eat?
Alpacas are modified ruminants, similar to goats or sheep. They do well on good quality pasture and hays. We use a supplemental feed which includes vitamins and minerals when required. An alpaca costs much less than our household pets do.
What is their personality like?
are alert, curious, calm and predictable. They need the
companionship of a herd, and will huddle or
move together when frightened or wary.
How do they communicate?
Alpacas have a soft hum, with other
vocalizations, including alarm calls, humming, snorting sighing and gurggling. Body language, such as neck posturing,
ear and tail positioning, and head tilt also aid in their communication and are an excellent way for a handler to determine their alpacas needs. Alpacas
rarely spit at people unless frightened or abused, but will use
this form of communication with each in various levels from spitting air, to spitting a foul smelling bile.
How much do they cost?
Costs vary throughout the United States and Canada. Alpaca commanded the highest prices when they were first brought into North America in the 1990s. Prices have since leveled out. Prices are determined on an animals fiber, breeding potential and personality. Fiber or pet grade alpaca are at the bottom of the price scale, breeding females are in the middle while high ranking studs top the market. As in other markets, alpaca prices are influenced by supply and demand and general economic conditions. Contact us for advice and pricing as it applies to our area.