What is an Alpaca? They are regal, serene, peaceful (most times), endearing, comical, beautiful to watch, beautiful to feel. Like a cat, they are independent, curious, standoffish. They are herding animals, and so they move as a herd, eat as a herd, eliminate wastes as a herd. You get the idea.
Caring for alpacas is rewarding and similar to other types of livestock, such as sheep and goats. Alpacas require annual shots for rabies, clostridium and tetanus; a monthly and bi-annual worming regimen; hay, supplemental grain, water, and pasture, if and when available. They stand about 3 feet at the withers and weigh about 150 pounds, making alpacas easier to handle than llamas or horses.
They don't require a barn for shelter. Alpacas are quite content to stay outdoors, even in the worst of weather. But when the weather does turn nasty – such as high winds or driving rain and snow – alpacas are will come in out of the elements. A three-sided shelter is all they really need to protect themselves from the worst weather.
Breeding alpacas is amazing. They come in many colors – black, white, and many shades of gray and brown. In fact, there are 22 charted colors, but many alpacas fall in between these color categories. They can be one solid color, bi-colored with a tuxedo appearance, speckled, or spotted – and many variations thereof. If you think that you'll get a white alpaca from two white parents, you better think again! While the odds are good that a white baby, called "cria", will pop out, there is the chance you could get something completely different. And that's the fun of breeding alpacas...waiting for the beautiful crias!
Patience is important when breeding alpacas, because it takes 11 months for the cria to arrive. Furthermore, females hardly ever give birth to twins, so it's just one baby each year. That explains why the national herd is growing at a slow and steady rate.
And to what purpose are we breeding alpacas? For their incredible fiber. Alpaca fiber is warmer and stronger than wool, soft and comfortable as cashmere, and extremely versatile. It is prized by handspinners for its range of natural colors and ease in spinning. Huacaya alpacas have a wooly fiber that is excellent for knitted items such as sweaters, mittens, hats, and scarves and also for coats, rugs, and upholstery. Suri alpacas have a silkier fiber used in making suits and draped items. Both types of fiber can be felted to make all sorts of wonderful products.
So what more could you ask for from livestock? Alpacas are not only beautiful and engaging creatures, they are also easy to take care of. Raising alpacas can be a family adventure, a retirement hobby or business, or a whole new lifestyle for you. Visit a local farm today and explore the up-and-coming world of alpacas.
To get its fleece...
And spin it into yarn.