Alpacas belong to the camelid family, closely related to llamas. They originate from South America, mainly from Peru in the Andes, but also from Chile and Bolivia. Alpacas are now bred in North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, China and all over Europe, and of course the UK.
Alpacas can live for up to 20 years. An adult alpaca stands about 1 metre tall at the highest part of the back (withers). Adult females weigh between 45 and 65kg, and males can be even larger. At birth, the young alpaca (called a ‘cria’) weighs on average between 6 and 8kg.
Alpacas are usually quite hardy animals, but can occasionally suffer from various diseases which require veterinary attention. It is important to worm them regularly with a suitable wormer and vaccinate them against clostidrial diseases.
Alpacas are semi-ruminants and live mainly on grass, but hay should also be provided, particularly in winter. They should also be fed a low-protein supplementary feed which includes important minerals and nutrients. This is particularly important for crias and pregnant females. They also need access to fresh drinking water all year round.
Alpacas have a gestation period of about 11 ½ months, but sometimes this lasts up to a year or even a bit longer. They usually give birth to a single cria. They very rarely have twins. Crias are weaned at about six months of age.
Alpacas are gentle on the pasture as they have padded feet and don’t churn up the ground like cattle or horses.
Alpacas are induced ovulators and can therefore breed all year round. But spring and summer births are best for the cria. Males become fertile between 18 months and 3 years. Females can be mated from about 14 to 18 months. They can usually be remated 2 to 6 weeks after birth.
Ideally alpacas should have access to some kind of field shelter, especially for birthing time or during long periods of rain. A natural hedge can also serve as a wind or rain barrier. Standard, 4-foot-high stock fencing is sufficient to keep them in. Barbed wire should be avoided. You can keep 5 to 6 animals per acre.
Alpacas are herd animals and become very stressed if kept on their own. They should be kept in groups of two or three animals or more. They mix well with sheep or goats and are great fox guards during lambing time!
They need shearing once a year and a fleece weighs on average 2 to 5 kg. Their fleeces come in 22 colours ranging from white to fawns, browns, black but also greys and rose greys. Their fleeces are processed into high-quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts, sweaters etc. They are also used for quilts and pillows. Alpaca wool is also very popular with hand spinners.
Alpacas are very inquisitive and will eventually eat out of your hand. They don’t particularly like being touched on the head. But then you always get a few friendly ones who like having their neck scratched. The more time you spend with them, the friendlier they get.