Alpacas are one of the camelid species, closely related to the llama. There are four species of South American camelid: Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuna, and Guanaco. Alpacas and Llama are domesticated whilst Vicuna and Guanaco remain wild and are protected.
They originate from South America on the Andes Mountains Altiplano, which runs through Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, grazing at an altitude of up to 4000 metres. Alpacas were domesticated from the wild Vicuna six to seven thousand years ago, and were then very successfully refined for better fibre quality by the Inca. When the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532 they destroyed the breeding programmes and the alpacas were decimated in numbers to favour sheep.
There are two types of alpaca: the Huacaya whose fibre has a crimp that enhances its use in spinning, and the Suri which has a lustrous fine fibre with no crimp (has the appearance of dreadlocks). The population of alpacas across the world is about 90% huacaya and 10% suri. There are now thought to be about 3.5 million alpacas in South America and they are now being successfully bred in North America, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China and throughout Europe.
How long do alpacas live?
Alpacas usually have a life of about 20 years.
How big are they?
Alpacas are about one metre tall at the withers which is the highest part of the animal’s back. Adult females weigh between 45 and 65kg, and males slightly heavier.
What colours can they be?
Alpacas come in twenty two recognised colours ranging from brilliant white to the deepest black with all shades of greys, to browns, fawns, and reds.
What do they eat?
Alpacas are semi-ruminants eating grass and hay. They chew their cud and have three compartments to their stomachs. Most owners provide a low protein supplementary feed which usually includes additional minerals and nutrients.
Alpacas have no upper teeth. They have lower teeth and an upper dental pad, and do not usually bite. They have soft padded feet with two toenails on each foot.
Are Alpacas kept in herds?
Alpacas are a herd animal and will become stressed if alone even for short periods. They are kept in groups of three or more.
Can alpacas be kept as pets?
Alpacas make excellent pets. They are intelligent, easily trained and are usually very gentle with children. They are inquisitive, approaching people who stand and watch them. They will eat out of the hand if time is spent with them.
Are alpacas easy to handle?
Alpacas are gentle and easy to handle. They can be halter trained, especially when young. They occasionally spit but only when seriously provoked or when competing with each other for food. Some will kick when being touched on their back legs but, if handled correctly this should not be an issue. They don't usually bite, but sometimes pull at clothing to attract attention - they are very curious.
All our alpacas are halter trained and walked regularly. A full walking brief is given at the beginning of each walk.
Do they need shearing?
Alpacas are sheared once a year. The fleece produces very high quality fibre used in the production of high value clothing.