Alpacas are members of the South American camelid family, originally bred by the Incas in South America and found naturally in Chile and Peru. They come in two types – the Huacaya, with a woolly fleece and the sensational Suri whose fleece hangs in silky spiral locks, giving a fine and lustrous fibre.
The fleece comes in 23 different shades from white, fawns, browns, grey and black and they are usually shorn once a year in the spring. The structure of the fleece differs from wool in that the individual fibres, which are measured in microns are smooth so there is not the prickle factor than can be found with sheep’s wool. It is also climate adapting-warm in winter but cool in summer and perfect for allergy sufferers as dust mites find it difficult to live in.
Alpacas are gentle but inquisitive creatures which live in herds. They do not bite as they only have teeth on the bottom jaw, occasionally they can kick if startled but they have soft padded feet so it doesn’t hurt. They can spit but don’t like to do so as it’s unpleasant for them!
Alpacas live out all year round, eating mostly grass and hay. Their feed can be supplemented with a small amount of alpaca feed to ensure they have the correct nutrients and vitamins and they should have access to fresh, clean water at all times. Alpacas are well adapted to our climate but they should have some where they can shelter from the wind or hot sun, even a hedge or tree cover. It is helpful to have a shelter where you can collect them for routine husbandry tasks.
Alpacas live up to 20 years and females will have one baby, called a cria, per year. Cria are usually born in the morning and most females give birth easily and without fuss.
Alpacas can be kept with up to 5/6 animals per acre as they are soft on the ground. They are much quieter than other forms of livestock; they hum at times and are intelligent animals that can easily be halter trained.