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Shillcox Alpacas at the trough

 

Brown Alpaca - Shillcox Shamrock Lines

 

Shillcox Alpacas grazing

Frequently Asked Questions About Alpacas

All
General Questions
Raising Alpacas
Alpaca Fibers
So what do you "DO" with these animals?

Alpacas are fiber-producing animals raised for their soft and luxurious fiber. Each shearing produces roughly five to ten pounds of fiber per animal, per year. The fleece, often compared to cashmere, can be turned into a wide array of products from yarn and apparel to tapestries and blankets. The fleece itself is recognized globally for its fineness, softness, light weight, durability, excellent thermal qualities, and luster.

In addition to selling the fleece and the animals, many breeders of alpacas operate an end products retail store on or off their farms. They sell alpaca apparel, yarn, fleece, teddy bears, and household foods directly to consumers who visit their farm or over the Internet. Many also sell the products through craft fairs, farmer markets, and retail sites. Sales of these end products can provide considerable supplemental  income to the farm or ranch.

Is it okay to have just one alpaca?

As a general rule, the answer is no. Alpacas have a very strong herding instincts and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive. Gender-appropriate (or neutered) llamas sometimes will successfully bond with an alpaca. Otherwise, it is best to provide each alpaca with a companion alpaca of the same gender.

What is an Alpaca?

Alpacas are members of the camelid family. The camels, that most people are familiar with are from Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China and Tibet. However, there are four other camelids without "humps" that are indigenous to South America: two of them, llama and alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years; where as the other two varieties, guanacos and vicunas, continue to roam in wild herds today.

The alpaca comes in two breed-types: huacayas (pronounced wah-Ki-ah) and suri (SOO-ree). Huacayas, the more common type, account for about 90% of all alpacas, and have fluffy, crimpy fleece that gives the animals a teddy bear-like appearance. Suris, on the other hand, grow silky, lustrous fleece that drapes gracefully in beautiful pencil-locks.

What about the fiber?

Let's start be comparing alpaca fleece with wool from most breeds of sheep. In general, alpaca fiber is stronger, lighter, warmer, and more resilient. Finest grades of alpaca fiber (known commercially as "Baby Alpaca") are believed to be hypo-allergenic, meaning they do not irritate your skin as sheep's wool sometimes does. Unlike sheep's wool. alpaca fiber contains no lanolin and is therefore ready to spin after only nominal cleaning of the fleece. Prized for its unique, silky feel, and superb "handle", alpaca fiber is highly sought-after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters, weavers, ect.) as well as the commercial fashion industry.

One fact of alpaca fiber that makes it so much in vogue is its great variety of natural colors: pure white, several shades of fawn and brown, several shades of gray, and true black -- some 16 official colors with many other subtle shades and hues. White light fawn, and light gray can be readily dyed, thus offering a rainbow of colors for the fiber artist. Alpaca fiber can also be readily combined with other fine fibers like merino wool, cashmere, mohair, silk, and angora to attain incredibly interesting blends.

Are alpacas easy to care for?

They are small and relatively easy livestock to maintain. They stand about 36" high at the withers (where the neck and spine come together); weight between 100 to 200 pounds, and establish communal dung piles. The alpacas need basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather, just like any other type of livestock, and they also require certain vaccinations and anti-parasitic medicines. Their fleece is sheared once a year to keep them cool in the summer. Additionally, their toenails need to be trimmed on a as-needed  basis to ensure proper foot alignment and comfort. Interestingly, alpacas do not have hooves-instead, they have two toes, with hard toenails on top of a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, which minimizes their effect on pastures and makes them an "environmentally friendly" animal.

How are Alpacas different from Llamas?

People often confuse alpacas with llamas. While closely related, llamas and alpacas are distinctly different animals. First, llamas are much larger, about twice the size of an alpaca, with an average weight of 250 to 400 pounds, compared to an alpaca whose weight averages 100 to 200 pounds. Llamas are primarily used for packing and guarding herds of sheep or alpacas, whereas alpacas are primarily raised for their soft luxurious fiber.

How much space does it take to raise and alpaca?

Because these animals are environmentally friendly and require so little pasture and food, you can usually raise from two to eight alpacas on an acre of land, depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, access to fresh water, ect. They can also be raised on a dry lot and fed grass hay. Consult with your county ag office, or local USDA office for specific local recommendations.

How long do Alpacas live?

Generally around 15 to 20 years. The longest documented lifespan of an alpaca is 27 years.

What do alpacas eat?

The main things alpacas eat are just grass or hay, and not much of them---approximately two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. The general rule of thumb is 1.5% of the animal's body weight daily in hay of fresh pasture. A single, 60 pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of 20 alpacas for one day. Grass hay is recommended, while alfalfa should be fed sparingly, due to its overly rich protein content. Alpacas are pseudo-ruminants, with a single stomach divided into three compartments. They produce rumen and chew cuds, thus they are able to process this modest amount of food efficiently. Many alpacas (especially pregnant and lactating females) will benefit from nutritional and mineral supplements, depending on local conditions. There are several manufactured alpaca and llama feeds and mineral mixes readily available; consult with your local veterinarian to ensure the proper diet in your area. Alpacas also require access to fresh water to drink.

Alpacas have two sets of teeth for processing food. They have molars in the back of the jaw for chewing cud. But in the front, the alpaca has teeth only on the bottom and a hard gum (known as a dental pad) on the top for crushing grain, grass or hay. Unlike goats and sheep that have a long tongues which they sometimes use to rip plants out of the ground, alpacas have short tongues and nibble only the tops of grasses and other plants, resulting in far less disturbance of the vegetation. However, they are also browsers and will often eat shrubs and the leaves from trees if given and opportunity, which requires monitoring to ensure they do not consume harmful products.

Are Alpacas dangerous?

No----- they are safe and pleasant to be around. They do not bite or butt and do not have sharp teeth, horns, hooves, or claws as do some other types of livestock. they move gracefully and adroitly about the field and are therefore unlikely to run into or over anyone, even small children. Occasionally, an alpaca will reflexively kick with its hind legs, especially if touched from the rear, but the soft padded feet usually do little more than just "get your attention".

Are alpacas clean animals?

Yes, they are much cleaner than most livestock. Alpacas have minimal aroma and don't attract flies in the summertime as other forms of livestock. Furthermore, alpacas defecate in communal dung piles. There may be three of four of these areas in a pasture, spread throughout about 10% - 20% of the pasture. This makes for easy clean-up, reduced opportunity for parasites, and better overall hygiene of the herd.

Are alpacas an "exotic species", or are they considered simply "livestock"?

Since alpacas have been raised as domestic livestock for thousands of years and since the end product is their fleece, like sheep, they are classified as livestock by both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments.

Are alpacas easy to train?

Alpacas are very smart animals and are fairly easy to train. It is best to start training them when they are young so they will accept a halter and will learn to follow you on a lead. Many owners also enjoy training them to walk through obstacles; some even compete with their animals in shows where they walk over, through, and around objects and jump over small hurdles. Since they often need to be transported to shows and other farms, it is helpful to train them to ride in a trailer or van. Alpacas are easy to transport, as they normally "cush" (lay down with their legs folded under them) when traveling.

Do alpacas make noise?

Alpacas are very quiet, docile animals that generally make a minimal amount of sound. They generally make a pleasant humming sound as a means of communication or to express concern or stress. Occasionally you will hear a shrill sound, called an "alarm call", which usually means they are frightened or angry with another alpaca. Male alpacas also "serenade" females during breeding with a guttural, throaty sound called "ogling".

What do I need by way of shelter and fencing?

While the shelter requirements vary depending on weather and predators, as a general rule alpacas do need at least a three sided, open shelter where they can escape from heat of the sun in summer and from the icy wind and snow in the winter. If predators (dogs, coyotes, bears, ect.) are present in your neighborhood, then a five-foot-high, "2"x 4" no-climb fencing is strongly recommended. Traditional horse fencing with "6"x 6" openings is not recommended, as curious alpacas have been harmed by putting their heads or legs through the openings.

Do alpacas spit?

All members of the camel family use spitting as means of negative communication. They do get possessive around food, and thus may express annoyance by spitting at other alpacas that they perceive are encroaching on "their" food. Also, they spit at one another during squabbles within the herd (usually involving two or more males). From time to time alpacas spit at people on purpose, but it is more common that humans get caught in the cross-fire between alpacas, so it's best to study their behavior and learn to avoid the most vulnerable situations.

At what age do alpacas start breeding?

Females become sexually mature at around 18 to 24 months of age and once they reach 90 - 100 pounds in weight. Males can display sexual interest from a few weeks of age but are not sexually active or fertile until 18 months to 3 years of age. (There will be individual animals that fall outside these age ranges.)

Alpacas do not have a breeding season and provided they are receptive, females can be mated at anytime of the year. Like rabbits and cats, female alpacas are "induced ovulators" which means it is the act of mating that causes them to ovulate.

Alpacas mate in the "cush" (prone) position and if a female is not receptive (already pregnant) she will refuse to go down and probable will spit at the male. This rejection response, known as a "spit-off", is used in the management of the female to regularly monitor the progress of the pregnancy.

How long is the gestation?

The average gestation period is 11.5 months, but some pregnancies that go over a year are not uncommon.

Births are generally trouble-free and most occur before the middle of the day. Crias (baby alpacas) should be 12-20 pounds at birth and most will be on their feet and nursing within 1 to 3 hours. The mothers will become very protective and the cria will stay with its mother until weaning at 4 to 6 months of age.