The Alpaca Hacienda
Alpacas are South American Camelids closely related to the llama, and more distantly related to the camels of Asia and Africa. They are roughly half the size of a llama and have a docile temperament. Grasses and other forage make up their natural diet as they mostly free range in South America. Due to the relatively low quality of their natural food source, these animals have developed an extremely efficient digestive system. Alpacas were first imported into the US in the early 1980's. Since then the US herd has been growing slowly but steadily with significant genetic improvement over the original imported animals.
Llamas are a cousin to the alpaca, but are almost double in size. An adult alpaca weights between 100 to 200 pounds, whereas a llama can grow to approximately 400 lbs. Llamas were domesticated to be beasts of burden and to haul heavy loads on their backs. Alpacas were domesticated for their ultra soft, warm fleece which is made into textiles. The alpaca's closest relative is the wild vicuna, which is a protected animal in South America. The vicuna's fleece is the most luxurious animal fiber in the world.
Alpacas live approximately 20 years if they are well cared for. Females can be bred when they approach 14 months of age, but we find if bred at age 2 they generally make better mothers. They have an 11 to 12 month gestation and give birth to one baby alpaca known as a ‘cria’ per year. Birth weight is normally around 15 to 17 pounds. Crias can often stand and nurse within 30 to 60 minutes following birth.
Alpacas graze on grasses and other types of forage. They do not pull up the grass roots so pastures renew if the animals can be rotated around. If pastures are not available, a low protein grass hay is best. Alpacas will consume approximately one, 100-lb bale of grass hay per month, per adult. High protein forage such as alfalfa or clover is detrimental to animal health and quality fiber production.
Alpacas much prefer open pastures to a barn, shelter, or stall, but easily take to stables, barns, and enclosed areas in the worst of harsh weather. They are content with simple shelters in the cold winter months and appreciate good ventilation, shade, and fans in hot weather. Alpacas are "earth-friendly" and cause minimal stress on their pastures. They have padded feet and graze in an efficient and non-destructive manner. Free choice of hay, fresh water, grain, and a three-sided shelter will maintain them in comfort.
Alpaca owners and breeders come from all walks of life. Many are doctors, financial advisors, educators, or cattle farmers, to name a few. Some raise alpacas as a full-time business, others commit part-time. From young families to empty-nesters, phased retirement to full-retirement, raising alpacas offers countless options for everyone.
Alpacas offer a very attractive business and farming opportunity no matter where you live: urban, suburban, or rural. Urban dwellers can board (or "agist") their alpacas at nearby farms/ranches so that they can enjoy the benefits of ownership while living in a large city or suburb. People also raise alpacas for companionship and to enjoy a rural lifestyle.
No. Alpacas are non-aggressive and tend to move away when they feel threatened. They assert dominance with other members of their herd, but are submissive and non-threatening towards humans. Their feet are padded, they do not bite, and they are small enough to be safe even around small children.
The initial cost of an alpaca can range from a few hundred to several tens of thousands dollars. Your reason for owning alpacas will determine the cost of the animal. Non- breeding fiber or pet stock will be at the lower end, while high quality breeding stock will be at the higher end. Prices are determined by pedigree, fleece qualities, show history, age and other factors.
Alpacas will occasionally spit at each other. This is usually exhibited during feeding and other times when dominance is being asserted. This does not injure the other alpacas and no member of the herd seems to take the spitting too seriously. Alpacas, unlike llamas, usually do not spit on people unless they feel threatened. If they do spit at each other, you don't want to get caught in the crossfire--alpaca spit is actually rumen from the gut and is not pleasant at all.