If you have been following this blog at all, you know I have become fairly obsessed with alpacas. And as I read more and more about them, I just become all the more entranced. Today, I thought I’d share with you some interesting facts I’ve learned about alpacas. Who knows, maybe you’re a budding alpaca fan too?
Where do alpacas come from?
Sometime between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago, people in southern Peru began to domesticate the vicuna, a small animal related to camels. Much as wolves were domesticated into dogs, vicunas were domesticated into alpacas. Starting in 500 BC, The Pukara Indians, and, later, the Incas refined the domestication of the alpaca into a superior fiber bearing animal. The differentiation of the alpaca into
huacaya breeds and suri breeds was accomplished by the Inca. Although the alpaca became threatened during Spanish colonization (they became largely replaced by sheep and cattle), they have come back strong. It is estimated that there are 4,000,000 alpacas in present day Peru, which is by far the largest exporter of alpaca in the world. Alpacas were first brought to the United States in 1984. Today there are 175,000 alpacas on American farms.
How big are alpacas?
They weigh between 100 and 190 pounds and are 3 feet tall to the shoulder, 5 feet to the top of the head.
What are the types of alpaca?
There are two types of alpaca: huacaya and suri. Huacaya is the more common (90% of alpaca in the US are huyaca). Huacay look like stuffed animals with fluffy fur sticking out perpendicular from their bodies. Think of a child’s stuffed animal. Suri, on the other hand, resemble Rastafarians with long silky dreads.
What is their fleece like?
Alpaca fiber is incredibly soft, warm, strong and lightweight- hence its popularity. The hairs of alpaca fleece are actually hollow- this gives the fleece great insulating properties, and makes it lightweight. Unlike sheep’s wool, alpaca fleece contains no lanolin and is hypoallergenic. There will be no scratchy alpaca sweaters. Alpaca have a large color range- 22 natural variations of silver, black, rose gray, white, brown, fawn and champagne. The lighter shades may be dyed. The fleece is also naturally flame resistant.
What is their life cycle like?
Alpacas live for approximately 20 years. At birth, they weigh about 18 pounds. The cria (immature alpaca) are weaned at six months, and reach sexual maturity at 2 years. Females breed through out their lives. Alpaca give birth to single offspring, after a gestation period of 11-1/2 months (yikes!).
What kind of sounds do they make?
Alpacas have three types off vocalizations: a hum, a toot and an orgle. The hum is the most common. Described as a “musical purring,” alpaca hum to communicate within the herd. A mother will call for her cria with a hum, for example. The toot is a staccato sound used to communicate danger. Lastly, the orgle, is the male’s lovesong during mating.
Do they spit?
Alpacas can spit but they don’t do so very often, and rarely at humans. Typically they spit at one another when they are annoyed. Often a female will spit at unwanted suitor (not too subtle).
What about their bathroom habits?
Alpaca “poop” in communal piles, making clean-up relatively easy. Their manure makes excellent fertilizer which may be applied directly to a garden.
How do they affect the land?
Alpaca have soft padded feet and leave land undamaged. Since they nibble from the top of grasses rather than uprooting them, they can be kept well-fed by rotating them between a few pastures.
If I want to buy an alpaca, how much will it cost?
If you want breeding quality alpacas, it will cost you a pretty penny. Females run between $8,000 and $35,000, while top quality herdsire males can auction for $200,000. The record at auction for a herdsire is $675,000! A non-breeding male, on the other hand, will cost just a couple hundred dollars.
If I can’t get my own alpaca, how can bring the alpaca experience into my life?
There are lots of ways that city girls can interact with alpaca. Try an Alpaca Festival or an Alpaca Farm Tour- See our Yarn Events Map to find events near you. Another way is to buy a share in a Fiber CSA. Shares are offered prior to spring or fall shearing. After the shearing or “clip”, share holders receive a portion of the fiber- either in its raw form, or as processed batts, roving, or yarn. Additional perks often involve an invitation to shearing day, family farm visits, and the opportunity to help out on the farm. For more information, see our article on fiber CSAs and accompanying map.
So that’s the lowdown on alpacas. If there is anything I’m missing or something else you’d like to know about, just drop me a line!