Alpaca History

Alpacas are fibre-producing members of the Camelid family raised exclusively for their soft and luxurious wool.  Native to South America and farmed in the Andean mountains, 3500 meters + above sea level. 

The rare and exotic alpaca is a creature of antiquity that is rapidly gaining popularity around the world.  Highly prized for their luxurious coats, the alpaca has been considered a treasure of the Andes Mountains for over 6000 years.

Alpacas are New World camelid and look like small Ilamas or long necked camels with no humps, especially when recently shorn.  They have shaggy necks and camel-like faces with thick lips, pronounced noses and log ears.

Their large, expressive eyes seem to exhibit both wisdom and childlike curiosity.  Easily domesticated, alpacas are friendly, gentle, curious and intelligent animals.  Their placid nature makes them gentle around children.

The Alpaca was domesticated 6000 years ago.  They have a lifespan of 18 to 24 years.

They were introduced into New Zealand in the late 1980’s.

Alpaca Breed Types

There are two types of alpacas; the Suri and the Huacaya. The main difference between the two is in the fleece they produce.

Suri Alpaca

Suri fleece is vary fine, lustrous fibre, silky, soft handling, dense locking fleece that moves freely.  The individual fibre strands cling to themselves and hang down from the body in beautiful pencil locks which form close to the skin and twists uniformly to the ends. 

The Suri is very rare, with the worldwide ratio of Huacaya to Suri at about 98% to 2%.

Huacaya Alpaca

The Huacaya fleece is water resistant, dense, woolly, sheep like fleece that caries crimp and has staple definition which gives the Huacaya their fluffy, teddy-bear-like appearance.

Alpaca Uses

Suri and Huacaya Fleece

Alpaca fleece comes in 22 natural shades ranging from black to silver, rose grey and white, from mahogany brown to light fawn and champagne.  Average fleece quantity per animal is 2.5 to 3kg (un-skirted) though some fully grown males/wethers produce 5kg or more.

Alpaca Products

The fibre of the alpaca is used for clothing.  It is soft as cashmere or angora, softer handle, stronger, lighter and warmer than merino wool and more resilient than even the finest sheep's wool. Alpaca fleece is hypoallergenic as it has little or no lanolin, it is easier to process.

 

Alpaca Physical Characteristic

Height

Alpacas stand approximately 90-95cm at the withers (the point where the neck and spine meet). They are approximately 1.5 meters tall from their toes to the tips of their ears.

 

Weight

Alpaca adults (±10kg). 

Female alpacas generally weigh approximately 70kg.

Male alpacas generally weigh approximately 85kg.

Alpaca Management

Fencing

Alpaca do not challenge barriers and a standard sheep fence is more than adequate.  Barbed wire should be avoided and electric “hot wire” are not needed.  In most cases the existing fencing on a property is sufficient.

Food

Alpacas are a herbivore, opportunist browsers they eat most grasses and foliage of trees without striping the bark.  They are efficient feed converters extracting maximum nutritional value from even low grade forage.  Average stocking rate is 4 to 5 alpacas per acre (this depends on the pasture).  Farming conditions around New Zealand vary greatly so you should always  find out what is necessary in your local area from your vet or local alpaca breeders.

Grass, hay and a clean supply of fresh drinking water is all a typical New Zealand alpaca requires.  Generally they do not need additional feed supplements.

Routine Care

Alpacas are hardy, low maintenance livestock that can adapt to a wide range of conditions.

As alpaca defecate in communal sites around their field, preferring not to graze around these “dung piles”, internal parasite levels are normally low thus drenching requirements are lower than for other stock. Alpaca that are grazing with other livestock might need more regular drenching.  Their manure is excellent fertilizer and may be applied directly to the garden without danger of “burn”.

Alpaca can be vaccinated against the clostridial diseases found in New Zealand.  The same products and dose rates for sheep can be used.  Check with your local vet for the best product used in your area.

Alpacas do not suffer from foot-rot or fly-strike.

Feet

Alpaca have soft padded feet with two toes—thus two toenails.  These may need trimming from time to time.  It is a task easily carried out by the alpaca owner using clippers.  The rockier the ground the less often the toenails require trimming.  Unlike hard hooves, they leave the terrain undamaged and are gentle on pastures and delicate soils.

Alpaca Behaviour

Like all animals, alpacas exhibit individual personality.  They are herd animals, preferring the companionship of their friends and their established community and will become stressed if separated from their buddies.

Gentle and curious, alpacas respond well to children.  A confident youngster can handle an animal in the show ring or on an obstacle course.

 

Communication

Humming – Alpacas make a humming sound to show their contentment or they are near by. 

Clucking – sound is made sometimes particularly between family members.

Alarm call – When alarmed, a staccato tooting is made by one animal, then joined in by the rest of the herd as they focus attention in the direction of potential danger. 

Orgle – During breeding a male trumpets or “orgles” a lovesong to his mate.

Spitting

Alpacas only spit at each other to signal displeasure at a herd member.  Being spat at by an alpaca us usually caused by something you are doing to them they dislike. 

A pregnant female “spits off” an inquisitive male to let him know she is disinterested in his advances.

Reproduction

Alpaca are induced ovulators, so only ovulate once mated – meaning they don’t come into season as such and can be mated at any time of the year.  The gestation length generally ranges from 11 to 11 ½ months depending on the time of year.

Birthing is predominantly during the day, and alpaca mothers will often wait until fine weather to “unpack” their offspring.  Baby alpaca are called cria (cree-ah).  They are approximately 6 to 8 kg at birth and are standing, drinking and running within a few hours.