Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. Alpacas are now being successfully raised and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad. There are two types of alpacas - the Huacaya and the Suri. The lifespan of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11.5 months. Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud. Adult alpacas are about 36" tall at the withers and generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. They are gentle and easy to handle. Alpacas don't have incisors, horns, hooves or claws. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.
Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends). This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.
Alpaca owners enjoy a strong and active national organization. The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA) with a growing number of Regional Affiliates and AOBA sanctioned national committees addressing every aspect of the industry.
The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA) accepts fleece from its members, and turns the precious textile into quality alpaca garments and products. Members benefit from a ready outlet for their fiber, while the cooperative works to increase awareness of and demand for this every day luxury.
The Alpaca Registry has been established to help ensure accurate records and has a state-of the-art system to document bloodlines. Alpacas must be blood typed in order to be registered. Virtually every alpaca in the U.S. is registered.
The following information provides guidelines about the basic care for alpacas:
Shelters: Shelters are mostly needed to provide shade in summer and haven from winter’s cold wind and snow. For most climates a three-sided loafing shed that does not face into the wind or sun will serve the needs of your alpacas. Colder climates might need a barn. There are several excellent plans available in alpaca and livestock magazines that have storage areas configured into the shelter. See your local lumber supplier for price estimates and other suggestions.
Fencing: A perimeter fence, which provides adequate protection from predators, is a basic requirement. Most alpaca breeders prefer 5-foot no-climb fence. Since alpacas rarely challenge a fence, its primary purpose is to keep predators out. However, in areas of high deer population, eight-foot high fences or electric top wires may be needed to keep deer out. The most widely used fencing is welded or unwelded field fencing that has smaller holes on the bottom to keep out dogs and other critters.
Pasture Requirements: The pasture land requirements are minimal, except it would be a kindness to offer them sufficient room to run. The rule of thumb is no more than 8 animals per acre. There should be a number of separate areas for segregating the males from the females. Ideally, you would have separate pastures for breeding males, breeding females, and weanlings/juveniles. You will also need to clean up the poop piles daily. Alpacas are very neat animals and their dung piles are often places for socializing. They all go in the same area and frequently at the same time. Clean up is a breeze!
Feed: Good grass hay (such as orchard grass) will do. Each alpaca will consume 1-2 pounds a day, depending on pasture. Also you may feed a grain mixture with a mineral supplement included 1 – 2 times a day. Fresh, clean water must be available at all times. It is not a good idea to have a source of water such as a pond or stream within your pasture area. They may stand in it in hot weather causing the constantly wet fiber to rot. It grows back, but you will have some unsightly animals until it does and the loss of valuable fiber!
Feeding/Watering and Hay Containers: Durable heavy plastic containers work well for water and feed. Also you will want some kind of container for hay, such as a wooden hay box that holds a standard bale.
Catch Pen: This is a small area to catch your alpaca in to perform necessary procedures. It should be in a location that is readily accessible for you to herd your alpaca(s) into with a simple gated entry. A size that affords your alpaca room to pace but a comfortable reach to the alpaca for you is ideal; typically 8 by 10 foot.
Veterinary: Alpacas are basically healthy animals and there is no disease that is specific to them. They are, however, subject to some diseases carried by other animals and require annual vaccination. All areas east of the Mississippi have large populations of white-tail deer, carriers of the meningeal worm, which is a most dangerous parasite for alpacas. This worm attacks the central nervous system and can be devastating to the animal’s health. If you have white-tail deer, you will need to worm monthly. A typical vaccination for this worm is Ivomec. Also a yearly worm vaccine is Panacur. Most alpaca breeders also vaccinate for rabies and CDT. An experienced alpaca vet is a valuable friend. Treat them well.
Shearing: Alpacas of course are fiber-producing animals and are sheared once a year. Most alpaca breeders will sheer in the spring, which helps the animals deal with our hot, humid summers. You will need a good set of shears.
Teeth: Alpacas with excellent bites seldom need their teeth trimmed. Front incisors that protrude beyond the top gum line may need to be sawed. Mature males that have developed fighting teeth in the back of their palates may need these cut off to prevent injury to other alpacas. If you are uncomfortable with these procedures, have your veterinarian perform them. Check for swelling along the gum lines and for tooth abscesses, which may be caused by course hay. Also, be aware that alpacas will loose their baby teeth at approximately two years of age.
Feet: Alpacas have a padded foot with two toes. Alpacas toenails grow and may require periodic trimming if they are not worn down naturally. Check nails by picking up the alpaca’s foot and looking at it from the bottom. If the nail bends over the side of the pad or protrudes, it needs to be trimmed. Most alpaca breeders trim their alpaca’s toenails, if needed, when doing their monthly worming. The regularity of trimming does vary from animal to animal and according to the surface they walk upon. Grass pastures do not wear the nails down, so most alpacas will require a trim every month or so.
Scales: You will need to have scales to weigh any cria when born. You should also have scales for weighing the adult alpacas as well.
Record keeping: Impeccable records must be kept on each animal. The records should include vaccinations, deworming, nail trimming, dates of breedings, births etc. Many do bimonthly evaluation of animals, checking general health and condition of each. Cria birth records to evaluate the health of the newborn are important. Check general strength of cria, breathing, teeth erupted, general appearance, time until nursing and walking etc. Record birth weight, daily and weekly gains for the first few weeks. All cria vaccinations and medicines given must be recorded. It may be helpful to keep birthing reports describing activities of each dam before birthing to look back on as her due date approaches with each birth. Yearly records of each alpaca’s fiber analysis are important to see yearly change. It is important to track males fiber micron, weight and length each year to evaluate him as a breeding male. If he blows out (gets course) fast you may want to reconsider using him. All breeding male’s offspring should be evaluated as well as a rating of the dam.
Odds and Ends: You should have halters and leads for each animal The only other routine care is during the hotter months, as these guys are subject to heat stroke. This is a particular problem in the east where we have such high humidity along with high temperatures. You will need to provide shade and air movement for the hottest days. We use large industrial fans in the barns, placing them low to cool the alpacas’ bellies. Watching the alpacas hanging out in front of the fans, chewing their cud, will make you want to join the herd!