Alpaca Facts

General Facts

What is the difference between Alpacas and Llamas?


Llamas (Lama glama) and alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are the domestic cousins of the Guanaco (Lama guanacoe) and Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna), respectively. MauriceLlamas were developed to be the workhorses of the Andean people, intended to provide transport, meat, and fibre. As such, they are much larger than alpacas, often weighing in excess of 250lbs, all the way up to 450lbs. They have long, fibre free faces, banana-shaped ears and heavily boned legs, with straight toplines ending in a high-set tail. Llamas are quite stately in their appearance, and come in a variety of fibre types and colours. Alpacas, on the other hand, were bred for their fibre. Domesticated from the vicuna, which is arguably one of the best fibre producing species in the world, the Andean people valued alpaca fibre immensely, with some types of fibre being reserved for royalty. Alpacas are also used for their meat in South America— though this practice has not caught the same level of traction elsewhere. As non-pack animals, alpacas are much smaller and more heavily fleeced than their llama cousins. Alpacas weigh anywhere from 100lbs to 200lbs, and are often fleeced from head to toes, with a slightly convex topline and low tail set. They are more compact in their build, come in 22 recognized colours, and two fibre types: Huacaya and Suri. They display both fibre free, and fluffy “ewok” faces with shorter noses than their llama counterparts, have straight, spear-shaped ears, and slightly rounded towlines with a lower tail set.




What can you do with alpacas?


Alpacas are a versatile animal, and what you can do with them is virtually at the limit of your imagination, experience, and free-time. Some of the things alpacas can, and have been used for include:

  • Fibre Production
  • 4H
  • Light Packing
  • Hiking
  • Cart Pulling
  • Therapy work
  • Agri-tourism
  • Manure Production
  • Meat




Do they spit?


Diego, with spitface. Yes, alpacas do spit. Spitting is a way for them to communicate with one another that they are displeased with what the other alpaca is doing-- perhaps it is in their personal space, is being too pushy or aggressive, or is just downright annoying. As such, alpacas often only spit at one another-- not at people, as is popularly believed. Most instances of alpacas spitting on humans come from humans just being caught "in the crossfire". That said, a frightened or threatened alpaca is much more likely to spit on a human who is upsetting.




What do you call them?


The terminology surrounding alpacas varies by area. Generally, male alpacas are either called “Machos”, “Males”, “Studs” or “Herdsires” if they are intact, and “Wethers” or “Geldings” if castrated. Female alpacas are often just called “Females”, though that are also called “Hembras”, and if they have not yet been bred, “Maidens”. Baby alpacas are called “Cria”, and weanlings and in-betweener’s are called “Tui” or “Yearlings”. "Proven" in relation to males, may either mean that the male has successfully bred and produced offspring; that his offspring have grown to adulthood; or that his offspring have won in shows. For females, "proven" may mean she had maintained a pregnancy and had offspring; or that her offspring have won shows.




What do they eat?


Alpacas are a browser designed to eat the grasses and plants available on the altiplano. This makes them especially efficient in their digestion, and means they can live on a variety of grasses and grass qualities. Most alpacas are fine eating native grasses provided they have access to the minerals neccesary to make up for any gaps in their nutrition. As such, free choice minerals should be available at all times, in conjunction with clean water. As far as hay goes, many alpaca owners opt to offer their alpacas hay with some combination of orchard grass, as well as alfalfa for any animals needing the extra protein (especially older or compromised animals). There are many companies that make alpaca and llama specific treats which can be used to supplement minerals, and of course bribe your animals into loving you. Alpacas arevery food motivated, so while treats are not neccesary when good feed is offered otherwise, the treats do go a long way towards training and building trust.




How long do they live for?


Alpacas on average can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, though there are some animals who have lived into their 20's.




How do you transport alpacas?


Prudence on his way home in the front of the Durango, sitting on my lap. Alpacas are extremely easy to transport. They are more or less collabsible, which means you can transport them just as easily in a car, SUV, or truck, as you can in a livestock trailer. They just lay down once the vehicle starts moving, and settle in for a comfy ride. When transporting alpacas, it is a good idea to have a halter and lead available (though not securing the animal to anything like you would a horse) in case of emergency, and to take frequent stops on multi-hour trips so that they can stand up and relieve themselves (if in a trailer) or be taken for a short walk to relieve themselves (if in a vehicle). You can fit up to 2 adult animals in the back of the average SUV.




Can you train them?


YES. You can 100% train alpacas, and what you can train hem to do is entirely up to the limits of your imagination and your experience (and the individual animal you're working with, of course). They are a very curious animal who is often extremely food motivated. This makes them in some ways as trainable as any dog. Do you want to train your alpaca to walk on a halter and lead? They can do that. Do you want to trailer train them? They are up for that. Pick up your socks and bring them to you? Unlike your cat, they won't shred them on the way back to you. Alpacas are popular 4H training projects for children because they are easy to handle and easy to train. Obstacle course, carting, hiking, even just random tricks are entirely doable. If you ever want to see examples of some of the cool things llamas (and alpacas) can be trained to do, check out Terry Crowfoot's Llama training website. She is an excellent example of how to make clicker training work with your lama.




What sounds do they make?


Alpacas make a variety of noises, most of them are fairly quiet. Day-to-day, alpacas will often softly hum to themselves or one another-- especially females with babies. Hums come with a variety of inflections, from worried hums, to questioning hums, to angry hums, and just general, conversational hums. Cria will often times make a clicking/clucking noise when wanting to nurse from their dam, or when trying to appease older, bigger animals they're afraid of. All alpacas, upon seeing something they are mildly alarmed by, will produce an "alarm call" or affectionately called, their "battle cry". It is a sound that is a cross between the noise a dog squeaky toy will make, and the sound barbed wire fences make when the wire rubs against metal and other wires. Similarly, the sound of an alpaca bringing up rumen to either chew their cud, or to spit on eachother, is a very distinctive, almost wet-burping noise. Male alpacas will make several angry noises, usually squeals, growls, and squawks when they are wrestling or fighting.




Can I have just one?


Emphatically, my answer is and always will be, no. Alpacas are an extremely herd reliant animal that depend on other alpacas for much of their social interaction, and basic security needs. A general example of why you need more than one alpaca that is often cited is their sleep schedules-- an alpaca on its own will often struggle with sleeping. This is because when in a herd, they will often rotate between one another on "watches" to ensure everyone gets a chance at some much needed rest. As a prey animal, they are already hardwired to be on high alert and fearful of changes in their environment. One can ony imagine how exhausting it would be to live in a constant state of anxiety in this manner if they could never take a break and rely on others in their herd to keep watch for them. Similarly, alpacas, like many other speies, form close social bonds with one another. It is not uncommon for certain members of the herd to form "friendships" with one another, often animals of the same age cohort, who they will choose to spend much of their time with. When separated, they will often cry and become quite stressed until reunited. Furthermore, single alpacas are at a much higher risk of not only developing debilitating and expensive health problems (such as stomach ulcers from stress), but also bad, sometimes outright dangerous behaviours which can put their humans and other animals at risk. Currently, there is a highly concerning trend of "house alpacas", where people raise a single alpaca (often a gelded male) as if it is a dog in the suburbs. Although this is "cute" and has garnered an almost viral internet culture, this is something that is done entirely without consideration for the health and welbeing of the animal. Many of these "viral" alpacas are already showing concerning signs of dangerous behaviours, including mounting, wrestling, and breeding behaviours directed towards other humans. Alpacas should at a minimum be housed in same-sex groups no smaller than 3.





Husbandry

Can you eat them?


Yes, you can eat them. In South America, llamas and alpacas are a food source, and for some larger farms in North America, animals may be eaten as well.




Can you milk them?


Technically, yes? Alpacas may be milked to supply colostrum or milk to cria, or to relieve the symptoms of mastitis. Unfortunately, alpacas only produce a small amount of milk at a time, and do not have the udder capacity to produce more at this time. Milking alpacas for human or commercial consumption isn’t really an option. Ekko nursing




Do you HAVE to shear them?


Alpacas are designed for an extremely arid, dry environment with extreme temperature fluctuations and access to UV light. So while many alpacas handle a dry heat in full fleece with moderate success, the vast majority of alpacas suffer in the heat when in full fleece, and do need to be shorn annually. Furthermore, alpacas rely on sunlight to produce the adequate amounts of vitamin D their bodies need-- although this is not a problem in the Andes, where UV exposure is much stronger than it is in North America, here, shearing alpacas means they have more exposed surface area to absorb sunlight to help make up for that difference. Unlike their wild cousins, alpacas DO NOT blow out their fleece biannually, and so do not shed. They will just grow more and more fleece, which can eventually result in heat stroke (as well as hide poor body condition and other health problems). The rule of thumb I go by is if the animal, in one year's entire fleece growth, has grown more than 2 inches of fleece by shearing time, then they will be entirely shorn. If they have grown less than 2 inches, they will be partially shorn with either a barrel cut (abdomen only) or a vent cut (thermal windows only) that year, and then fully shorn the following year. This ensures the animal can get access to the breezes and hose sessions that will allow it to properly thermoregulate itself, as well as provide enough bare skin that they can absorb the neccesary amounts of vitamin D that they need during the summer.




I want to get a family of alpacas, can I do that?


Yes, provided you keep your males separated from your females. Alpacas are induced ovulators, which means they can breed year-round at any time. And they do not care if they get bred and are due to have a baby in the middle of the coldest cold-snap in January. Nor do the males care if the female they are breeding are their mother, sister, or daughter-- or even if they are pregnant. Males, regardless of whether they are gelded or intact, are capable of breeding any female they have access to. This can have disastrous results for the females, as the breeding mechanism employed by alpacas involves the male scraping the cariligious tip of his penis throughout the interal reproductive tract of the girl to debried uterine tissue and facilitate implantation of the egg. Too much of this can lead to abortions of pregnancy, the development of uterine infections (especially if the boy has poor aim), internal scarring and infertility, as well as back and leg injuries, or even the death of young cria. Frequent and uncontrolled breeding can also pose a risk to the male's health should his penis become entangled in tail fibre. To add insult to injury, many male alpacas will vigorously masturbate around the females before they even mount them properly, which will often result in their penis becoming covered in dirt and sand. Once they finally mate with the female, this same debris can become introduced into the female reproductive tract. Less experienced males may go on to introduce fecal matter into the reproductive tract, as they will often switch between penetrating the females rectum and vulva. The best thing you can do when purchasing alpacas is either go with one sex if you aren't wanting to breed (so all boys, or all girls), or get several of each sex, provided you can keep them separated from one another reliably (so at least 3 boys, or 3 girls).




Do you need special fencing for them?


Not neccesarily. Alpacas don't really challenge fences (unless you have hungry animals, or males who desperatey want access to open females) so the purpose of most fencing is to keep predators out. Generally, it is reccomended that alpacas be housed in 5ft no-climb or pagewire fencing, with a barbed wire groundwire (to deter digging), or an external hotwire to deter predators. However, they can also be housed in high tensile fencing (provided it is spaced appropriately to prevent predators from getting in), chain link, elk/deer fencing or any other barbless type fencing that can keep predators from accessing the animals. The reason why barbless fencing is important is because as a wool bearing animal, alpacas can very easy become entangled in barbed wire, which is not fun for the animal or the human having to disentangle them. These fences can be used for external/perimeter fencing to keep predators away, and if you so choose a simple rail fencing or high tensile fencing can also be used for internal crossfencing so long as the animals cannot wiggle through. Electric fence is also not reccomended, as alpacas in full fleece will not feel the shock, and may also become entangled in any loose fencing -- which may result in them very, very much feeling all the shocks.




I've heard alpacas make good guards, is this true?


This is only true in Britain and Australia, where the only predators alpacas have to contend with are the size of foxes. In North America, where alpacas have to contend with bear, wolves, coyote and puma, there is absolutely no way for them to sucessfully guard your sheep or goats from these predators. In fact, alpacas are just as likely to be killed by roaming dogs as are the sheep they are supposed to protect (and indeed this is the number one killer of alpacas in North America). Llamas, sadly, are just as vulnerable, and should only be used to alert you, the owner, of the presence or predators, so that you can go out and deal with the problem. Both llamas and alpacas have no real defenses-- their kicks are padded and while a well placed one might break bone, it is much more likely to just bruise. They don't have teeth well designed for biting with any real success, and their only other defense-- stomping-- relies on putting themselves at risk of being mauled and gored by hoping they can stomp on the predator.




What is the difference between registered and unregistered alpacas?


Physically, very little. Alpacas that are registered with the main registry bodies in North America (the Alpaca Owner's Association or AOA for the US, and the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association or CLAA for Canada) have their parentage DNA verified, and are proven to be purebred. These animals command a higher price because of ths verification, and the implications behind it. As such, they can be used for breeding, or halter shows, in Canada. In Canada, CLAA registration means your alpaca meets the minimum breed standards, with the breeder making sure that the animal is free from congenital defects which would disqualify it from being registered. Unregistered animals do not have any verification of parentage, and are often simply used as pet or fibre stock. Without lineage, there is no way to know for sure who the animal came from, who it is related to, or whether it or its line are predisposed to congenital defects. It is recommended that if you want to show, or breed alpacas, that you invest in registered animals. Many good registered alpacas can be purchased for as cheaply as some unregistered animals are, but come with the added peace of mind that if there are any problems, you can track down previous owners or breeders to ask questions and that you know the background of the animal. Supporting breed registries also supports the overall alpaca industry-- becoming a registered breeder often comes with discounts for registration and other perks, depending on the registry you are working with.




How many alpacas can you keep per acre?


Stocking rates vary based on quality of pasture. A safe number so assume that for the average pasture, around 3 alpacas per acre is a good number-- while an excellent quality pasture with lots of grass might be able to house as many as 4-5 alpacas per acre. Drylot estimates with great quality of feed available 24/7 can be as high as 7-10 animals per acre.




Can you shear my Alpacas/Llamas for me?


Perhaps? I offer my shearing services from April through until June, and start accepting bookings in January (as I do not shear full-time, I need the heads up to rearrange my schedules beforehand). I mostly shear in the Central Alberta area, though if it is a special case, I am willing to travel farther within province. I can shear alpacas on the ground, or on a tilt-table with electric shears, or standing by hand with hand-shears. I will only shear llamas with hand-shears while standing, unless I know 100% that the animal is okay with being shorn standing with electric shears. I do not shear sheep or goats. Please contact me if you have an animal in need of shearing, and we can discuss rates and scheduling.




How long do they live for?


Alpacas on average can live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, though there are some animals who have lived into their 20's.




Can I have just one?


Emphatically, my answer is and always will be, no. Alpacas are an extremely herd reliant animal that depend on other alpacas for much of their social interaction, and basic security needs. A general example of why you need more than one alpaca that is often cited is their sleep schedules-- an alpaca on its own will often struggle with sleeping, as in a herd, they will often rotate between one another on "watches" to ensure everyone gets a chance at some much needed rest. Furthermore, single alpacas are at a much higher risk of not only developing debilitating and expensive health problems (such as stomach ulcers from stress), but also bad, sometimes outright dangerous behaviours which can put their humans and other animals at risk.




What is their gestation length?


On average, alpacas are pregnant for about 11.5 months, with many animals averaging from 345 - 355 days. Alpacas have been known to gestate for as long as 400 days, though this isn't the norm.




Can I have just one?


Emphatically, my answer is and always will be, no. Alpacas are an extremely herd reliant animal that depend on other alpacas for much of their social interaction, and basic security needs. A general example of why you need more than one alpaca that is often cited is their sleep schedules-- an alpaca on its own will often struggle with sleeping. This is because when in a herd, they will often rotate between one another on "watches" to ensure everyone gets a chance at some much needed rest. As a prey animal, they are already hardwired to be on high alert and fearful of changes in their environment. One can ony imagine how exhausting it would be to live in a constant state of anxiety in this manner if they could never take a break and rely on others in their herd to keep watch for them. Similarly, alpacas, like many other speies, form close social bonds with one another. It is not uncommon for certain members of the herd to form "friendships" with one another, often animals of the same age cohort, who they will choose to spend much of their time with. When separated, they will often cry and become quite stressed until reunited. Furthermore, single alpacas are at a much higher risk of not only developing debilitating and expensive health problems (such as stomach ulcers from stress), but also bad, sometimes outright dangerous behaviours which can put their humans and other animals at risk. Currently, there is a highly concerning trend of "house alpacas", where people raise a single alpaca (often a gelded male) as if it is a dog in the suburbs. Although this is "cute" and has garnered an almost viral internet culture, this is something that is done entirely without consideration for the health and welbeing of the animal. Many of these "viral" alpacas are already showing concerning signs of dangerous behaviours, including mounting, wrestling, and breeding behaviours directed towards other humans. Alpacas should at a minimum be housed in same-sex groups no smaller than 3.





Fibre and Fleece

How much fleece do you get off alpacas?


An alpaca can produce anywhere from 2 - 12lbs of prime fleece annually.




What is fleece worth?


The quality of fleece and how much processing is done to it will determine value-- but raw, a poor quality fleece that has been properly skirted may sell for as much as $10/lb, while a high quality fleece could go for $20+/lb. Your best value for your fleece comes from production though, as a single pound of fleece can produce several skeins of yarn, with each skein selling for more each than that entire pound is worth raw.




What is the difference between Huacaya's and Suri's?


Huacaya's are the most common type of alpaca, and are characterized by the fluffy "ewok" faces that everyone has come to know and love. Huacaya alpacas grow fibre perpendicular to their body, with a fleece type very similar in style to what can be seen in wool sheep breeds. Suri's are less common that huacayas, and look sleeker and more elegant, with their long, shiny locks. Suri fibre drapes across their frame, hanging down in long locks which are more similar to the fleece you'd see on an angora goat, than you would on a merino sheep (as with a huacaya). Suri fibre is renowned for its lustre and shine and for improving the drape of garments it is made with.




What is a Histogram?


A histogram is a test that can be done on fibre to determine key traits within it. These traits can then inform the breeding, buying, and production decisions of growers. The average histogram is going to present you with a bar-chart that shows the range of fibre microns tested in the sample, and the frequency at which these fibres show up in the sample. A basic histogram will tell you the average micron of the fleece sample (average fibre diameter, or AFD); the amount that the micron is varying from the mean/average (standard devtiation, or SD); the covariant of variation between the AFD and SD (CV); and the percentage of fibres which exceed 30 microns (%>30), which when subtracted from 100, tells you the "comfort factor" of the sample.