Alpacas are a member of the camelid family and are close relatives to camels, llamas, vicunas, and guanacos. There are two types of alpacas: the Huacaya, which is the most common type of Alpaca with an extremely dense fleece and looks like a sheep and the Suri which has a longer strands of fiber and is softer. The average weight of alpacas is between 140 and 220 lb. Males tend to be larger than females. Like most ruminants, they chew their cud which is regurgitated and chewed again as partially digested. This allows them to get the most amount of nutrients from a poor source. Alpacas do spit, when threatened but with tender love and care they become much more pleasant around the owners.
The life span in the wild is around 18 years but with a better diet in the US they are typically exceeding 20 years. Alpacas have no teeth on top, instead they have a dental pad and do not bite. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984, but are no longer legally imported.
Alpacas are a herd animal and must be kept in a herd, a person should have a least two animals. . They communicate by humming and with body posture. Generally they seem to humm more if they are for some reason uneasy or unsure about something, or when they are curious about something, like a new person, or animal on the farm.
Alpacas are a “prey” species meaning they have natural predators, such as wild dogs, big cats, coyotes, etc. Speed, agility and the fact that there is safety in numbers are the alpacas only defense against such predators, hence the strong herding instinct.
Most females, after reaching maturity at 18 months to 2 years will produce one cria a year throughout most of her life. Alpaca females tend to be extremely good and protective mothers. Male alpacas reach sexual maturity at 2 1/2 to 3 years of age. Alpacas are induced ovulators and can be bred any time of the year. Crias a baby Alpaca weighs between 13 and 22 lb.
Alpacas have soft padded feet making them gentle on your pastures. An adult will consume around 2 1/2 lb. of forage a day In the US, most breeders will supplement forage with a grain and mineral mix.
Alpacas prefer outdoors to being cooped up in a barn so a three-sided shed is perfectly fine. It is most important that they have a source of shade and shelter from inclement weather, as well as clean water and fans during the dogs days of summer.
Alpacas share a communal dung pile, and it seems once one goes they all line up behind the other to take their turn on the bean pile. Cleaning up after your alpaca is very easy, due to their digestive efficiency, their solid waste looks like large rabbit pellets, or black beans, and is primarily composed of indigestible fiber. This means, unlike other livestock, they are relatively smell free and their beans make fantastic fertilizer.
There is no need to groom or bathe alpacas but they do need to have their toenails trimmed.
Alpacas should get their annual inoculations, and be de-wormed. The Meningeal worm is a problem for alpacas in most states (any where you see white tailed deer). There are several good dewormers in the market. Alpacas are shorn once a year. You can expect to get anywhere from four to ten pounds of fleece from a single animal.