Alpacas are members of the South American Camelid family, which also includes llamas, vicuĂ±as and guanacos. Adult alpacas stand approx. 36″ at the withers (top of shoulder) and weigh approx. 150 lbs at maturity. Alpacas come in two “types” distinguished by their fleece characteristics. Huacaya (wa-kai-uh) fiber has a defined crimp and stands straight out from the alpacaâ€™s body, giving the appearance of a teddy bear, while suri (sur-ee) fiber lacks crimp and cords together into rope-like strands that lie flat against the alpacaâ€™s body. Alpacas are fiber-producing animals; each year an alpaca produces 5-10 lbs of fiber which is removed by shearing â€“ the alpacas are not harmed by this process. After minor preparation, the alpaca fiber is ready to be spun into soft, warm yarn or to be used in other fiber crafts such as felting.
These gentle, graceful animals are particularly suited for small or semi-rural farming, as they require little land for upkeep â€“ 4 to 8 alpacas may be kept on one acre of pasture, depending on the quality of pasture available â€“ and are “easy” on pastures as they have padded feet. Alpacas eat a diet of grass, high-quality leafy hay, and a salt/mineral supplement; they may also eat a grain supplement formulated for alpacas. Alpacas do not require fancy barns, do not challenge fences, rarely get sick and if handled regularly, can be easy to work with. They are also intelligent, curious, gentle with children, and often quite friendly â€“ each has a distinct personality and time spent with alpacas can be very relaxing (and addictive!)
Alpacas reach maturity at approx. 14-18 months. Female alpacas (hembras) carry their single offspring, called a cria for 11 months. Crias generally spend 4-6 months with their mothers and are very social, bonding tightly with their herdmates and playing with other crias. When asked what their favorite alpaca moment is, many alpaca breeders will talk about watching crias play together in the pasture â€“ itâ€™s truly amazing to watch!
Alpacas are native to the South American altiplano, the high plain including parts of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They were domesticated from vicuĂ±as thousands of years ago by the native Quechua population, and their fiber was prized by the Incan rulers. Alpacas were first exported from South America to the US for farming use in 1984. In 1998, the Alpaca Registry Inc. (ARI, the US registry body for alpacas) voted to close the ARI registry to further imports. All ARI-registered alpacas descend from stock registered prior to the registry closure.