A better question might be "Why not?" If you spend any time around alpaca owners, you'll soon realize that every one of us is passionate about our animals. They are truly captivating creatures - mild-tempered, beautiful fleece-producing animals with an inquisitive nature and intelligent presence.
Alpacas have been domesticated for over 5,000 years and are indigenous to South America. They are members of the camelid family, along with camels, lamas, guanacos, and vicunas.
Types of Alpacas
Huacaya: Fleece has a degree of crimp, thus giving huacayas a fluffy, "teddy bear-like" appearance.
Suri: No crimp in their fleeces, so their fiber clings to itself, forming beautiful "pencil locks" that hang down from the body in gentle, silky cascades.
Both huacaya and suri fiber come in a wide range of natural colors. Alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin or other body oils, so it can be worn by persons allergic to wool.
Height: Approximately 36 inches tall at the withers (shoulders)
Weight: Between 100 and 200 pounds
Nutrition: Alpacas are grazers and foragers, eating two to three pounds a day. Most alpaca farmers feed low protein hay, such as orchard grass. Alpacas do not need "grain" for calories, but some are fed a few ounces of nutrient supplements.
Digestion: Alpacas are ruminants, or cud chewing animals, meaning they chew their stomach contents by regurgitating many times and breaking down their food primarily through fermentation. Though their stomach is three rather than four compartments, alpacas are very efficient at digesting and absorbing their food, expelling very little unused food. They also share a communal dung pile.
Gestation: The gestation period for an alpaca is 11+ months and there is only one animal (cria) per birth. Crias typically stand within an hour of birth and, the following day, most are difficult to catch! They weigh 16 to 18 pounds at birth and gain half a pound daily, on average.
Price: The price for an alpaca will depend on its quality (especially conformation and fleece qualities), its bloodlines, gender, age, breeding history, and other factors. As is true with most livestock, the breeding male needs to be of the very best quality in order to become a Herdsire. Top quality, proven males sell for $20,000 and above. The males that do not "make the cut" are instead likely gelded (castrated), raised for their beautiful fiber, and sell for $100 and above. Breeding females generally sell in the range of $5,000 to $20,000.
Alpacas are extremely athletic. It's great fun to watch alpacas "pronk" - an upward or bounding movement, much like the movement of a gazelle. Frequently, we see our alpacas pronking when the sun sets and the day cools.
Alpacas are generally shorn once a year. In our area, this is usually early May. Professional shearers can typically harvest the fleece off an alpaca in about five minutes, up to about 80 alpacas per day. Learn more about shearing by watching our video or by visiting the farm.
The fleece is harvested in three sections, all of which can be used for processing:
- The blanket (or prime)
- The neck (seconds)
- The thirds (what is left)
The price per pound depends on the length of the fiber and grade - usually on a I to V scale, with Grade I being the highest grade. As with any commodity, supply and demand is a driving force.