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Thinking About Alpacas? Some Basic Questions and Answers

Alpaca farming continues to gain popularity with all kinds of people. Some are attracted to the lifestyle of owning a small ranch. Others see alpacas as an investment opportunity (although we would argue that as a business, not an investment!) Those with a special appetite for spinning and knitting may be attracted to the idea of ​​growing their own source of wonderful fibers. Whatever the reason, choosing to raise alpacas is not an easy decision. We’ve put together a set of questions and answers that we hope you’ll find useful.

Q: What “breeds” and colors do alpacas come in?

ONE: There are two varieties of alpacas: huacaya and suri. You can see photos of each on our website (see resource box below). Both varieties have a very soft fleece, although they look very different.

Huacayas are “fluffy” or “crunchy” and often “bounce” to the touch. Suri fleece has a straight fiber often with a higher sheen, which hangs down and tends to form “dreadlocks”. Both fiber types are popular in the textile industry, with cria fleeces generally fetching the highest price. Almost all of the 130,000 or so alpacas in the United States are Huacaya. Only about 5% or so is Suri. You’ll find eight “basic colors” of fleece in alpaca: white, light, fawn, brown, gray, black, multicolored, and “vague.” This really means that there is a wide variety of colors out there, and some patterns, too. Pure white is very popular in the textile industry, as it can be dyed almost any color.

Q: Do alpacas spit?

ONE: Oh yes. But not as often as you think, and rarely in humans. Spitting is both a defense and a way of communication. Often, this communication is about who claims the food or who wants to be “in charge” today.

And…just so you know…the spit in this case is NOT saliva. They are genuine stomach juices, often including partially digested hay. It is a wonderful experience.

Q: What kind of space do alpacas require?

ONE: Alpacas have 3-chambered stomachs, so they are very efficient herders, more so than almost any other farm animal. A grazing density of 6 to 7 alpacas per acre is often reasonable, although density varies greatly with land conditions, climate and forage quality. Don’t forget that if you plan to maintain breeding stock, you will need several fenced pastures to accommodate groups of different sexes and allow for pasture rotation. Fencing required. The good news is that alpacas generally respect fencing. A 4′ or 5′ non-climbing horse fence is a cost-effective option. If you don’t have space for alpacas, consider boarding them on a ranch. Many alpaca owners start out this way.

Q: Are alpacas strong? Will my neighbors complain?

ONE: While we can’t answer the second question (it depends on your neighbors!), the answer to the first is that alpacas are generally very quiet. They hum quietly, especially when they are a bit anxious. If they see something truly alarming, they may emit a mocking call that some describe as a cross between a squeaky toy and a hawk cry.

More often than not, a call like that means they’ve seen a house cat out in the pasture…

Q: We do not intend to breed alpacas. Do they make good pasture pets?

ONE: For sure! Many people believe that the best alpacas for pasture pets are neutered males, often called “fiber boys.” Alpacas are pack animals, so you will need at least 2, preferably 3. Alpacas are not like dogs. They are alert, curious, calm and may well come to sniff when you are working in the yard. However, they will likely spend their time with the herd, not their humans.

Q: What do you do with alpaca fleece?

ONE: Alpacas produce fiber that is, bar none, the best in the world for spinning and weaving. Do you knit? Then you probably already know the excellent properties of alpaca yarn. Many small mills will take fleece, wash it, card it and spin it, with many layer options. Knitting with yarn from animals you have is very rewarding! are you coming back You can ask the mill to give you pure fleece or rovings. If fiber arts aren’t your thing, you can sell your fleece to mills, spinners, or even fiber cooperatives.

Q: How big are alpacas anyway?

ONE: Alpacas are camels, but small ones. The babies, called crias, generally weigh between 12 and 22 kilograms at birth. Adults generally weigh between 120 and 210 kg. A good adult stands about 36″ at the shoulder and can probably look you in the eye if you’re under 5’3″. This means they are much smaller and may feel less intimidating to some people than their larger cousins, the llamas (who are also very cool – don’t get me wrong!). When you know how to handle them, alpacas are generally easy to work with, even though they may weigh more than you.

Q: How long do alpacas live? How much of that time is actively reproductive?

ONE: Alpacas generally live 17 to 22 years and are usually very healthy for most of that time. We currently have a 14 year old girl on our ranch who is expecting a ram this summer and often leads the herd on the pasture perimeter run! Females may be ready to start breeding by 18 months of age. Males mature a bit more slowly and are generally ready to start breeding at around 30 months.

Q: How long are females pregnant and how long after giving birth to breed again?

ONE: Gestation periods in alpacas range from a low of about 325 to a high of about 360 days, with the average being about 345 days. Single births are the norm. Alpacas normally breed about 3 weeks after giving birth.

Q: What are baby alpacas like?

ONE: Very cute. Incredibly cute. In the end, crazy cute. They are generally on their feet within 30 minutes or so of birth and are actively nursing within an hour. Although their legs are a little shaky the first day, they are up and with the herd very quickly. Weight gain during the first two weeks can be about a pound each day. Aside from some basic postpartum precautions and a few vitamin shots and vaccines, seizures generally need little special care. However, Crias breastfeeds for 6 months, so mom will need extra calories and protein for breastfeeding.

Q: What kind of care do alpacas require?

ONE: A small herd of alpacas is fairly easy to care for. Fresh water, good hay, a small daily grain supplement and some mineral salt should do the trick for feeding. As natural foragers, alpacas will eat almost anything your pasture provides, including (thankfully) blueberry vines. However, some plants are poisonous to camels. The shelf on our website has a reference to a good book on this topic and you can find more information online. For shelter, depending on your climate, alpacas need a simple 3-sided roofed shelter or a barn. Alpacas are generally shorn once each year, often in early May here in the Pacific Northwest. For some before and after photos, check out the news section of our website. Shearing is a job for a professional, but it’s relatively easy to work with an established local ranch to participate in their shearing party. In hot weather, especially in southern climates, heat stress can become a concern. Special cooling arrangements may be required.

Like other animals, alpacas are susceptible to a variety of parasites, both internal and external. Your vet will probably have a management plan that you can adopt. Alpaca hooves need regular trimming (every 3 to 6 months, your mileage may vary), but if your alpacas have been trained to know the “foot” command, trimming shouldn’t be a problem.

Q: How do I take the next step?

ONE: First, figure out your goals. Reproduction? Fiber cultivation? Pets in the pasture? Second, determine your timeline: how soon and in what order do you want to achieve these goals? Third, decide on your budget and decide whether you will have your own pastures or board your animals on a ranch. Fourth, take the time to find the animals that will help you achieve your goals. Do not be in a hurry. Take your time. Talk to people from different breeding farms.

Would you like to know more? You can start by visiting our website. There you will find several resources to help you figure out which major is right for you. We also invite you to contact us through the website and if you are not too far away, visit our ranch! If we don’t have what you’re looking for or are too far away to be practical, we may be able to recommend ranches in your area.

Good luck!

Copyright (c) 2009, Inti’s Gift Alpacas

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