About Alpacas - The Basics
Background Basics:
Alpacas are members of the camel (camelid) family. Camelids originated on the central plains of North America. 3 million years ago, the ancestral camelids migrated to South America and to Africa via the ice bridge across the now Bering Strait. By the end of the last ice age, camelids became extinct in North America. The ancestral camelid developed into the present day wild Vicuña and wild Guanaco of the Andean highlands, Peru, Bolivia, Chile (and the Vicuñas in Argentina) of South America.
 
 

Classification of camelids and other Artiodactylids:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)

Family: Antilocapridae (pronghorn antelope)
Family: Bovidae (antelopes, cattle, gazelles, goats, sheep, and relatives)
Family: Cervidae (deer)
Family: Giraffidae (giraffes and okapis)
Family: Hippopotamidae (hippopotamuses)
Family: Moschidae (musk deer)
Family: Suidae (hogs and pigs)
Family: Tayassuidae (peccaries)
Family: Tragulidae (chevrotains and mouse deer)
Family: Camelidae (camels, llamas, and relatives)

Genus Camelus (camels)
Old World Genus and Species

Species Camelus bactrianus (Bactrian camel)
Species Camelus dromedarius (Dromedary)

Genus Lama (alpacas, guanacos, and llamas)
New World Camelids genus and species

Species Lama glama (llama) (la-ma)(Spanish: Ya-ma)
Species Lama guanicoe (guanaco)(waa-naak-oh)
Species Lama pacos (alpaca) (al-pack-a), ( Not al-pah-ka !)

Genus Vicugna (vicugna; vicuña)(vi-kun-ya)

Species Vicugna mensalis (Peruvian)
Species Vicugna vicugna (Argentina)

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About 6,000 years ago the natives of Chile, Peru and Bolivia began the domestication of the vicuna into the present day alpaca as a fiber producing animal. There are two different types of alpacas; Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya alpacas grow their fleece perpendicular from their body. Suri on the other hand has a fleece that hangs off the alpaca in long twisted fiber locks.
They developed in the alpaca the following characteristics: Very fine, soft, dense fiber. Medullated, or hollow fiber, with very warm insulative properties. Fiber that is almost free of guard hair and is "no-itch fiber".
A small, very gentle, submissive animal for ease of shearing. Alpaca come in over 23 natural colors.

Today (2010) there are about 150,000 alpacas in the U.S. and Canada. (Gaining about 10,000/year) Almost all of these alpacas have been registered and blood typed with the The Alpaca Registry (ARI). The blood typing is done through DNA to insure the purity of the breed.

Physical Facts: Life span: About 22 years; average height: 3 feet at the shoulder and 4.5 feet at the head. Average weight: Adult, 150-185 lbs. Cria (Cree-ah), 13-20 lbs at birth. Average gestation: 345 days.
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Birth: A baby (Cria) is normally delivered without human assistance during morning daylight hours. Twinning is extremely rare. The crias are normally up and nursing within 60 minutes. They are weaned at 5-6 months.

Reproduction: Females are first bred at 18 months of age. Males become mature at an average of 3 years. Alpaca females are induced ovulators and can be bred at any time of the year.

Color: Fiber colors range from a true black to brilliant white with roans, pintos, browns, reds, fawns, rose grays, charcoal grays, and combination of these to produce pintos, multi-color and a wide variety of colored patterns.

Fiber Production: The average production is about 4-15 lbs. per year per adult alpaca and sells (in a clean state) for about $3 to $6 per ounce. Shearing is done every year.
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Health
: Alpacas are very hardy, healthy, and easy to care for. You have to give CD&T shots, worming and other maintenance procedures (which depends on your area, ask your local camelid Vet and/or other local alpaca owners). Camelids do not over-eat when extra hay is given to them. Generally you can leave them with a extra bales of hay to sustain them over a few days.
They can colic due eating free choice corn products, various supplemental pellets, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions:
What are they used for? They are used for breeding stock, fiber producers, therapy, and investments for additional income and as a retirement.

topAre they intelligent? Alpacas are intelligent and easy to train. In just 4-5 repetitions they will pick up and retain many skills such as accepting a halter, being led, and loading in and out of a vehicle or trailer.

Who do you sell their fiber to? Handspinners, yarn shops, and weavers are the major market for clean alpaca fiber. They love all the various colors of alpaca. There are quite a few alpaca fiber co-ops in the nation. You can have a mini-mill produce the yarn, roving, batts, etc. for you to sell or make garments and then sell those products to farm and ranch visitors, local fiber stores and your country store.

The largest fiber co-op is the Alpaca Fiber Co-op of North American (AFCNA). They take you fiber and in return provide you with finished garments and yarn at a wholesale price. You can then sell those products at the regular price. There is an up-front on-time cost to join AFCNA plus a portion of your fiber each year.
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What and how much do they eat? Alpacas are ruminants with three compartment stomachs. They chew their cud like cattle and sheep. They are very efficient and only eat 2-3 bales of grass hay per month. They require mineral supplements as well.

Where can they be raised? In almost any climate. In very hot climates, yearly shearing is required along with misting or sprinklers and shade. In very cold climates, closed barns are recommended. In mild climates, a 3-sided shelter opened away from the prevailing winter winds is all that is required.
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What is their personality like? Alpacas are very gentle and curious. They are social animals and can be pleasantly dependent on humans. With a little training they become great pets. Alpacas will occasionally spit at each other when they are competing for food or trying to establish their pecking order. Alpacas will not spit at people unless they have been provoked.

What sounds do they make? Alpacas communicate with a series of ear and tail positions and body postures as well as a humming sound and a shrill alarm call when threatened by predators.
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How much do they cost? Fiber males begin at $250 (USD) with stud quality males beginning at $4,000 and many selling for $30,000 or more. Weanling females begin at $4,000 and bred females at $10,000 and up. Alpacas have been sold at auction to $650,000.

How can they be transported? They can be transported in a small station wagon (Subaru has been used) for short trips of an hour or so. They require larger vehicles such as a mini-van, full size van, small trailer, horse trailer, or large truck depending on how many and how far you are transporting them.
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Where can I get more information?
Use the following links:
www.alpacainfo.com (Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association)
www.alpacaregistry.com (The Alpaca Registry)
www.afcna.com / www.americasalpacas.com (Alpaca Fiber Co-op of North America)
...and thousands and thousands of alpaca owners... local breeders, AOBA Affilliates and everybodys website
In the central-western US visit Alpaca Breeders of the Rockies.

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