- 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
Classification of camelids and other
Order: Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates)
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)
Camelidae (camels, llamas, and relatives)
Genus Camelus (camels)
Old World Genus
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:
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)
- 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
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
- A small, very gentle, submissive animal for
ease of shearing. Alpaca come in over 23 natural
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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.
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.
- Are 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Where can I get more information?
- Use the following links:
- www.alpacainfo.com (Alpaca
Owners and Breeders Association)
- www.alpacaregistry.com (The
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.