| About alpacas:
Alpacas are members of the camelid family. They are related to the dromedary and bactrian camels, llamas, guanacos and vicunas. The alpaca stands approximately 36" tall at the withers (where the neck and spine meet). They are about 5' to the tips of their ears.
There are two breeds of alpaca: The suri (pronounced "surrey") and the huacaya (pronounced "wah-KI-ah"). The main difference between the two is their fleece production. The huacaya's fleece has waviness or "crimp" which gives them their fluffy, teddy bear-like appearance. Suri fleece has little or no crimp, so the individual fiber strands cling to themselves and hang down from the body in beautiful pencil locks. Suris comprise less than 3 percent of the worldwide population of alpacas.
Alpacas are raised in North America exclusively for their soft and luxurious fiber. It is one of the world's finest natural fibers. Soft as cashmere, 7 times warmer and 3 times stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal. This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.
Female alpacas weigh anywhere from 125-175 pounds while males weigh 150-200 pounds. They have a hard, protective upper toenail that grows out and down and occasionally requires trimming. But, the bottom of their feet is a soft, leather-like pad. Due to the low body weight, there is not a lot of weight distributed on those soft, padded feet. Therefore, there is little compaction or damage to the terrain compared to other forms of livestock.
Alpacas consume minimal amounts of food. Two 60 pound bales of hay will generally feed one alpaca for a month or more in the winter. They are ruminants, with a single stomach divided into three compartments, so they produce rumen and chew cud, thus enabling them to process this modest amount of food very efficiently. Food acquisition and consumption are interesting in the alpaca. First of all, the alpaca has only bottom teeth for eating. Instead of upper teeth they have a hard gum (dental pad), against which they crush grain, grass, hay, etc. in a back-and-forth grinding action. They have a split upper lip which facilitates this back-and-forth motion. Further, they have short tongues that are firmly attached to their jaw, so, unlike goats and sheep with longer tongues that sometimes grab hold of plants and rip them out of the ground, alpacas nibble grasses and other plants down to about 1/4". Thus, there is far less disturbance ot the vegetation than one sees with most other forms of livestock.
The gestation period for the female alpaca is about 11-1/2 months. They nearly always have a single birth with human intervention rarely required. The newborn, called a cria (pronounced "kree'-ah"), weighs 15-20 pounds, with delivery almost always occurring during daylight hours. The newborn cria is usually standing and nursing within 90 minutes of birth, and will continue to nurse for 5-6 months until weaned. The time between delivery and re-breeding for the mom is usually only two weeks, so adult females basically spend their whole lives pregnant.
Alpaca management is not complicated or difficult. Occasional deworming, an annual immunization booster shot to ward off infectious diseases and parasites, occasional toenail trimming, and annual shearing of the fleece are the main components of care. Believe it or not, alpacas all go to the bathroom in the same place. In a medium-sized field, they will select three or four spots to use as communal "facilities". Not only do they all go to the bathroom in the same place, they oftentimes will all go at the same time. It's true! One animal will get the notion to use the facilities, and soon you will see a line-up of several alpacas patiently waiting their turn...it looks like the ladies' room at the theater! This makes for easy clean-up of the pastures and better hygiene in the herd.
Alpacas are a virtually odorless animal, so they don't tend to attract as many flies in the summertime as other forms of livestock. They're an environmentally friendly animal that can generally be raised in herds of five to ten alpacas per acre, contingent on fencing, layout, terrain, rainfall levels, and availability of pastureland.
Alpacas also make wonderful and practical pets. As part of a stress-free lifestyle, they are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease resistant. Alpacas can be easily transported in the family van. They are wonderful companions and great 4-H projects.
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