Alpacas are members of the camelid family and are native to South America (primarily Peru, Chile and Bolivia).
The native peoples of South America have selectively bred both Alpacas and Llamas over thousands of years to produce animals ideally suited to their environment. Llamas are their beasts of burden and are used to carry loads along the mountain trails. Alpacas, on the other hand, are farmed specifically for their wonderful fine fleece – the "Fibre of the Gods". Cloth made from these animals could only be worn by the aristocracy and was also used as currency and compensation for tribes defeated in battle.
With the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors, the entire civilisation was almost wiped out, as were many of the animals and the breeding knowledge that produced the incredibly fine fleece.
Having rediscovered these wonderful animals, the rest of the world is now realising the potential of Alpaca as a natural fibre that has many advantages over sheep's wool. It is a fine, lightweight, but strong fibre with excellent thermal properties and minimal lanolin. Because the fibre shaft is smoother that that of sheepswool it feels softer against the skin and people report less skin irritation from alpaca garments than wool.
Alpacas are ideally suited to the lifestyle block or as an alternative enterprise on a larger farm. They don't suffer from footrot or flystrike and don't need docking or crutching. Maintenance is limited to a six-monthly 5-in-1 vaccination and drenching; occasional toe-nail trimming and annual shearing. It is important to perform a 'hands-on' check of the condition of animals from time to time as a thick fleece can hide a skinny Alpaca.
Males are called Machos, females are called Hembras and the baby alpaca is a Cria. Hembras almost always have only a single Cria with a gestation of around 11.5 months. Incredibly, the Hembra waits for a fine day to 'unpack', usually between 10am and 2pm.
Alpacas eat about the same amount as sheep and will graze most grasses and the foliage of trees without stripping the bark. Standard sheep fences are all that are required as Alpacas don't challenge barriers.
Shearing is normally carried out in the spring – not only to collect the valuable fibre but also to ensure that the animals are comfortable in the summer months. Some people shear their own animals, others use a professional shearer. Again, what you do with the fibre is up to you. There are a number of businesses who buy and pool fibre into commercial quantities, you may spin it yourself or have it carded to on-sell to spinners.
Alpacas are herd animals, and as such prefer to be kept and handled in groups rather than alone. For this reason we would not sell a single alpaca to owners who have no others to keep them company.
By nature very curious, they will come when called and are easily trained to eat out of your hand and walk on a halter.