What are Alpacas...
with the big muppet-like brown eyes?
Alpacas are members of the camelid family. Sound familiar? When you hear "camelid" think of camels... which look like llamas... who look like taller alpacas. They have been domesticated for about 6,000 years in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Some say they evolved from vicuna, others claim they came from the guanacos. What remains consistent is alpacas were developed into a fiber producing animal found in present day.
There are two different types of alpacas - Huacaya and Suri. The former is about 97% of the world's alpaca population. Within the United States, huacayas are the majority at 82%. Each alpaca type have unique fleece properties. Huacayas have dense, crimped fleece growing perpendicular from the body. While the suri has dense fleece characterized by long, penciled locks.
What about this alpaca fleece?
Not only is alpaca fleece soft to the touch, it is hollow! This adds the insulative warmth property. Alpaca fleece is also very durable and comes in a multitude of colors. In the United States there are 16 different colors recognized for the show ring, ranging from white to variations of fawns, browns, blacks, and grays. An adult provides about 4 lbs of fiber per year. White is the predominate color found in the US, generally followed by browns, fawns, blacks, and grays.
Some other notes of interest...
Alpacas are gentle, intelligent, and curious animals. They are herd animals measuring in around 3 feet at the shoulder averaging around 170 lbs. They live approximately 20 years. Females usually begin breeding around 18 months, with a gestation period of 11 to 12 months. Since they are induced ovulators, they can be bred anytime during the year. Babies, known as crias, usually weigh in between 14 to 20 lbs. They tend to enter into this world during early morning hours with little to no human assistance. Crias are usually up and nursing within 90 minutes and are weaned around 6 months.
Having evolved within the climate of the Andean highlands, with varying and extreme weather conditions, alpacas can raised almost anywhere. However, in warmer climates annual shearing is required, with available shade and sprinkling/misting to ensure their comfort. In colder climates it helpful to provide closed barns. Since alpacas are rather efficient in converting their food (being ruminants) they only require about 2 to 3 bales of grass per month.