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Alpacas

Background:

Alpacas are a member of the camelid family, including the llama, camel, guanaco and vicuna. The alpaca is an ancestor to the vicuna aalpaca_1nd the llama is an ancestor to the guanaco. Alpacas are a domesticated species of South America and graze in herds on the level heights of the Andes Mountains in southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile at an altitude of 11,500 ft. to 16,000 above sea level throughout the year.

There are two different types of alpaca, the Huacaya and the Suri. The Huacaya alpaca produces a dense, soft, crimpy style fiber (similar to a soft, plush teddy bear) and the Suri alpaca produces a silkier, long, pencil like locks of fiber.

Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas. An adult alpaca generally weighs between 106 and 185 lbs. and stands at a height of 81 to 99 cm (2.5 ft. to 3 ft.) at the withers. Of the various camelid species, the alpaca and vicuna are the most valuable fiber bearing animals because of the quality and quantity of their fiber as well as its softness and fineness. Alpaca fiber was used and cherished by the people of the Incan civilization and was referred to as “The Fiber of the Gods.”

Behavior:
Alpacas are social herd animals that live in groups of three or more. They are most always together out in a field grazing or in a barn or run- in eating orchard grass hay. Alpacas are known to “spit” from time to time which is generally a green, grassy mix and project it out their chosen targets. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas (such as for food, hay, or even the greener grass on the other side of the fence) and not so much for humans. Alpacas use a communal “poop” pile where they don’t graze. This behavior limits the spread of internal parasites. Individual alpacas vary, but most alpacas generally make a humming sound. Hums are often comfort noises, letting other alpacas know that they are present and content.

alpaca-herd

Reproduction:
Females are “induced ovulators”, the act of mating and the presence of semen causes them to ovulate. A female may fully mature (physically and mentally) between 10 and 24 months whereas the male alpaca is usually ready to breed for the first time between two and three years of age. The gestation period is, on average, 11.5 months and usually results in a single offspring or “cria”. Twins can happen but are very rare. Cria are generally around 15 to 19 pounds at birth and are usually standing and nursing the mom within 30 to 90 minutes. The female is receptive to breeding again in about two weeks after giving birth and crias may be weaned at about 6 months old or around 60 pounds. Alpacas can live for up to 20- 25 years of age.

Digestion and Diet:
Alpacas are pseudo ruminants which mean that they have a three chambered stomach instead of a four chambered stomach like other ruminant animals. With this three chambered stomach, combined with chewing cud, this allows for maximum extraction of nutrients from low quality forages. Alpacas graze on lush, green grass (orchard grass alpaca_2preferred) and even leaves that may fall from trees. Alpacas will eat approximately 1.5% to 2% of their body weight per day. At 2% a 150 lbs. alpaca will eat about 1.4 kg of food per day- which translates to about 49 oz. or 3 pounds of food per day. We also feed our alpacas grain (or supplement) as well as free choice minerals in addition to the hay forage. These supplements give alpacas some additional proteins, fats, salts and vitamins that they may not get through some low quality forages.