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About Alpacas

This information courtesy of AOA

About Alpacas

Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. Alpacas are now being successfully raised and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad. There are two types of alpacas - the Huacaya and the Suri. The lifespan of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11.5 months. Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud. Adult alpacas are about 36" tall at the withers and generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. They are gentle and easy to handle. Alpacas don't have incisors, horns, hooves or claws. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.

Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends).This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.

Historically Speaking

Alpacas have coexisted with humankind for thousands of years. The Incan civilization of the Andes Mountains in Peru elevated the alpaca to a central place in their society. The imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from alpaca and many of their religious ceremonies involved the animal. Museums throughout the Americas display textiles made from alpaca fiber.

The Spanish conquistadors failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. For a time, alpaca fiber was a well-kept secret. In the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire, England rediscovered alpaca. The newly industrialized English textile industry was at its zenith when Sir Titus began studying the unique properties of alpaca fleece. He discovered, for instance, that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The alpaca textiles he fashioned from the raw fleece were soft, lustrous, and they soon began making their mark across Europe. Today, the center of the alpaca textile industry is in Arequipa, Peru; yarn and other products made from alpaca are sold primarily in Japan and Europe.

Outside of their native South America, the number of alpacas found in other countries is extremely limited. In fact, 99 percent of the world's approximately three million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

...And Boy Are They Green!

Alpacas have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. They are one of Mother Nature's favorite farm animals. They are sensitive to their environment in every respect. The following physical attributes allow alpacas to maintain their harmony with our Mother Earth.

  • The alpaca's feet are padded and they leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged as it browses on native grasses.
  • The alpaca is a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
  • Its camelid ancestry allows the alpaca to thrive without consuming very much water, although an abundant, fresh water supply is necessary.
  • The alpaca does not usually eat or destroy trees, preferring tender grasses, which it does not pull up by the roots.
  • South American Indians use alpaca dung for fuel and gardeners find the alpaca's rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.
  • A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites, and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer.
  • An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm sweaters for its owners comfort. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts.

Updated January 30, 2015