Alpacas will spit at each other over issues such as food, dominance, protecting their cria and to reject the approach of a breeding male when the female is already pregnant. They are also known to spit at humans during rare occasions of extreme stress, such as shearing. Alpacas make a delightful humming sound and will make a shrill bugle sound to warn the herd of danger. Breeding males also make a unique orgling sound during mating.
Alpaca are valued for the exceptional fiber they produce. Generally speaking it is in the same class as cashmere but shares many of the properties of sheep’s wool, without any of the lanolin and itch. Alpaca fiber is truly in a class by itself. Alpaca fiber is the strongest natural fiber known to man and has an insulating value from three to five times higher than sheep’s wool. These properties, when combined with exceptional softness and luster, make alpaca one of the most valuable textile fibers in the world today.
Alpacas, llamas, guanaco and vicuna are all members of the South American camelid (camel) family. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and have a more advanced type of fleece. Alpacas have always been bred for their fleece while llamas are bred for their packing and trekking capabilities. Llamas have larger, banana shaped ears, whereas alpacas have a more delicate face. Alpacas are also milder in demeanor than llamas.
Alpacas are very easy animals to care for. Alpacas graze throughout the summer months and are supplemented with hay in the winter (less than 2 pounds of hay per day). They also eat pellets that look similar to rabbit pellets, but have a very different composition. The biggest expense associated with alpacas is the fencing required to keep them safe. Most alpaca pastures have a high fence around the outside to keep natural predators such as dogs and coyotes out and the alpacas in. Alpacas also require shelter from both heat and cold. Vaccinations, deworming, shearing, and toe nail trimming are all things that need to be done on a regular basis. Alpacas use a central dung pile which makes pasture clean up very easy.
The average, full-grown alpaca is usually 34″ – 38″ at the withers and weighs between 100 – 200 pounds. Alpacas are very easy to handle, even for children.
Alpacas are considered to be the aristocrat of all farm animals. North America is still considered a breeder’s market, but worldwide, alpaca fiber is in very high demand. This indicates that alpaca fiber will remain valuable on the long term market. Alpacas are shorn once a year, yielding 5 – 10 pounds of exquisite fleece each. The fiber, virtually grease-free, can be hand spun directly off of the animal. Alpacas are one of the easiest, gentlest, most intelligent, cleanest, earth friendliest and profitable animals to raise.
Alpacas prefer to eat fresh grass. In the summer, if you have pasture you will just need to supplement them with pellets from a feed store. During the winter you will need to feed them good grass hay and increasing slightly their supplement of pellets to ensure that they receive adequate vitamins and minerals. For thousands of years, alpacas have lived where grass grows sparsely. They require low amounts of protein in their feed to produce a high quality and healthy fleece. Alpacas will not normally overeat. Unlike hoofed animals, their softly padded feet are extremely easy on pasture. They have two toes and a split upper lip, which allows them to cut grass as they graze. They browse pastures, and utilize community dung piles, making pasture and manure management easy.
Alpacas are primarily raised as an investment opportunity. Currently the market and value of alpacas is in the animals themselves – breeding them and selling the offspring provides a very good return on investment. There is also a market for their fleece. Income from sale of their fleece is typically adequate to cover the cost of care (food, medical, etc.).
Alpacas are very social animals and therefore you should really plan on starting off with two or more animals. Two or three females are a great way to start because it gets your herd growing quicker. The problem with buying a breeding pair to start off with is that you would still have to keep them separated therefore not eliminating the problem of them having company. Most breeders are willing to work with you to put together some sort of package that gets you up and running with an assortment of animals and at a price that suits your needs.
Alpacas are alert, curious, calm and predictable. They need the companionship of other camelids, and will huddle together or move en masse when frightened or wary. They each have their own unique personality and can vary from very shy, to extremely personable and curious.
Prices range from around $800 – $1200 for a gelded male with no breeding potential to many thousands of dollars for top quality breeding males and females. Females can be worth anything from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands depending on their age, quality and breeding history. The females are valued because of their ability to produce crias, which can be sold providing very good returns on the initial investment. Top quality males with good offspring have a high value as breeding animals also – they can command high incomes for their owners in stud service fees.