The rare and exotic alpaca is a creature of antiquity that is rapidly gaining popularity around the world. Highly prized for their luxurious coats, the alpaca has been considered a treasure of the Andes Mountains for over 6,000 years.
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Alpacas are New World camelids and look like small llamas or long-necked camels with no humps, especially when recently sheared. They have shaggy necks and camel-like faces with thick lips, pronounced noses, and long ears. Their large, expressive eyes seem to exhibit both wisdom and childlike curiousity. Easily domesticated, alpacas are friendly, gentle and curious.
Alpacas were exported from Peru in the mid-1980s and have become a premier livestock in North America and abroad. In the United States, the national Alpaca Registry (ARI) was formed to ensure breed purity and high standards. Importation from South America is now closed.
Each alpaca born in the US is blood-typed before registering. This practice helps keep our North American standards high, our animals healthy, and our breeding practices more focused on growing the best alpaca fiber in the world.
The hair of the alpaca is called 'fleece' or 'fiber' rather than 'fur' or 'wool.' Alpaca fleece has 22 natural shades ranging from black to silver and rose gray and white, from mahogany brown to light fawn and champagne. Alpacas can be bred for specific color.
There are two types of alpacas, classified according to their fiber type:
Unlike the llama, the fiber of the alpaca can be used for clothing. Alpaca fiber is softer than cashmere or angora, and warmer and lighter weight than wool, without the prickle-factor that some wool has. Since alpaca fleece has no lanolin, it is easier to process and is hypoallerginic.
Alpacas are sheared annually, usually in the spring. The fiber may be sold and processed into rovings, spun into yarn, knitted or woven into fine fabrics. Each step adds more value to the product.
Like all animals, alpacas exhibit individual personality. They are herd animals, preferring the companionship of their friends and their established community, and will become stressed if separated from their buddies.
Observe who is always first at the food bins, and who is last. Notice when a female is extra-friendly — she may have lost her pregnancy and is wanting to be re-bred. Some cria exhibit independence at an early age, others may be momma's kids, just like two-leggeds.
Gentle and curious, alpacas respond well to children, and many ranches are a family affair. A confident youngster can handle an animal in the showring or on an obstacle course. Regional events sometimes offer a costume contest. Alpacas are well-suited for 4-H projects to learn animal husbandry. During winter holidays you may even see a couple of them stand in for their camel cousins in a Nativity scene.
The oldest known records of these charming creatures was 1,000 years before the great pyramids of Giza. The Inca nobles demonstrated their wealth by the number of alpacas they owned and by showing off their beautiful garments woven from soft alpaca fleece. A thriving Peruvian economy emerged and continued for thousands of years with these magical animals creating wealth and prosperity for their Inca owners.
When the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire in the 17th century, the Indians sought refuge the heights of the Andes and took with them a limited number of these precious animals. Consequently, alpacas escaped extinction, and they are now plentiful in wild herds at about 3.5 million strong. Indians of the Andes continue to shepherd them.
In Peru in the 1940's, Don Julio Barreda purposefully began to breed alpacas toward better fiber and specific color. He utilized better nutrition by fencing his herd and rotating pastures. By paying careful attention to genetics, he created distinct herds of both huacaya and suri alpacas, and culled out llama genes. Today he is recognized industry-wide as the world's finest alpaca breeder. "Accoyo" alpacas are from the bloodline of his Peruvian herd.
In spite of their rich history, alpacas were not well-known worldwide until recently. The first imports into the United States were in 1983, and now they have been imported into every major country. For more information, see the World & North American Census.
Q: Is alpaca fiber really useful?
Q: What's the difference between alpacas and llamas?
Q: How long do alpacas live?
Q: When do they reach breeding maturity?
Q: What is the gestation period?
Q: When do females stop breeding?
Q: How much do the babies weigh when born?
Q: What do alpacas eat?
Q: Do alpacas spit?
Q: What predators threaten alpacas?
Q: What sounds do alpacas make?
Q: Is their manure good fertilizer?
Q: Are alpacas environmentally friendly?