Do you eat them? This is the question most asked when taking your alpaca to a public event. The answer is no, not in the US, but the second most asked question follows, “What are they good for then?” The answer is their luxurious specialty fiber. Alpacas have been domesticated and raised for fiber for over 5,000 years. Once reserved for Incan royalty, alpaca fiber is now used the world over for luxury, high end garments.
Where do they come from? Alpacas come from the Andes Mountain chain of Peru, Bolivia and Chile, South America. Alpacas are related to the llama, the camel, the wild vicuna and the wild guanaco. They were first imported into the United States in 1984.
Are there different types of alpacas? There are two types of alpacas. The Suri has long, silky locks of fiber. The Huacaya has shorter, crimpy or wavy fiber.
Are alpacas mean or dangerous? No, alpacas are curious but are quick to run away. In the wild, the only defense an alpaca has from a predator is to run as fast as possible. They do not have any other means available, so they will always be a bit skiddish and very aware of their surroundings. They can kick, but a kick will only be annoying, not dangerous. Alpacas weigh between 100 and 180 pounds and are extremely manageable.
Do alpacas come in colors other than white? Alpacas come in 22 natural colors, solids, spotted or pinto. They can also be a mottled mix of colors.
Are alpacas hard to keep? Alpacas need relatively little care. They will need a worming program geared for your specific area, along with annual shots that you and your vet feel are warranted. They do well on pasture and only eat the top parts of the grass, preventing root damage. Supplemental hay, alpaca grain and minerals can be used to round out their nutritional requirements. Alpacas also may succumb to heat stress so fans and water are a necessity during the summer months.
How many babies can they have? Alpacas have one cria (baby) at a time. The gestational period is around 355 days. The cria are usually standing and nursing within 30 minutes of birth.
Can I have one for a pet? Alpacas are very social animals and do everything together, including eating, rolling, going to the bathroom, playing and sleeping. They communicate with each other by humming noises, a scream alarm and with body and head movements. Alpacas do not do well alone, but need at least one other alpaca to feel safe and secure.
Are they expensive? Although Alpacas can be expensive to purchase, they are relatively inexpensive to maintain. Feed and medicines can be offset by fiber sales. Tax deductions are available for animal depreciation, feed, care, breeding fees, farm equipment, etc. Sales of breeding stock or pets can be another source of revenue.