What you need to know about alpacas varies depending on whether your interest is to own alpaca or wear alpaca.
Let’s pretend you already know about the benefits of alpaca fibre – that it’s soft, strong, warmer than wool, wicks moisture away, and has a silky drape and luxurious touch.
Let’s pretend. too, that you know about alpaca’s non-allergenic properties - that it has no lanolin, requires no harsh chemicals when milled, and has less ‘prickle’ than sheeps’ wool.
So, knowing all of that, you’re interested in learning more about the animals themselves.
Alpacas are members of the camelid family. There are two types of alpacas, the suri (possessing long fibre with silky locks) and the huacaya (exhibiting shorter, dense, crimpy fibre). Alpacas chew their cud, as would a cow, but have only three stomachs instead of four. They are approximately three feet high to the shoulder, and five feet at the top of the head. Average weight ranges between 100-180 pounds. They have a life span of 15-20 years with a long reproductive life. The gestation period is 11-12 months with predominantly single births.
Alpacas are gentle, timid yet curious animals who are easily handled and trained to a halter. As herd animals they need the companionship of at least one other alpaca. They do not challenge fences, but do require predator fencing to keep them safe from dogs or coyotes. They are light eaters who rely on pasture or hay, a vitamin pellet supplement, fresh water, shade in summer and some shelter in winter. Most medical care can be carried out by the owner, specifically annual immunizations, yearly shearing, toenail clipping, and deworming.
Now that you’ve read a bit of the ‘technical’ information, if you’re still interested in learning more, Alpaca Canada (http://www.alpacainfo.ca/) is a great resource to get a more in-depth understanding of the animals and the industry.
Better yet, book a visit to an alpaca farm near you. Some farms hold events especially geared to individuals looking to find out more about raising these wonderful animals (in our area: www.silentvalleyalpaca.ca – Alpaca 101 – held every March).
Whether you’re interesting in breeding for sales, for product creation and product resale, or simply to enjoy a low maintenance, not-for-meat alternative livestock on a small acreage, visiting several alpaca farms is the best way to build your understanding and find out if these animals are for you!