Alpacas are members of the camel family. Llamas are as well and we have 2 “guard” llamas, but their fiber is not soft enough to wear so we use it to make rugs. They are from the South American countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Imported in 1984, they slowly increased in numbers until the border was closed in 1996.
There are 2 types, Huaycaya and Suri. We only have Huaycaya which have crimped dense coats and are fuzzy looking. Suri have longer almost straight silky locks.
They are about 3 feet tall at their back and their heads are on very long necks to put them at 4.5 feet or so. Average weight is 140 lbs. Life span is 20 years and we own life insurance on each of our animals. They eat very little hay, some grass and grain, and drink lots of water. They chew their cud like a sheep and hum like a human.
Each animal produces enough fiber for 1-2 adult size sweaters a year. Their fleece has no lanolin, is warmer, stronger and lighter than wool and does not itch! Shearing does not hurt the animal, in fact they like having their hot coat removed every spring. We use Port-A-Cool fans that blow air through water to keep them cool in the summer.
Alpacas are herd animals and love to be together all the time, though we keep the boys and girls separate. They are shy, yet curious and intelligent, fairly easy to train and do not bite or kick. They only have teeth on the bottom and their hooves have pads and a fingernail like top which we trim a few times a year.
They do not challenge fences and are relatively neat and clean animals. We use their manure on the garden and it does not require composting because they are very efficient eaters so not much is left over.
Babies (known as cria) are born once a year as gestation is 11 ½ months. They are up and running right away on very long legs and live with their mothers for 6 months. Girls can stay with mom longer but we move the boys away.
Males will want to breed immediately when near a female. If she’s willing she will “cush” or lay down since she is an “induced ovulater” like a cat. If she’s already pregnant, she will spit at the male and run away.
We enjoy our herd, currently at 14 and growing, and welcome a visit from anyone who wants to pet. We have chickens as well, and they are fun to pet too.