Alpacas, cousins to the llama, are beautiful, intelligent animals native to the Andean Mountain range of South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Long ago, only royalty received alpaca fiber.
Today, you can find alpaca fiber sold several ways:
- Handspinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece.
- Knitters often purchase alpaca yarn.
- Fiber cooperatives’ mills collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer.
Two Breed Types of Alpacas
Two breed of alpacas live in the U.S., varying primarily in terms of their fiber. The Huacaya (wuh-KAI-ya) is the more common of the two and has crimpy fleece. On the other hand, the Suri (SUR-ee) is more rare, with fleece that is silky and lustrous with pencil locks.
Adult alpacas stand at approximately 36 inches at the withers and generally weigh between 120 and 200 pounds. They don’t have horns, hooves or claws.
Read more: What’s the difference between alpacas and llamas?
Calm & Quiet Companions
Very quiet and docile, these animals make a minimal amount of sound. They generally make only a pleasant humming sound as a means of communication or to express concern or stress.
Alpacas mostly communicate nonverbally.
They have very strong herd instincts and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive, preferably three or more. Alpacas are livestock and shouldn’t be treated as house pets.
Each year, alpacas produce 5 to 10 pounds of luxurious fiber. No chemicals are employed either during feeding or during the industrial production of alpaca fleece into fiber.
Alpacas don’t require insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, which pollute the groundwater.
You can use all fiber from an alpaca. Even the fiber from the lower legs, belly, neck, etc. makes great natural weed mats for placing around trees. Alpaca fiber is biodegradable.
This 100 percent natural fiber comes in 16 official colors, offering a full array of choices with no chemical dyes required. If you’d like to dye the wool, you only need 20 percent of a normal dye quantity.
Read more: Learn the fundamentals of keeping animals for fiber.
Notes About Keeping Alpacas
Many people have successful alpaca businesses on small acreage. Environmentally friendly livestock, alpacas require less pasture and food compared to other livestock. Stocking density impacts the health of the animal, so owners need to carefully assess their space.
Vegetation, access to food and water, and shelter influence the amount of space needed.
Alpacas often defecate in communal dung piles. They may create three or four of these areas in a pasture, spread throughout about 10 to 20 percent of the pasture. This makes for easy cleanup, reduced opportunity for parasites and better overall hygiene in the herd.
Shelter requirements vary depending on the weather and predators in the area. As a rule, the animals need at least a three-sided, open shelter, where they can escape from the heat of the sun in summer and from icy wind and snow in winter.
Alpacas appreciate good ventilation. Owners have found that animals use large overhangs outside of the shelter more often than an enclosed barn.
In general, fencing construction and design is dictated by the threat of local predators. Also, fence openings need to be the correct size for alpacas to prevent injury from entangling their neck and limbs.
To learn more about the North American Alpaca Industry, visit their site here.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.