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Alpacas 101


History

Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. They are descendants of the Vicuna. Alpacas are closely related to the Llama, which are descended from the Guanaco. These four species of animals are collectively called camelids.

Alpacas originated in South America, in particular Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They are now being successfully raised and enjoyed throughout the United States and abroad. In late 2006 the United States reached an important milestone by registering its 100,000th alpaca, a feisty white 15lb. female born to a California farm.

The alpacas slow reproductive rate means that the national herd size will remain relatively small for years to come, which will help to insure premium prices. Supported by an active breed association, a state of the art registry and a growing fiber cooperative, the future of alpacas is indeed bright.

Industry

The current alpaca industry is based on the sale quality of breeding stock which commands premium prices. Factors that influence individual alpaca prices include confirmation, bite, fleece (quality and quantity) age and gender. Females sell for more money on average than males, but herdsire quality males have historically commanded the highest individual prices.

Some breeders prefer one alpaca color over another. However, the parents color does not necessarilly guarantee a cria of the same color. There are many accepted theories regarding alpaca color heritability, but more research is needed to further our understanding of this issue. Of more importance to most breeders is the overall physical soundness or "confirmation" of the animal. In addition to color, the animals fleece density, uniformity, fineness, luster and length will also affect the value. Well conformed alpacas with superior fleece characteristics sell for higher prices.

Alpacas are also fully insurable against theft and mortallity. Insurance can be purchased for your stock regardless of age. Average insurance rates are 3.25% of the value of the animal.

Many breeders start with several breeding age females and perhaps one male. Other new breeders may elect to start with several young animals or perhaps they may begin with a breeding pair. Whatever your desire, there is an approach suitable for any level of interest or financial position.

Information

There are 2 types of alpaca, the Huacaya (WAH-KI-AH) and the Suri (SURREY). The Huacaya is the most common in the United States. This type of alpaca has fiber that is tightly crimped and stands perpendicular to the body. The Huacaya appears to look like a fluffy teddy bear when full fleeced.

Suri alpacas produce fleece that hangs in long,curly locks that look almost like dreadlocks. Their luxurious fleece hangs elegantly towards the ground. The Suri is known for the luster of their fleece, a highly desired trait in the commercial textile industry.

Alpacas come in more than 22 natural color shades, from a true black through browns and fawns to white. There are silver-greys and rose-greys as well. Adult alpacas are approximately 36" tall at the withers and generally weight between 100 and 200 pounds. Female adults produce one cria(alpaca baby) per year with an average gestation of 11.5 months.

Alpacas don''t have incisors, horns, hooves or claws, so they pose no threat to humans or other barnyard animals. They are environmentally friendly too and have low impact on the pastures in which they live and graze.

Alpacas are a very social animal. They NEED to live among others of their kind to keep them as happy and healthy as possible. Cleanup is easy since alpacas use communal dung piles in only a few places in their pasture. Alpacas require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acres.

Alpacas are gentle, intelligent and inquisitive. Because of their intelligence, alpacas are easy to train and lead well once trained. Having a gentle nature, alpacas do well with children and are incredibly curious about them. A child who sits still in a pasture will almost always invite a friendly visit from the alpacas that live there.

Care

Alpacas eat grass, hay, grain and minerals. They need a clean supply of fresh water on a daily basis. When a sufficient pasture in unavailable, alpacas can be fed a good-quality grass hay. Alpacas are efficient eaters utilizing all three of their stomachs to get the most nutrition out of their feed.

Caring for alpacas is easy compared to other breeds of livestock. They require some preventative vaccinations throughout the year (consult with a vet that has camelid knowledge in your area). Alpacas need toenail trimming from time-to-time, and they need to be sheared on an annual basis. Lastly, they require your love which is not hard to give considering the endless enjoyment you will recieve from them in return.



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