The alpaca is a member of the South American Camelid Family, which includes Llamas and Alpacas, as well as the wild Guanaco
and Vicuna from which the Llama and the Alpaca were domesticated. Unlike llamas, which are primarily used as pack animals
in South America, alpacas have been bred for their cashmere-like fiber, once reserved for Incan royalty. Alpacas have been
domesticated for over 5000 years in South America, specifically the Andes regions of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Today, alpacas
are raised worldwide.
Alpacas were first imported into the U.S. in 1984. They are adaptable to most climates but are especially well suited to
the moderate summers and cold winters of New England. There are two types or breeds of alpacas, the Huacaya) and the rarer
Suri. The Huacaya fiber has a fuzzy crimped appearance while the Suri alpaca fiber forms long pencil like locks
Alpacas are very intelligent, gentle creatures that are quiet, and easy to care for. Alpacas average lifespan ranges from
15-25 years and their average height is 36" at the withers. Adults weigh from 100 to 180 pounds. Their average gestation is
11 months long. Babies, called crias, are usually standing and nursing within 30 minutes after delivery. Alpacas ruminate
and have a 3 compartment stomach.
Alpacas are very social animals and communicate extensively with each other by humming. If vocalizations and body language
are not sufficient to resolve a disagreement, the situation may escalate to spitting at each other. Alpacas do not typically
spit at people.
Most alpacas in the United States are DNA tested to prove their lineage and are registered with The Alpaca Registry, Inc.
The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA, www.aoba.org) is a national association that works to promote and maintain high quality in the alpaca industry. Local organizations
(such as the New England AOBA, www.neaoba.org), work with the national association to bring those ideals to each persons farm and to provide the help new (and more established)
alpaca owners need.
Alpacas are sheared once per year. The fiber can be processed, spun and made into wonderfully soft garments by the owners.
Alternately, fiber can be processed at small fibers mills that are springing up over the country. Two other organizations
help alpaca farmers use the fiber harvested yearly from the animals. The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (www.AFCNA.com) and the New England Alpaca Fiber Pool (www.neafp.com) also accept raw fiber and process it into various products.
Alpacas are easy keepers. The need a shelter out of the wind and rain, hay and grain. Alpacas need to be with
at least one other alpaca to be happy and contented. They are sheared once per year and there are professional shearers
available who travel through the U.S. shearing alpacas, sheep and other animals.