- Why should I become an alpaca owner/breeder?
- What do alpacas eat?
- Are they easy to care for?
- What facilities are required for alpacas?
- What about alpaca babies?
- Are Alpacas dangerous?
- How do alpacas communicate?
Q. Why should I become an alpaca owner/breeder?
Alpacas are the source of a luxurious fiber. The fleece, comparable to cashmere, is known for its fineness, light weight, and luster. Alpaca textile products are recognized world wide. Because of the limited supply of fiber in North America, the current fiber market is based primarily on a cottage industry of handspinners, weavers, and fiber artists.
The “back to basics” lifestyle which is a part of living with alpacas is also very appealing to many people searching for a business opportunity that can be operated from home and will involve the entire family. Generous tax advantages for the hands on breeder and the chance to generate income, may be incentives for those wanting to exchange high stress corporate or professional lives for country living.
Alpacas can be easily trained to lead, and are gentle enough to be handled safely by children. Gelded males are often kept as pets. A handbook on alpacas has been developed for use by members of 4-H and is available through AOBA. This publication is certain to add to the increasing interest in alpacas as 4-H projects.
Because of their high aesthetic appeal, alpacas are also desirable show animals. Alpaca shows, which include halter and performance classes, are held throughout North America and are great fun for the family. An increasing number of these shows are santioned by the AOBA Show Division and are held in conjunction with llama shows. Halter classes are similar to show events for other forms of livestock, while the performance classes may include both obstacle course and costume classes. Showmanship classes test the skill of the alpaca handler.
Although the llama, a cousin to the alpaca, should be the choice for any serious packing, alpacas can carry light packs for day trip hikes.
Q. What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are browsers and grazers. Because they are ruminants, which means they chew cud like a cow or deer, they are efficient utilizers of the available food and will do well on different kinds of low protein hay or pasture grass. To assure their alpacas receive the appropriate balance of vitamins and minerals, some breeders also choose to feed a pelleted food especially formulated for this purpose. A mineralized salt is also typically made available free choice. A dependable source of clean, fresh water is essential.
Q. Are they easy to care for?
Yes, compared to other livestock, alpacas are considered by most people to be very easy to care for. They are relatively small and easy to handle. Their natural tendency to move in groups makes them easy to move from place to place as needed. A group of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture which controls the spread of parasites, and makes it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer (a rich asset for the gardener).
Alpacas are hardy and typically have few health care requirements. They need periodic worming and annual vaccinations. Worming and vaccination programs should be developed in consultation with a veterinarian to address the health concerns within the specific geographical area. Newborn crias may also be given supplemental vitamin and mineral shots to get them off to a good start.
The padded feet of the alpaca have two nails which can be trimmed with a common pruning shear. Dental care is minimal, however trimming of the front incisors may be necessary for some animals.
Grooming is discouraged because shampooing and brushing tends to destroy the character of the alpaca’s wonderful fiber. It is generally recommended that fleeces should be picked clean and gently blown out with a grooming vacum to remove dust prior to the annual shearing. This annual cleaning process is greatly facilitated by keeping alpacas in clean pastures and facilities throughout the year.
Q. What facilities are required for alpacas?
Alpacas are ideal small acreage livestock. Six to eight alpacas can be kept on an acre of grassy pasture. Since cleaner pastures will mean cleaner, and therefore more valuable, fleeces, alpacas should be kept on well drained pasture which is free of debris and nuisance plants. Pastures should also be checked for the presence of plants which will be poisonous if eaten. Local agricultural agents can usually be of assistance in the identification of such plants. Alpacas will also appreciate a dusty/sandy spot for rolling somewhere in their pasture or living area.
They should have basic shelter available all year. In moderate climates, a three sided shed is adequate. When temperatures and humidity go up in summer, some type of shade is essential. Our alpacas appreciate having access to a shelter with electric fans to cool them and to control pesky insects.
Huacaya alpacas seem to be very cold hardy when covered with their growing fleece, although enclosed shelters may be necessary in extreme cold and damp conditions. Suri alpacas may have additional needs for shelter in cold weather because of the way their fleece hangs from their backs, exposing their top lines. Even crias, or baby alpacas, seem to do well in cold temperatures after they are a few days old, although a “cria coat” may be prudent on especially damp or windy days.
Since alpacas do not challenge fences, fencing is more important to protect them from possible predators (e.g., coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs). Modular fence panels are an ideal solution for containing and separating alpacas within perimeter fencing.
Q. What about alpaca babies?
The gestation period for alpacas is 11 to 11-1/2 months. Alpaca babies are called crias. Crias weigh from 12 to 23 pounds at birth and are usually up and nursing within an hour.
Crias can be born at anytime, but many breeders choose to avoid the stress of worrying about and ensuring against the possibility of unknowingly loosing a little one to an untimely or unexpected birth outside in extreme cold or heat. Most breeders time breedings so that crias are born in the spring or fall.
Q. Are Alpacas dangerous?
Absolutely not! They are safe and pleasant to be around. They are very curious about people and seem most intriqued by and drawn to children. In fact for families who enjoy the alpaca lifestyle, children often share in farm responsibilities including feeding, halter training, and showing in the showring. Alpacas are becoming an ideal and popular animal for 4H projects.
Q. How do alpacas communicate?
Alpacas communicate through body posture, tail and ear movements, and a variety of sounds. The sound heard most often is a soft humming, a mild expression befitting a gentle animal. Dams make a soft clucking sound to reassure and communicate with their cria. When an intruder (be it a house cat, deer or predator) is sighted nearby, a high pitched call is sounded to warn the herd. During breeding, males make a melodious, rhythmic sound called orgling.
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