Welcome to the wonderful world of alpacas! The information on this page is intended to give you an overview of alpacas: their history, fiber facts, care and husbandry issues, and of course their investment potential. We hope you enjoy your alpaca learning journey! Please feel free to contact us at any time with any further questions you may have along the way.
"WHAT IS AN ALPACA? ISN'T IT JUST A SMALL LLAMA??"
Alpacas are members of the camelid family, making them "cousins" to the more familiar llamas and camels, as well as the wild vicunas and guanacos. Alpacas are native to the Andes Mountain regions of South America (Chile, Peru, Bolivia), and were the lifeblood of ancient Incan civilizations. Only royalty were fit to wear alpaca garments! The herds were decimated and nearly destroyed by the Spaniards, but small herds were luckily saved. Alpacas were first imported into the United States in 1983, and there were 6 importations, the last in 1998.
Although to the unintroduced the alpaca and llama may look alike, there are clear differences in both appearance and utility.
Llamas are primarily "beasts of burden," and make excellent pack animals over a variety of terrain. They can weigh as much as 400 pounds, are often used as guard animals in pastures to protect flocks of sheep and other livestock vulnerable to predators. Their fiber (hair coat) is long and generally coarse, has two layers and textures, and serves to protect them from the harshest of conditions.
Adult alpacas weigh from 150-200 pounds, stand about 36" high at the withers (shoulders), and are raised for their unique fiber which is shorn (shaved) once a year much like sheep wool. Alpaca fiber is highly sought after in the luxury textiles markets for its superior qualities such as being stronger than wool and softer than cashmere, all while being wonderfully light weight, insulating, and hypoallergenic!
ALPACA FIBER: MORE VALUED THAN SILVER!
Alpacas come in 22 natural colors with many, many variations within those colors, and two varieties based on the type of fiber they produce. Huacaya (wah-kiy-ah) alpacas have a fluffy appearance, as their fiber grows perpendicular to their bodies and is crimpy (wavy) and bouncy. Suri (sir-ee) alpacas look as if their hair is in dredlocks, draping down from the body in swirly locks. Average production ranges from 5 to 10+ pounds of fiber per year per animal that often sells for more per ounce than silver! Raw fiber can sell for $3 - $8 per ounce. Fiber that has been spun into rovings or yarn, or made into clothing and other usable items commands much higher prices.
Alpaca fiber is very lightweight. The diameter of the individual hair shafts is only 15-20% that of a human hair. In addition, the shaft contains air cells which provides the incredible insulating qualities without bulk. Unlike sheep wool, alpaca fiber is clean and contains no lanolin that would have to be washed away with harsh chemicals. Many people who are sensitive to wool can wear alpaca next to bare skin with comfort!
Additional characteristics of the fiber further define its value and use, and are often used to determine the value of individual animals as well:
Crimp: Waviness to the individual hair shafts. This provides additional bulk and springiness.
Lock: Grouping of fiber shafts together into structured formations within the fleece.
Handle: The degree of softness to the touch.
Luster: Shiny or glossy appearance, usually reserved for Suri fleece. For huacayas, the term Brightness is used to describe the amount of light reflective quality of the fleece.
Density: The bulkiness, or volume of the fiber. The higher number of hair shafts in a given area, the denser the fleece.
Uniformity:Whether the characteristics of the fiber (crimp, luster, etc) are the same throughout the animal's fleece, especially the blanket (prime) area. Color uniformity is also a factor, especially in the prime blanket area.
Coverage:How much of the animal is covered in usable fleece. Some animals have minimal fiber on their lower legs and faces.
Micron count:A measurement of the diameter of the hair shaft. The smaller the number, the finer the fiber. White and light colored animals typically have lower micron counts, therefore finer, usually softer fiber. Micron counts also tend to increase as the animal ages. White alpacas often have micron counts in the 16-18 range, brown alpacas are usually 20-25, while black animals (and older animals) can be over 26. As a point of reference, human hair is typically in the 100 micron range.
Alpacas are relatively easy to care for compared to other livestock. They require shelter from sun and harsh winds/wet weather, minimal food compared with other livestock, and are in turn easy on the environment! They are very hardy yet are also stoic, making it sometimes difficult to know when one is sick or in need of extra attention. A simple 3-sided structure will often do quite nicely for shelter except in the harshest of conditions of wind or wetness. Depending on the quality of the pasture, 5-10 animals can be maintained on one acre of land! Their padded feet do not destroy the surface of the ground or tear up the roots of the grass either! They do require good fencing, not so much to keep them in, but to keep predators out. Many alpacas across the country have been sadly killed by neighborhood dogs. Coyotes, mountain lions, and other predators pose a threat as well, but in most cases the biggest threat is by dogs, especially when working in groups.
Their diet consists of good quality grassy hay or pasture, and about 1/2 pound of grain per day, along with plenty of fresh water and availability of minerals. One bale of good quality hay will likely last one alpaca about 10 days. It is best not to over feed them, as this causes problems with reproduction as well as heat stress (more on this below). As with any animal, regular deworming (about $1/month) is also needed to keep them healthy. They are susceptible to a parasite called Meningeal Worm that is carried by the white tail deer. Any alpaca (any camelid for that matter) living in white tail deer country must have a shot of Ivermectin or Dectomax monthly to prevent this parasite from killing them.
"What goes in must come out" is true enough with any animal, but alpacas even make clean up easy! They use communal dung piles where everyone goes, usually about the same time. They can be taught to go in designated areas, or NOT to go in designated areas, very convenient! As an added bonus, their dung is low in nitrates and will not burn other plants (like horse or cow manure will), and can be used almost immediately! Many gardeners consider their beans to be "black gold."
Cold winter temperatures are not a problem for healthy alpacas, in fact they seem to prefer cooler temperatures. We often see ours come in with frost and even ice on their backs because their fiber insulates them so well their body heat never gets to the surface of their fleece to melt it! However, just the opposite is true of the summer. They must be shorn before the warm weather arrives, because their fiber does such a good job holding the heat in they can become easily overheated and become very ill and even die from heat stress (heat stroke).
"THE WORLD'S BEST LIVESTOCK INVESTMENT"
Do you know of any other investment that meets all of these quality standards?
~ High demand and short supply. Increasing market demand cannot be immediately met by the current population, and herd growth is slow. Females produce just one cria (baby) per year, and artificial insemination is not realistic at this time.
~ Produces a luxury product sought the world over.
~ Yields of 20-70% are not uncommon in the alpaca business.
~ Female crias generally sell for as much if not more than the price of their mother. Females can be bred from 18 months through 18-20 years! Stud quality males can command higher prices than females. Fiber quality males are highly sought after by hand spinners and in the pet market as affordable alternatives.
~ Your investment is fully insurable against mortality and theft - You can't do that with stocks and bonds!
~ Tax advantages: Purchase price of animals, buildings, equipment, etc. is depreciable over time. Operating costs such as feed, vet bills, show expenses, advertising: all deductible against income. Herd growth results in tax-deferred wealth building - no gains until the animals are sold. See your accountant for your individual situation.
~ You don't have to have a barn to have all these advantages! Many people reap the financial rewards of alpaca ownership and let others raise their animals! Ask us about agisting (boarding) your animals!
Piqued your interest? We hope so! Contact us to schedule a visit to see these wonderful animals for yourself. Additional information is available in print and on the web. Feel free to check out the links section!
THANK YOU FOR STOPPING BY ANDES DANDIES - WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU!
Huacaya Alpaca fiber:
Farm: Sue Zelazny
5245 Salt Road
Middleport, NY 14105
Office: Dona Masters
4 Evergreen Terrace
Medina, NY 14103
The best way to predict the future is to 'criate' it