Questions, Facts, Definitions, and Fiber Information


Here are some of the more frequently asked questions about alpacas as well as some facts and definitions.

Where are they from? Alpacas are native to the Andes Mountains of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. The first major imports to the United States began in 1984, but alpacas are no longer imported due to a variety of restrictions in both the U.S. and South America.

Are they small llamas? No, alpacas belong to the Camelid family, as do llamas, camels, vicuna and guanacos. Just as horses and zebras both belong to the Equine family but are very different animals, the same is true of alpacas and llamas. Llamas are raised as beast of burden animals while alpacas are raised for their lustrous fiber. The alpaca was domesticated from the vicuna; the llama from the guanaco.

How much land does it take to raise alpacas? Approximately 5-10 alpacas can live happily on an acre of pasture, though we recommend more than that, and ideally another field for rotation.

Are they difficult to raise? They need shelter (3-sided sheds are great) to protect them from the heat and bad weather. They eat pasture or hay, plus a small amount of commercially available grain each day. They should also have free-choice access to trace minerals. They need an annual shearing, annual vaccinations, periodic worming and toenail trimming.

Do they spit? Spitting is a defense mechanism for them that is primarily used to protect their food or their babies. It is rarely used on people, not to say we don’t end up with the occasional green face when we are doing something they object to - trimming toenails, for example.
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Alpaca Facts

Lifespan: 15-25 years
Height: 36 inches at the withers (shoulders) on average
Weight: 150 pounds on average (range of 100 - 200)
Gestation (pregnancy): 335 days (range of 320 - 365)
Birth weight: 10-25 pounds, 15-19 average
Colors: 22 recognized colors from white to brown to grey to black
Definitions

Agistment – boarding of animals
Cria – a baby alpaca or llama
Crimp – the natural curvature in huacaya fiber that gives it elasticity
Dam – the mother of an alpaca
Fiber – the fur or wool of an alpaca, also called fleece
Fiber quality or pet quality male – an alpaca who is not to be used for breeding purposes; often gelded (castrated) Can make an excellent pet or source of quality fiber.
Herdsire or sire - male alpaca capable of breeding
Huacaya – one of the two types of alpacas, characterized by fine, wool-like fiber with thermal insulating capabilities. The other type is Suri.  
Sire – father of an alpaca
Suri – one of the two types of alpacas, characterized by deadlock-like fiber, characterized by its luster. The other type is Huacaya.
Weanling – an alpaca under 1 year who is no longer nursing, they are generally weaned form their mother around 6 months of age.
Yearling – an alpaca between one and two years old



Fiber

Ultimately it is all about the fiber!

Alpacas produce one of the top quality fibers in the world. Of the commercially viable specialty fibers, alpaca is considered by many to be second only to cashmere (some of us think it is better!) Alpaca fiber is so soft! Compared to sheep wool, it is three times warmer and seven times stronger. Many people cannot wear sheep wool products because the scales on the strands of sheep wool cause irritation or a rash on their skin. This is not an issue with alpaca fiber; so if you cannot wear a wool sweater, try alpaca! You’ll love it! Shearing is done once a year, before the hot weather starts. The fiber is used to make a variety of products including coats, sweaters, scarves, blankets, dresses and rugs. Some breeders sell their fiber to local hand-spinners; others send their fiber to regional co-operatives or to the national alpaca fiber co-operative. Alpaca is considered to be an exotic fiber in the USA since it is not very common and, therefore, commands a premium price ($2-5 per ounce for raw fiber).

Since alpacas are native to the high altitudes of the Andes Mountains, over thousands of years they have developed a fiber with more thermal capacity than almost every other fiber. The fiber creates lightweight garments with high insulating ability. This means that a lightweight sweater or shawl will provide you with more warmth and comfort than bulkier sheep wool garments.

Alpaca fiber is also easier and less expensive to process than sheep wool since alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin. Alpaca yields a much higher rate of clean fiber after processing, as much as 95% as compared to sheep wool, which only yields 45-75%. Alpaca fiber usually does not have to undergo harsh chemical washes to clean the fiber before spinning like wool. This is better for the environment and you since there is no chemical residue on the garments like many wool garments.

Here at Spruce Ridge, we usually have raw fiber and rovings for sale as well as finished products such as scarves, shawls, mittens, hats and blankets and yarn. We also carry a line of stuffed animals made with alpaca fiber that are just too cute!