What is an Alpaca?

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Last updated on 11/29/2005

An alpaca is a beautiful animal. A cousin to the llama, known for its luxurious fiber, and a member of the camelid family. The business of breeding alpacas is one of the fastest-growing livestock industries in the United States today. People from all walks of life are giving up traditional jobs for the easy-going and thoroughly enjoyable business of raising these gentle creatures. Alpacas are native to South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. They were first imported into the United States in 1984.
Physical Characteristics
• Two kinds of Alpacas: Huacaya (pronounced wah-KI-ya) and Suri   (pronounced surrey).
• Huacaya fiber is short, dense, crimpy and gives a woolly appearance.
• Suri fiber is silky and resembles pencil-like locks.
• Short and low set tail.
• Have soft padded feet with two toes.
• Do not have horns, hooves or claws, incisors, or upper teeth.
• Eat grass and chew cud.
• Adult alpacas generally weigh between 150 and 200 lbs.
• Average height is 36 inches at the withers.
• Have three stomachs.
History
• Members of the Camelid family (Vicuρa, Guanaco, Llama and Alpaca).
• Native to Andean Mountain range of South America.
• Primarily found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
• Provided clothing and transportation to the Incas.
• First imported in the United States in 1984.
• Domesticated for over 5,000 years.
Who raises alpacas?
Alpaca owners and breeders come from all walks of life. Many are doctors, financial advisors, educators, or cattle farmers, to name a few. Some raise alpacas as a full-time business, others commit part- time. From young families to empty-nesters, phased retirement to full-retirement, raising alpacas offers countless options for everyone.
Why do people raise alpacas?
Alpacas offer a very attractive business and farming opportunity no matter where you live: urban, suburban, or rural. Urban dwellers can board (or "agist") their alpacas at nearby farms/ranches so that they can enjoy the benefits of ownership while living in a large city or suburb. People also raise alpacas for companionship and to enjoy a rural lifestyle.
How do you transport an alpaca?
If traveling for short distances, they can be transported inside vans or other larger vehicles. Most folks put down a piece of old carpeting or inexpensive Astro-Turf to minimize the impact on the vehicle's carpeting in case an "accident" were to occur. Most of the time, however, the animals will "cush" (that is, sit down) for the journey. Longer distances require transport in a livestock trailer.
How much acreage does it take to raise an alpaca?
You can usually raise two to eight alpacas per acre, depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, etc. They can also be raised on dry lot and be fed grass hay, if desired. Consult with your local County Extension Officer for specific local recommendations.
Are alpacas easy to care for?
They are a small and relatively easy livestock to maintain. They stand about 36 inches tall at the withers (the point where the neck and spine come together), weigh between 100-200 pounds, and establish communal dung piles that are easy to manage. The alpacas need basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather, and being livestock, they do require certain vaccinations and anti-parasitic medicines. Additionally, their toenails need to be trimmed every couple of months and the fleeces sheared off once a year. Speaking of toenails, these animals do not have hooves-they have two toes, with hard toenails on the top of their feet and a soft pad on the bottom of their feet, much like a dog's foot. Therefore, you don't experience compaction of the soil to the same degree that you would with other types of livestock.
What type of shelter and fencing do alpacas need?
This varies widely, depending on such things as weather and predators. But as a general rule, the alpacas do need at least a three-sided, open shelter where they can escape inclement weather. Perimeter fencing should be a minimum of five-foot-high, 2" by 4" no-climb fencing to keep out predators, including dogs.
What do alpacas eat?
The main thing alpacas eat is grass or hay – approximately two pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. A single, 60-pound bale of hay can generally feed a group of about 20 alpacas for one day. Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, as it has high protein content that can be unhealthy for the animals. Additionally, all alpacas require access to free-choice mineral supplements and plenty of fresh water to drink.
When do you think supply will outweigh demand?
The fiber industry continues to evolve along with the breeding industry. The dynamics of the alpaca industry will continue to change but the potential for a financially rewarding business opportunity will still exist.
How many ounces of fiber will one alpaca produce?
An adult alpaca might produce 50 to 90 oz. (3.8 to 5.7 lb) of first-quality fiber as well as 50 to 100 oz. (3.1 to 6.3 lb) of second and third quality fiber. Some alpacas already achieve, or exceed, these levels.
Who buys the fiber?
Alpaca fiber is sold several ways. Hand-spinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece. Knitters purchase alpaca yarn. Fiber Cooperative Mills (such as AFCNA) collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer.
What is an ounce of fiber worth?
This varies. In its raw state, an ounce of alpaca varies from $2-$5. Each stage of the process (cleaning, carding, spinning, knitting, finishing, etc) adds more value to the fiber. As a finished garment, it can sell for $10.00 per oz. Hand knit goods are more desirable and have sold for $1,000 or more, in some cases.


 

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Patty & Mr. Drysdale

Patty and Mark spent their weekend of the 23rd through the 25th of September at the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City.

Patty took a first place ribbon with Mr. Drysdale, in the male suri juvenile halter class.

There were at least 50 breeders present showing over 200 animals. Also present were the Llama folks for their show. It is safe to say a great time was had by all.

We were able to squeeze in some time to visit the Oklahoma Federal Building Bomb site. The memorial there is something to behold. Even though the event was ten years ago it stands as a true testament of American resolve even in today's troubled times.

...MAB

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