Alpacas are some of the gentlest, loving, inspiring and beautiful animals you may ever encounter. Alpacas are part of the camelid family and are perhaps best described as similar in appearance to Llamas, but smaller (on average alpacas weigh between 120 and 180 pounds). However, unlike Llamas, Alpacas are not pack animals. Alpacas are raised for their amazing fleece.
Alpacas come in two breed types: Suri and Huacaya. The major distinction between the two types is their fiber. Suris have curly long rope or ringlet like fleece and Huacayas have shorter fleece simular to sheep.
Alpacas originate from the Andes of South America, and for hundreds of years it was illegal to export them. However in 1983 the laws were changed and it then became legal for alpacas to be exported. Since then the alpaca industry has spread across the globe. Large national herds have grown fastest in Australia and the United States. Between 1973 and 2003, the North American herd has grown from a few thousand to nearly ten thousand. Now there are only a small handful of countries in the world that are not involved in growing the alpaca industry worldwide.
Alpacas come in many different colors; however the 16 official colors are White, Beige, Light Fawn, Medium Fawn, Dark Fawn, Light Brown, Medium Brown, Dark Brown, Light Rose Grey, Medium Rose Grey, Dark Rose Grey, Light Silver Grey, Medium Silver Grey, Dark Silver Grey, Bay Black, True Black. You can find alpacas with many combinations of colors, some can be spotted, or have unique combinations of coloring. Color is a very important aspect of almost any breeding program. Some alpaca ranches choose to focus on one particular type or color, while other ranches have animals with a wide variety of colors.
The fleece or fiber that covers alpacas makes them able to withstand very cold temperatures. Their fleece is very dense, but is more than just for warmth. It is one of the primary purposes for raising alpacas. Their fleece can most closely be compared to cashmere. It is lightweight and has the most amazing softness, yet warmth that surpasses any other fiber. With the variety of natural colors and ease of dyeing the fleece, together with the amazing softness of the fiber itself, alpaca fiber is becoming more and more popular. Alpaca products such as clothing, throw rugs, stuffed animals, as well as the raw or spun fiber are now being sold and distributed worldwide.
Intelligent and easily trained, alpacas are gentle enough to be handled by children. When trained and handled consistently from birth, most alpacas will let you pet and handle them, and even eat out of your hand. They are very affectionate, animals, and are naturally curious and intelligent. They don’t like to be taken by a surprise approach, but prefer to take their time to get to know you and check you out to see if they want to approach you. They hum when pleased or happy and spit when they are not. They make very good pets and companion animals and don’t like being alone. Alpacas are also easy to care for, and gentle on pastures with their hoof-padded feet.
Alpacas range in a wide variety of prices. The pricing structure of alpacas is directly related to the quality of each animal itself as well as its lineage (ancestry) and the potential of that animal’s offspring. This can vary greatly and many factors play into assessing how an animal should be priced. Some of these factors are conformation, fiber characteristics, sturdy bodies with straight legs, and proper alignment of the teeth are all very important, as well as personality of the animal and the way that the animal carries itself. Alpacas in general can range in price anywhere from $500 to $150,000 or more.
Typically, bred females can be sold at the highest prices as they have the greatest outcome for the money invested; however, males can also be expensive. A very high quality male with a good lineage, and many good progeny on the ground has a very high breeding potential and can be worth a great deal. High quality males can also provide breeding services or stud services that can yield a great income, again, depending on the quality of the stud.
Geldings (a castrated male) on the other hand can be purchased very cheaply as “starter animals” as they will have no offspring, and therefore no breeding potential. Many people, who are just getting into alpacas, start with geldings as they provide a great opportunity to get to know these animals prior to major purchases.
Raising alpacas is a very rewarding and life changing experience. They are wonderful, easy going animals and they also can be a great source of income, which makes them an amazing family business.