What are alpacas ?
Their native habitat is the alti plano, high up in the Andes in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Alpacas have always been farmed for their fleece, whereas llamas were developed as pack-carrying animals.
Alpacas come in several colours – white, fawns, browns, greys and black – as well as “multis”, which combine several colours in one animal. In fact, there are 22 recognised natural shades, including light, dark and mid shades.
Alpacas typically live for 15 – 20 years. They are induced ovulators, with a gestation period of about 11½ months. They usually have single births, very rarely twins.
In the UK there are currently between 25,000 and 30,000 alpacas, with the aim of the UK industry being to develop the quality and quantity of fibre. Alpacas are however not only fibre-producing animals, they also make delightful pets, and make good flock guardians, as they will chase foxes and other predators away from lambs and chickens.
They can live out of doors all year round, though shelter should be provided from both sun and rain (not that they will always use it !) They graze and browse, and do not generally challenge fencing. They must of course always have a supply of fresh water, while breeding stock and youngsters are generally given additional protein. Most owners also give a mineral supplement.
Alpacas are shorn once a year, and should have their toenails and teeth checked regularly. They have a similar worming and injection routine to sheep.
Alpacas are herd animals and must never be kept singly. Although a pair of alpacas is the minimum herd size, we recommend three as that enables herd hierarchies to be better established. The maximum stocking rate in the UK is generally recognised as six per acre.
Alpaca fibre is extremely soft, and is classified as one of the “noble” fibres, along with cashmere, mohair and silk. Unlike sheepswool, it does not contain lanolin (to which some people are allergic), and as it relies on its natural crimp to form a thread it does not cause itching. Consequently, alpaca fibre is extremely good for making clothing that can be worn next to the skin and for babies.
Black alpaca fibre is unusual in that it is one of very few fibres which are naturally black. Consequently, beautiful garments can be made from it without having to resort to dyes.