Listed below are some answers to questions we are often asked about our alpacas. We are passionate about our animals, and are always happy to offer information about alpacas, and answer any questions you may have.
What do you do with them?
Alpacas are a versatile animal. Their fibre is prized for its unique traits, and has been highly valued for centuries. Alpacas in North America are often used as production animals for fibre, as well as for breeding purposes. Alpacas may be shown in conformation/fibre halter classes, and in some areas may even be shown in performance classes. Every part of the alpaca can be used, with the fibre being the most common commodity, in some areas their meat is a lean alternative to more traditional fare, and even their manure can be used directly as fertilizer in gardens.
How do you get their fibre off?
Alpacas are shorn once a year by an alpaca shearer, in a manner not dissimilar to sheep. Depending on the farm, the alpaca will be restrained either standing up, on the ground, or using a tilt-table to keep both the animal and handlers calm and safe during this process. At this time, the shearer will use clippers to remove both the prime fleece and any remaining fibre that can interfere with the animals temperature regulation during the hot summer months. It is also common practice for other procedures, such as nail-clipping, tooth trimming, and vaccinations to be administered at this time.
Do they spit?
Yes, alpacas do spit. However, contrary to popular internet videos, alpacas do not normally spit at people. Spitting is a way for alpacas to tell each other that they are upset or annoyed, and would like to be left alone. Most often, when a person is spat upon, it is because they were unwittingly standing in the crossfire between two annoyed alpacas who were spitting at each other. However, people who annoy alpacas by getting in their personal space without warning, and who scare the animals may end up covered in spit. This may be just a dry warning spit (just air), or a more serious wet spit containing vegetable matter from the animal's stomach.
Can you milk them?
Yes, you can milk an alpaca. No, you probably should not milk alpacas for dairy purposes, as they only produce a few ounces at a time. However, if you have a female who has temporarily rejected a cria, or who has developed mastitis, she may need to be milked for colostrum, or to help remove infection.
How long are they pregnant for?
Alpacas can generally produce a single cria a year, as their gestation period is roughly 345 days. Depending on the female, she may be pregnant as short as 345 days, or even longer than 365.
They're like llamas, right?
Alpacas are a South American Camelid (SAC for short). As such, they are closely related to llamas, guanacos, and vicuña, and distantly related to both dromedary and bactrian camels. There are no wild alpacas, though they are most closely related to their wild cousin, the vicuña, which is also valued for their elite fibre. Llamas, the larger counterpart, are actually more closely related to their wild cousin, guanacos.
Overall, alpacas are a smaller relative of the llama. They have been bred for their fleece, not for their working capabilities and meat like the llama. They share many physical features and requirements as llamas.
Where did you get the emus?
For some odd reason, alpacas are often mistaken for emus. While somewhat similar in appearance, with their elegant long necks and soulful eyes, alpacas and emus are two completely different species. Emus are a large, flightless bird that is very similar in appearance to ostriches, and are native to Australia.
What's their fibre worth?
Depending on the fineness of the fibre, and its colour (as some colours are more commercially versatile than others), alpaca fibre can command prices as much as $60+ per pound in grade 1 or 2 fleeces (the finest fleeces available), or in higher grade (coarser) fleeces, $15 per pound. These prices further fluctuate depending on whether it is raw, or has been processed.
I heard alpacas are good guard animals. I would like to get some to guard my x, y, z, can you help me with that?
Alpacas are commonly mistaken for their larger cousins, Llamas, who have a hefty track record as flock protectors/watchers for sheep, goats, and other small livestock from small predators, like coyotes. However, due to their size and lack of natural protections, alpacas (and to a degree, llamas) make for poor livestock guardians. This is not to say it cannot be done— in Britain, alpacas introduced into sheep herds have made a dramatic impact on reducing the number of fox related lamb deaths. However, in North America this effect is considerably smaller, because the predators we strive to protect our animals from, are much larger and pose as much of a threat to alpacas as they do their charges. We do not supply guard alpacas for that very reason.
If you are in need of a livestock guardian, we highly recommend alternative choices, such as livestock guardian dogs or donkeys, which can much more effectively protect your livestock from dogs, coyotes, wolves, bear and large cats.
I have x species, will my alpacas get along with them?
Alpacas can be housed with different species, provided care is taken that they have access to their own shelter and feed, as their nutritional requirements are not the same as cows, goats, and other species of livestock. Alpacas have different behavioural habits as well, which is something to keep in mind if housing them with a more social species, which prefers more physical contact.
Although many animals who have never seen alpacas before may find them novel and quickly get over their initial concern, because of alpacas small size and lack of defences, it is best to have the option available to keep them separate entirely, as goats and sheep may be too rough with them physically, resulting in injuries from bunting. Horses and cows have been known to kill alpacas with misplaced kicks, as well as cause serious injury with particularly poorly placed bites.
Alpacas do share parasites with other ruminants, especially goats and sheep, and are unable to tolerate the same parasite loads that both goats and sheep can. As such, regular fecal exams are necessary to make sure alpacas do not become overwhelmed with worm loads when being housed with both species. Alpacas are susceptible to several diseases and illnesses common in other species, including Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) from both Goats and Sheep, Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) from cattle, and Johnes Disease from Cattle, Goats and Sheep.
Best practices dictate housing alpacas separately from other species where possible, with an emphasis on rotational grazing between species. We are not opposed to sending alpacas to home where they will be housed with other species, provided care is taken to ensure their needs will be met, and the animals they will be housed with are confirmed as being free from CL, CAE and Johnes Disease.
I would like to have a boy and a girl, can you help me with that?
Yes, we can, provided you have other boys and girls your new friends can be housed with. Because alpacas are induced ovulators, they can breed year-round whether we are aware the breedings are taking place, or not. As such, alpacas should not be housed in mixed sex groups, to prevent reproductive injuries to both parties, as penis injuries, uterine infections and scarring are all possible outcomes from prolonged contact. We recommend housing each sex of alpaca with one or two other buddies (totalling no less than 2 animals of the same sex. A minimum of 3 is more ideal) to ensure your alpacas have their social needs met, without the undue stress that year-round breeding will cause.