Keeping Alpacas is a very rewarding way to spend your time, whether just as a hobby or as a full time job! As they are expected to live for between 15 and 20 years, it is worth spending some time learning about them before you get your first group to make sure you can look after them well.
Part of the Camelid family, Alpacas are related to Camels, Vicuñas, Guanacos and Llamas. Often confused with Llamas, Alpacas differ in being smaller, less shaggy in appearance and having straighter ears. Alpacas come in two different breeds; Huacayas, which are the most popular and Suri, which have a much longer and more curled fleece.
Originating from the mountains ranges in southern America, Alpacas are used to scaling heights and being exposed to extreme weather conditions, which makes them pretty hardy animals who enjoy being outside for most of the year. That being said, a field shelter offers protection from extreme rain and sun (when we get it!). Good grass is essential for grazing, with a guide of 5 Alpacas to an acre. Alpacas will be gentle on the land in comparison to other stock due to having pads rather than hooves. Stock fencing is usually enough to safely contain Alpacas.
Husbandry includes trimming their toenails several times a year, shearing once a year (usually accompanied by trimming their teeth if required) and conducting regular worm counts and treating as necessary. As well as grazing, offering ad lib hay throughout the year is advised. Supplement feed should be offered in moderation to encourage friendly behaviour, but keep in mind not to overfeed. Alpacas are very sociable animals so it is best to keep them in groups of at least 3.
When it comes to breeding, the hembra (female) comes into season as a result of mating with the macho (male). The hembra is pregnant for just over 11 months before giving birth to a single Cria (baby Alpaca). Breeders tend to mate their Alpacas in Spring/Summer so the Cria arrive in the warmth of the following Spring/Summer. Most Alpacas will give birth during the morning to allow the Cria enough time to dry before nightfall and rarely need assistance.
People may choose to keep Alpacas for the reasons below:
As Pets due to their calm and gentle nature. If trained from an early age, Alpacas can be walked, allowing you to go for a stroll together.
As flock guards to livestock such as Turkeys, Chickens and Sheep due to their ability to chase away uninvited wildlife.
As part of a breeding herd to continue producing wonderful Cria.
To produce fibre products using the fleece from their annual shear such as incredibly soft blankets, socks and hats.
If you are still interested in keeping Alpacas, it is worth visiting a few Alpaca keepers first to see their management of herds in action, to get advice on what to look for when buying and to get some first hand experience in handling them. Feel free to Contact Us for more information or to arrange a visit to us.