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What are alpacas?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023


What is an Alpaca?


Alpacas are herbivorous, fleeced animals that come in a wide variety of colours – from snowy white through to fawn and chocolate browns, to ash greys and midnight blacks. Alpacas are typically curious, friendly and docile animals, standing at an average height of around 3ft at the shoulder and have a life span of around 20 years. As herd animals, alpacas should always be kept in groups of at least 3. They thrive on social interaction and can become stressed and ill if kept isolated.


Where do alpacas come from?


Alpacas originate from the mountain ranges in southern America. across the borders of Peru, Chile and Bolivia where the average elevation is 4,000 metres above sea level! Part of the Camelid family, alpacas are related to camels, vicuñas, guanacos and llamas. Like their relative, the llama, they have been completely domesticated for their fleece and meat since their beginnings (around 6,000 years ago), so you will not find alpacas in the wild. Vicuñas and guanacos still run wild as a protected species.


What is the difference between alpacas and llamas?

You can tell the difference between alpacas and llamas by their size difference, ear shape and temperament. Alpacas are descended from vicuña and primarily bred for their fibre (fleece) and are smaller than llamas, who are descended from guanacos and bred primarily for carrying goods across the mountains. Llamas have banana-shaped ears, whereas alpacas have much straighter, shorter ears. Alpacas tend to be a little more shy than llamas, who are more confident and forthcoming. Here is a photo comparison of the size difference between alpacas and llamas.


Why do people keep alpacas?

People keep alpacas for a variety of reasons, such as for showing, breeding, field pets and as commercial herds. Here are some specific reasons why people may choose to keep alpacas:

  1. The calm and gentle nature of alpacas makes them the ideal field pet and, if trained, can be walked on a halter.

  2. There is a recent trend of farmers incorporating alpacas within their flocks of turkeys, chicken and sheep as flock guards to chase away uninvited wildlife.

  3. Breeders keep alpacas to produce crias (baby alpacas) to maintain their own breeding herd, improve genetics, and sell to other breeders and keepers.

  4. Their fleeces can be used to produce soft fibre products, including cosy blankets, socks and hats.

  5. Alpacas are increasingly kept alongside an existing business to give it a USP, such as on glamping sites, yoga retreats and large garden centres.


 

Learn how to look after alpacas


This 95 page E-Guide is packed full of information for new and prospective alpaca keepers, covering Alpaca 101, Requirements, Diet & Pasture Management, Husbandry Tasks, Disease & Parasites and an Introduction to Breeding & Cria Care. Download upon purchase so you can dive straight in! For the full contents list and to get your copy, click the image below.



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