Want to improve your knowledge about alpacas? Keep reading to discover some key alpaca terminology and facts…
Male = Macho
Female = Hembra
Baby = Cria
Giving Birth = Unpacking
Pregnancy Testing = Spit Off
What are alpacas?
Alpacas are herbivorous, fleeced animals that come in a wide variety of colours – from snowy white to fawns and chocolate browns, through to ash greys and midnight blacks. Part of the Camelid family, alpacas are related to camels, vicuñas, guanacos and llamas. Alpacas come in two different breeds: Huacaya – pronounced Wah-kai-yah (most popular) and Suri (have a much longer, curly fleece).
Alpacas vs. llamas – the differences
Alpacas are smaller and are bred for their fibre (fleece) quality, whereas llamas are bigger and shaggier, bred for carrying goods across the mountains. Llamas have banana-shaped ears, whereas alpacas have much straighter ears.
Where do alpacas come from?
Alpacas originate from the mountain ranges in southern America.They have been completely domesticated since their beginnings (around 6,000 years ago), so you will not find alpacas in the wild.
How long do alpacas live for?
Alpacas typically live for between 15-20 years.
What do alpacas eat?
Hay and grass should be ample throughout most of the year, as they are very efficient at getting nutrients from sparse food sources. However, they can be supplemented in winter, ill health or pregnancy with a camelid food.
Do alpacas spit?
Alpacas can spit, but they are not aggressive animals so are not usually deliberately seeking out someone to spit on. Our alpacas often spit at each other during feeding time when finding their place at the trough!
Do alpacas need to be shorn?
Yes, alpacas should be shorn once a year by an experienced alpaca shearer (not a sheep shearer, as they are shorn differently). The fleece can be sold to be made into garments, but this is expensive.
Do alpacas need shelter?
Technically alpacas do not need shelter, as they are hardy animals and are used to extreme temperatures with well-insulated waterproof fleeces. So, if they have access to a shelter belt, hedging or a from of natural shade from the weather, they do not technically need shelter. However, we personally feel better knowing that they have access to shelter if they want it.
Do alpacas need to be kept in groups?
Yes. 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.
How much land do you need to keep alpacas?
The suggested stock density is 5-6 alpacas per acre (sheep are 6-10 per acre). If you can split the pasture or acquire a second to allow you to rotate between grazing, this will ensure that you have enough quality grass all year round, as well as reducing the risk of worms!
Male or female alpacas?
This very much depends on what you intend to keep your alpacas for. If you wish to grow a breeding herd, you can begin with a few females in cria (already pregnant), so that you don’t need to worry about purchasing and housing studs immediately. If you just want a friendly herd to keep as pets, then young or gelded (castrated) males are your best bet. They have a milder temperament than females (most of the time!) and will be much cheaper than females.
Can I keep male and female alpacas together?
No. You should NOT keep entire male alpacas together with females, or in the sight of females, as males will fight to compete for potential mates. They have fighting teeth located at the back of their mouths, which are used to attempt to castrate potential opponents. Although the teeth are trimmed each year during shearing time, they can still inflict serious injury whilst fighting. Equally, you should not keep castrated males with females as they will over-mate with females which can lead to miscarriage.
How much do alpacas cost?
This all depends on what you are looking for. Age, sex, colour, temperament, halter training, registration and breeding potential all determine the pricing.
If you wish to begin a small herd of friendly alpacas and don’t intend to breed, we recommend choosing young males, which typically cost around £700 - £900 each. However, you will need to factor in the later cost of castration at about 10-12 months of age.
If you would like to purchase a breeding herd, breeding females typically cost between £1,500-£5,000 each, depending on age, colour, heritage and whether or not they are proven (have already given birth to cria).
How much do alpacas cost to keep?
Click here to check out our full blog on this.
How long are alpacas pregnant for?
When do alpacas give birth?
Alpacas usually give birth between 7am and 2pm. This is because they do not lick their young like most animals, so the cria need time to dry off before nightfall (the nights are cold where they originate from in the mountains).
How many young do alpacas give birth to?
One. Twins are rare and often don’t survive.
How can you tell if alpacas are pregnant?
Around 2 weeks after unpacking, we individually bring the stud males to the female alpacas in a pen where mating occurs. We then bring the stud back to the female 2 weeks later for a pregnancy test. If the female sits, she is empty (not pregnant) and will be remated; but if she turns and spits, she is pregnant!
Do alpacas have seasons?
No. Alpacas can become pregnant at any time of year, as they are induced ovulators and come into season in the presence of a breeding male. However, in the UK, most breeders conduct mating between April and September, so that the young cria are not born during the cold winter months.
Do alpacas make good stock guards?
Yes, a trio of castrated male alpacas are the best option for stock guards. Once bonded with the stock, they are known to chase off foxes and dogs.
What care/medication do alpacas need?
See our blog on annual alpaca husbandry here.