Whether Suri or Huacaya, both types of alpaca fleece are considered luxury fibers because of their unique characteristics. In the United States 85% of alpacas are Huacaya while the remaining 15% are Suri. Both of these fibers can be as soft or softer than cashmere.
Do they tear up the landscape? What about agricultural run-off from pesticides, herbicides, and animal waste?
- Alpacas live very lightly on the land. Their soft padded feet and their light weight mean that they don't tear up the landscape.
- The fact that the dung piles are cleaned up daily means that there is a minimum of run-off from alpaca waste.
- Alpacas have three-part stomachs that digest hay and grass very efficiently. They don't eat a great deal, nor do they require or even do well on rich, high-protein diets. This means that the need for herbicide and pesticide application on their pastures is minimal if you use them at all.
- Alpacas don't challenge fences. The real need for fencing is around the perimeter of the alpaca pasture-barn area to protect them from predators.
Even though they are in the same family, Camelidae, alpacas and llamas are used for different purposes by humans.
Alpacas are used for their fiber while llamas are used as pack animals or in meat production. The average llama is roughly twice the size of the average alpaca. An average alpaca stands 34"- 36" at the withers (shoulders), whereas a llama stands 42"- 48" at the withers. Most alpacas weigh between 100 and 175 pounds when fully grown. Llamas on the other hand weigh in the neighborhood of 200 to 350 pounds with some as heavy as 400 pounds. There are differences in the body and head, especially the shape of the ears. The llama is easily distinguished by its long banana-shaped ears. The alpaca has shorter spear-shaped ears. From the side, llamas generally have a longer face; alpacas have a shorter, more compact appearance. A llama's back is straighter, which makes them good for packing.
What do they eat? How much time do they take? Are they disease prone?
- Alpacas eat grass and hay. Most owners supplement this with a little grain each day—nothing fancy. In fact, alpacas don't do well on high-protein diets.
- We spend up to an hour a day with ours. We scrub out and refill the water buckets, give each animal a cup of grain, rake up the hay they've rooted onto the floor and add more as needed, and clean up the dung piles. Then we usually halter one or two and go for a walk. This keeps halter training in place and gives us an excuse to mess with them a little longer.
- Dung piles? Alpacas only go to the bathroom in one or two places. (They'll even stand in line to wait their turn!) These piles need to be cleaned up each day so that they don't track dung around and get it in their fleeces.
- Every month they each get a shot of wormer to protect them from meningeal worm and gastrointestinal parasites.
- Every couple months their toenails need to be trimmed. They don't have hooves like horses or cattle. Their feet are soft pads with toenails on top.
- Once a year, they need to be sheared, or heat stress would be a real danger during the hot months.
- During the summer, we offer to squirt their legs and bellies with water. They almost always take us up on the offer!
How big are they? Are they mean? Do they spit? How long do they live? What are they good for?
- Adult alpacas get to be 150-200 pounds. They stand about three feet tall at the shoulders (withers). They can be five feet tall to the tips of their ears.
- Babies (crias) weigh 15-19 pounds.
- Alpacas are gentle animals. Unlike most domestic animals, alpacas have never been wild. Their relationship with humans extends back more than 5,000 years. In fact, they may have been the world's first domestic animals.
- Yes, they spit, but only very, very rarely at humans—unless you get caught in the cross-fire! Most often they spit when they are jostling for position at feeding time or when a female receives unwelcome advances from a male.
- Alpacas live 15-20 years.
- Alpaca fiber is softer, stronger, and warmer than wool. Almost all the other US supplies of this kind of luxury fiber, like cashmere, are from foreign sources