All About Raising Alpacas
Learn everything you need to know about raising alpacas, including buying, feeding, breeding and much more.
One reason folks like alpacas is their ease of care. The animals respect fences, can be easily halter-trained, and don’t require much work.
A few decades ago, the sight of an alpaca in a field would be enough to stop traffic. But now, these exotic-looking creatures with long legs, big eyes and fluffy fleeces are becoming the livestock of choice for many small farmers.
Alpacas belong to the Camelid family, along with their larger cousins, llamas and camels. Camelids have padded feet, rather than hooves, which are gentle on the land. Like ruminants, alpacas live on grass and chew their cud. However, the alpaca’s digestive tract has three (not four) chambers. On average, alpacas live for about 20 years, and adults weigh 100 to 200 pounds.
There are two breeds of alpaca. The most common is the Huacaya, whose crimped fiber grows straight out from the body giving the animal a fluffy appearance. The Suri has silky straight fiber that hangs in locks.
Raising alpacas as livestock or pets?
Traditionally, alpacas were bred in South America for their fiber. Their fleece is softer, stronger and warmer (at the same weight) than sheep’s wool. An adult produces up to 10 pounds of fiber each year. The fiber is processed differently than sheep’s wool, and the cost of processing can be substantial. Consequently, it can be challenging to create a viable business raising alpacas solely for the raw fleece. Many owners sell breeding stock and/or value-added products such as hand-woven scarves, felted bags or knitted socks.
These animals are often raised for pleasure instead of profit. Those without good enough fleece or conformation to be breeding stock are often sold as pets.
“Alpacas are very docile,” say Daniel and Peggy Emmerich, who raise alpacas and goats at EnchantedMeadows Alpacas and Goats in Wausau, Wisconsin. “We can walk amongst them without them bolting off in fear. Male alpacas will fight a little with each other for dominance, but we have never had a male alpaca get aggressive towards a human. We let our grandkids freely move about in the alpaca pens.”
Debra Schneider of Indiana’s Lit’le Bit of Heaven Farm credits alpacas as having a “very unusual power” to calm people around them. The Schneiders switched from raising horses to alpacas after their son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and their daughter was in a serious car accident.
Part of the peaceful nature of the alpacas comes from their silence. With their soft foot pads, they walk quietly in the pasture. They are rarely vocal, except for humming when content.
Caring for alpacas
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