An Introduction to Alpacas

| 12/8/2011 11:57:06 PM

Suzanne HeadshotIn 1999 my mother and I caught our first glimpse of an alpaca on a late night television commercial. We instantly fell in love with the cute, cuddly looking creature and began researching them online. At the time, there wasn’t really much out there about them. Alpacas are relatively new to the United States with the first imports arriving here in 1983. Alpacas are originally from South America with the majority of today’s current population still found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

After several months of researching alpacas, we brought home our first breeding stock in 2000. Originally alpacas were intended to be mine and my mom's operation. Over the years, it has truly become an entire family affair with my parents and younger sister Kaylen now operating Kush Kuntry Alpacas and my husband and I beginning ANS Farms with our children.

 Alpaca with Newborn Cria 

When we first entered the world of alpaca, the general public was mostly unaware of their existence. I remember discussing them one time with a Farm Service Agent and him asking “Alpacas? Is that like some kind of emu or something?” We soon became used to giving an abbreviated history and description of the alpaca.

Usually the first two questions we get are “What is an alpaca? And what are they used for?” Alpacas are a camelid cousin to the llama. They were domesticated by the Inca’s in South America over 6,000 years ago. The alpaca was greatly prized for their extraordinary fleece, and they were the center of ancient civilization for thousands of years until the invasion of Spanish Conquistadors nearly drove them to extinction. The surviving Inca’s fled into the high Andes mountains, taking with them small numbers of the once flourishing herds. There are now over 4,000,000 alpacas found in Peru and while their numbers have since re-bounded, archeologists have found evidence that we are still far from achieving the extraordinary fiber characteristics found in those once royal breeding programs.

So why was alpaca fiber so special, and how is it different from other types of wool? Alpaca fiber is unique in many ways. It has incredible insulating ability, as well as great moisture wicking properties. Alpaca fleece is free from the lanolin found in sheep wool which often triggers allergic reactions. Much of the alpaca fiber produced is softer than cashmere, and warmer than wool although it is much lighter. Alpaca comes in over 20 different natural shades. There are two “types” of alpacas which show different fiber characteristics. The Huacaya is the most common type found in North America, making up roughly 90% of our registered population. The Huacaya has a dense, crimpy fleece which makes the alpaca resemble a soft fluffy teddy bear. The Suri alpaca’s lustrous coat grows in locks and hangs down from the body instead of fluffing out.

1/24/2014 2:11:32 PM

Hi, we a renew, due to weather, we haven't been able to pick up two young boys yet.i am looking forward. Friend eon Facebook judidobson I have lots to learn. Indiana come by pop's ranch anytime

Suzanne Cox
12/10/2011 1:07:42 PM

Christine, great to meet a fellow alpaca person! They really are wonderful aren't they? Dave, at least you didn't think it was a bird. ;) You would be surprised to find out where alpaca is used. Astronauts suits have been lined with alpaca due to it's warmth and wicking properties. It can also be found in ski suits for the same reasons. My parents sent some socks over seas to some friends in the military, as the nights are quit cold despite the extreme heat of the day. They are also useful for the elderly, diabetics, amputies and others with reduced circulation. I am like many people who are unable to wear wool. I seem to itch and break into a rash as soon as I touch it! However alpaca does not bother me at all. Very useful critters they are! Alpaca's can be trained to carry a pack or light load, but due to their small size they really aren't as efficient of a pack animal as their cousin the llama.

Christine Byrne
12/10/2011 10:20:07 AM

Great article. I love my paca boys. Always intersting how many people still don't know what they are or more importantly what to do with them.

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

Grit JulAug 2016At GRIT, we have a tradition of respecting the land that sustains rural America. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing to GRIT through our automatic renewal savings plan. By paying now with a credit card, you save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of GRIT for only $16.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and send me one year of GRIT for just $22.95!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me