All About Raising Alpacas

Learn everything you need to know about raising alpacas, including buying, feeding, breeding and much more.

| May/June 2012

  • Happy Alpaca Face
    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.
    Lynn Stone
  • Grazing Alpacas
    Alpacas are becoming a popular choice of livestock for small farmers.
    Spectrum Photofile
  • Group-Of-Alpacas
    Alpacas make an intelligent and inquisitive addition to the farm.
  • Mother Alpaca With Calf
    After a gestation period of 11 months, a mother alpaca proudly shows off her cria.
    Karen Keb
  • Brown And White Alpacas
    Alpacas make an intelligent and inquisitive addition to the farm.
    Spectrum Photofile

  • Happy Alpaca Face
  • Grazing Alpacas
  • Group-Of-Alpacas
  • Mother Alpaca With Calf
  • Brown And White Alpacas

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.”

9/6/2015 7:29:20 PM

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Katy Cocking
5/10/2012 6:13:35 PM

Great overview of caring for alpacas. The alpaca industry is closely tied with the real estate market from an economic standpoint. The global recession reduced the price of alpacas significantly. The alpaca business is now a livestock business just like any other. Yes, there are great tax advantages to raising them, and some will still sell breeding stock, but alpacas' fiber is the mail product they produce. Those who take advantage of the cottage fiber industry should do well with raising alpacas.



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