Once you've met your first alpaca, there is no denying that those big brown eyes will capture your heart. The more you learn about them, the more fascinated you will be with their intelligence, engaging personalities, and complex social structure. Whether you prefer the fluffy, teddy-bear look of the huacaya alpaca, or the sleek, elegant appearance of the suri alpaca, you will find their generous production of fleece to be an added bonus. And if you are a breeder, nothing beats watching those little crias (baby alpacas) bounding through your pastures: bouncing and running for the sheer joy of living!
In addition to being charming and beautiful, alpacas have a number of advantages over other traditional livestock. They are hardy, disease-resistant, economical to feed and exhibit tidy "bathroom" habits. Alpacas are easy on pastures, delicately snipping off the grass blades without pulling up the roots. Their soft, padded feet do not tear up the sod. They are quiet by nature, being especially gentle and curious about small children, the elderly and handicapped individuals. Many people are also attracted to the fact that raising alpacas presents the potential for a good income, with no necessity for slaughter.
Alpacas typically conceive easily at any time of the year and birth unassisted (usually between sun-up and 1pm- convenient for the farmer!). After an 11 ½ month gestation, the female produces one cria, weighing 12-20 lbs. Even though she is ready to breed 2-3 weeks after the birth, the fetus stays small for the first several months, and she continues to nurse her cria for approximately 6 months. Females do not have an estrus cycle ("heat"). They can breed at any time of year, and are induced to ovulate by the act of mating. Females are ready to breed when they are 12-24 months old, and males generally 24-36 months. Life expectancy is 15-20 years, and many females continue to reproduce into their elder years.
Who owns alpacas? The United States enjoys a very strong alpaca market, with prices of quality breedstock remaining exceptionally stable. In fact, since Sept. 11, 2001, sales of alpacas have been stronger than ever. More and more Americans are finding themselves holding their families in higher esteem. Wishing to spend more time together, parents are moving to the country where their children can grow up in the fresh air, and learn about the rhythms of life that are taught so well on a family farm. Professionals are leaving the hub-bub of city life in search of a more relaxed lifestyle in the country. People from all walks of life: from "20-somethings" to empty-nesters, are finding financial and emotional fulfillment in raising their alpacas.
How much do they cost? There is an alpaca for nearly every pocketbook, and you will have great fun deciding which ones appeal to you. Prices for non-breeding companion alpacas are roughly equivalent to that of a high-quality purebred dog. In an effort to continually improve the North American herd, only the very best males are used for stud service, and the rest are gelded (sterilized). So there is a good supply of "fiber-quality" males, priced at $250-750, to please those who wish to have a renewable source of fleece for their own use or to sell to handspinners. As of 2011, the price range for breeding females is $2500-15,000, and some well-known stud males have sold at auction for as much as $500,000.
How often do you shear them? Alpacas are shorn once yearly, typically in the late spring or early summer in the USA. Owners in hot humid areas of the country may choose to shear twice yearly.
What is alpaca fleece used for? One year's fleece growth can yield 5-8 lbs. or more of luxurious fiber, enough to provide several garments, such as sweaters, scarves, socks, hats and vests. Since alpaca fiber is very durable, it can also be used to produce luxurious coats, blankets, and even rugs and upholstery fabrics. Compared to sheep's wool, alpaca fleece contains little if any lanolin, reducing waste and the need for expensive chemical treatments. It comes in over 22 natural shades, reducing the use of polluting chemical dyes.
Are there other financial advantages to having alpacas? Those who raise and sell alpacas and end-products made from their fleece can also enjoy significant tax advantages. Expenses incurred in the raising and marketing of your alpacas can be written off against your income. Not only are items such as feed, vet care and stud services deductible, but tangible items such as fencing, outbuildings and the breeding stock themselves can be depreciated over several years.
E-mail us today, and we will send you information on the financial and tax benefits of owning alpacas.
Alpacas Gaining in Popularity!
Why haven't I ever heard of alpacas? The population of American alpacas is only a fraction of that of sheep. In this vast country of ours, many people are just now hearing about alpacas for the first time. Premium alpaca products are in high demand worldwide, and prices for products and breeding stock remain strong and steady due to a limited supply. We are convinced that alpacas are here to stay!
How many alpacas are there in the U.S.? 155,000 (126,000 huacaya, 29,000 suri) in 2011.
To view a chart showing the distribution of colors in ARI registered alpacas, click here.
Were those alpacas I saw in a TV commercial? AOBA currently runs ads on DishNetwork and Direct TV. You can see the six different ads on: A&E, Weather Channel, Bravo, Discovery, History, Sci-Fi, Travel, Animal Planet, BBC America, TechTV, Lifetime, Food Network, PAX and more.
How many alpaca owners are there in the U.S.? As of 2011, 14,000 were members of the Alpaca Registry, Inc. Most own 12 alpacas or fewer.
Where can I get more information? Alpacas Magazine, the official journal of AOBA, is now available on the newstand at bookstores nationwide, including Barnes & Noble and Borders. If you don't see it on the shelf, ask for it! We suggest you visit the AOBA website or call them at 856-439-1076. You can read more about alpacas, subscribe to Alpacas Magazine, and request The Farm & Ranch Guide- a lovely full-color magazine listing member farms. And if you decide to join AOBA, you will have access to its free library of books, articles and videos so that you can satisfy your craving for alpaca info. We know... it's an addiction!
Alpaca Once Clothed Incan Nobility
John Schmitt enjoys his first camelid encounter, circa 1979 >
What kind of animal is an alpaca? A member of the camel family, the alpaca is one of the four camelids native to South America. Thought to be descended from the wild vicuña, alpacas were domesticated by the Incas and their predecessors to provide luxurious garments reserved only for members of the nobility. The modern North American alpaca weighs about the same as an average woman, and, pound for pound, produces more fleece than any of the other three S. American camelids. The llama was descended from the wild guanaco, and was bred by these ancient cultures to serve as a pack animal. Similar in size to the guanaco, the llama's large frame and strong, straight back are well-suited to this task.
Although the alpaca, vicuña, llama and guanaco have lived in South America for thousands of years, their prehistoric relatives actually originated in what is now the central part of the United States.
Click here to learn more about the history of alpacas.