The alpaca is possibly one of the cutest, most interesting, photogenic animals that you could hope to keep on
your land. They are timid curios by nature but calm, easy to handle and will live happily with other animals in the same field. They have a natural dislike for foxes and are known to chase and kill any that may be a threat, in this way they can be very good guard animals for the like of sheep and chickens etc. Whilst many keep alpacas for their own joy and pleasure some of us do like taking them along to shows and it is easy to get the competitive spirit enjoying the fun of taking them to judged (Classed) shows and making friends with other owners who share the same joy.
There are many excellent local members groups that offer help and advice with local meetings and events.
The Alpaca is part of the Camelid (Camels) family closely related to the Llama, Guanaco and Vicuna, they originate from the South American countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
There are two types of Alpaca, the Huacaya (Wa-Ki-ya) and the Suri (Sur-ee). The Huacaya being the more common type having a dense, soft fibre with a crimp, lustre and insulating properties much sought after and in some cases superior to Cashmere and Silk. The Suri whilst not so common is fast becoming more popular it has a lustrous fine fibre with no crimp that hangs down its body in long locks.
The female alpaca is called the Dam whilst the male is called the Sire (Macho) the baby is known as the Cria (Cre-uh). Alpaca fibre is described as a speciality fibre/wool however is more liken to hair due to its modular core made up of air filled cells which help to give it a soft silky feel with strong insulating properties. Some people are allergic to sheep’s wool which can be itchy (irritable) next to their skin but because of its soft, silky feel there is not the same allergic reaction with Alpaca garments. Alpaca fleece takes readily to dying but as many of us prefer natural colours there are seven basic colours with as many as 22 different shades of Alpaca types.
The Alpaca has been bred for some five thousand years providing both food and clothing for the Andean people of South America. The Inca’s had spent thousands of years perfecting the fleece of the Alpaca however when the Spanish invaded in the 16th century they scattered the Alpacas in favour of the Merino sheep consequently the highly bred Alpacas were basically left to survive in the higher plains undoing all the good work that the Inca’s had done over the centuries. Even now we are still trying to perfect and breed back the quality that the Inca’s had achieved to in their time.
More recently the breeding of quality Alpaca improved in Southern Peru and as such a few large farms have been concentrating on breeding more selective bloodlines again, later spreading to North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and now their popularity is very much increasing in the UK and the rest of Europe. Australia has approximately 100,000 animals with the UK standing at around 20,000. Breeders in the UK are striving to improve the national herd increasing the density and fineness of the fleece by using only carefully selected stud males.
The financial return on the fleece here in the UK is presently a little limited as the national herd is not yet big enough to make it viable to the commercial processing industry, however with the increasing popularity of the alpaca we could soon be turning that corner. There are several mini-mills in the country which will process small amount of fleeces and hand spinners are enthusiastic about using it for its fineness and natural colours.
Alpacas are expensive to buy but very economic to keep, for breeding purposes you would expect to pay at least £3,000 for a good pregnant female, however if just a pet was required a Gelding could be purchased for as little as £350. They are by nature a herd animal and as such will pine if kept on their own therefore you must always keep at least two for company. The relative cost of keeping an alpaca is very reasonable comparable to the keeping of sheep i.e.; grassland pasture (about six alpacas to an acre) good quality hay all the year round, some supplementary feedstuffs to ensure that all mineral requirements are met, Veterinary visits, shearing and trimming toes-teeth etc and if breeding on you would expect to pay between £350 to £950 for stud fees. The value of the fleece should be sufficient to cover the running costs of keeping Geldings as pets whilst breeding the best of animals for sale and stud services can bring excellent returns.
Looking After Alpacas
Up to six alpacas can be kept to an acre of grassland and with proper land management this can be increased to as many as ten per acre. They will happily live with most other animals however because of their gentle nature they can miss out on access to the feeding troughs. They will occasionally spit but more often at each other rather than humans. As they do not have horns or hooves they are safe with young children and because they are ‘soft’ footed they do not tend to damage the ground in their pastures. They do not challenge fences so standard sheep/pig wire fencing with perhaps one or two top wires (about 4 ft high) will suffice, never use barred wire and avoid sharp edges on metal gates etc because in the event they felt compelled to jump they could easily fatally damage their undersides. It is always helpful to have a corner of the paddock whereby you create a catchment area, using a bright coloured rope between two persons can be helpful when bring them in as they will see it as a barrier to avoid. They are very hardy animals and as such our British winters are no problem to them, simple three sided field shelters are helpful but they very rarely use them. They must have Hay all the year round (about one small bale per animal per month) it is best to have the mineral content of your pastures analysed to enable you to supplement their feed with any deficiencies. It is essential that you provide fresh clean water at all times. Alpacas tend to defecate in the same ‘dung piles’ making it easy to keep clean and avoid parasite infection. Routine worming and vaccination is required on a six monthly basis. Toe nails need trimming two or three times a year, teeth trimming is usually done at the same time of the annual shearing whereby the alpaca is laid out on the floor and restrained with out stretched legs secured between two posts. There is a need to check regularly for any skin problems as whilst they are rarely bothered with fly strike some individual alpacas can be particularly susceptible to ‘mite’ however this can be easily treated with Ivomectin, mineral oil and antibiotics applied every three days which should eventually totally clear up any infection. If in any doubt about the animal’s welfare contact your veterinarian immediately. Alpacas are remarkably disease resistant which helps to keep vet bills to the minimum.
The female alpaca comes of breeding age around 14-18 months old she is an induced ovulater and if she is vacant would normally go down as soon as the male stud is introduced to her. Gestation period is on average 11 ½ months but it is very hard to be precise on the actual date of birth as it is much more variable than most species. They usually give birth in the mornings and to only one cria (baby) twins are very rare. The stud males become sexually mature later than females between the age of twenty and thirty-six months, basically when he losses his milk teeth from the front lower mandible he can be expected to be about ready for mating. The alpaca male is a drip ejaculator and normally takes up to twenty minutes to deposit his semen into the female’s uterus. It is always wise to feel under the female during copulation to make sure that the male is inserted in to the correct place for obvious reasons. A small percentage of females may fail to ovulate after mating and as such may have to be put to the stud male again some seven days later. The easiest way to confirm a pregnancy is by ‘spitting-off’, this is done by bringing any complete male to her, if she goes down in his presence it can be concluded that she is not pregnant (now vacant) but if she ‘spits’ at the males advances it can be concluded that she is indeed pregnant. ‘Spit-off’ should be done again at fourteen and twenty eight days and to be safe the pregnancy should be confirmed by ultrasound thirty days after mating. It is always wise to do ‘spit-off’ every six to eight weeks to make sure she is still pregnant as you would not want to confuse an overdue birth with a vacant female as she could have miscarried etc without your knowledge. Most baby cria are born without assistance and often the less interference by humans the better.
Breeding for Profit
If your goal is to breed with the intention of making a profit you are best to look at particular objectives by selecting particular traits you want to aim for be it Huacaya or Suri breeds perhaps whites, blacks, browns grey etc, you may want to breed with the main object of producing good male studs for sale, pregnant females for sale or show animals. We have chosen to specialise in the Black Huacaya and White Suri and to this end we use only the very best of genetics available in the UK. By specialising we can concentrate our efforts and finances on these two groups. We do also welcome other colours and types on our farm and it is inevitable that any dedicated breeder will invariably be caught by the charm of other irresistible types.
For more information on alpacas visit www.bas-uk.com.