Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Incan civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean Plateau and mountains of South America. Alpacas were first imported to the United States in 1984. Alpacas are now being successfully raised and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad. There are two types of alpacas – the Huacaya and the Suri. The lifespan of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11.5 months. Alpacas eat grasses and chew a cud. Adult alpacas are about 36″ tall at the withers and generally weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. They are gentle and easy to handle. Alpacas don’t have incisors, horns, hooves or claws. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.
Alpacas produce one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal (approximately 22 basic colors with many variations and blends).This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.
Alpacas come in a range of 22 natural colours, from white, through fawn, to brown, and also grey and black colours. Throughout Europe alpaca breeding is still relatively unknown, however there is an industry built up around it that includes clothing (alpaca fleece has no lanolin, and is therefore hypoallergenic, and is considered to be of equivalent quality to cashmere), bedding, selling the animals as pets and chicken guards, and selling show quality animals to be used to compete in competitions and win prizes. Obviously the better animals you have to breed with, the better quality the offspring, and therefore the price you can command for sale. The real reason alpacas exist is because of the quality of the fleece, but most farms make money by producing the best animals they can, and selling them on to new breeders. In 2010, there was one stud male, in the US, which sold for $675,000. One animal!