Frequently Asked Questions about Alpacas
Are alpaca really easy to take care of?Yes, they really are. Many people that have never lived on a farm, or had livestock are finding that alpaca are the perfect animal to have. They are small and non-aggressive. Alpaca are very smart, and once they know the routine, and what you want, they are very cooperative.
They are gentle and easy to handle. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. Alpaca are also a clean animal, and use communal dung piles. This makes clean up much easier. Their waste, called beans, are virtually odorless and about the size of navy beans. My children joke that they look like chocolate covered coffee beans. A small rake and shovel make clean up quick and easy.
Regular care include: trimming their toenails every couple of months, shearing them once a year, in North Carolina they need monthly worm preventative, and routine fecal exams and vaccinations.
Do alpaca like people?Alpaca are very gentle and inquisitive. They prefer to be with their own kind, and as a prey animal can be a bit nervous around strange people. However, the more you work with your alpaca they more accustomed to you they will become. Most will recognize their feed buckets, and will come eagerly when they seen them.
Visitors, especially children, love feeding our alpacas from their hands. I love to take books to the pasture and read. The gentle humming of the alpaca make a wonderful restful setting. I can testify that if you snooze off it is not unusual to wake up with a number of alpaca noses in your face.
Why is there so much interest in alpacas?Alpaca are raised mainly for their fiber. 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). Spinners and weavers around the world now enjoy this cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty.
The alpaca textile industry is new and growing rapidly. Alpaca fiber is sold several ways. Hand-spinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece. Knitters often purchase alpaca yarn. Fiber Cooperatives Mills collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer.
Along with providing an excellent investment opportunity, alpaca have also give countless people the opportunity to start a more laid back and relaxing lifestyle.
Are alpaca dangerous?No. Alpaca do not bite or butt, but they may kick if aggravated. I never recommend approaching any animal from behind, as it may startle them. Children are drawn to alpacas, and the feeling seems to be mutual. If alpaca do not want to be handled they will simply quietly move away as they are approached.
How big do alpaca get?Adult alpaca average between 32″ to 39″ tall at the withers, (shoulder) and weigh about between 100 – 200 pounds at the most.
How long do alpaca live?The average live span of an alpaca is around 20 years.
Are there different kinds of alpaca?There are two types of alpacas – the Huacaya (wah-ki-ah) and the Suri (sur-ee). The suri’s fiber grows quite long and forms silky, pencil-like locks. The huacaya has a shorter, dense, crimpy fleece, giving it a very woolly appearance. We have huacaya alpaca.
How mach acreage does it take to raise alpacas?Depending on the quality of the pasture you have we recommend five to seven alpaca per acre, if the pasture is fantastic. Most acreage is not this good. For the more normal situation, we believe three to four alpacas per acre is acceptable if the alpacas are to be pastured. Many people also raise alpacas in "dry lot" , where there is minimal pasture and the alpaca spend most of their time in a barn or a corral area and are let out onto pasture about an hour a day. Alpaca are gentle on the land, and an excellent environmentally friendly livestock. Alpaca have soft padded feet that leave pasture undamaged and usable for years.
Can I start out with one alpaca?
No, alpaca need to have a herd to be happy. It can be a small herd of three, but this is the minimum. If you want to start slowly try purchasing and boarding your alpacas with a knowledgeable farm. Start with one gender. Males, even geldings, should not be in the same pasture as females, so purchase either males or females, but not both, until you have some experience and proper facilities.
Can I put alpaca together with my sheep, goats, horses, cows etc. (i.e.four legged friends)?
This is not a practice that we recommend, even for experienced owners. There are health issues with mixing different species, especially if they are exposed to each other's feces; and there are safety issues when larger animals are mixed with alpacas. Pasture rotation between alpacas and equine species is doable, but sheep and goats pose a high risk for alpacas in any scenario. We do keep two legged species (guinea fowl, chickens, ducks) with the alpacas for their bug and tick eating attributes.
What do alpaca eat?Alpacas are a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals. Alpaca do best on grass and hay, approximately 2 pounds per 125 pounds of body weight per day. A, 60-pound bale of hay can feed a group of 20 alpacas for one day. Additionally, all alpaca require free-choice minerals supplements and plenty of fresh drinking water. Many breeders feed a pelleted supplement to their alpacas to ensure a balanced intake of vitamins and minerals. Grass and hay have different nutritional profiles depending on the time of year they were harvested and the hay farmer's practices. It is worth having all hay and grass fed to your alpacas tested to determine its nutrient content.
Do I need a barn to have alpacas?
Alpaca are a very hardy animal from South America and in North Carolina during the winter they have a good heavy fleece to keep them warm and dry. Many alpaca breeders in North Carolina have open three sided shelters because the winters are relatively mild. A three sided shelter allows the alpaca to come and go as they please and provides shelter from the wind, rain and snow if they desire it. A good layer of limestone tailings allows liquids to drain away, and is a good option for the floor.
The summer is a different scenario. In North Carolina, and in hot, humid regions of the country where temperature and humidity combine to produce a dangerous heat, alpacas must have shelter and fans. The fans circulate cooler (relatively) air and help to cool them. Spraying their bellies and legs with water helps to cool them off in hot temperatures as well. Avoid wetting the body and back.
What type of fence do I need?
Alpaca are not known for challenging fences, and they usually do not wonder far if they get out. However, a good fence is vitally important to keep alpaca safe from predators. Even neighborhood dog can be dangerous if they decide they like to chase alpacas.
Four foot tall woven wire fencing with 2″ x 4″ openings work well. Avoid stranded fencing like that used for horses or cows because they can get tangled in the strands. (Ask me how I know!) Some types of field fencing is also a good option, and can often be purchased more economically. The openings at the top are larger and become smaller as you get closer to the ground. Many people use a combination of fencing for the best protection of their alpaca. Depending upon where you live and the types of predators in the area, a strand of barbed wire run along the outside of the fence will help keep dogs, coyotes and other predators from digging under the fence. While a good strand of electric tape around the top will help deter predators from going over the top.
In some situations, livestock guardians, such an a livestock guardian dog (LGD) or guardian llamas are used as deterrents. Choosing an appropriate breed for an LGD requires some research to determine what is best suited for your situation.
How do we get their fleece off them?Alpacas produce one of the world’s finest and most luxurious natural fibers. It is clipped from the animal without causing it injury once a year in a process called shearing. When you purchase your alpaca ask the breeder for the name of a good shearer. The cost is around $35.00 per animal, and does not take long. The amount of fleece you get from each animal vary from 3 to 10 pounds.
How do I transport an alpaca?For traveling short distances many people use vans, mini vans, SUV's and even station wagons. An old piece of carpet or heavy canvas will help protect the vehicle from damage. Once moving, the majority of alpaca will quietly lay down (cush). For long distances a professional livestock transporter can be hired. A standard horse trailer works also.
What about reproduction?A female alpaca can start breeding between 18 and 24 months, but at our farm they must be 24 months and 100 lbs or more. The gestation period is 11 ½ months. Yes, that is close to a year! Cria, (baby alpaca), weigh between 15 – 21 pounds at birth, and are most often up and nursing within an hour. They are weaned around 6-7 months of age. Females can rebred between 2 and 4 weeks after giving birth, and can have a cria a year through their reproductive life. However, at our farm, the females are given several months off after their cria are weaned before they are rebred.
Males become fertile between the age of 2 and 3 years old. A male that is used for breeding is often called a herdsire or macho.
How much do alpaca cost?Prices vary depending on the breeding quality of the animal. You can purchase a beautiful gelding or fiber alpaca for a $500. However, a female that has a proven history of having quality cria will average $5,000 and up. While a proven herdsire can cost much more.
Why are they so much!Alpaca first began being imported to the United States in 1985, and those imported were placed in a DNA registry. The importation is now closed. Alpacas can still come into the United States, but they can no longer be registered. Since a female alpaca can only have one cria a year, herd growth is slow. Over the last few years the demand for alpacas has increased, while the supply has remained low and slow growing. This makes good quality breeding alpaca in high demand.
If I want to consider purchasing an alpaca what should I do?First, it is important not to jump in to any major life change without serious consideration!!! There is a lot of misinformation on the web and too many "cute" pictures of alpacas in situations that are not safe for them. Visit the Alpaca Owners Association website and request some of the free alpaca magazines they offer. The Internet is another source of information if found from reputable, knowledgeable sites such as many state alpaca owners and breeders organizations. I hope that our website will provide you with useful educational resources and practical advice about alpacas. We also mentor people wanting to start their own alpaca farms.
Next, visit some farms and talk to as many breeders as possible. As you read, write down your questions, and then ask them. Ask if you can help with the Saturday morning chores, spring shearing, or trimming nails. Be sure you like the hands on of alpacas, and not just the TV ad ‘glamour’.
Attend some alpaca shows if you have the opportunity. This will give you the perfect opportunity to see some high quality alpaca. Conformation is an important part of raising alpacas, and there is nothing like a show to help you learn some of the basics.
Finally, if you do decide to purchase some alpaca choose a breeder that you feel you can trust. At Alpacas at Cherry Run we are willing to work with new breeders, and to be your mentor.
You may contact me if you have any questions [email protected]
Wednesday, May 5, 2021