What are Alpacas?

Alpacas are camelids from South America and are close cousins to the Llama. They exist only as a domesticated animal and do not exist in the wild.

There are four species of South American Camelid : The small, timid and wild Vicuna
(Vicugna Vicugna) and the large and wild Guanaco (Lama Guanicoe). Both of which are protected species. The Alpaca (Lama Pacos) and the Llama (Lama Glama) are the domesticated animals and have been domesticated for at least the last 4,000 years. All four species are found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia and live at altitude on the alta piano in the Andes.
The Inca were the people instrumental in domesticating the Alpaca and further refined species to produce ever finer and denser fiber. The Alpaca was the main stay of the society, farmed for its fibre and meat. Sadly, because of this during the Spanish conquest, the invaders destroyed almost all the Alpaca with the aim of destroying the Inca economy, and replaced them with sheep. Today, there are thought to be about 3.5 million Alpaca in South America and since the late 1980’s they have been exported to start breeding programs in the United States, Australia, Britain and more recently, Europe.

So Why Alpacas?

Alpacas are endearing creatures which are easy to keep if you have a minimum of an acre of land. They are an interesting alternative to a ride on mower or a bush cutter and will assist you with the protection of your sheep or poultry against foxes or buzzards. Alpacas are very good with children. Alpacas will get to know and accept your other pets. Alpacas are very inquisitive so if you are in their field they will always come to see what you are doing.

They are easy to move about and are generally cooperative when you need to carry out routine tasks. With a bit of basic instruction in handling techniques you don’t end up with a rodeo as you can with sheep.  Breeding and selling the progeny produces the main income in an alpaca business. This is especially true in the under developed market that exists in Italy at the present time. Many owners get great enjoyment from breeding and showing their animals and enjoy  meeting other Alpaca enthusiasts. Ultimately, It’s all about the fleece! Alpaca is a natural fiber that is rare, luxurious, lofty and warm.  The fleece comes in 22 natural colors. The white fleeces can be colored with any natural or synthetic  dye. After processing the fiber is made up into high end knit wear or woven into  cloth for suits and coats.

Keeping Alpacas

Keeping any type of animal comes with responsibilities and costs. Alpacas are herd animals and cannot be kept alone. They must be kept in groups of two, preferably more, and of the same sex.

Alpaca are relatively easy to keep, they do not have the death wish that sheep seem to suffer and do not try to escape or challenge fencing. However they do need annual shearing, usually a shearer will visit your property to do this for you. They also need regular nail trimming, worming and vaccinations.

Alpaca need correct nutrition to be happy and healthy including good quality hay all year round, a good camelid supplement and additional hard feed in the winter.
Like all livestock alpacas can suffer from a variety of ailments, including pretty much everything cattle and sheep can get.

It is important to think about stocking density and overcrowding should be avoided. Stocking rates should also take into consideration the conditions at the hardest part of the year, not just when the pasture is lush in the spring and summer.

If you are planning to breed you also need to make space available to separate males from females, to allow an area for weaning the young and to make a field shelter available so that the animals can get out of the rain and also hot sun.

And the Downside?

Alpacas as livestock are relatively easy to keep, but that doesn’t mean that they are problem free as some would have you believe. Keeping livestock always has it’s high’s and low’s, so you should be prepared for some disappointments and problems from time to time. Gelding are the easiest to keep although they will still need regular care, feeding and preventative treatments.

In the event of problems, vets don’t come cheaply and indeed, if you breed and build up your flock you will soon be on first name terms with your vet! That having been said, alpacas are wonderful animals to make part of you life and keeping soon becomes an addiction!
If you want to find out more, you are most welcome to come and visit us and meet the Alpacas. Just give us a call to make an appointment.