Alpacas – Q&A’s


What are alpacas?

Alpacas are one of the camelid species, closely related to the llama. There are four species of South American camelid: Llamas (Lama glama) and Alpacas (Lama pacos) are domesticated and Vicuna (Vicugna vicugna) and Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) remain wild and are protected species.

alpacaAll four are found mainly in Peru in the Andes, with smaller numbers in Chile and Bolivia. Alpacas were domesticated from the wild vicuna into alpaca six to seven thousand years ago. The Incas were very successful in further refining the alpaca for better fibre quality. When the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532, they destroyed the breeding programmes and the alpacas were decimated in numbers and quality in favour of sheep.

There are now thought to be about 3.5 million alpacas in South America and they are now being successfully bred in North America, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, China and throughout Europe.


Frequently asked questions

How long do alpacas live?

Alpacas have a lifespan of about 20 years.

alpacasHow big are they?

Alpacas stand about 1 metre tall at the withers (the highest part of the animal’s back). Cria, the young, weigh about 6 to 8kg at birth. Adult females weigh between 45 and 65kg, some males can be slightly larger.

Do they get many illnesses?

Alpacas are hardy and relatively problem free. However, like all livestock they can suffer from various diseases and may at times require veterinary treatment.

They require vaccinations yearly and also regular worming.

What do they eat?

Alpacas are semi-ruminants, surviving happily on grass throughout the year. Hay must be provided on an ad lib basis all year round – particularly in the winter. Some owners provide a low protein supplementary feed which will usually include additional minerals and nutrients. A grazing regime of between 3-5 per acre is usual, but will depend on your conditions.

How long is their gestation?

alpacas-kissingAlpacas have a gestation of about 11 months, but this can vary. They give birth to a cria (young animal) that weighs about 6 to 8kg. Female alpacas tend to give birth in the morning.

They rarely have twins but, if they do, it is unusual for the cria to survive. The cria is weaned at about 6 months of age.

Are alpacas difficult to breed?

Alpacas are induced ovulators and therefore can be bred at any time, although planning for spring births is preferable. The females are generally remated 2-6 weeks after the birth. Males become fertile at about 18 months to 3 years. To ensure successful breeding programmes, only the most outstanding males should be kept back for stud work.

Do they need special shelter or fencing?

alpaca sheltersAlpacas need a shelter to allow them to get out of the rain and the sun but they do not need to be brought in during bad weather and they do not need stabling.

Alpacas do not challenge fences and so a metre high barrier is adequate.

Barbed wire should be removed because their wool can get tangled in it and they can become trapped.

Do they affect the pasture?

Alpacas are very gentle on the land because they have padded feet and therefore do not churn up the ground. They deposit their droppings in piles in only a few sites and cleaning up is easier than for other animals.

How are alpacas transported?

Alpacas are easy to transport in any covered trailer or horse box. They tend to sit down on the journey.

Can alpacas be kept on their own?

Alpacas groupNo, alpacas are a herd animal and will become stressed if kept alone even for short periods. They should be kept in groups of three or more. Alpacas can be run with other animals such as goats and sheep and provide good protection from foxes.

Are alpacas easy to handle?

Alpacas are gentle and easy to handle. They can be halter trained very easily, especially when young. They occasionally spit but only when provoked such as when they are being vaccinated. Some will kick when being touched on their back legs but, if handled when young, they can be desensitised in this area. Alpacas only have lower teeth which meet on a hard upper pad. They don’t tend to bite, but sometimes pull at clothing to attract attention!

How often do they need shearing?

Alpacas need shearing once a year, although suris (a particular type) are sometimes sheared every other year. On average, a fleece will weigh between 2 and 5 kg but some high density stud males have fleece weights higher than this.

What colours can alpacas be?

alpacas headThere are 22 fleece colours ranging from white to fawns to browns to black, there are also greys and rose greys. They stay the colour they are at birth throughout life.

Do alpacas make good pets?

Alpacas make excellent pets. They are intelligent, easily trained and are usually very gentle with children. They are inquisitive, approaching people who stand and watch them. They will eat out of the hand if time is spent and training to lead by a halter is straightforward.

Where should I go to buy alpacas?

You are strongly recommended to purchase alpacas from owners who are registered with the BAS.


Useful reading

Because alpacas are a relative newcomer to the UK and numbers are small compared with livestock found ‘traditionally’ on British farms and smallholdings, information about husbandry can be difficult to find. Below is a selection of some of the titles that are commonly referred to by alpaca breeders and owners.

Llamas and Alpacas: A Guide to Management
Gina Bromage
ISBN-10: 10-86126-884-X
ISBN-13: 978-1-86126-884-6
208 pages, 2006
The Crowood Press

The Camelid Companion: Handling and Training Your Alpacas and Llamas
Marty McGee Bennett
ISBN-10: 0970991606
ISBN-13: 978-0970991607
400 pages, 2001
Raccoon Press

Caring for Llamas and Alpacas: A Health and Management Guide
Clare Hoffman and Ingrid Asmus
Spiral-bound: 178 pages
Publisher: Rocky Mountain Llama Association,US; 2nd Revised edition edition (31 Dec 2000)
ISBN-10: 0962276820
ISBN-13: 978-0962276828

Gold of the Andes, The Llamas, Alpacas, Vicunas and Guanacos
Jorge Flores Ochoa, Kim MacQuarrie and Javier Portus
ISBN-10: 8489119023
ISBN-13: 978-8489119024
638 pages, 1994
Francis O Patthey & Sons

Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care
Spiral-bound: 112 pages
Publisher: Clay Press; 1st ed edition (15 Oct 1996)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0964661837
ISBN-13: 978-0964661837

Medicine and Surgery of South American Camelids: Llama, Alpaca, Vicuna, Guanaco
Hardcover: 560 pages
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd Edition edition (12 Feb 1999)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0813803977
ISBN-13: 978-0813803975


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