Alpacas are a species of South American camelid mammal. They are often confused with Llamas, but despite being similar in characteristics they are a different animal in their own right. Despite this, the Alpacas and Llamas are closely related and can in fact successfully crossbreed.
Alpacas are easily distinguished from llamas by their smaller size. They stand around 90 cm (35 inches) high at the shoulder and weigh 55 to 65 kg (121 to 143 pounds), whereas the llama stands around 20 cm (47 inches) at the shoulder and weighs in at about 113 kg (250 pounds).
The alpaca also differs from the llama in having a rounded rather than squarish body, small, blunt faces with short ears, rather than more elongated faces with banana-sized ears and in its habit of pressing its tail close to the body, rather than holding it erect as does the llama.
Like Cows and Sheep, Alpacas are ruminants.
Alpacas come in 22 colours, from a deep blue-black through browns and tans to white.
Alpacas can live as long as 20 years.
On average Alpacas weight from 106 to 185 pounds
Where Do Alpacas Come From?
Alpacas originate from the central and southern Andes from Peru to Argentina, in an area known as the Altiplano (Spanish for high plain). They live at elevations of up to 4800m. Peru currently has the largest population, with over half the world's alpacas.
The Two Breeds of Alpaca
There are two breeds of Alpaca: the Huacaya and the Suri.
The Huacaya has fibre growing vertically out of its skin giving it a fluffy ‘Teddy Bear’ look.
The Suri has fibre growing out of the skin in bundles/locks, hanging down along the body of the Alpaca. This gives it an appearance much like a Wensleydale sheep.
Why is Alpaca Farming Becoming Popular?
The alpaca has established a strong and vibrant permanent presence in the UK over the past twenty years and is currently increasing in presence across all the countries of Europe.
Enthusiasm for everything related to the alpaca has not diminished since it first arrived in the UK. Alpaca breeding and farming is becoming ever more popular.
Alpaca farming is highly environmentally friendly. Because Alpacas have only two toes, they do not have a significant detrimental impact on the landscape upon which they graze compared to other animals with hooves. They are also lighter grazers than other ruminant animals, which means they can maximize the use of small acres of otherwise unproductive pasture. Apart from a handful of feed per day for pregnant females and growing cria they will survive quite happily on good pasture at a stocking rate of five to eight animals per acre.
And to top it off, through their fleeces and manure Alpacas provide a sustainable source of useful raw materials.
Alpaca Fleece: A Great Material
The alpaca produces a bright , sumptuous fine fleece from 14 microns upwards, with a smooth, velvety handle. Alpaca fleece is warmer and lighter than wool, but stronger and far more durable.
The alpaca produces a top quality exclusive luxury fibre, which has the fineness of cashmere, but is more hard wearing and in short supply within the textile industry. As such it's a high value fibre which commands a premium in the market.
Paca Poo: A Fantastic Fertiliser
Alpacas are not just prized for their fleeces. Their manure is also a useful and desirable product.
The manure they produce is odourless, it's an excellent form of fertiliser and is considered a rich soil conditioner. Alpaca fertiliser improves the soil quality and its ability to retain water. It is also good for plants, providing a fair amount of nitrogen and potassium and about average levels of phosphorus.
Since alpaca manure is mostly found in pellet form and doesn’t have the same components as other livestock feeders it does not need to be aged or composted before use. It can be spread directly onto garden plants without burning them.
As a result, there is increasing demand for the product from keen gardeners seeking a more effective and organic fertiliser.