Alpacas are kept for the fibre they produce from their fine soft coats, and as pets. They have been domesticated for over 5000 years in South America, where clothes woven from their fleece were worn by Inca royalty.
They are clean, inquisitive and affectionate, and their small size makes them easy to handle and care for. They do not bite or butt, and have no claws or horns. Because they produce such superb fleece, a breeding herd of alpacas is a valuable asset. Because of their size and low maintenance requirement compared to more traditional livestock, they are ideal for smaller farms and smallholdings. If confused or frightened, alpacas tend to lie down rather than attack.
Alpacas live about 20 years, and produce the finest fleece while they are young.
There are two types:
Alpaca fleece from a good-quality alpaca is some of the finest and lightest in the world. Younger animals produce the finest fleece. At Hayne Alpacas we are breeding for finer fleeces and animals that continue to produce good quality fleece for longer.
We specialise in white and solid coloured animals, as white or plain coloured fleece is much sought after by textile processors, making it more valuable. Plain colours can be used as they are, but are also easier for fabric makers to dye. Spotted fleeces have to be sorted by colour after shearing.
Depending on the quality of your pasture, you will need about one acre of land for up to six alpacas, fenced to a height of four feet, but not with barbed wire.
We don't recommend keeping alpacas on less than an acre of land, as even two or three will need space and to be able to move away from the other animals. Your alpacas will also need somewhere to shelter from very wet weather and where food can be provided in the dry.
You may see suggestions on international websites that alpacas do not need shelter provided. Because of the very wet weather we get in the UK, we believe that UK Alpacas should be provided with shelter. However, as Alpacas have soft padded feet they are gentle on land, and create much less mud than hoofed animals.
Alpacas eat grass and hay. Specialist concentrated foods are also available, but watch that your alpacas do not overeat these, as they can become overweight. They need a constant supply of fresh water. Alpacas are browsers as well as grazers, and they will browse your hedges and even eat tree bark occasionally. As with other livestock, you will need to control poisonous weeds such as ragwort in or near your hedges, as alpacas don't know they are off the menu!
Alpacas are herd animals, and should always be kept with other alpacas. You should never keep only a single alpaca alone as it will suffer severe stress. Your alpacas will need to be shorn once a year,usually in the summer but never groomed as this can damage the fibre.
You will need to monitor any potential worm burden and treat when appropriate, you will also need to vaccinate against clostridial diseases, normally carried out every six months.
Apart from trimming their toe nails occasionally, alpacas need very little regular maintenance.
Alpacas can make good pets or companion animals. A pair of gelded males or a pair of females is best if you are not planning to breed them.
Spitting is one of an alpaca's few defensive abilities. Luckily, it is usually something that alpacas do to establish dominance over other alpacas, rather than to humans. If you are unlucky though, it is possible that an alpaca might spit at you.
Alpacas have an average gestation period of about 11.5 months. A baby alpaca is called a cria. Alpaca cria should never be hand-reared unless absolutely necessary, because hand-fed animals tend to become more difficult to manage when older. Female Alpacas are usually ready to breed from about 18 months old.
Stud alpacas should be chosen with care for the best fleece quality and conformation (the shape and proportions).
If you are planning your own breeding herd, please contact us and we'll be happy to advise.