Alpacas are in the camelid family
They are members of the camelid family and originated from South America. In fact, 99% of alpacas still live in South America
Alpacas only have two breeds.
There are two breeds of alpaca: huacaya and suri. Officially they are one species. The Suri alpaca, of which there are very few in the US (only about 9,000 in the US), has a fleece with long 'dreadlocks' which hang loose and long. Huacaya (pronounced wakaya) alpacas have fiber which is shorter and denser. Ninety percent of alpacas are huacaya world wide.
The two breeds are huacaya (wah-KI-ah) and suri (SOO-ree). About 90% of alpacas are the huacaya breed, whereas the suri breed only makes up about 10% of all alpacas.
The Suri have very long fibers like silky dreadlocks while the Huacaya have a more compact crimpy fleece, with shorter fibers.
Alpacas average life span is 20 years
Just like their llama cousins, the average lifespan of an alpaca is 15 to 20 years.
Alpacas weigh between 120 and 143 pounds and are about 36” high at the withers (where the neck and spine come together) and 4 to 7 feet long.
The alpaca wool is softer than a sheep’s wool because the alpacas fibers have an air pocket in them. The air pocket is what traps and contains heat. Alpaca fiber is known to be luxurious as it is soft, durable, and makes for amazing winter-wear. The fibers are three times the insulating capacity of a sheep's wool, which allows for garments to be extremely light and warm. The alpacas are usually shorn in the spring, which gives them the freedom to have their summer cut during the warmer months, from which the fibers can be cleaned, spun, dyed, woven, or felted.
Alpaca Fiber Characteristics:
The fibers do not contain any lanolin which is what other wool producing animals have that cause for allergic reactions to some, therefore the alpacas are hypoallergenic
Alpacas fibers are natural, soft, and warmer than other wooled animals
* Water RepellentThe alpacas fibers are water resistant because they have a low water retention rate
The alpacas fibers are sturdy because the wool is nice and fine which when it is in yarn form is less likely to pill compared to other wool and fur products
The alpaca fibers are extremely soft similar to cashmere, as it is a lightweight quality, a luxurious look, and incredibly warm
The alpacas fibers have air pockets within its hair, and this is what allows for their fibers to be lightweight. It gives the fibers the ability to breath without taking away the warmth
Alpacas breed once a year, and as livestock they are often induced to breed at any time. The female alpaca has a gestation period 345 days and gives birth to just one offspring. The birthing process can take up to seven hours, according to National Geographic.
History of Alpacas
Alpacas are relatively new to the United States, being introduced in 1984! The price for American alpacas ranged from US$50 for a castrated male (gelding) to US$675,000 for the highest in the world, depending on breeding history, sex, and color. They were marketed as “the investment you can hug”. Prior to colonization, the image of the alpaca was used in rituals and in their religious practices. Since the people in the region depended heavily on these animals for their sustenance, the alpaca was seen as a gift from Pachamama. Alpacas were used for their meat, fibers for clothing, and art.
There are no wild alpacas. Alpacas are domesticated versions of vicuñas, South American ruminants that live high in the Andes. Alpacas are related to llamas, which are domesticated versions of another wild Andean ruminant, the guanaco. While llamas are used as pack animals, alpacas are raised mainly for their soft wool. Alpacas are about 3ft high at the shoulder and an adult weighs between 110 and 180 lbs. Alpaca cria should be 15-17 lbs at birth. They can weigh as much as 26-29 lbs and if below 15 lbs, they might be premature. The young are called cria. Castrated males are commonly known as geldings. They live for 15 to 20 years and females can breed for about 12 of these. The oldest known alpaca is 27 years old! The gestation period is 11 – 12 months and they nearly always give birth in daylight hours and usually with no assistance needed. Alpacas rarely have twins.
“Wisdom is the right use of knowledge”
~ Charles Spurgeon