Hill Farm Alpacas
What is an alpaca?
fiber-producing members of the camelid family
raised exclusively for their soft and luxurious wool. Their fleeces are
normally sheared once a year. Each shearing produces approximately 5-10
pounds of fiber per alpaca, per year.
Alpacas are Camels!
There are two types of
“humped” camels. One is the single
humped dromedary of Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Southern
Asia. The other is the two-humped Bactrian of the Gobi Desert in China
and Tibet. Then there are two “horse-like”, double fleeced members of
the camel family. These are the wild guanaco and the domesticated
llama. The last two members of the “fiber bearing” camel family are the
wild vicuna and the domesticated alpaca.
Two Breeds of Alpacas
There are two breeds of
alpacas; the suri and the huacaya. The
main difference between the two is in the fleece they produce. The
huacaya fleece has waviness or “crimp”, which gives huacaya their
fluffy, teddy-bear-like appearance. Suri fleece has little or no crimp,
so that the individual fiber strands cling to themselves and hang down
from the body in beautiful pencil locks. The suri is very rare, with
the worldwide ratio of huacaya to suri at about 98% to 2%.
Alpaca's gestation period is
11 months and almost always have single births. New-born alpaca, called
cria, usually weigh around 15-19 pounds and are usually standing and
nursing within 30 minutes to an hour.
The Alpaca's Physical
Alpacas stand approximately 36” at the withers (the point where the
neck and spine meet). They are about 4.5 to 5 feet tall from their toes
to the tips of their ears.
Female alpacas generally weigh approximately 110-150 pounds. Male
alpacas generally weigh approximately 140-180 pounds. However, on
occasion, some male and female alpacas can weigh over 200 pounds.
Alpacas have a hard, protective upper toenail that must be trimmed
every few months. The bottom of their feet is a soft pad with a
leather-like consistency. Because of these soft pads and relatively low
body weights (as opposed to other forms of livestock), there is little
damage done to the ground in their pasture areas.
Alpaca fiber is stronger and more resilient than even the finest
sheep's wool. Unlike sheep's wool, however, alpaca contains no lanolin
and is ready to spin right off the animal. It comes in 22
distinguishable colors. Alpaca fiber is considered hypoallergenic and
will not irritate the skin. This is because the scales of fiber lie
down against the shaft of each hair follicle. Alpaca wool is
scientifically proven to be a better insulator than sheep's wool.
Alpacas only have bottom teeth for eating. On the top is a hard gum pad
against which they crush grain, grass, and hay in a back and forth
grinding motion. Their upper lip is split to make this back and forth
motion easier. Alpacas have a very short tongue that is attached to
their jaw. Because of this, they cannot grab hold of plants and grass
to pull them up by the roots as do goats, sheep, horses, etc. Alpacas
nibble plants down to about ¼ inch, which enables their pastures
to grow back quickly.
The primary food for
alpacas is grass or hay. Alfalfa is
discouraged because of its high protein and calcium content that can be
unhealthy for alpacas. Alpacas do not eat much. Depending on the season
and availability of grass, each alpaca will consume approximately one
bale of hay per month. In addition, most alpaca breeders supplement the
grass and hay feed with a grain mix containing additional vitamins and
minerals. Alpacas are ruminants with a single stomach divided into
three compartments, so they produce rumen and chew cud. The alpaca's
digestive system is very efficient.
Depending on the
presence of deer and other animals, most
veterinarians recommend deworming. Climate and local conditions will
determine the frequency and time period for deworming. Here in
England, we deworm between April and December and we use either
Ivermectin or Dectomax. Also, Alpacas receive annual vaccinations
infectious diseases. Shearing is done once a year and toenail trimming
is done as needed. Occasionally, teeth need to be trimmed. With males
as they mature, “fighting teeth” develop and need to be blunted or
Alpaca's make use of a
selected dung piles which facilitates
clean up. Their feces are one of the richest organic
fertilizers available and do not have to be composted before spreading
it in your garden.
How much space do alpacas need?
Depending on fencing,
layout, rainfall, and other factors, one
acre of grassland can support between 5 and 10 alpacas.
The courtship ritual of
the alpaca is very unique. Female
alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning that there are no heat cycles
and that they can breed at anytime of the year. The physical act of
breeding is what causes ovulation to occur. For this reason, most
alpaca breeders maintain separate male and female herds so that they
can determine who breeds to whom and when. To date, there have been no
artificial inseminations or viable embryo transplants in the alpaca
There are two basic
breeding methods – pen breeding and
pasture breeding. With pasture breeding, females are free to roam with
the males. With pen breeding, you can keep better track of when mating
occurs and more easily approximate the most-likely due date. In this
method, the female is introduced to the male every three days for two
weeks. This way there will be an egg present during breeding. If the
female goes down (cushes), she is not pregnant. When she is pregnant,
she will generally reject the male advances by “spitting him off” and
The gestation period is
11-12 months. Females usually have
single births and human intervention is rarely needed. The newborn
(called cria) weighs between 15-19 pounds, with delivery occurring
usually during the daylight hours. The newborn cria is usually standing
and nursing within 90 minutes of birth, and will continue to nurse
until weaned at 6 months of age. Twins occurs about every 10,000
births. The time between breeding and rebreeding can be as little as 3
In South America, it is
believed alpacas live 5-10 years.
However, without a major predator issue and with better nutrition and
day-to-day care, we believe that the North American alpaca can live
into the late teens or early 20's.
Alpacas have a very
complex language of gestures that they use
to communicate with each other. They use body posture, ear, tail, head
and neck signals, several vocalizations, scent and smell, locomotion
displays and herd response to communicate.
Males strike a pose broadside to signal aggression from far off. They
stand sideways, rigidly holding their tail high, neck arched, ears
pinned back and nose tilted skyward. It can signal to an intruding male
a mile off that it is approaching the gesturing male's territory. A
male in the company of females is likely to strike this pose.
When a dog or cat walks nearby, all alpacas will stand with their
bodies rigidly erect and rotate their ears forward in the direction
they are staring. The tail is usually slightly elevated. This posture
signals curiosity about a change occurring in the immediate
environment. This posture will come before an “alarm call” or rapid
flight, if the herd interprets the change as danger. It also will cause
the entire herd to bunch together and move forward in unison to
investigate or chase off the intruding animal.
Two animals will stand rigidly within a few feet or even inches of each
other, ears pressed back, neck held high, head tilted upward and tail
elevated. The standoff is a middle grade show of aggression, often
between alpacas of similar rank. It happens when neither alpaca
immediately yields to another's show of dominance. If one of the
animals does not eventually walk away or turn its head, spitting,
pushing and aggressive noise may erupt. Females often resort to this
behavior near food or in defense of a cria.
While slouching slightly, the animal lowers its head, curves its neck
toward the ground and flips its tail onto its back. This is a posture
seen in adolescent and young adult animals and signals to a dominant
animal that its higher status is recognized and that no challenge will
alpacas do spit to
signal their extreme displeasure, fear
or dominance. Male alpacas horse around, stand each other off and spit.
Both males and females spit in dominance wars over food. Moms will spit
at other mom's babies who try to suckle or mount her or get too close
her newborn. There are variations of spit: air, grass,
regurgitated stomach contents that are currently being re-chewed, and
at times worse than that.
Alpacas use complex sets
of sounds to communicate with each
Humming is the predominant sound you will hear when you come to an
alpaca ranch. Alpacas hum for many reasons. From birth until at least
six months, mother's and their crias hum to each other constantly. As a
sign of distress at separation from each other, alpacas will hum
mournfully. Weaning is a particularly stressful time for both mom and
babe and humming is constant and heart wrenching. Alpacas hum when they
are curious, content, worried, bored, fearful, distressed or cautious.
Some alpaca's humming resembles whining more than humming.
Alpacas give a very subtle snort to another alpaca if he or she is
coming too close, or being too familiar.
Alpacas signal their food trough territory to each other by grumbling
at equal ranking animals. Feeding time often sounds like a bunch of
complaining kids bickering at each other.
Mothers generally cluck around their crias, particularly when starting
to nurse. To politely warn you, sometimes, alpacas cluck when you are
getting too close.
Some alpacas can be very high-strung and extremely fearful. When you
handle them, or their babies, they will put their face next to your ear
and let loose a deafening scream. If they are so frightened as to
scream, a spit is probably not too far away!
When fighting over food, some alpacas get frustrated and let out
screeches and accompanying spits at each other. Males will screech and
scream when their wrestling gets too serious and someone gets mad.
When something unusual or resembling a predator appears in the
vicinity, one alpaca will sound a high-pitched, rhythmic braying sound,
which causes the herd to bunch up for protection.
Male alpacas have a unique throaty vocalization they make when mating.
Each male has his own style and intensity of orgling that may involve
throats, lips and breathing apparatuses.
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Linda & Bill Ley
637 Brownsville Hartland Road | Brownsville, Vermont 05037
Phone / Fax (802) 484-3200