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The rare and exotic alpaca is a creature of antiquity that is rapidly gaining popularity around the world. Highly prized for their luxurious coats, the alpaca has been considered a treasure of the Andes Mountains for over 6,000 years.

South America

Alpacas are New World camelids and look like small llamas or long-necked camels with no humps, especially when recently sheared. They have shaggy necks and camel-like faces with thick lips, pronounced noses, and long ears. Their large, expressive eyes seem to exhibit both wisdom and childlike curiousity. Easily domesticated, alpacas are friendly, gentle and curious.

Alpacas were exported from Peru in the mid-1980s and have become a premier livestock in North America and abroad. In the United States, the national Alpaca Registry (ARI) was formed to ensure breed purity and high standards. Importation from South America is now closed.

Each alpaca born in the US is blood-typed before registering. This practice helps keep our North American standards high, our animals healthy, and our breeding practices more focused on growing the best alpaca fiber in the world.

huacaya fleece ~ note the crimp

Fleece

The hair of the alpaca is called 'fleece' or 'fiber' rather than 'fur' or 'wool.' Alpaca fleece has 22 natural shades ranging from black to silver and rose gray and white, from mahogany brown to light fawn and champagne. Alpacas can be bred for specific color.

There are two types of alpacas, classified according to their fiber type:

  • Huacaya ('wah-KI-yah') — dense, crimped, wooly, water-resistant fleece. About 90% of all alpacas in the North America are "teddy-bear" huacayas.
  • Suri ('SUR-ree') — very fine and lustrous fiber which grows parallel to the body in long, separate locks. Only 10% of the alpaca population in the US are suris.
Huacaya and Suri alpacas
Galileo, huacaya alpaca suri alpaca

Unlike the llama, the fiber of the alpaca can be used for clothing. Alpaca fiber is softer than cashmere or angora, and warmer and lighter weight than wool, without the prickle-factor that some wool has. Since alpaca fleece has no lanolin, it is easier to process and is hypoallerginic.

Color Key
W = White
  LB = Light Brown   LSG = Light Silver Grey
B = Beige   MB = Medium Brown   LRG = Light Rose Grey
LF = Light Fawn   DB = Dark Brown   MSG = Medium Silver Grey
MF = Medium Fawn   BB = Bay Black   MRG = Medium Rose Grey
DF = Dark Fawn   TB = True Black   DSG = Dark Silver Grey
        DRG = Dark Rose Grey

Alpacas are sheared annually, usually in the spring. The fiber may be sold and processed into rovings, spun into yarn, knitted or woven into fine fabrics. Each step adds more value to the product.

Personality

Gabriel offers a carrotLike all animals, alpacas exhibit individual personality. They are herd animals, preferring the companionship of their friends and their established community, and will become stressed if separated from their buddies.

Observe who is always first at the food bins, and who is last. Notice when a female is extra-friendly — she may have lost her pregnancy and is wanting to be re-bred. Some cria exhibit independence at an early age, others may be momma's kids, just like two-leggeds.

Gentle and curious, alpacas respond well to children, and many ranches are a family affair. A confident youngster can handle an animal in the showring or on an obstacle course. Regional events sometimes offer a costume contest. Alpacas are well-suited for 4-H projects to learn animal husbandry. During winter holidays you may even see a couple of them stand in for their camel cousins in a Nativity scene.

History

The oldest known records of these charming creatures was 1,000 years before the great pyramids of Giza. The Inca nobles demonstrated their wealth by the number of alpacas they owned and by showing off their beautiful garments woven from soft alpaca fleece. A thriving Peruvian economy emerged and continued for thousands of years with these magical animals creating wealth and prosperity for their Inca owners.

When the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire in the 17th century, the Indians sought refuge the heights of the Andes and took with them a limited number of these precious animals. Consequently, alpacas escaped extinction, and they are now plentiful in wild herds at about 3.5 million strong. Indians of the Andes continue to shepherd them.

In Peru in the 1940's, Don Julio Barreda purposefully began to breed alpacas toward better fiber and specific color. He utilized better nutrition by fencing his herd and rotating pastures. By paying careful attention to genetics, he created distinct herds of both huacaya and suri alpacas, and culled out llama genes. Today he is recognized industry-wide as the world's finest alpaca breeder. "Accoyo" alpacas are from the bloodline of his Peruvian herd.

In spite of their rich history, alpacas were not well-known worldwide until recently. The first imports into the United States were in 1983, and now they have been imported into every major country. For more information, see the World & North American Census.

FAQs

Q: Is alpaca fiber really useful?
A:
Alpaca fleece is a premium fiber and in high demand in the fashion industry. It is light-weight, warm, durable, soft and not itchy. Handspinners appreciate its quality, and handcrafters find it easy to work with. The natural hues are highly desirable, yet light colors readily accept dye. Many ranches have small stores selling yarn from their own animals or clothing and accessory products crafted from the fleece.

Q: What's the difference between alpacas and llamas?
A: Size and fiber quality. Llamas were primarily bred to be beasts of burden, and alpacas were bred primarily as fiber producers. An average alpaca stands 34"-36" at the withers (shoulders), whereas a llama stands 42"-48" at the withers. Alpacas weigh 125-175 pounds on average. An adult alpaca will generally produce 5-8 pounds of high-quality fiber each year. >> links to more info>>

Q: How long do alpacas live?
A:
Alpacas have a life expectancy of 20-25 years.

Q: When do they reach breeding maturity?
A:
Females reach breeding capability by 16-24 months. Males usually don't reach sexual potency until 24 months or more, with the rare one becoming potent as early as 12 months.

Q: What is the gestation period?
A:
The gestation period is 11-1/2 months (~350 days).

Q: When do females stop breeding?
A:
Females will breed throughout their life.

Q: How much do the babies weigh when born?
A:
Alpaca crias average 18 lbs. Delivery usually occurs during the daytime and rarely requires the assistance of humans. Twins are extremely rare. Cria are weaned at about 6 months of age.

Q: What do alpacas eat?
A:
The alpaca is an herbivore, grazing on grass and munching weeds, shrubs and trees. They process their food through 3 stomachs where special secretions enable the animal to absorb 50% more nutrients than sheep. Low-protien feed is recommended, with additional mineral supplements for females since they are generally pregnant and/or nursing.

Q: Do alpacas spit?
A:
Not very often and only at each other, to signal displeasure at a herd member. A pregnant female 'spits off' an inquisitive male to let him know she is disinterested in his advances.

Q: What predators threaten alpacas?
A:
The alpaca is prey to mountain lions, coyotes, bears, and other carnivores. In its native Andes, the alpaca's long neck helps spot predators among the rocks of the mountain slopes. On US ranchs, llamas, donkeys, and guard dogs such as Anatolian shepherd dogs are often used as herd guardians.

Q: What sounds do alpacas make?
A:
Humming is the most common sound an alpaca makes, a sort of musical purring. The mom calls to her cria by humming, or they hum to communicate with each other within the herd.
   When alarmed, a staccato tooting is made by one animal, then joined in by the rest of the herd as they focus attention in the direction of potential danger.
   During breeding, which lasts from 20 to 30 minutes, a male trumpets or 'orgles' a lovesong to his mate.

Q: Is their manure good fertilizer?
A:
Their manure is excellent fertilizer and may be applied directly to the garden without danger of 'burn.' Because alpacas are not nomadic, they mark their territory with their dung piles and usually wait to get to the designated area to defecate or urinate.

Q: Are alpacas environmentally friendly?
A:
The alpaca's two-toed feet are soft pads protected on the top and sides by toe nails. Unlike hard hooves, they leave the terrain undamaged. And as they graze, they only nibble the top of the pasture grass rather than uprooting it. By rotating between two or three pastures, there is always a fresh supply of orchard grass.

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Aragon Alpacas

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Alpaca Sales & Breeding
Alpaca Sales & Breeding
33005 Dillard Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405