Our Top Frequently Asked Question’s About Alpacas
With over 10 years' experience raising alpacas, we have been asked many questions about alpacas and the alpaca business. We thought it might be helpful to answer some of the most Frequently Asked Question here.
Do alpacas like to be hugged and petted?
For the most part, no. Hugging is not natural behavior to an alpaca and to them it is actually quite scary! See, when male alpacas fight they sometimes wrap their front legs around each other, so hugging to an alpaca must seem like a similar assault. However, alpacas are quite inquisitive and will come up to you when they feel ready and comfortable to do so. Usually the main interaction an alpaca will have with a human is to sniff and look at you as they would another alpaca. That being said, there are some alpacas that are more amenable to petting than others.
What are alpacas raised for?
Alpacas are raised for their soft, warm fleece. Alpaca fleece is very lightweight and strong -- similar to cashmere in many of its qualities -- and is naturally stain and odor resistant. These traits make alpaca fleece exceptionally versatile! You'll find it's used for a variety of products from warm sweaters and socks and luxurious suits and coats, to more practical items such as durable, colorful rugs. Alpaca fleece comes in many colors – white, fawn, brown, black and grey with many shades and variations of those colors.
Interestingly, many people who cannot wear wool can wear alpaca. This because alpaca is very soft, has a low prickle factor and does not contain lanolin.
Do you kill alpacas to eat them or harvest their fleece?
No, we do not! In North American alpacas are not killed to harvest their fleece or their meat. An alpaca can produce offspring for many years, as well as usable fleece for its whole life. The majority of alpaca breeders chose to raise alpacas because they do not have to be killed in order to harvest their fleece. The development of a meat or pelt alpaca business is something the majority of North American alpaca breeders strongly oppose. Windrush Alpacas will not knowingly sell alpacas to anyone who intends to kill them for meat, pelts or any other purpose.
What are the terms for male and female alpacas?
A high quality breeding male is referred to as a Herdsire; a male who is of breeding quality but not yet proven is typically referred to as a Junior Herdsire. A male alpaca that has been castrated/gelded is referred to as a Gelding. Most alpaca breeders refer to “the boys” when talking collectively about a group of male alpacas.
A female alpaca that has produced a cria is referred to as a Proven Dam. Female alpacas that have not yet had a cria are referred to as Maidens. The collective term for a group of female alpacas most commonly used by alpaca breeders is “the girls”. When the alpaca industry first started in the US, proven female alpacas were sometimes referred to as “hembra” but that term is not commonly used any more.
Do you sell alpacas?
Yes, we do. We typically have about 70 alpacas at the farm at any given time ranging from high-quality breeding stock to fiber/pet quality alpacas. Because we love and care for every alpaca we have raised, we do screen potential buyers to ensure our alpacas are going to a good home. We want to be certain that new owners will provide the same level of care as we have with adequate shelter, proper nutrition, sufficient interaction/socialization, and affection.
Do you sell the alpaca babies (cria)?
Alpaca babies are called Cria which is a Quechan (Peruvian dialect) term for a baby. We only sell alpacas once they are fully weaned from their dams (mothers). Typically we wean our alpacas at 8 months of age. Our weaning process includes initial day-weaning, full-weaning and then an adjustment period to allow the weanlings to settle into their adult herd. It is not the practice of the alpaca industry to bottle raise cria unless circumstances dictate it (i.e. the death of the dam, a dam with no milk). Alpacas that are bottle fed tend to have stress- related issues and can develop behavioral problems. If you are ever offered an alpaca cria to raise as a bottle baby, be extremely wary as this is not the practice of reputable alpaca breeders.
How many alpacas do I need to get started in the alpaca business?
The absolute minimum number of alpacas you should keep is two. Alpacas are very much a herd animal; they bond with others in their herd and do not do well when kept as a lone alpaca. If you are looking to start a herd of non-reproductive, fiber-quality alpacas or just want alpacas as pets, then two is the least you should have, however four or more is better.
If you are looking to establish a breeding herd of alpacas then we recommend starting with two female alpacas and building your herd from there. If purchasing two alpacas at the same time is not within your budget, you can purchase one alpaca and agist (board) her at the farm from where you are buying her -- or at an alpaca farm closer to you -- until you are able to purchase another alpaca.
If I am looking to breed alpacas, should I buy a male in my initial purchase?
When building your breeding herd, we recommend you start by purchasing only female alpacas and then purchase breedings to high-quality herdsires. That way you can diversify the genetics within your herd and avoid getting locked in to the genetics of just one male. This also allows you extra time to learn what you are really looking for in a herdsire. We have seen many inexperienced breeders purchase male alpacas that they soon discover are not of the quality needed to be competitive in the breeding market or which do not fit into the breeding plan for their herd.
What sort of fencing do I need?
Fencing for alpacas is more to keep predators out than to keep alpacas in. Your fencing needs to be secure and of a type that predators, such as dogs or coyote, cannot breach. We recommend your fencing be at least 5 feet high. If you live in an area where bears or mountain lions are present you will need taller fences and it is probably best to have a barn where you can secure your alpacas at night. There are not many fences that will keep mountain lions or bears at bay.
Suitable types of fencing for alpacas are chain link, no-climb or square panel fencing where the panels are no more than 4” square. (Alpacas can get their heads stuck in panels larger than the 4” square). Make sure that your fencing goes all the way to the ground without gaps that dogs can squeeze under (you will be amazed at how small a gap it takes for a big dog to squeeze under a fence). In order to prevent predators from digging under the fence, some breeders like to attach the bottom of their fencing to chicken wire that lies perpendicular to the fence and is buried under the ground. Others prefer some form of solid base to their fencing or a hotwire a few inches up from the ground. If you decide to use a hotwire make sure you have good signage to warn visitors of its presence!
Barbed wire fence is not suitable for alpacas; it does not offer enough protection from predators and can injure the alpaca's eyes and tear their fleeces. Smooth wire fencing is also not suitable as it does not offer adequate protection from predators.
What type of barn or shelter do I need for alpacas?
That depends on the weather conditions where you live. Where we are in the desert southwest we can use three-sided shelters that provide protection from the wind or cold and shade from the sun. Some of our shelters we built ourselves and we have also used enclosed portable car ports. A couple of our shelters are old wooden box cars that were on our property when we purchased it – they actually make great shelters! In the summer we have high but dry heat and run fans in our shelters to keep our alpacas cool. We also hose down the dirt in the shelters during the day to provide a cool place for the alpacas to lie. In winter during very cold weather we fill our shelters with deep straw for the alpacas to bed down in.
If you live in an area where you receive more heavy snow, rain, heat or humidity then you will need to have a much more elaborate barn or shelter for your alpacas. We recommend talking to alpaca breeders in your area to see what their shelters and barns are like and what measures they have to take to keep their alpacas healthy and comfortable in the weather conditions in your area.
What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are a grazing pseudo-ruminant (meaning they only have three stomachs unlike a true ruminant which has four). The main part of an alpaca’s diet is grass. Ideally alpacas should be allowed to graze on a well maintained grass pasture. Alpacas are extremely efficient at converting feed; therefore they require a lower protein diet than other livestock. (Protein levels can range between 10 – 16% depending on the needs of the alpacas such as pregnancy, growth, maintenance).
Even with grass pastures, alpacas will need hay. Good quality grass hay with a protein level between 10 and 16% such as Orchard grass is ideal. In our area orchard grass is not easily sourced, so we typically feed wheat hay. We have also fed brome hay and tiffany teff hay in the past. All of the hay that we feed is analyzed for its nutritional content before we purchase it. We also request a small sample to feed to the alpacas prior to purchasing it to ensure it is palatable to the alpacas (nothing is worse than buying a truckload of hay only to find your alpacas won’t eat it no matter how good its nutritional content!)
Alpacas also have fairly specific mineral requirements. In addition to grass pasture and hay, most alpacas need to be fed a pelleted supplement as well as have access to minerals, each formulated especially for alpacas. Each area of the US has different mineral content in the soil so it is essential to consult an alpaca breeder in your area to see which supplements and minerals work best for them. Nutrition is important to alpacas as it is reflected in the fleece that they produce. If they are lacking in certain minerals, they could produce dull, brittle, dry fleeces as well as experiencing health and reproductive issues. The saying “You are what you eat” is very applicable to alpacas.
Do alpacas need a lot of veterinary care?
Healthy alpacas are usually pretty hardy and experience few health issues. Good herd management and nutrition will go a long way to keeping your vet bills to a minimum. However, like any other livestock, alpacas can have health issues which will require veterinary care. We recommend that you research veterinarians in your area who are comfortable working on alpacas prior to purchasing your alpacas. Alpacas do have some quirks that are different from other livestock and you need to work with a veterinarian who is either experienced with alpacas or is eager to learn. Your relationship with your veterinarian will be very important so make sure that the veterinarian you choose is someone you are comfortable working with.
Updated July 17, 2012