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Basic Information about Alpacas

Welcome to Kendall Creek farms and our world of Alpacas.

We would like to share some information with you about alpacas. Our alpacas are not only a treasured part of our family’s life, but are also a lucrative livestock investment. There is no way that we can address all of your questions here, so please give us a call to arrange for a visit and answer the rest. Being ‘hands on’ at the farm is the best way to learn about alpacas.

Al whatas?

Alpacas. The mother is called a dam, the father is called a sire, and the baby is called a cria. Cria is from the word creation in Latin America.

Alpacas are camelids, and therefore distantly related to camels. A little closer on the list of relatives are llamas, vicunas, and guanacos. They are native to Peru, Chile, and Bolivia in South America and particularly to the Andean Mountain Ranges of these countries. In South America, alpacas have been utilized for their luxurious fiber for centuries. But even so, the total South American alpaca population is less than 4 million animals. This means the fiber supply is limited and considered a specialty.

The first alpacas were imported to North America about 18 years ago. The first imports were virtually all from Chile, but over the next 12 years, Peruvian and Bolivian alpaca were also imported. In 1998, the registration of imported alpacas was closed by ARI, the sole recognized alpaca registry in this country. Through blood DNA testing, each registered alpaca is identified and this information is used to assure identification, proper animal husbandry, and to maintain the integrity of the North American alpaca population.

The current alpaca population in the United States is less than 80,000. This includes animals from all origins and of both the Huacaya and Suri genotypes. The Huacaya (wha-ki-ya) alpaca is noted for its’ fluffy teddy bear look, while the Suri (sir-ee) is distinguished by its’ long ‘dreadlock’ fiber. Although there are about twice as many Huacaya alpaca in North America as there are Suri, they have roughly the same value and are equally sought after.

Where do you keep Alpacas?

Generally, if your land will keep any kind of livestock, it will keep alpacas too. We have seen alpacas kept virtually in the front yard of homes as long as zoning did not preclude it. Preferably, they need a nice grass field that stays well drained. Because they are soft-footed and not hoofed like most livestock, they are very easy on the land.

The fencing required is not so much to keep the alpaca in, but to keep out the neighborhood dogs or coyotes, which are their main predators. Alpacas will not challenge a fence. A four-foot ‘no climb’ or 8-strand high tensile arrangement is adequate for females. We feel there a two exceptions, one is when you have active herdsire across the fence from open females. Hormones take over and a taller fence may be necessary. The other is the perimeter fence where protection from intruders is necessary. Use at least a five foot fence on the parameter.

You can keep about 10 alpaca to an acre of decent pasture. However, we have seen alpaca raised solely on hay and feed. Alpaca do like to run and play, so we feel that the more you can stick to the 10 or less/acre, the better. We provide boarding facilities for those who don’t have their own place or who are in the process of improving their facilities.

Alpacas like to be out of doors for the most part. A barn is not required but is a convenience for the humans that need a place to store hay, give medications, and talk to visitors. All the animals need is a three-sided enclosure for some protection from the wind or a driving rain. Even if you do have a beautiful new barn, you may still desire a separate shelter for the alpacas.

How much time to devote?

Alpacas are small (100 to 180 pounds) livestock that usually require very little care. There is nothing extraordinary that must be done for them. Daily, they need fresh water and hay. Also, if they were in an enclosed barn their dung piles would need daily attention depending upon the space provided. Monthly, they require a de-worming treatment. Two or three times a year they need their toenails trimmed. Annually they need vaccinations and shearing.

Alpacas are very hearty and are not susceptible to very many diseases. Once you get to know your animals, it is very easy to tell if they have a problem and need attention. We perform almost all of the required veterinary procedures on the animals ourselves. A few times per year we have to treat an animal for one thing or another, but we have owned many types of livestock, and alpacas are the easiest to care for. Statistically, about 5% of alpaca births require vet assistance. Our experience mirrors that.

The fact that they are so wonderful to be around also creates a lot of barn time. Our experience is that a herd of 10 requires about 30 minutes a day to care for and observe for potential problems. The reality is that we spend significantly more time than that at the barn and in the fields by choice. These animals provide a great excuse to be on the farm, fix up the farm, walk around the farm, etc. They truly assist you in creating the lifestyle so frequently advertised.

What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas are grazing animals and can eat most native grasses in the U.S. Remember, they originate from high in the Andes where the grass is in short supply. The fact that they are ruminants (have three stomachs) means they are very efficient at converting low quality grazing into plenty of nutrients. A horse or cattle pasture is plenty for an alpaca. In fact, a cow eats ten times as much as an alpaca. Alpaca also do not tear the grass from the ground, but rather pinch off the new growth between the top pallet and the bottom teeth.

Good grass hay that is not mature is also needed for alpacas. We provide free choice hay to the animals at all times even though we have great pastures. They like and need the variety and in the winter grazing is very limited in our region. We only provide alfalfa hay to the lactating dams, as too much protein can cause some problems. We also feed each of our alpacas about a cup a day of specially formulated pellet feed that contains supplements they need that are not typically found in our area. This can be purchased at most local feed stores.

Due to the camelid ancestry, the animals do not require very much water. They may drain the bucket one day but leave it full for several days after that. But, clean fresh water should always be provided.

Everything that eats, poops

So true, but at least they do it neatly. Alpaca tend to place their dung very carefully in just a few piles in the pasture. If the pile is not cleaned periodically they will start a new one. It is important to keep the piles in control for several reasons. Generally it is a place for other critters you don’t want to raise, and they can cause health problems. Also, alpacas will not eat the grass in the area around the dung pile and if too many dung piles are created, you will run low on pasture.

Alpaca dung is not perfume, but is far less odoriferous that most other livestock. I remember when we brought our first animals home and a few weeks later we heard from the neighbors. Several came over, and after the usual pleasantries, they admitted to their initial fears that strange noises and smells would overcome the neighborhood. They all commented that those fears were unfounded and started asking about the manure for their gardens. It is tremendous fertilizer and weed seed free after having gone through three stomachs.

What kind of ‘personality’ do alpacas have?

Probably the most frequent comment from a new acquaintance to alpacas is, aren’t those the ones that spit?” Well yes, and no. They will spit if provoked but that usually happens between alpacas. Spitting is mostly used to display dominance in the pecking order within the herd. This happens at mealtime and when one of the cria gets a little too bold with an older member of the group. Humans are rarely the intended targets of spitting.

The other occasion for spitting is when a male with intensions approaches a bred female. In this case the spitting is used to let him know that he is too late and the advances are unnecessary and unwelcome.

Alpacas are in no way dangerous. They cannot bite because they do not have front top teeth. They can kick, but because of their soft pads, the impact usually goes unnoticed. The most aggressive maneuver of the alpaca is rearing on the hind legs and striking with the front feet or chest butting. We have personally only seen these behaviors from animals protecting the herd from a stray dog. We take our alpacas to fairs, libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, and churches all without incident.

Alpaca are very smart. They learn their name quickly, but usually respond with the cat attitude versus the dog response. They are very easily halter trained and enjoy new surroundings when at halter. For this reason, they travel very well and show well in the ring when they get there. We have taken alpacas for rides in the family van and SUV without incident. Their main form of communication is a humming sound that changes tone with the point trying to be made. After a short time, you can learn most of their language.

Husbandry

When breeding an alpaca of ‘lesser quality’ with one of ‘higher quality’, an alpaca somewhere in between is almost always produced. This is particularly true regarding fiber quality, and to a lesser extent concerning the more physical attributes such as bone structure and bite.

Because of the prominence of field breeding for mass production in South America, many of the original imported alpacas were of marginal quality by today’s U. S. standards. Luckily, most importers realized that the future of the U.S. alpaca industry was held in the ‘quality’ of the animal. Over the next dozen years, the importers hand selected many of the finest quality alpacas that Chile, Peru, and Bolivia had to offer. The American alpaca was born.

At Kendall Creek Farms, we are not hung up on Peruvian, Chilean, or Bolivian heritage. We want to breed alpacas for the best improvement in characteristics we can achieve given a particular alpaca’s existing characteristics. We have years of experience choosing alpacas and the breeding program for each one in order to maximize the quality of a particular animal. Of course we cannot predict the outcome of breeding. But our experience has lead us to an understanding of good husbandry practices and a show ribbon attached to virtually all of our alpacas.

As we said in the beginning one thing is sure, we cannot possibly answer all the questions you may have about alpacas within this communication. We have a lot more to share with you and would be glad to do so. If we cannot answer your questions immediately, we will get the answer and get back to you, or put you in touch with those that can. We are in direct contact with the foremost camelid veterinarians in the U.S., and have been studying these animals for over ten years. Answers are available.