About Alpacas Being Camelids
Alpacas are the smallest domesticated camelid and come in two types, the Huacaya and the Suri originating from Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They are bred naturally in South America for their fine fleece and meat. However, due to the wonderful nature, price and limited quantity of alpacas in the USA, we do not eat them but breed for the elite fleece and a healthy conformationallly correct alpaca.
Llamas are cousins of the alpacas usually kept as beasts of burden and come in fluffy and suri-like styles of fiber usually containing much guard hair requiring additional processing to remove it thereby reducing the amount of their fiber left for production.
Guanacos are the wild cousin of the llama and live predominately in Southern Chile. They produce a fine fleece.
Vicuñas are the wild cousins of the alpacas, are found in Northern Chile and Peru, and produce the finest fleece of all the camelids.
Bactrian camels are related to alpacas and llamas but have two humps on their back and come from the Gobi Desert. They can be ridden and produce a fine fleece.
Dromedary camels are the Arabian cousins of the Bactrian with only one hump on their back. They are used for milk production and riding. They do not produce an abundance of fleece.
There are two very distinct types of alpaca: the Huacaya and the Suri.
The Huacaya is by far the most common type of alpaca, forming the majority of the national herd. The Huacaya fleece is soft to handle but dense and woolly, growing to an average 3-3½ inches in length over a year.
The Suri has a lustrous, tasseled fleece that hangs down in dreadlocks from the body, creating an amazing curtain of tightly spiraled ringlets - similar to the old style kitchen mops! Although not rare in the world, the Suri is still relatively rare in the USA.
The fleece of both the Huacaya and the Suri comes in any one of the five main colors: black, brown, gray, fawn and white. Within these core colors, there are a multitude of individual shades of light, medium and dark; and patterns of roan, rose, multi, pinto, appaloosa or fancy.
The Huacaya fleece is more suited to the production of high-end woolen goods, such as sweaters, jumpers, overcoats, ponchos, throws, blankets, socks, etc.; while the Suri produces an excellent silky cloth, suitable for shawls, suits, and women’s tops, slacks, dresses, skirts, sweaters, etc. The Huacaya and the Suri are treated in the same way, as they are essentially the same animal.
Alpacas are lovable and endearing creatures with a calm, quiet nature. Inquisitive and intelligent, they adapt to almost any environment. They easily grow accustomed to other domesticated stock and get on well with children. Alpacas can be handled quite safely and are easily halter trained like their cousin, the llama. They may spit but this is only when provoked or threatened. As with all animals, they will defend their young when necessary.
There are many reasons why you might want to keep alpacas. Perhaps you are already in farming and want to diversify your business or you have a smallholding that you would like to use to bring in additional income. Maybe you simply want a fun new hobby and love being around these beguiling creatures. Or you are looking for an investment, a tax shelter or deduction? Currently, we may depreciate them for up to five years thereby reducing our income taxes significantly.
Hardy and relatively low maintenance, alpacas are an ideal alternative enterprise. They are generally bred to sell on as genetic or breeding stock, or for their fine fleece. Alpaca owners can get good prices for the fleece by selling direct to local spinners and weavers for handmade products, or to the Alpaca Fiber Co-operative of North American (AFCNA) to process a finished product to sell in your retail gift shop or if you do not have a gift shop, by catalog. Particularly sought after by the fashion industry, good quality alpaca fiber is extremely versatile and the return to farmers can be high.
The running costs of alpacas are minimal and they eat way less than most other farm animals, as they are extremely efficient grazers. They can be kept on small acreages with little impact on the ground, as they have a soft padded foot and cut the grasses while grazing (instead of pulling them out). Alpacas are tidy animals and generally foul on the same dung heap, which provides wonderful and practically odorless fertilizer for the vegetable garden and flower beds!
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