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A random collection of interesting facts about alpacas. If you have a question, why not ask us? We will do our best to answer it for you. There is so much to learn about these fascinating animals. We find out something new nearly every day.
Alpacas originate from South America.
There are approximately 300,000 alpacas in Australia.
Although they are “woolly”, like sheep, alpacas are actually members of the camel family.
Alpacas are closely related to Llamas, but are much smaller and have finer, thicker fleece.
There are two main alpaca breeds: Huacaya and Suri. Huacayas are much more common and have fleece similar to sheep, whereas the fleece of suris hangs in dreadlocks.
Alpacas will sometimes spit as a warning or expression of displeasure. They rarely spit at humans, but don’t get in the way when they spit at each other!
When alpacas are nervous they make a humming sound. When angry or upset they will sometimes screech.
The average lifespan of an alpaca is from 15 to 20 years.
Alpacas have a very strong herd instinct. They are likely to fret if kept on their own.
Alpacas have very clean habits. Depending on the size of the field they are kept in, they will establish one or more communal “toilets” (very handy if you want to collect dung to put on your garden!).
Alpacas love to wallow in dust or even mud. They will turn a bare patch of ground into a wallowing hole very quickly! On hot days they will also jump into a stream or water trough to cool off.
Alpacas make great guard animals and will protect more vulnerable animals such as sheep, goats and poultry from domestic dogs, foxes and even dingoes. The more alpacas there are in the herd, the greater their effectiveness will be.
Alpacas are proud, intelligent and alert animals. They have very individual personalities and can be strong-willed, but are easily trained. They make great companion animals and pets, but should not be kept singly.
Alpacas will bond with sheep or goats. They will tolerate horses, but are unlikely to become friendly.
Alpaca fleece is extremely soft and does not prickle like sheep’s wool.
Garments made from alpaca fleece are said to be four times warmer than those made from wool.
Alpacas come in many colours, with additional variations and blends. In Australia there are 12 distinct colour classifications, but in Peru this number extends to 52. At Cardiff Alpacas, all our animals are pure white huacayas.
Alpacas have long toenails that need to be trimmed regularly.
Alpaca teeth are quite different to human teeth and grow more like finger or toe nails. They have only one set of teeth, on the bottom. On the top jaw they have a hard dental pad, and eat by trapping grass between their teeth and the dental pad and nipping it off. Because the are constantly growing, the teeth, especially on older alpacas, may need to be trimmed (ground down) from time to time.
Unlike most other large animals, female alpacas are "induced ovulators" which means it is the act of mating that causes them to ovulate.
In Spanish the male alpacas are called Machos, females are called Hembras, yearlings are called Tuis and babies are called Crias. In the Australia we generally only use the term Cria to describe the babies.
The reproductive lifespan of a female alpaca is approximately 1.5 to 19 years; and 2 to 18 years for a male.
A pregnant female alpaca with spit at a male if he makes amorous advances.
The gestation period of an alpaca is 11 to 11.5 months. Alpacas generally have single births with twins occurring very rarely. Females in good health should produce one cria a year as the female is mated 12 to 14 days after giving birth.
Crias (babies) are generally born in daylight hours and usually between the hours of 7am to 2pm.
A baby alpaca is called a cria.
Crias are weaned between 5 and 6 months of age.
A mature alpaca weighs 60 to 90 kg (132 to 198 lbs) and is 85 to 95cm tall at withers (top of the front shoulder). Crias normally weigh 6 to 8kg (13 – 18 lbs) at birth.
Alpaca are shorn annually, usually in the spring. A yearling alpaca usually cuts about 1.5kg of fleece, adult females about 3.5kg and some adult males have been reported cutting 8.5kg per year.
Alpacas have an annual fleece growth rate of 80 to 150 mm
The average stocking rate for alpacas on good pasture is five per acre.
Unlike sheep’s wool alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin, making it naturally fire resistant, hypoallergenic and less susceptible to static. It is also stronger than wool, in fact it is only second to silk in strength. This means alpaca garments are less likely to stretch than their woollen counterparts.
Alpacas will often sit with all four legs beneath them in a position called ‘cushing’.
Alpaca fibre is warmer than sheep’s wool for a very interesting reason. Like polar bear fur, alpaca fibres have hollows in them which allow for warmth to be trapped. This also makes their fleece lighter.
Alpaca fibre was once reserved for the use of Inca royalty only.
When alpacas get overexcited, such as at treat time, they will occasionally ‘pronk’. This is a run which is characterised by bounding with all four feet in the air (like a springbok). It is HIGHLY amusing to watch.
Alpaca clothes wear well, some garments made of alpaca fibre were found in 2500 year old Peruvian ruins, in surprisingly good condition!
Alpacas and llamas are closely related and can inter-breed, although the offspring are usually sterile. Both are descended from vicunas and guanacos. Alpacas are smaller and more compact than llamas; other distinguishing features are the ears (straight and pointy in alpacas, banana-shaped in llamas) and the tail (straight off the backbone in llamas, slightly lower in alpacas). Llamas normally carry their tails high, while alpacas normally carry theirs low.