What is an alpaca?

“Alpacas.”

She spoke the word to me like Mr. Mcguire spoke the word “plastics” to Ben in “The Graduate”. My girlfriend knew that we had a small farm and were considering what to do with it.

“Alpacas?” I queried.

Yes, Alpacas,” she said.

“What’s an alpaca?”

That day, a seed was planted that developed and grew into Andersons Alpacas of Virginia. Bob and I received the whisper of “Alpacas” and it reverberated in our ears and in our hearts as we answered several questions over the next few years: What’s an alpaca? Would we, could we raise alpacas? And finally, should we raise alpacas? The answer to the last question is an obvious affirmative. Allow me to take some time, now, to share with you the answer to the first question: What is an alpaca?

An alpaca is a mammal, a member of the camelid family. It is closely related to the camel and llama as well as the wild vicuna and guanaco. Native to the Andes plateaus of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru, alpacas were developed over 7000 years ago. They played an important role in the ancient Incan culture where they were treasured for their soft fleece that was worn only by Incan royalty. Large herds of alpacas high in the mountain villages of the Andes were seen as a sign of great wealth and good fortune.

Alpacas live about 20 years, stand about 3 feet tall at the withers, and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. The feet of Alpacas are soft with two toes from which nails grow out and down. Such feet and low food demand make these animals environment-friendly, which means that Alpacas don’t spoil even the most delicate of terrain.

Much like cows or sheep, alpacas graze on grasses and chew a cud. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre. Alpaca reproduction is fairly trouble-free and gestation is between 11 and 12 months usually resulting in single births.

Alpacas are raised for their luxurious fleece. Alpaca fiber is soft yet durable and comes in a variety of colors; the worldwide market recognizes 22 natural colors of alpaca, from pure white through fawn, to a range of browns, and a true jet black.

Alpacas are classified into huacaya and suri according to the fiber type. The huacaya has a dense, crimped, wooly fiber, which is water-resistant and abundant. About 90% of all Alpacas in the North America are huacayas. The suri’s fiber is characterized by a very fine and lustrous fiber, which grows parallel to the body in long separate locks. Both Suri and Huacaya fiber are used throughout the world for the very warmest and finest quality garments. Alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin or any other oily body secretion. It can be worn by persons allergic to wool.

Alpacas were first imported into North America in 1984. There are approximately 100,000 registered alpacas in the entire United States, of which, the rare suri number only 10,000.

Lastly, alpacas are sweet, gentle animals that are easy to raise, even for folks with little or no agricultural background. They are friendly and good with children.

Researching the answer to this question has brought us in contact with so many wonderful people and animals. We have seen a number of farms, large and small. Each farm reflects the special interests of its owners. Some folks are weavers and fiber artists. Other folks show a more scientific bent enjoying various aspects of animal care. Some folks even cultivate premium manure. We have been to several shows where we enjoyed the thrill of blue and purple ribbons. Other shows yielded the rewards of an education and networking contacts. Always, we have enjoyed the support and camaraderie of the alpaca community.

So, what is the final answer to the question ‘what is an alpaca’? I can tell you – alpacas are a blessing and a joy and a fun family enterprise.

Won’t you consider coming out to the farm and meeting our alpacas?

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*

There was an error submitting your comment. Please try again.

CAPTCHA Image
*

A A V A   C a l e n d a r