Alpacas are members of the camelid family, which also includes llamas, camels, vicunas, and guanacos. Alpacas are native to Peru, Bolivia and Chile and were first imported to the United States in the mid-80s. Alpacas are now being successfully raised throughout Vermont & the United States as well other places.
There are two types of alpacas, Huacaya and Suri. Huacaya fleece is very fluffy, soft, dense and lustrous with crimp. Suri fiber is silky, long and has a string-like appearance.
Alpacas are herd animals and do not thrive well unless there is at least one other alpaca around. Males & females are kept separate. Approximately 5 alpacas per acre as a general rule. In my opinion more space is always better. Alpacas make a sweet humming noise but can also make a high pitched shrieking sound when they sense danger, sometimes you can hear them make a clicking noise, some even sound like they are purring. Males will make screaming sounds when fighting.
Being that alpacas are semi ruminants, they graze on pastures and chew their cud. In the winter months they eat hay, sometimes supplementing with small amounts of grain. We supply free choice minerals year round. Vermont offers a great climate for these magical creatures as the alpacas have lush, warm fleeces keep that keep out cold during Vermont's snowy winters.
Alpacas don't have hooves, they have a pad and two toenails which need to be trimmed every so often. Because they have pads this makes the alpaca very environmentally friendly. They don't cause damage to the pastures. An adult alpaca is about 36" tall at the withers and can weigh anywhere between 150 to 200 pounds. Females are first bred at 18 - 24 months of age they do not have a breeding season and if they are receptive, females can mate any time of the year. Gestation is approximately 11 1/2 months, however it isn't uncommon for the female to go a year.
Like most livestock alpacas are susceptible to parasites. In Vermont we give monthly injections of Ivermectin to prevent meningeal worm. In addition, it is recommended that a fecal test be done every so often. We do our own here at Shimmering Pond Farm. We check the poop piles every day and if anything looks a little off we'll keep watch to see which alpaca did what and do a fecal on the one that might be off.
We set aside one day each month for herd health day. At that time we will assess their weights by body scoring them. This is done by putting your hands on the alpaca over the backbone just above and behind the front legs. We then feel the backbone between fingers and thumb. We also feel along the spine down to the tail. This hands on approach gives us a chance to feel & look each one all over to check for any signs of illness or injuries. We also give any necessary injections, trim toe nails, and make sure everyone in the herd is healthy & happy.
Alpaca poo makes a great compost.....The beans can be scooped up immediately and used in your flower & shrub gardens. However before using it in your food garden, it is suggested that you compost it for a year. The beans can be dried and added to water to make what is called "alpaca tea" and used as a liquid soil enhancer on your indoor & outdoor plants....Fresh alpaca poo has a low odor, while aged alpaca poo is light, dry and virtually odor-free. Yay for alpaca poo!
Alpacas produce one of the world's most luxurious natural fibers which is shorn without causing any injury to the animal. When shearing the alpaca the fiber is sorted into 3 separate bags, the blanket (we noodle in Kraft paper), the neck and the leg & belly. We mark each with the alpaca's name and the weight and the area of the alpaca from which the fiber came. The fiber is then skirted, removing anything that we don't want in our finished products, such as guard hair, dung tags, vegetable matter, short cuts that that are made when the same area gets shorn twice. From there we might sort the fiber even farther into length. The fiber then needs to be washed, dried and then combed or carded. A lot will depend on the fleece and what the final product might be.
Long ago alpaca fiber was reserved for only Inca royalty. It is sometimes referred to as "nature's luxury fiber". Alpaca fiber is very versatile. Available in 22 natural colors, ranging from white to black, brown, beige, fawn, & grays, including a variety of shades in between. Alpaca also dyes beautifully, giving even more options of color. It blends extremely well with other fibers too. Fiber from alpacas contain microscopic air pockets giving it great thermal insulating properties. Alpaca fiber is warmer and lighter weight than sheep's wool & lanolin free making it hypoallergenic. It is naturally water resistant, is lightweight and has a silky feel, yet it has great strength resulting in a more durable product. The fiber from alpacas can be used in many different ways, it can be spun into yarn for knitting or weaving, woven into cloth for clothing & accessories, needle and/or wet felted. The fiber can be made into socks, sweaters, scarves, hats, blankets, rugs. Used in craft projects, even the yucky stuff can be used to make basket liners for plants and mulch in your gardens. In my opinion the uses are only limited by one's imagination. Products made from alpaca fiber is on the rise and demand is still growing.