What is an Alpaca?
The Alpaca – along with Camels and Llamas - is a member of the Camelid family.
They are intelligent, highly social animals, easy to care for and handle, appealing to look at, and just fun to have around. They communicate mainly through body posturing and a gentle humming sound. They are very gentle, very clean, and make wonderful pets. They don’t bite or butt.
A herd animal, native to the Andes Mountains of South America, it is about a third the size of a Llama. The wild version of the Alpaca is the Vicuna. Its cousin, the Llama, is from the same area and the wild version is called a Guanaco.
The Alpaca gestation period is 11½ months and after birthing, can rebreed within 2 weeks. The baby is called a cria and weighs between 12 and 22 pounds at birth. The cria is typically standing within 30 minutes and nursing within 40 minutes. Alpacas are long-lived (about 20 years) and continue to bear young until about 18 years.
With soft, padded feed and a split upper lip, Alpacas have low impact on their environment. Stocking rates are about 5 to an acre if grazing only and many more if their feed is supplemented. They have a very low level of internal parasites and, since they are stimulated ovulators, they can be mated at any time of the year.
The Alpaca industry is considered to be the oldest livestock industry in the Americas, having been domesticated by the Andeans about 5,000 years ago. The Andeans bred the Alpaca for the best fiber, typically 15 microns in width. Today, cashmere is considered the finest fiber at 16 microns. Over the centuries, the quality of the Andean Alpaca degraded to where the fiber is now between 18 and 22 microns in width. Alpaca breeders in the U.S. are attempting to breed the animal back to a fiber of 15 microns or less.
Alpaca fiber has a hollow core, which provides superb insulation qualities. The combination of narrow fiber and insulation quality make the wool extremely valuable and prized. In the days of the Inca, the wool was used in making fabric for royalty. Today, the U.S. military uses the wool in cold weather parkas and an emerging Alpaca clothing market is strongly taking roots. Alpaca garments are considered prized possessions and command a hefty price.
Currently, the majority of Alpaca wool products come from Peru. The U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand began building up herds in 1984 by importing animals from Bolivia and Chile. In 1993, animals were also imported from Peru. In 1998, the Alpaca registry (ARI) voted to stop registering new imports. This made future imports of animals less valuable and effectively stopped imports.
These animals are now extremely valuable, with a quality pregnant female costing between $18,000 and $30,000. Unproven (never bred) maiden females cost between $10,000 and $15,000. High quality herd sires sell from $30,000 to $700,000. Lower quality animals are generally used as pets or companions and sell from $500 to $5,000. Prices of Alpacas have remained consistent for over 20 years and are anticipated to rise.
As of 2005, there are approximately 50-75,000 animals within the U.S., only half of which are female and able to increase the herd size. To establish a viable wool garment industry in the U.S., the U.S. herds would have to be built up to over 1 million animals. The U.S. is the only county conducting selective breeding to produce quality fiber; therefore, U.S. wool is in high demand worldwide.
Alpacas reproduce almost every year and about one-half of their cria are females. If the female offspring are retained in the herd, they start reproducing within two years, thereby compounding the initial investment. Alpaca compounding is a method of tax-deferred wealth building in that tax income tax is not paid until/if the offspring are sold.
Rick & Diana Ellis - 155 Elk Ridge
- Canyon Lake Texas 78133 - 830-964-5158 -