Alpacas are a member of the camelid family which also includes llamas and camels. Of the two types of alpacas breed in Australia; Huacaya and Suri, at Blackwattle we breed Huacaya.
Countries of Origin – Peru, Bolivia, and Chile; first imported into Australia in 1858.
Size – A mature alpaca weighs 60 to 100kg and is 85 to 95cm tall at withers (top of the front shoulder). Crias normally weigh 6 to 8kg kg at birth.
Lifespan – 15 to 20 years, with some living to 25 years of age.
Reproductive lifespan of females – Approximately 2 to 17 years.
Reproductive lifespan of males – Approximately 3 to 16 years.
Gestation – 11 to 12 months. Healthy females can produce cria approximately once each year. Single births are the norm with twins reported once in 50,000 births.
Colours – There are more than 22 natural shades of alpaca fleece ranging from white to black.
Fleece annual growth rate – 80 to 150 mm.
Weight of fleece – A junior (first fleece) is often about 1.5 to 2 kg. Some mature individuals can yield up to 5kg.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When do you mate alpaca?
Female alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning that they do not have a specific mating season. They have a 12-14 day cycle and therefore pregnancies can result at any time of the year. In Australia the majority of matings takes place in Spring and Autumn.
Can I have just one alpaca?
Alpacas are herd animals and are instinctively gregarious. They feel secure and content when with other alpacas.
Can I run alpacas with other livestock?
Yes alpacas can bond well with other types of animals and are often used as herd guards for sheep, goats and chickens.
Do alpacas spit?
Yes spitting is one of the few defence mechanisms an alpaca has and as you can imagine it is a very effective deterrent. They spit regurgitated or recently chewed grass and it brushes off when dry. The odour is distinctive and does not smell pleasant so best to avoid being the target. Alpacas spit at each other as a pecking order mechanism and it is rare that they spit directly at people.
Do alpacas kick or bite?
Alpacas are usually sensitive around the hind legs and will instinctively kick backwards if they sense a threat from the rear. The alpaca foot is a soft pad and hence injuries from kicking are minimal. Most alpacas can be desensitized to being touched around the hind legs if they receive good handling as youngsters.
What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are principally grazers but sometimes they enjoy casual browsing. They are fastidious food selectors that are highly adapted to eat small amounts of a variety of plants. Although they can survive very harsh conditions, alpacas do best on good quality pasture and benefit from having access to plant material with long fibres such as clover or lucerne hay.
There are a number of commercial alpaca mixes available but these are best thought of as supplying vitamins and minerals rather than the bulk feed which is obtained through grazing. One important rule to remember is to introduce any changes to the diet gradually, over a period of a couple of weeks. This way, the microbes in the gut have time to adjust to any feed changes.
Some gardens contain a number of plants that are toxic to most livestock (oleander, rhododendron, laburnum etc). Care should be taken when fencing off gardens that such plants do not overhang into alpaca areas. Likewise, there is a long history of calamities with other livestock that have inadvertently been fed prunings from such plants. Local nurseries can provide good advice on poisonous plants.
Alpacas can consume up to 5 litres of water per day, and access to good quality, fresh drinking water should always be readily available.
How often do you need to shear an alpaca?
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in spring. Shearing is the biggest maintenance required and usually takes around ten minutes per animal for an experienced alpaca shearer. If you are purchasing your first alpacas, we are able to provide you with the name of a recommended shearer/s for your area. Most AAA regions hold regular workshops and demonstrations on shearing alpacas. A very small percentage of alpacas are shorn standing up, but the preferred method of shearing is to lie the animals on their side and restrain all four legs with a tether at each end. This protects both the shearer and the alpaca from being accidentally cut. One side of the animal is shorn and it is then rolled over and shorn on the other side. Depending on the density of the fleece, alpacas cut anywhere between 1 1/2 and 4 kg of fleece. Some of the high quality stud males will cut higher weights.
How do you transport alpaca?
Alpacas travel very well in a van, covered trailer or horse float. Most alpacas will sit during the journey and travel best in the company of another alpaca. On long trips over two or three hours it is advisable to plan for a stop so the alpacas can have a toilet break. Clean hay on the floor of the vehicle helps to absorb jarring on rough roads and also provides feed for the journey.