Alpacas are domestic farm animals known for the soft fiber (similar to wool or fleece) that they produce. Alpacas strongly resemble llamas and are increasingly becoming a staple of many farms in the United States. Native to the South American countries of Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, the fiber of alpacas is used for making knitted and woven items from sweaters to blankets in an array of colors. Items that are made from alpaca fleece are extremely valuable and the preciousness of that fleece is the primary reason why so many farmers are starting to keep alpacas. Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years and the Moche people of Peru even painted images of palaces on now-ancient artifacts such as bowls and plates.
Alpacas are notably smaller creatures than llamas. Adults are generally between four and five feet tall and weigh between 100-170 pounds. Alpacas are known to have gentle dispositions and are far less likely to kick or spit than llamas and camels. Considered social herd animals, alpacas mainly live in groups consisting of an alpha male, females and babies. Alpacas can make high pitched “braying” sounds to alert the herd of danger and, when content, they are known to make a soft humming and “clicking” sounds. Alpacas eat grass and hay but they will chew on anything, including discarded items like bottles and plastic bags so owners must be mindful of any litter lying near where the herds are kept.
A female alpaca can be bred starting anywhere between a year to two years of age although it is strongly recommended that females be at least 18 months old before they conceive. The gestation period of alpacas is approximately 360 days and babies are usually born one at a time; twins are not unheard of but they are rare. Alpacas can live approximately 20 years.
Alpacas are cute and gentle creatures with generally mild temperaments. They are not as difficult to care for or as expensive to buy when compared to other farm animals and that has helped to spur their popularity in America over the last decade. Presently alpacas make appearances at many county fairs and petting zoos and are starting to become as well-known and generally farm-associated as pigs, chickens, and cows.
For more information about alpacas visit the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association. The website includes information about magazines dedicated to alpaca care, alpaca shows, and even some information about alpaca fashions: http://www.alpacainfo.com/#