SAQs

Introduction

Alpacas are an endearing gentle creature that can be a part of every lifestyle. Find answers to some of the most common questions asked. Read on to see how alpacas can be a part of your life.

Are alpacas related to llamas?

Yes, alpacas are related to llamas. They both come from the biological Family of “Camelids”. Llamas are usually twice the size of an alpaca and are used as a “pack” animal for carrying goods. Alpacas are almost exclusively bred as fleece animals in Australia. In additon to camels and llamas, there are also guanacos and vicuñas that belong to the Camelid Family. From archaeoligical investigations, it appears that alpacas are more closely related to vicuñas whilst llamas are thought to have descended from guanacos.

Are there different kinds of alpacas?

There are two kinds of alpacas. The Huacaya and the Suri.

The more common Huacaya has fleece similar to the merino sheep and grows perpendicular to the body. The rarer suri has fine dreadlocks that hang toward the ground. A male is called a “Macho” and a female is called a “Hembra.”

What are the different fleeces used for?

The common huacaya fleece is mainly used for knitted garments such as jumpers and socks.

The suri fleece is used in worsted fabrics and garments such as suits and scarves. These are generally very silk-like and naturally lustrous.

Suri fleece can also be spun and used for fine knitted garments such as baby wear.

How many alpacas can I run on my property?

Alpacas are fuel efficient. The amount of alpacas you can have on your property can vary depending on what sort, and how much pasture your land is producing. If you have one hectare with good pasture, you can have about 15-25 alpacas living there at one time. Keeping in mind that for every one sheep you can hold on your land, you can have two to three alpacas. It is essential that shade trees and water are available in every paddock.

Can I run alpacas with other livestock?

Alpacas can run with other livestock because they are a herd animal and prefer the company of other animals. Alpacas can be run with horses and cattle, but caution should be exercised in case these larger animals kick them. Alpacas are sometimes used to guard sheep against foxes and wild dogs.

What sort of fencing do alpacas need?

Alpacas only ever need a visual barrier as their fencing. Dog fencing with star pickets is suitable in most cases. Unlike goats, alpacas do not try to push these barriers unless in danger from other animals attacking them. Apart from boundary fences, a small paddock in which the alpacas can be easily caught should be constructed.

What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas prefer to graze on a variety of plants and grasses. Whilst good pasture is ideal there are pre-mixed feed products available for alpacas. These generally supply additional vitamins and minerals when required. Alpacas will eat Lucerne Hay when food is in short supply. When introducing a new diet, you must introduce it gradually over time. Gardens in the back yard should be fenced off from the alpacas in case of poisonous plants. It is important to make sure that alpacas have access to water and shade at all times.

Can I have an alpaca as a pet?

Alpacas are used for quality fleece breeding and as guardian animals, but can also make very good pets. Like all livestock, the more handling an alpaca receives, the friendlier it will become. Alpacas generally don’t enjoy being held or touched, particularly around the head area however most will oblige in affection. Give them time to get to know you. It is advised that because alpacas are a herd animal they should be kept in groups of two or more.

What age do alpacas start breeding?

Female alpacas become sexually mature at around 12-18 months of age an/or when they reach 45kgs – 50kgs in weight. Males can show they are interested from only a few weeks but are not sexually active until approximately 3 years old (Some individuals will fall outside this range). Alpacas do not have a particular season or cycle in which they are fertile but can be mated all year round provided they are the right age and weight.

How long is the gestation? Do alpacas ever have twins?

An alpaca’s ovulation is induced by the male. When the female is mature she will automatically sit for the male ready to be mated. Gestation is approximately eleven and half months. They generally give birth during daylight hours to give the cria the best chance of survival. Alpacas rarely have live healthy twins.

Are alpacas difficult to look after?

Alpacas in Qld tick zones need a tick prevention treatment given approximately every 3 weeks.
They also have an annual worm treatment, or more frequently if necessary, so poo piles are watched closely for reoccurrence of worm infestation. Alpaca toenails may need clipping annually. Generally like humans, there are no birthing problems but it is a possibility and therefore need to be monitored close to the due date.

How often do you shear alpacas and can someone do it for you?

Alpacas are usually shorn at the end of show season and the beginning of spring. This allows them to cope through the summer. A mobile shearer is available and charges are minimal. Often A.A.A. breeders will make arrangements for new or smaller breeders if necessary.

What do you do with the fleece?

Some breeders sell their unwashed fleece to spinners and weavers while others prefer to support the industry by sending it to an Australian manufacturer. The fleece is then processed into products such as garments, doonas and even carpet. These products can be found in “up market” department and boutique stores, as well as handcraft and specialist textile shops.

Do alpacas kick and bite? Alpacas spit don’t they?

Alpacas are gentle animals whose only defence is to spit or flick a rear leg. Alpacas spit for one of two reasons :
– to let others know they are “boss” so they can get their head in the food bucket first; or
– if they are female, to let a stud male know they are already pregnant and don’t need to be re-mated.

Occasionally a male alpaca will bite another male to exert dominance. Alpacas are generally not aggressive animals except towards predators or potential threats.

Are they really expensive and how much is a breeding pair?

Alpacas can start at around $550 for a wether and range into the tens of thousands for quality males and females. It is often sensible to start out with a pair of wethers to test the water and see if it is right for you.
This allows you time to gain knowledge about both the animal and the industry and make informed purchases down the track.
It is not wise to buy a “breeding pair”. Nor is it wise to buy a Stud male as an initial purchase.

How many differently coloured alpaca fleeces are there?

Both Huacaya and Suri fleece can come in a variety of colours and shades from pure whites to light/medium/dark fawns to light/medium/dark browns to light/medium/dark greys to rose grey, roan and solid blacks. Alpaca fleece colour stays the same throughout its life.

How do I choose a reputable breeder?

There are breeders who are not members of the Australian Alpaca Association Ltd (AAA). If you intend to show or sell your animals down the track we would recommend that you purchase a registered animal from a registered AAA breeder.

Most registered breeders abide by AAA standards, which aim to promote the industry by providing a service to newcomers. However it is a case of “buyer beware”. Don’t feel obliged to purchase for emotional reasons. Buy to meet your needs or your business plan.

How do I get started?

Contact the Australian Alpaca Association for a free detailed information package. This will contain information about alpacas and breeders near you.
• Visit local field days and shows.
• Make arrangements to visit breeders to gain some hands-on experience.
• Contact your nearest Region to see if there are any information days especially for new potential breeders.
• Ask questions, lots of them.
• Try to get a feel as to whether alpacas are right for you.

Last updated on January 13, 2015