What is An Alpaca?

DSC_0125_editedØ      Alpacas are 100-190 lbs as adults, 12-20 lbs when born

Ø      Gestation is 11 ½ months, usually giving birth between 10 AM – 2 PM

Ø      Alpacas are from South America, first imported into the U.S. in 1982

Ø      Alpacas are used for their fleece, which is as soft as cashmere, warmer than wool, hypo-allergenic, almost completely waterproof and grown in 22 natural colors.

Background  Alpacas are a South American relative of the camel and llama. Alpacas were domesticated 6,000 years by the ancient Incas because of their fleece which was spun & woven into garments. South America currently holds 98% of the 4 million alpacas worldwide. While alpaca wool has always been known as a desirable fiber in South America, the U.S. and Australia are beginning to “discover” this material.

Is it a llama?   Alpacas & llamas are in the camelid family, but each serves a different purpose. Llamas are about 300+ lbs, taller and are used for mountain packing or guarding livestock. Alpacas are much smaller and are solely used for their fleece. We use llamas to help protect our alpacas from predators in addition to livestock guard dogs, Turkish Anatolians. Anatolians are one of the only dogs capable of fending off mountain lions, coyotes, foxes and other dogs.  They are docile and sweet, loyal to their herd and will defend against any threat.  Grizzly, our male Anatolian, is 5 years old, weighs 165 lbs and can run up to 35 mph.

About the Animal   There are approximately 140,000 alpacas in the U.S. Alpacas generally live 15 to 20 years, with a few living up to 30 years of age. They stand 32-39 inches at the shoulder. Birth weight is 12-20 pounds, reaching 120-170 pounds. Their coat grows 5-10 inches per year yeilding 8 to 10 pounds of fleece when shorn.

There are two types of alpaca, Huacaya (Wa-kee-a) and Suri (Sur-ee). Huacayas are the “teddy bear” alpaca, whose full coat presents a round and soft appearance. The huacaya fleece is crimped, very dense and comes in 22 colors. Huacayas account for approximately 90% of the alpacas in the U.S. Alpacas of Montana raises Huacaya alpacas. Suri alpacas have long dreadlocks. In full coat, these long, non-crimped, lustrous “pencils” hang downward.

Uses   Alpaca fiber is five times warmer than wool, softer than cashmere, hypoallergenic, stronger than other natural fibers and has more thermal capacity. Plus, as there are 22 natural colors, dyes are not necessary and can remain all natural.  The fiber produces socks, hats, scarves, blankets and clothing. As knowledge and popularity grows, alpaca fleece has become a high demand textile because of its many superior qualities.  

Business  Alpaca farmers who have been in business for 4+ years routinely report returns on capital expenditure ranging between 25 to 60%.  Land investment averages between 7-10%.  Many variables influence actual profits, but the investment of alpacas has proven over time a record for profitability & promises to become even more financially rewarding in the future. Given the slow reproductive rate of alpaca & the superb quality of their fiber, consumers continue to want more fleece than alpaca farmers can produce, thus keeping the demand for raising alpacas & alpaca fiber high. 

Pasture and Feed   Due to their size and efficiency, an alpaca farm may keep as many as five alpacas per acre, assuming there is good forage available.  Its estimated that one 60 pound bale of hay will feed 20 alpacas per day.  The alpaca is naturally gentle to the land. The alpaca’s feet are padded, leaving even the most delicate terrain undamaged. They are a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.

Manure Management  A herd of alpacas consolidates its manure in one or two spots in the pasture, controlling the spread of parasites & making it easy to collect & compost for fertilizer.

Shearing   Shearing is done once per year in late Spring depending on the local weather and the area.  We do our sheering at the end of May.  

Insurance  Alpaca are one of the few livestock fully insured for theft or mortality.

Taxes  New rules added several incentives for people who buy alpacas. They are  1) The 179 deduction has been raised from $25,000 to $100,000, where the deduction is used to write off the purchase of up to $100,000 worth of alpacas this year and can take another $100,000 deduction next year.    2) The bill raised the 30% bonus depreciation to 50% to write-off for most new capital assets in the first year of purchase.

Registration   The Alpaca Registry is a single agency blood typing each alpaca when entered into the system, ensuring the dam and sire of the claimed alpaca is undoubtedly who the owner claims they are.  This is a simple, controlled method of ensuring the quality and futurity of the alpaca industry. 

Summary   Raising alpacas is an exciting, unique opportunity for those attracted to the benefits of alternative livestock.  It is certainly not for everyone, as the animals must be cared for on a daily basis and work within a business atmosphere to be profitable.  However, many have reaped the rewards of excelling within this industry by learning about the market and focusing on their business goals.