Where do they come from?
• Alpacas come from South America and belong to the camelid family which includes llamas, vicunas, guanacos and camels. They are most numerous in Peru, where there are some three million of them. In Australia and America there are about 100,000 in each country, with the UK having some 20,000. The rest of Europe has about another 10,000.
What do they eat ?
• Alpacas eat grass or hay and only about 1.5 kilos a day which is about 1/3rd of what sheep will eat.
Benefits to farms
At the same time, being natural guard animals they will help keep foxes and others from encroaching on your land, they make good protectors at lambing. They generally only defecate in a few selected places around the field, keeping their own eating and sleeping quarters clean.They have soft feet, so don’t harm the pasture. Their feet are a bit like our hands and feet, but with only two toes. They don’t get foot rot. Also great companions for horses and other animals. So rather than just having one horse by itself, give it some company with perhaps a couple of males, This avoids doubling your workload by having two horses.
• Alpacas are shorn once a year and produce a wonderful fleece. A fine quality fleece can produce a good price The Incas in Peru called their fleece ‘The Gold of the Andes’. The quality of the fleece is important for its value and generally breeding goals are linked to producing a better quality fleece. The fleece industry in Europe is in its infancy, with a number of initiatives on-going. If you are interested in producing your own knitwear, then doing it with your own fleeces will be really special.
• Each female will produce one cria a year. The gestation period is 11 to 11½ months, and the female can be mated again about 2/3 weeks after she has given birth. They live between 15 and 20 years. Alpaca meat is now being eaten around the UK in some restaurants, this is not an area we wish to be involved in.
• Alpacas are shy, but inquisitive. They will eat out of your hand and can be halter trained.