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Frequently Asked Questions about Alpacas

1. What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas are members of the Camelid family, along with llamas, camels, guanacos, and vicuñas.

2. Are there different types?
Yes. There are two types. The suri (sir-e) has long fibers that resemble strands of rope. The huacaya (wa-ki-a) has a more fluffy fiber with a lot of crimp. All of the alpacas at Long Neck Acres are huacayas.

3. How do you call the members of an Alpaca Family?
The baby is called a cria(cre-a), the father a sire, and the mother a dam.

4. How big are Alpacas?
Baby alpacas weigh 10-20 pounds at birth. In adulthood, they weigh between 100 and 175 pounds. Adults are about as tall as your hip, or 36 inches tall.

5. Do they spit?
Not very often. When they do, it's usually when their food or young is threatened. As a general rule alpacas are very social and each has a distinct personality. They are gentle and non-aggressive and will halter train and even perform on an obstacle course or dress in costume for parades. They have no upper teeth, will not bite, and children are always attracted to alpacas as alpacas are to them.

6. How long do they live?
Alpacas live around 20-25 years.

7. What do you feed an Alpaca?
Alpacas graze, as well as eat low protein hay with a grain supplement. The cost to feed an alpaca should not exceed $7 or $8 a month if they are 100% hay fed and even less if they are able to graze

8. Do we need a big ranch?
No. Alpacas do very well on small acreage. 8 to 10 alpaca can graze on 1 acre quite easily. Many people purchase alpacas and board them with another alpaca owner. The cost for boarding is $2 to $3 per day per alpaca. This would include feed, immunizations, and routine care.

9. Are they messy?
No. Alpacas do not spread manure around like horses do. They will establish an area to use and then deposit their virtually odorless droppings in the same area each time, so cleanup is easy. The waste can be placed in a compost pile and makes excellent fertilizer.

10. Do we need a barn?
No. The only requirement is shade and a windbreak. Alpacas are accustomed to the cold weather of the Andes Mountains. Their fiber provides excellent insulation and protection from the cold. As for heat protection, they should be shorn in spring or early summer allowing them to remain cool during the hot summer months, and shade is a must.

11. Do we need elaborate fences?
Fences are erected not as much to keep alpacas in (they will rarely challenge a fence), but more to keep predators out. Dogs and coyotes are the predators we worry about the most. Breeders will commonly use a 5 to 6 foot perimeter fence made of welded wire or non-climb mesh.

12. What about breeding?
Alpacas are mature enough to breed around 12 to 16 months old. They have no season, or menstrual cycle, as many other animals do. Rather, they are induced ovulators, meaning the eggs of the female are released in response to mating. Gestation lasts about 11 months and they are usually rebred 2 weeks after delivery. Crias are weaned between 5 to 6 months of age. The females breeding years are limited to about 15. Males develop more slowly and are ready to breed between 2 to 3 years old.

13. Do they require special veterinary care?
Not really. Most of the health care that alpacas require can be done by the owner. They need an immunization injection once a year, deworming medication several times a year, and toe nails trimmed on occasion. Under 5% of births are complicated and require veterinary intervention.

14. Do you shear Aplacas?
Yes, alpacas are usually shorn once a year in the spring or early summer. The fleece from shearing one year's growth will weigh about 5 pounds per alpaca, enough to make 6 or 7 sweaters. Their fiber is an incredible commodity. It is soft like cashmere and strong like mohair. Alpaca fleece is very warm and is an exceptional insulator, because the fibers are medullated (hollow). Alpacas rarely have guard hairs like sheep (guard hairs give wool its scratchy feel) so alpaca products feel very soft and comfortable.

15. Who do you sell the fiber to?
There are 2 main outlets to market your fiber. Weavers and hand spinners love to work with alpaca fiber. The price is influenced by the color and the quality of the fleece with the average price being $3 to $5 per ounce. The second outlet is the commercial market. The Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association is working with The Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America to further develop the commercial market. As the total amount of fiber in the US increases, the commercial market may become a preferred option.

16. Are Alpacas expensive?
Yes! A bred female will command a price between $5,000 and $30,000. Males have an even greater price range. A male with herdsire qualities will go for between $5,000 and $226,000. Pet or companion males (non-breeding) can be purchased for $300 to $3,000.

17. Why are they so expensive?
High demand and limited supply. Alpacas were first imported into the United States in 1985, and importation is now closed. Herd growth is slow, (because alpacas can only have one cria per year). Both of these factors mean that supply is low. Demand has increase over the last few years as people learn more about alpaca fleece quality as well as investment potential.

Updated May 29, 2013