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Alpaca Facts

Introduction

Alpacas are rare, gentle and charming animals that are adaptable to varied habitat. They are camelid cousins to camels, llamas, guanacos and vicuñas . They are smaller than llamas and guanacos, but larger than vicuñas . They are native to the high Andes Mountain countries of Peru , Chile and Bolivia.
Alpacas are successfully being raised from Australia to Alaska to the U.K., and from sea level up to 16,000 feet above sea level. In the U.S. , there are about 50,000 alpacas, as compared to about six million horses. In New Zealand , there are just over 15,000 alpacas and the number is steadily growing.
Alpacas are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease-resistant. They have a charismatic manner, do very well on small acreage and produce a luxurious fibre that is in high demand.
Measured at the head, an alpaca is about 1.5 metres tall and weighs between 50 and 80 kilograms at maturity. Measured at the withers, it is about one metre high. Its relatively small size makes it very appealing and easy to raise.

Types Of Alpacas

There are two different kinds of alpacas, suris and huacayas. Each type has unique qualities, and appeals to different people.

The suri (pronounced “sir ee”) is distinguished from the huacaya alpaca by its unique fibre characteristics. The fibre grows parallel to the body while hanging in long, separate, non-crimped locks. Suri fibre locks are made up of high-lustre fibres and drapes down the sides of the body in twisted or flat forms of various sizes. Suri fibre has excellent lustre, a slick handle and extreme softness. Suris are adaptable to both hot and cold climates, and have extraordinary intelligence and vigour as well as easy pregnancy, delivery and care.

The fashion industry, spinners and weavers covet suri fibre for its cashmere-like softness, silky lustre, warmth, lightness and durability, which far exceeds sheep’s wool. Its fibre comes in many different colours and can be dyed. Suri fibre can blend with wool, silk and other high-quality fibres and can be knitted, crocheted or woven.

Suri alpacas are extremely rare. They represent only a very small percentage of the world’s alpaca population, perhaps around ten percent.

The huacaya (pronounced “wa ki ya”) alpaca is characterised by a fibre that is dense, crimped and wooly in appearance. The abundant coverage gives the huacaya a soft and huggable look and explains the overwhelming popularity that the huacaya enjoys worldwide.

Like the suri, the huacaya is a hardy and healthy animal that produces a fine and highly prized fibre. The new and burgeoning alpaca fibre movement will be literally built on the backs of these plush and puffy little “teddy bears”.

Luxurious Alpaca Fibre

Alpacas have rich fibre that is recognised worldwide as one of the most luxurious natural fibres. Coveted by the fashion industry, it fetches high prices in the market place. Alpaca fleece is softer than cashmere, warmer than wool and stronger than both. Its uses also include household items like blankets, rugs and upholstery.

Alpaca fleece has 22 recognised natural colours, ranging from pure white to fawns to browns to greys and black. Alpacas can have a uniform colour or they can have a pinto fleece in two or more colours. The fibre is shorn once a year, and can yield up to 6 kilograms of fibre with an exquisite softness that is very warm. Due to selective breeding, New Zealand alpaca fibre is getting finer and finer with each generation. Alpaca fleece has a sheen that is frequently compared to silk.

Alpaca Behaviour

Being herd animals, alpacas are happiest when in the company of other alpacas. They have a variety of sounds with which they communicate with each other. They commonly use a humming sound in a variety of situations, such as when they are separated from their mother or the rest of the herd, when the female is about to give birth and when they are happy and there is no apparent reason to communicate. The mothers have a clucking sound to call their babies. There is also a high intensity call (screech) that they emit when there is a danger, at which time the entire herd runs and huddles together.