Alpacas - The Essentials

Alpacas were domesticated in South America about 6,000 years ago, and are native to the mountains of modern-day Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. There are between five and six million alpacas in the world today, compared to about a billion sheep. Alpacas are raised successfully all over the world, but still at least 80% of their population is in Peru and at least 10% is in Bolivia.

Alpacas grow naturally in a huge variety of colors, including white, brown, grey, black, rust, tan, and all shades in between. They are not a large animal - an adult alpaca will weigh between 110 and 190 pounds and stand about three feet tall at the shoulder.

There are two types of alpaca: suri and huacaya. The difference between these strains is their hair; Suri alpacas have straight hair that hangs similarly to dreadlocks, while huacaya alpaca hair is crimped and makes the animals look puffier. Suri alpaca wool is slightly more valuable, but huacaya alpacas are better suited to live in extremely frigid high-altitude environments.

Suri Alpaca Huacaya Alpaca
Suri Alpaca Huacaya Alpaca

Alpacas have padded feet, like dogs, but unlike sheep and goats, which have hooves. When sheep and goats are raised in great numbers, the action of their hooves on the grassland can destroy the turf. In extreme cases this can and has resulted in the desertification of former grassland, which is especially a problem with cashmere goats. The padded feet of alpacas are much more gentle and will not destroy grassland. For this reason, alpacas are considered more environmentally friendly than other wool animals.

Alpacas can spit, and it is nasty. They bring a wad of partially-digested food up from their stomach and hock it up to ten feet. The taste is terrible and spitting is unpleasant for the alpaca as well as their target, so they will only spit when they feel legitimately threatened. Alpacas occasionally spit at each other but only rarely at their caretakers.

Alpacas are gentle, intelligent, and social animals that do well in the community of a herd and enjoy human company. They will not bite, kick, or headbutt.  They can learn to recognize their names and respond to verbal commands. Interestingly, a herd of alpacas will establish a communal dung pile, and they will all defecate there and refrain from grazing nearby. This makes them cleaner than other herd animals and prevents the spread of disease. Their dung is very valuable as a fertilizer.

We love these animals and hope that you are as fascinated by them as we are!

Alpacas grazing