What is the difference between alpacas and llamas?
Alpacas and llamas both come from a group of 4 animals belonging to the Camelid species.
Alpacas are the smallest domesticated camelid and were treasured by the ancient Inca civilisation. There are currently about 3.5 million alpacas in the Andean Altiplano region of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
Llamas are about twice the size of alpacas and have banana shaped ears. Their fleece is much coarser than alpaca and they are mainly bred as pack animals.
Vicuñas are the wild cousins of the alpacas, are found in Northern Chile and Peru, and produce the finest fleece of all the camelids.
Guanacos are the wild cousin of the llama and live predominately in Southern Chile. They also produce a fine fleece.
What types of alpaca do we have in New Zealand?
The Huacaya is the most common type of alpaca and has a dense soft fleece, growing an average of 80–120 mm in length over a year.
The Suri has a lustrous, tasseled fleece that hangs down in dreadlocks from the body, creating an amazing curtain of tightly spiraled ringlets.
The fleece of both huacaya and suri comes in any one of the five main colors: black, brown, gray, fawn and white. Within these core colors, there are a multitude of individual shades of light, medium and dark; and patterns of roan, rose, multi, pinto, appaloosa or fancy (multi-coloured).
The Huacaya fleece is more suited to the production of high-end woolen goods, such as sweaters, jumpers, overcoats, ponchos, throws, blankets, socks, etc. while the Suri produces an excellent silky cloth, suitable for shawls, suits, and high quality women’s clothing. The best use for the fleece is usually determined by the quality (fineness, softness and lustre).
Female – Hembra
Castrated male – Wether
Baby Alpaca – Cria
Birthing – Unpacking
How long do alpacas live?
How much space do alpacas need?
Alpacas can also bond well with other livestock but large aggressive dogs may be a threat to them as well as cattle. Some livestock, for example sheep, have the same internal parasites and may increase the worm burden in your animals.
Can you keep males and females together?
How many should I buy to start with?
Do you need special fencing?
It is also important to have a small yard or you can start with a portable pen made of 4 gates that fit together (sheep hurdles). If your alpacas are fed (with alpaca pellets) in the pen they will become very easy to catch when required.
It is essential that shade trees are available in each paddock as alpacas with a full fleece can overheat on very hot days in spring and summer (before their annual shearing).
What do alpacas eat?
Although they have evolved to survive in very harsh conditions they do best on good quality pasture. They enjoy meadow and lucerne hay and also alpaca nuts (but not more than ½ cup of these per day as these are a very concentrated feed). Do not feed your alpacas any form of grain-based foods (these include multi nuts, horse nuts, pig nuts or bread). These can lead to ulcers in their gut and possible death.
Some gardens contain a number of common plants that are toxic to most livestock. These include oleander, rhododendron, irises, buxus hedging and ngaio trees. Although alpacas usually avoid plants that are toxic to them, they are curious animals, have long necks and may be able to reach overhanging branches from trees in the adjacent paddocks. Prunings and dead plants are just as toxic as the live specimens. (If you belong to the Alpaca Association NZ you will have a “Paddock Card for Toxic Plants”)
Your alpacas need to have access to good quality, fresh drinking water. They don’t drink much in the winter but they do drink up to 2 litres a day over summer when the weather is very hot.
Are they easy to look after?
What diseases do they get?
Do alpacas make good pets?
Do they kick or bite?
It is very rare for an alpaca to bite a person.
I’ve heard that lamas spit. Do alpacas spit as well?
How often do alpacas need to be shorn?
When can females be mated?
Female alpacas can start breeding at 12 months if they weigh over 40 Kgs and are ready for mating. Males do not start working until 2-3 years of age.
Gestation is 11–12 months (or 335 days) and the females usually deliver their cria between 9am and 4 pm on fine days. A cria weighs between 5–8 Kg.
What can you do with the fleece?
- You can process the fleece yourself in order to spin into yarn
- You can sell your superior fleeces to local spinners
- You can have your own fleece processed (by a mill) into yarn to use or sell
- You can sell your raw fleece to one of several buyers who collect and accumulate large quantities of fibre in order to fill large overseas orders
- You can make your own felted or woven products for sale
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