What is an alpaca?

Alvarez_in_tall_grassAlthough alpacas (pronounced al pak ahs) are relatively new in North America, they have been domesticated in South America for about five thousand years. The alpaca, a member of the camelid family and a cousin of the llama, played an important part in the early Inca civilization in the high mountains of South America. The Inca royalty’s clothing was made from the fine, soft, luxurious fleece of the alpaca. Invasion of Peru and Chile by the Spanish Conquistadors caused the alpaca to flee to the higher elevations where they survived the harsh climate on low protein vegetation.

The first importation of alpacas to North American occurred in 1984. The major imports to North America came from Chile, Peru and Bolivia. A vote in 1998 by the Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI) membership resulted in the closure of the alpaca registry to future imports therefore shifting the focus to breeding of the North American alpaca. As of August 2011 there were only 160,000 registered alpacas accounted for by the ARI in the United States, of which only 6,029 reside in Texas.

Alpacas are raised for their fiber which is one of the world’s finest natural materials. There are two types of alpacas, the huacaya (pronounced wa kai ya) and the suri (pronounced surrey). The fleece of the huacaya grows out from the body and has a fluffy appearance somewhat like that of a sheep.

fdfThe suri fleece grows in defined locks. Alpacas come in twenty-two natural colors, and they are usually shorn annually, yielding between two and twelve pounds of fiber.

Even people with little or no ranching experience have been quite successful as alpaca breeders. These gentle animals require minimal care, and as many as ten can graze happily on a single acre, making it possible for small acreage owners to become alpaca ranchers.


They provide a nice investment opportunity and are the source of luxurious fiber.  The fleece, comparable to cashmere, is known for its fineness, light weight, and luster.
They make excellent companion animals and are also show animals with high aesthetic appeal.  Alpacas are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children.

Some breeders also spin and weave, so they use a portion of their fiber and sell the rest to fellow spinners and weavers.  There are also mini-mills that process the raw fiber into wonderful yarn and then to products.  There is also a National Fiber Co-Op where member breeders pool their fiber to be processed and sold in various forms.  Through the years, other options for using the fiber have developed, and each year there are new opportunities for those looking to do something different with their fiber.

While the future of the alpaca investment cannot be guaranteed any more than the stock market, the alpaca population cannot increase at the same rate as other recent exotic breeds.  The alpaca female has one single birth per year, which significantly impacts population growth.

The Texas heat and humidity may be higher than alpacas prefer, but with extra care they can be kept comfortable in the summer. They must be shorn by early May at the very latest, and they need shade during the hot summer days.  Most breeders provide fans for their alpacas to cool off in front of on hot days, and alpacas enjoy having their bellies wateried if it is really hot.  New Texas breeders are strongly encouraged to begin with alpacas that have been accustomed to the Texas climate and cared for by experienced Texas breeders.

They are ruminants, which means they chew cud like a cow or deer.  They survive well on different kinds of medium protein hay or pasture grass, providing it has a balanced mineral content.  They also eat alpaca or llama feed which is a grain or pellet that can be purchased from or milled by a local feed store.

Yes, they are amazingly alert animals who quickly learn to halter and lead.  They constantly communicate with each other through body posture, tail movements, and a variety of sounds.  The sound heard most often is soft humming.
They will spit on each other if sufficiently angered, but they rarely spit on people.
They are small and easy to maintain, rarely over eat and require no extraordinary care.  They do not challenge fences, and they simply need shearing, worming and vaccinations.
Absolutely not!  They are generally safe and pleasant to be around.  They do not bite or butt, and they do not have teeth, horns, hooves, or claws to do serious injury.  As with any livestock, caution and care should be excercised.