What is an alpaca?
The alpaca is a domesticated member of the camelid family, a cousin of the llama, but one-half to one-third the size. Alpacas have large, expressive eyes, a short triangular muzzle, a sheep-dog mop of fiber over the brow, and abundant fine fiber. Alpacas come in a broad spectrum of colors, more than any other livestock. They grow to weigh an average of 100 to 150 pounds and can live 20 years or more. The world population of alpacas is estimated to be 3 million. There are approximately 100,000 alpacas in the United States.
As a member of the camel family, alpacas resemble a small llama and can typically be found grazing at high elevations in South America. The fleece of an alpaca is very similar to sheep’s wool in that it is commonly used for knitting and weaving. Many textile products from South America come from alpaca fleece.
An alpaca is a camelid, a member of the camel family and a close relative to the llama. Alpacas are about one-third the size of a llama and are generally more docile. Alpacas weigh an average of 150 lbs. and are about 3 ft. tall at the shoulders. With a lifespan of between 15-20 years, the female spends most of her life gestating. Females begin breeding between 14 months and 2 years of age. Males begin breeding usually between 2 and 3 years of age. Pregnancies last around eleven and a half months and dams usually birth without intervention during daylight hours. Twins are extremely rare and single births are the norm. There are two breeds of alpacas: huacaya and suri. Their fiber type is the distinguishing factor. The huacaya is much more common, having a very crimpy fleece that gives them a fluffy appearance. The rare suri has a silky hairlike fiber which drapes down in tight spirals and locks. About 90% of the world’s alpaca population is Huacaya and 10% is Suri.
Alpacas belong to the camelid family, which includes camels and llamas. They are native to the Andes Mountains in South America, specifically the countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Inca civilization. Clothing made from their fiber was once reserved for Inca royalty. Alpacas produce a cashmere-like fleece. It is considered one of the finest and most luxurious fibers in the world. Their fiber is know for its fineness, light weight, softness, and durability. Raised at high altitudes in freezing cold, the alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fiber than almost any other animal. The fiber contains microscopic air pockets that create insulation from heat and cold without bulk or needless weight. These same air pockets make alpaca particularly efficient at absorbing moisture, keeping feet drier and cooler in hot climates, or drier and warmer in cold climates. This insulation helps protect against extreme temperatures on either e
Alpacas are a unique type of livestock, and are not classified as “exotic animals.” They are members of the camelid family and are prized for their luxurious fleece. Alpaca clothing and tapestries were first known to grace the palaces and burial tombs of the royal family and highest government officials of the Incan civilization. Because of its exquisite quality, the fiber was sometimes referred to as “The Fiber of the Gods.” Natives of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, alpacas have been exported since the mid 1800’s to such countries as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, England, and Israel. The Alpaca Registry, Inc (ARI) registers animals and issues certificates, which trace the lineage of each alpaca, including colors, dates of birth, and importation information. The registry has been closed to imports since 1998, effectively protecting the value of the animals that are in the United States.
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