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About Alpacas & Alpaca FAQ

What are alpacas?

Alpacas are a species of South American camelid mammal. They look very sweet and delicate but are in fact very hardy animals.  They are closely related to the vicuna, llama and guanaco and it is thought that they originated from a cross between the llama and vicuna over 6,000 years ago.


What is the difference between alpacas and llamas?

Alpacas, llamas, guanaco and vicuna are all members of the South American camelid (or camel) family.  The main difference is their size - alpacas are smaller than llamas and have a much more lustrous type of fleece. The alpaca has always been bred for quality fleece while llamas are bred for their carrying and trekking capabilities. Typically, alpacas weigh 60-90kg and llamas, 150-210kg. 

Where do alpacas come from?

Alpacas are native to South America - specifically the Andes of Peru, Western Bolivia and Northern Chile - where they graze at altitudes of 11,500-16,000 feet. Together with llamas, alpacas were valued by the Incas for their provision of clothing, food, fuel and, no doubt, their companionship as domesticated animals on the high plains of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

In 1984, the United States and Canada imported their first alpacas, followed in 1989 by Australia and New Zealand.  Currently Australia has over 250,000 registered animals and the industry is still growing. In the UK there are some 35,000 registered.

What alpaca breeds are available in the UK?

The most common alpaca breed in the UK is the huacaya (pronounced wa-ky-ya), which forms about 95% of the population. They are very fluffy and sometimes resemble huge teddy bears.  A fleece on a huacaya will average about 2-4 kilos, but on an outstanding quality animal this can be as high as 5-7 kilos of fleece per annum. 

The remaining 5% of alpacas are suri.  Suris have curled locks that hang down much like a Wensleydale sheep.  They produce the most prized fleece, which is very smooth, silky and lustrous.  Suris do well in the British climate but they do need shelter from the rain as their fleece parts along the backbone.

There are 22 internationally recognised natural shades of alpaca fleece ranging between white, fawn, brown, grey and black.

Here at Usk Valley, we mainly focus on breeding huacaya alpacas, these have a shorter staple length, and have a ‘crimped’ fleece, as opposed to a suri who have a more wavy fleece style. The suri fleece grows in locks, and is known for being very lustrous. Our herd comprises some of the best breeding lines in the UK - resulting in finer and denser fleeces, as well as healthier quality alpacas.


How long do alpacas live for and when can I breed my alpacas?

Alpacas live for 18 to 24 years, and crias (baby alpacas) will stay by their mother until they are weaned (approximately 5 to 6 months). Female alpacas will fully mature and be able to breed between 1 to 2 years old, with male alpacas this is between 1 and 3 years. Female alpacas have a reproductive lifespan of 2 to 19 years, and male alpacas have a reproductive lifespan of 2 to 18 years. 

What’s the gestation period for alpacas?

The gestation period for alpacas is 11 and 1/2 months and they usually give birth during daylight hours (between 7am-3pm).  Alpacas tend to birth a single cria (baby alpaca), twins are very rare.  They are induced ovulators, which means they can be mated at any time of the year.


Why do people keep alpacas?

People in the UK buy alpacas for a variety of reasons, and keeping or breeding alpacas can be an enjoyable lifestyle change for many. Furthermore, many people keep alpacas as pets due to their friendly and inquisitive nature, alongside their cute appearance.

Alpacas can be used as a different ‘lawn mower’ grazing animal for keeping  grass down in a small paddock or orchard, and are often considered more interesting to look at than sheep or other grazing animals. Furthermore, they are also very good as field guards to protect lambs and even chickens from predators like foxes.

Alpaca breeders may also enjoy the challenge of producing and improving the quality of their animals and their fleece. There are many alpaca shows throughout the country where alpacas can be shown - the British Alpaca Society (BAS) annual National Show is held in March and is the “Crufts” of the alpaca world. Here at Usk Valley, we have definitely embraced the challenge of improving the already high quality of our huacaya herd - with award winning results!

Alpacas can also be used for a variety of business ventures. For example, alpacas can be kept for their fibre which can be sold or used to make garments for sale. 

An increasing number of people keep alpacas to enhance their tourism business - for example, alpacas can serve as an additional attraction to a Bed and Breakfast or Glamping site and will be an especially big hit with families and children. Trekking or walking alpacas can also be a viable business venture, or simply running meet and greet alpaca sessions for paying visitors. Some owners take their alpacas to care homes or even weddings as a source of income.

Finally, many people keep alpacas to breed and sell the offspring to other owners and breeders. This is - for many people who keep alpacas - their main source of income.


Are alpacas easy to work with?

Yes, alpacas are very easy to work with and very friendly.  They are very intelligent animals and though initially can be very shy, after time, and with a confident handler, they become very docile, making it easier to catch and handle them.  This is important in order to carry out health checks which include body scoring, checking teeth, and

trimming their toe nails. Once trust has been built with your alpacas, ensuring they are halter trained is also a must and this should be done once weaning is complete and they have had time to settle down - roughly 7-8 months old. Once achieved this is never forgotten over their lifetime, making treatments and routine care much easier.

Can you milk alpacas?

Whilst alpacas can technically be milked, this is only done so when helping a newly born cria who may be having a tough start. Alpaca milk is safe for human consumption, but it is not to try.

If you are interested in keeping alpacas - either as pets or as a business venture - don’t hesitate to contact us or visit our selection of high quality alpacas for sale.


Setting up an alpaca farm

How much land do I need to keep alpacas?

Generally you can keep one more alpaca to the acre than you can sheep.  We would recommend an average stocking rate of five alpacas per acre. The land should be broken up into smaller fields to allow rotation of grazing to keep control of parasites. Throughout both winter and summer, alpacas should have access to a field shelter to protect them from hot sun in the summer and the very worst of winter weather. A catch pen should also be created for feed time. 

Fences can be standard stock fencing and generally alpacas do not challenge fences - despite being able to jump high, they choose not too!

Can I graze alpacas with other animals?

Alpacas are herd animals so they enjoy being in a group and they will happily live with other livestock such as sheep or horses.  Alpacas are commonly used as sheep and chicken guards; deterring foxes that approach the flock, especially during the lambing season.


How to care for alpacas

What do alpacas eat?

An alpaca’s normal feed consists of grass, with hay or haylage given all year round.  They tend to be picky about eating weeds, although they are efficient in grazing areas down. Concentrate feed should also be given as a supplement, and eating this from feed buckets in a pen also makes it easier to catch alpacas when needed.  

Do alpacas travel well?

Alpacas are great travellers. They are generally moved using a horse box or stock trailer - once you start moving they will cush down and relax!

Do alpacas spit?

Alpacas will occasionally spit at each other when being fed in close proximity or to establish the pecking order.  They also might spit if they feel threatened or aggravated.  A human might get caught in the cross-fire but it is unlikely that they would be the target.


Keeping alpacas as pets

Many people keep alpacas as pets due to their cute appearance and inquisitive personalities. They are very calming animals to be around - making them suitable and even beneficial for those with autism - and both adults and children enjoy keeping alpacas as pets. 

Furthermore, alpacas are well suited to being kept as pets due to how easy they are to care for, providing enough land is available. They can live outside year round with access to a field shelter, saving resources on moving them between indoor and outdoor enclosures. Additionally, all routine treatments can be done by the owners if they desire, and therefore there is no need to use a vet for routine alpaca care.

Are alpacas friendly and easy to build trust with?

Alpacas are very friendly, and trust can easily be built with time and calm care. The best way to gain an alpaca’s trust is to feed them in a small catch pen where you can simply walk amongst them, at times touching them on their necks and backs in a calm and non-confrontational manner. Doing this consistently helps them learn to trust you, and reiterates that you are not a threat. Over time your alpaca will be very happy with your presence and its confidence will build. 

Alpacas have an unjust reputation for spitting but they are not dangerous, they mostly spit at each other when annoyed, especially at feeding time!


Keeping alpacas for fibre

Alpaca fibre is soft, fine and lustrous which makes it highly desirable and considered a luxury fibre. Many alpaca owners in the UK are sending their fleeces to mini mills to have them processed into yarn in order to sell on or make into garments for sale. 

Alpacas are sheared once a year and their incredibly soft fibre is used for jumpers, coats, hats, gloves and scarves to name just a few - rugs are also very popular! 

What is the difference between “alpaca wool” and “alpaca fibre”?

Alpaca fibre refers to the raw resource that is harvested from the alpaca. This is then spun into alpaca “wool” which is used in garments and other projects. Within the industry the term “alpaca fibre” is used and preferred at all stages, but the term “alpaca wool” is often colloquially used interchangeably with alpaca fibre.

What makes alpaca fibre special?

The fleece of an alpaca is different from that of a sheep as it does not contain any lanolin. Alpaca fibre is warm yet extremely light to wear, and is one of the strongest natural fibres - second only to silk. The fibre grows continuously and an alpaca will produce 2-4 kilos per year.

There are 22 natural colours of alpaca fibre ranging from white through varying shades of grey to black, and from cream through shades of fawn, chestnut and chocolate brown. Furthermore, alpaca fibre can be spun by hand or machine and will take both natural and synthetic dyes.

What was alpaca fibre used for historically?

Historically, alpaca fibre was highly prized for its strong and lustrous characteristics and the Incas would hand spin it on drop spindles, a method still used today by their descendants in South America (whilst drop spindles are still used in the UK, most spinners now use a spinning wheel). The yarn would then be dyed and either woven or knitted into amazing patterned garments. Remains of ancient garments found in some South American archaeological sites have been found to consist of superior quality alpaca fibre to that produced today, and it is the goal of many top breeders to replicate that quality.

Proud to breed quality Alpacas in the stunning Usk Valley, South Wales