Frequently asked questions

Here are some of the most common facts about alpacas. If you would like to know more about alpacas and the opportunities they offer, then please call Tim on +447875532827 or email at timhey@incaalpaca.co.uk    Thank you.

FAQsCountries of Origin:

Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Alpaca were first imported into Britain in the mid 1800’s but none of these alpacas survived. Alpacas were then imported again in large and more commercial numbers in the early 1990’s.

Population:

There are thought to be just on three million alpacas worldwide with 94 percent living in South America. This worldwide population is made up of 93 % huacaya and 7 % suri alpacas. There are about 45,000 registered alpacas in the UK and 350,000 in the USA and 350,000 in Australia.

Types:

There are two different breeds of alpacas, the Huacaya, pronounced wa-ky-ya and the suri. The two types or breeds are conformationally identical with the huacaya growing fibre at right angles from the skin and they develop a crimp to the staples where the suri fibre hangs in locks and has more lustre than the huacaya.

Alpaca FAQs

Lifespan:

18 to 24 years. Some wethers have been known to live up to 26. Female alpacas will spend most of their life pregnant.

Names:

In Spanish the male alpacas are called Machos, females are called Hembras, yearlings are called Tuis and babies are called Crias. In the UK we generally only use the term Cria to describe the babies.

Reproductive lifespan of a female:

Approximately 1.5 to 19 years.

Reproductive lifespan of a herdsire:

Approximately 2.0 to 18 years.

Alpaca FAQsWeaning:

Crias (babies) are weaned between 5 and 6 months of age.

Size:

A mature alpaca weighs 60 to 90 kg (132 to 198 lbs) and is 85 to 95cm tall at withers (top of the front shoulder). Crias normally weigh 6 to 8kg (13 – 18 lbs) at birth.

Gestation period:

11 to 11.5 months. Alpacas generally have single births with twins occurring very rarely. Females in good health should produce one cria a year as the female is mated 12 to 14 days after giving birth. Cria are generally born in daylight hours and usually between the hours of 7am to 2pm.

Colours:

There are 16 internationally recognised natural shades of alpaca fleece ranging from white to black. Here in the UK our breed registry recognises 16 colours.

Weight of fleece:

A yearling alpaca usually cuts about 2kg, adult females about 3.5kg and some adult males have been reported cutting 8.5kg per year.

Annual growth rate of fleece:

80 to 150 mm

Feeding:

Normal grass with average stocking rates of five to seven per acre. Hay or haylage is given all year round and forage based supplements can be given in the latter stages of pregnancy and during lactation, weaning and winter months. Generally you can keep one more alpaca to the acre than you can sheep.

Why do we farm alpacas in the UK?

Alpacas are farmed in the UK for their fleece and for pedigree bloodstock. Research recently revealed that only 21% of the world alpaca fibre market is being met. This demand is driven by the Italian, Chinese and Japanese fashion houses and is currently being partially met entirely by Peru and Australia.
Like Australia, America and New Zealand, the UK and European alpaca industries are stud stock based. This means that these countries are building up the numbers of pedigree alpacas while improving productivity through selective breeding. Australia now has 350,000 alpacas and their fibre company Australian Alpaca Fleece Limited (AAFL) are now making real headway. AAFL have been the catalyst for Australia verging on becoming a fully commercial fibre industry.
Until the UK reaches approximately the same number of alpacas (critical mass) the alpaca will be rare and all breeders will make money from breeding and selling pedigree stud stock both in the domestic market and also throughout Europe and the Middle East.

The goal of the UK alpaca industry is to increase numbers of highly productive and healthy alpacas and to one day satisfy the global demand for fleece.

Can you graze alpacas with other animals?

Alpacas are often kept with other animals and they happily graze alongside most common livestock. It is quite common to see alpacas living amongst a flock of sheep, or horses or with cows. Once the alpacas have settled into their new home they will become tolerant and get used to their owners’ dog.

Alpaca FAQsCan alpacas be used as sheep and chicken guards?

Australian sheep farmers are the pioneers in using alpaca wethers (geldings) as sheep protectors. Alpacas are very good at guarding the flock, especially in lambing season and will see off single dogs and foxes that are approaching the flock. Chicken farmers are finding alpaca wethers to be a great success at keeping foxes away. Not only are chicken deaths greatly reduced but egg production remains high as well. This behaviour by the alpacas remains when the alpacas are kept in herds.

Download notes on using alpacas as Flock Protectors

Do they travel well?

Alpacas are remarkably good travellers. The normal way of moving alpacas around is in a horsebox or stock trailer. Once moving, the alpacas will sit down and enjoy the journey.

What is their breeding rate?

Alpacas usually have one baby called a cria every year. Twins are very rare, with one set being born in every 10,000. They have a gestation period of 11 to 11.5 months and are remated 12 to 14 days after a normal birth. Alpacas are induced ovulators, so they can be mated at any time of the year. There is currently no artificial insemination available in the United Kingdom so all females and herd sires need to come together for a supervised mating. Embryo transfer has been carried out here in the UK but is still in very early stages of development.

Do alpacas spit?

Alpacas are very gentle and inquisitive creatures that pay attention to the entire goings on around them. Spitting is a natural defence mechanism that is only used when the animal is under extreme pressure. It is very unlikely for a human to become the target.

How much land do I need?

Anyone with an acre of pasture has enough land to keep alpacas. They have a stocking rate 1 greater to that of sheep so around 6 alpacas per acre throughout the year. Higher stocking rates are possible when land rotation is available and on improved pasture.

Do alpacas make any sounds?

They communicate constantly with each other by body language and a soft humming noise, which they usually make when they are penned in a group.

Alpaca FAQsHow do alpacas differ from Llamas?

Alpacas, llamas, guanaco and vicuna are all members of the South American camelid (or camel) family. Alpacas are smaller than llamas and have a more advanced type of fleece. Alpacas have always been bred for their fleece while llamas are bred for their packing and trekking capabilities. Alpacas typically weigh 60 to 80kg whereas llamas weigh 150 to 210kg.

The three camelids to the left are Alpaca weanling (black) – Llama cria – Guanaco adult.

What are the downsides to keeping alpacas?

Alpacas provide a wonderful lifestyle and financially rewarding enterprise. The only downside is the capital cost involved in purchasing good quality breeding stock. Coupled with this is the need to buy 2 or more alpacas because, being essentially social, they need to be in herds to live.

Can I obtain planning permission for a house by farming alpacas?

Yes. Alpacas qualify as an agricultural business and therefore planning permission for a farm workers dwelling is obtainable. We purchased 40 acres of land, in an area of outstanding natural beauty, that had nothing on it. We managed to achieve planning permission for a four bedroom house, two barns and a holiday let. We are very happy to help anyone interested in obtaining planning permission based on their alpaca business. A top agricultural consultant is also a must and we used and fully recommend Marc Willis from Willis and Co Planning Consultants –  www.willisand.co.uk 

How much do they cost?

Alpacas come in a huge range of quality and prices. The industry standard for wethers (pets) is around £400 – £600 each.

When it comes to breeding stock most UK breeders use many criteria to value and price up females and males for sale. They look at the quality of the fleece, the conformation, the pedigree, the quality of the cria produced in previous seasons, the performance of its parents and the age. They price their alpacas so the buyer has a true value according to what that individual alpaca can produce in the way of quality in its offspring. Because of the large range in quality available in the UK pregnant females generally have a price tag of £3000 to £15000 each.

What are the running costs?

Running costs for the alpacas are minimal but the annual stud fee will be about £750 and pregnant and lactating females should have some supplementary feeding at about £50 per year. Vet visits and registration fees are minimal. Some owners prefer to insure their alpacas and the usual rate of premium is about 4.0% per annum. If a new owner wishes to form a business and market their herd and attend shows and add farm infrastructure then the running/developmental costs are higher.

Tim judging fleeceHow can I get help with a business plan?

Inca Alpaca have been involved in starting up and supporting many breeders both in Australia and here in England. Because everyone’s situation and goals are different there is not one standard plan available. Inca Alpaca can advise and help each potential purchaser find their niche and set up a realistic plan for their business.

How many alpacas do I need to make a living?

This is a very common question that is asked by people thinking of farming alpacas. There is no one answer to this question due to every potential owner having a completely different set of circumstances and different goals. Many people buy wethers as pets that have a little land and just want a nice friendly animal to mow the grass. The average herd size in the UK is 7 to 8 females with the largest farm having over 1200. The majority of alpaca owners farm part time and carry on with full or part time employment. There are growing numbers of farmers taking on alpacas as a viable means of diversification and a number of people now farming alpacas on a full time basis.

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