Countries 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.
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 percent huacaya and 7 percent suri alpacas. There are about 30,000 registered alpacas in the UK and 150,000 in th USA and 150,000 in Australia.
There are two different breeders of alpacas. The Huacaya pronounced wa-ky-ya and the suri. The two types or breeds are conformational identical with the huacaya growing fibre at right angles from the skin and they develope a crimp to the staples where the suri fibre langs in locks and has more lustre than the huacaya.
15 to 20 years. Some wethers have been known to live up to 25. Female alpacas will spend most of their life pregnant.
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.
Crias (babies) are weaned between 5 and 6 months of age.
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.
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.
There are 22 internationally recognised natural shades of alpaca fleece ranging from white to black. Here in the UK our breed registry recognises 12 colours.
Weight of fleece:
A yearling alpaca usually cuts about 1.5kg, 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
Normal grass with average stocking rates of five 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here we have listed the most common questions people have relating to alpacas and farming here in Great Britain. If you have further questions or require more information please contact us at Inca Alpaca
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 a small percentage 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.
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 140,000 alpacas and their fibre company Australian Alpaca Fleece Limited are now making real headway to becoming a fully commercial fibre industry.
Until the UK reaches approximately the same number of alpacas (about 10 – 12 years from now as there are only 30,000 alpacas in the UK) the alpaca will be rare and all breeders will make money from breeding and selling to new people joining the industry.
The goal of the UK alpaca industry is to increase numbers of highly productive and healthy alpacas.
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.
Can 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.
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 20,000. 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 a couple of acres has enough land to keep alpacas. They have a stocking rate similar to sheep of around 5 alpacas per acre throughout the year. Higher stocking rates are possible when land rotation is available.
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.
How 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.
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.
How much do they cost?
Alpacas come in a huge range of quality and prices. The industry standard for wethers (pets) is around £600 - £800 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.
How 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 6 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.