IT'S ALL IN THE (CAMELID) FAMILY
Alpacas are gentle creatures and are members of the Camelid Family. Yes, alpacas (and their llama cousins) are related to camels. There are five camelid breeds: camels, llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos. Some of these have been used as pack animals and others, like the alpaca, valued for their fiber. Alpacas are a domesticated species of the South American camelid and were first imported into the United States in the mid-1980s. Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 200,000 alpacas in the US and more than 4 million alpacas in South America mostly in Peru.
Alpacas and llamas are closely related but were domesticated for different purposes as they are quite different. Adult alpacas weigh 120 to 200 pounds while an adult llama will range from 250 to 450 pounds. Llamas were domesticated primarily for use as pack animals and as guards for herds of smaller animals such as alpacas and sheep. Alpacas have been raised for their soft, luxurious fleece.
There are two breeds of alpaca. These are huacaya (wuh-KAI-ya) and suri (SUR-ee). Huacayas are the more common type and are the breed that we have in our herd. The two breeds are similar except for differences in their fiber.
HERD'S THE WORD
Alpacas have very strong herd instincts and must live with other alpacas in order to thrive – there should be three or more alpacas in a herd. Males and females are kept separated except male crias (baby alpacas) stay with their mothers until they are weaned.
Alpacas are quiet docile animals. They do make humming sounds on a regular basis and, occasionally, a high-pitched alarm call to warn of danger – perceived or real. All camelids use spitting as negative communication among their herd mates. Alpacas rarely spit at people on purpose but it is not pleasant to get caught in the crossfire of a couple ladies squabbling over getting to a grain container first.
Alpacas generally live 15 to 20 years. From our crias born on the farm this summer to our 10-year-old Athena, we are enjoying the experience of knowing each member of our herd and learning the individual personalities of these enchanting creatures.