Alpacas are members of the camelid family!
Most people know about camels. The camelid family also includes the wild guanaco (“wa-NAH-ko”), the domesticated llama, and the fiber-bearers: the wild vicuna (“vee-KOO-nya”) and the domesticated alpaca.
There are two alpaca breed types:
suri – (pronounced “surrey”) Suri fleece hangs down from the body in beautiful pencil-like locks.
huacaya – (pronounced “wah-KI-ah”). Huacaya fleece is wavy or crimpy which gives them their fluffy, teddy bear-like appearance.
In many parts of the world, including their native South America, alpacas are eaten. However, in North America, alpacas are raised as a fiber producing animal. Some larger breeders in North America have reveled that they also slaughter some of their cast offs for their own consumption. In South America, they are also sometimes used as “pack animals”. Although they can not carry a large load, nor do they have a lot of meat.
The average alpacas stands about 36″ tall at the withers (the point where the neck and spine come together). Females on average weigh between 100 and 150 pounds, but can be larger especially during the last few months of gestation. Males weigh roughly 140 to 200 pounds. For the most part, alpacas are a gentle intelligent animal. Like many herd animals they have a keen sense of “family” or herd mentality. They like to be among themselves and are rarely seen alone and at a great distance from the rest of the “family”. Like people each one can have their own personality, likes, dislikes and even temper tantrums !
DO THEY SPIT ? Why yes of course they do and it’s the experienced alpaca farmer that can tell when that might happen and is quick to duck out of the way of the flying green stuff ! Alpacas spit when provoked or agitated with one another. Most times it’s over food and at each other rather than at you.
TOES? – Alpacas have two toes, with hard toenails on the top and soft pads like a dog on the bottom. The toe nails must be kept trimmed regularly to ensure comfort and health. Because of this, they are very gentle on the land and do not compact the soil or dig it up like a horse or cattle.
Teeth – Alpacas have a single row of teeth on the bottom of their mouth and a smooth hard palate or dental pad on the top. The forage that it favors is gently cut by the bottom teeth and crushed against the palate in a back and forth motion before it is swallowed and digested.
Stomach – Alpacas have a single stomach divided into three compartments. They produce rumen and chew cud much like a cow. This highly sophisticated food processing capability makes the alpaca one of the fuel-efficient forms of livestock in existence anywhere in the world! It also makes their dung one of the best natural fertilizers available.