About Alpacas


About the Animals*

Peruvian woman holds her alpaca.

-Where do they come from?

Alpacas were imported into the United States from South America starting in 1984. The majority of them came from Peru, Bolivia, and Chile where they have been domesticated for over 5,000 years. There are two breeds of alpacas, Huacaya and Suri, both part of the Camelid family.  

-What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?

While closely related, llamas and alpacas are very different animals. Llamas are much larger, about twice the size of an alpaca, ranging in weight from 250 to 450 pounds. Alpacas weigh between 120 and 200 pounds. Llamas are primarily used as pack animals or guard animals for other herds (such as alpacas or sheep) whereas alpacas are primarily raised for their soft and luxurious fleece.

-How long do they live?

Generally, around 15 to 20 years, although we have had some animals live to be 28.

-What do they eat?

Alpacas mainly eat grass or hay. They consume approximately 1.5% of their bodyweight (two pounds per 125 pounds of animal) daily in hay or fresh pasture. We also feed our herd a pelleted grain that contains minerals to keep them in prime condition. 

People interacting with a young alpaca.

-Do they have personalities?

YES! Alpacas are very intelligent and have individual personalities with traits that often run in families. Some are shy, while others are happy to engage with the “two-leggeds.” As long as you respect their boundaries, alpacas are gentle animals that are easy to care for and train. 

-Do they spit?

All members of the camelid family use spitting as a means of negative communication, predominantly to communicate with their fellow herd members about food or hierarchy tiffs. Alpacas rarely spit at humans on purpose, so when it happens it’s usually a case of a human being in the wrong place at the wrong time or doing something they really shouldn’t be doing. 

-Is it ok to have just one alpaca?

No. Alpacas have very strong herd instincts and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive, preferably three or more. Alpacas are livestock and should not be treated as house pets.

About the Fleece

Various colors of alpaca fleece.

Prized for its unique silky feel and superb "handle," alpaca fleece is highly sought after by both cottage-industry artists (hand spinners, knitters, weavers, etc.) and also the commercial fashion industry.

Alpacas come in a variety of natural colors including true black, making their fleece very desirable to designers who work in natural colors without dyes. There are sixteen official color groups (white; beige; and shades of fawn, brown, black, and grey) with many additional subtle shades and hues. White, light fawn, and light grey can also be easily dyed to offer a rainbow of colors for the fiber artist.

In addition to its soft handle and wide array of natural colors, there are many other aspects of alpaca fleece that make it a unique natural fiber**:

  • Alpaca is flame resistant, meeting the standards of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s rigid testing specifications as a Class 1 fiber, the safest level of flame resistance for use in clothing and furnishings.
  • Alpaca is resistant to external water penetration like wool but can slowly wick away perspiration because of its unique ability to act like cotton in regaining moisture. These factors are what makes alpaca feel lighter than wool but warmer than cotton in cool, damp conditions.
  • Alpaca is water resistant, making spills easy to clean up before water saturates the fiber and allows stains to develop. It is also adsorbent to oils, a term that means that the oils do not penetrate the fibers but merely cling to them. This allows for easy clean-up of oil-based stains without the use of harsh chemicals.
  • Alpaca is free of lanolin, and thus can be processed without the need for high temperatures or harsh chemicals. The lack of lanolin also minimizes the likelihood of allergic reactions to those who are sensitive to wool, usually due to the sheep lanolin.
  • While the type of fabric dictates the level of thermal insulating properties, alpaca fiber has a high natural thermal conductivity level, yet it can also "breathe" due to its lighter weight by volume.

Alpaca fleece is harvested once a year by shearing the animal. The average clip weight per animal is 5-10 lbs. Shearing is a painless process that is also necessary for the health of the animal to prevent heat stress during the summer months.

Alpacas and the Earth

In addition to being pleasant, gentle animals who produce a highly sought-after renewable resource (fleece) they’re also easy on the land and environmentally friendly. 

Alpaca Grazing

Unlike hoofed species of livestock, alpacas have soft, padded feet with two toes that do not cause pasture damage. Due to a lack of upper front teeth, alpacas are also ideal natural lawnmowers, grazing on the stalk or leaves of a plant while leaving the root intact.

Alpacas are also considered to be more biologically efficient than other grazing livestock. Consuming only 1.5% of their bodyweight in food daily, they require less water than cotton by weight of fiber produced. In return, they produce excellent fertilizer that is easily harvested from communal dung piles. 

With their efficient digestive systems, alpacas’ manure, referred to by gardeners as “Black Gold,” can be applied directly to garden beds and flower pots without needing to be composted first. Using this natural fertilizer puts nutrients and carbon directly back into the soil, allowing a sustainable, balanced growing cycle. 


*Article about alpacas from AOA

**Article on alpaca fiber characteristics by Ruth Fuqua