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About Alpacas

Alpaca are a domesticated species of Camelid and originate from the Altiplano area of South America. Snowball  Shamrock They are closely related to the other domesticated Camelid - Llama and the wild species of Vicuna and Guanaco.

Alpaca are ideally suited to both the lifestyle block or as an alternative enterprise on a larger property.  The easy care nature of alpaca make them perfect for busy people who want to enjoy their animals.   Alpaca are ulitmately farmed for their fibre and there is huge potential for the future. With increasing demand for natural sustainable products that have been ethically farmed and the luxurious qualities of alpaca fibre, New Zealand alpaca farmers have great opportunities ahead as the industry develops.

History of Alpaca

Fossils from the ancient ancestors of alpaca show they originated in the Southern States of the USA.  These animals migrated north along the Bering Bridge (now the Bering Sea) evolving into Dromedary and Bactrian camels.  Others migrated to the pampas plains of Southern America and evolved into Guanaco, Vicuna, Llama and Alpaca that we know today. 

Alpaca have been domesticated in the South American countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia for over 6000 years.  Prized by the Incan and pre-Incan cultures for their fibre, they suffered a major setback when the conquistadors invaded in the 1500s, pushing the camelid species up into the mountains.

The last 100 years have seen a renewed focus on breeding alpaca for fibre, with a demand for quality textiles in Europe and Asia.

Alpaca were first imported to New Zealand in the late 1980s from Chile. This was followed by imports from Peru, boosted the population and improving he quality of stock.  Today, alpaca are traded around the world, coming to New Zealand from Australia and the USA and exported to Asia and Europe.  The quality of alpaca, advanced breeding and farming systems used, along with disease free status and the biosecurity reputation of New Zealand plays a big part in making New Zealand an important player in the international market.

guanaco Vicuna Llama
Guanaco Vicuna Llama

Types of Alpaca

 There are two types of alpacas, the very rare Suri and the Huacaya.Harmonica - Huacaya

  • Huacaya (pronounced wah-ky-ya) make up approximately 90% of the alpaca in New Zealand.  They are characterised by a thick dense fleece growing perpendicular from the body, similar to merino wool.  Good huacaya fibre has a soft handle, brightness and a defined crimp throughout the blanket area.
  • Suri (pronounced soo-ree) is distinguished by its long silky fibre that grows parallel to the body and hangs in distinctive locks.  Its silkiness and exquisite lustre ensures a premium price on the world fibre market.  The world population of Suri is estimated at 3% of the alpaca population, however New Zealand Suri make up 10%. Suri - Isaac

Why Alpacas?

Lifestyle - Alpaca can make great pets and provide hours of fun and enjoyment for their owners

Fibre - Alpaca have a luxurious soft warm fleece that can be made into a range of products from duvets through to high end garments

Grass Eaters - Alpaca are an easy care alternative to traditional livestock.  An alpaca will eat about the same amount as a sheep.

Income or Investment - Alpaca are here to stay and the market has been reasonably stable, making alpaca a viable income stream for a small block.  While most breeders have a primary income off farm there are still many who successfully farm alpaca as a full time job and there is room in the industry for you if you want to make that happen

Looking after Alpaca

Alpaca are suberb animals to farm as they are intelligent, easy to handle and very hardy.  They need little routine maintenance and in general do not suffer from problems such as footrot and flystrike commonly associated with sheep farming.   There is no need for crutching, tail docking, or dipping, leaving lots of time to simply enjoy these beautiful and fascinating animals.

Feeding - Alapca are "opportunist browsers" and incredible converters of low grade forage.  They will graze most grasses and the foliage of trees without stripping the bark.  Grass, hay and a clean supply of fresh drinking water is all the typical New Zealand alpaca requires.  Generally they do not need additional feed supplements.  Regular hands-on chesk as to the 'condition' of the animals is encouraged as a full fleece can conceal a thin alpaca

Fencing - There are very few requirements in the way of fencing or yards when running alpaca.  Alpaca do not challenge barriers and a standard sheep fence is more than adequate.  Barbed wire should be avoided and electric 'hot wires' are not needed.  In most cases the existing fencing on a property is sufficient. 

Shearing - It is normal practice for alpaca to be shorn annually in springtime when the weather is warming up.  The suri breed can be shorn every second year as due to the way their fleece falls they don't feel the heat as much as the huacaya breed.  If, however you are using the fleece it is good practice to shear both breeds annually.  They may be shorn with conventional sheep shearing equipment with a flexible dropper or with electric clippers.  Some people learn to shear their own alpaca, others use professional alpaca shearers. 

Reproduction - Alpaca have a slightly different reproductive lifecycle than other livestock.  They are induced ovulators, so only ovulate once mated i.e. they don't come into season as such and can be mated at any time of the year.  This has the convenience of being able to choose a convenient time of year to have birthing season.  The gestation length generally ranges from 11-11.5mths depending on the time of year - Winter and Spring gestations are typically longer, Summer and Autumn gestations shorter.  Birthing is predominantly during the day, and alpaca mothers will often wait until fine weather to 'unpack' their offspring.  Baby alpaca are called cria (pronounced cree-ah).  They are approximately 6-8kg at birth and are standing, drinking and running within a few hours.

Behaviour - Alpaca are herd animals and do their best when kept and handled in groups rather than on their own.  They are very curious and come when called, can be trained to eat out of your hand, and are easily taught to lead on a halter.  Once held, alpaca are naturally submissive. Crooking an arm around the next and placing the other hand on the animal's back holds them.  For an animal that looks deceptively big they are very gentle and actually weigh little more than a sheep.

Routine Care - As alpaca defecate in communal sites around their field, preferring not to graze around these 'dung piles' internal parasite levels are normally low thus drenching requirements are lower than for other livestock.  Alpaca that are grazed with other livestock might need more regular drenching.  Alpaca need to be vacinated against clostridial diseases found in New Zealand.   The same products for sheep can be used.  Alpaca have soft padded feet with tow toes.  These may need trimming from time to time (usually at shearing time). 

If you are new to breeding it is important to understand how to care for your animals.  Naturally detailed information should be provided by the breeder you purchase your animals from, but it's also important to have a chat to your local vet

Alpaca FibreNewborn Set - LG001

Fibre processing is still in its infancy in New Zealand, however with more commerical processors starting up and new initiatives springing up through-out the country there are and will continue to be opportunities for those interested in doing something with this amazing fibre. 

Alpaca is softer than wool and believed to have superior warmth and strength characteristics.  There is minimal lanolin in the fibre and thus believed to be hypoallergenic with people reporting less skin irritation from alpaca fibre garments.  Huacaya fibre is similar in style to merino, however it's smoother fibre shaft gives an improved handle or feel over sheep wool, making it feel softer against the skin.  Suri fibre is straighter and smoother in structure giving it extreme natural lustre and a very slippery feel.

Alpaca is a versatile fibre that can be carded, spun, woven, knitted or felted.  It can be used by hand spinners through to large commercial spinning mills, and in products from home made baby booties to evening wear on international catwalks. The incredible warmth and superior handle or feel of alpaca makes it ideally suited to clothing worn next to the skin.  The possibilities are endless!

There are a huge range of resources on the internet if you are wanting to find out more about these amazing animals.  A great place to start would be contacting an alpaca breeder and visiting a farm.  Alpaca breeders just love talking about these animals.  Give us a call or drop us a line and we can either find you someone in your local area, arrange a visit to our farm, or send you out an information pack.

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