- How long do alpacas live?
Alpacas have a lifespan of about 20 years.
- How big are they?
Alpacas stand about 1 metre tall at the withers (the highest part of the animal’s back). Cria, the young, weigh about 6 to 8kg at birth. Adult females weigh between 45 and 65kg, some males can be slightly larger.
- Do they get many illnesses?
Alpacas are hardy and relatively problem free. However, like all livestock they can suffer from various diseases and may at times require veterinary treatment. They require vaccinations yearly and also regular worming.
- What do they eat?
Alpacas are semi-ruminants, surviving happily on grass throughout the year. Hay must be provided on an ad lib basis all year round – particularly in the winter. Most owners provide a low protein supplementary feed which usually includes additional minerals and nutrients. A grazing regime of between 3-5 per acre is usual, but will depend on your conditions.
- How long is their gestation?
Alpacas have a gestation of about 11 months, but this can vary. They give birth to a cria (young animal) that weighs about 6 to 8kg. Female alpacas tend to give birth in the morning. They rarely have twins but, if they do, it is unusual for the cria to survive. The cria is weaned at about 6 months of age.
- Are alpacas difficult to breed?
Alpacas are induced ovulators and therefore can be bred at any time, although planning for spring births is preferable. The females are generally remated 2-6 weeks after the birth. Males become fertile at about 18 months to 3 years. To ensure successful breeding programmes, only the most outstanding males should be kept back for stud work.
- Do they need special shelter or fencing?
Alpacas need a field shelter, large enough to house all of the alpacas in the field, to allow them to get out of the rain. Alpacas do not challenge fences and so a metre high barrier is adequate. Barbed wire should be removed because their wool can get tangled in it and they can become trapped.
- Do they affect the pasture?
Alpacas are very gentle on the land because they have padded feet and therefore do not churn up the ground. They deposit their droppings in piles in only a few sites and cleaning up is easier than for other animals.
- How are alpacas transported?
Alpacas are easy to transport in any covered trailer or horse box. They tend to sit down on the journey.
- Can alpacas be kept on their own?
No, alpacas are a herd animal and will become stressed if kept alone even for short periods. They should be kept in groups of three or more. Alpacas can be run with other animals such as goats and sheep and provide good protection from foxes.
- Are alpacas easy to handle?
Alpacas are gentle and easy to handle. They can be halter trained very easily, especially when young. They occasionally spit but only when provoked such as when they are being vaccinated. Some will kick when being touched on their back legs but, if handled when young, they can be desensitised in this area. Alpacas only have lower teeth which meet on a hard upper pad. They don't tend to bite, but sometimes pull at clothing to attract attention!
- How often do they need shearing?
Alpacas need shearing once a year, although suris (a particular type) are sometimes sheared every other year. On average, a fleece will weigh between 2 . 5 kg but some alpacas have the potential to produce up to 5kg.
- What colours can alpacas be?
There are 22 recognised fleece colours ranging from white to fawns to browns to black, there are also greys and rose greys. They stay the colour they are at birth throughout life.
- Do alpacas make good pets?
Alpacas make excellent pets. They are intelligent, easily trained and are usually very gentle with children. They are inquisitive, approaching people who stand and watch them. They will eat out of the hand if time is spent and training to lead by a halter is straightforward.
- Can you eat them?
Yes, alpaca forms part of the food chain in South America. It is a very lean meat with a low cholesterol and low fat content. There are some members in the UK who offer alpaca meat and meat products for sale.
- Where should I go to buy alpacas?
The BAS strongly recommends that prospective and existing breeders purchase only BAS registered alpacas from owners who are registered with the BAS. All BAS members adhere to the Society's Code of Conduct for the Sale of Alpacas.