Q: How are alpacas different from llamas? A: While both are members of the camel (or camelid) family, they are distinctly different animals. One way to explain the distinction is this: it's like comparing a Quarter horse with a zebra -- both are members of the equine family, but the horse and the zebra are very different animals. So, too, are the llama and alpaca.
Q: Can you pack with an alpaca? A: Generally, no. The alpaca lacks the bone structure to support weights much greater than their own natural body weight. A well-tempered alpaca might tolerate a small day-pack on its back for a short time, but this might damage the animal's fiber. For back-packing, their much larger cousin, the llama, would be much better suited.
Q: Are alpacas dangerous? A: Absolutely not! They are safe and pleasant to be around. They do not bite or butt, and do not have the teeth, horns, hooves, or claws to do serious injury like some other livestock. Occasionally, an alpaca will kick with its hind legs (especially if approached or touched from the rear), but the soft, padded feet usually do little more than just "get your attention".
Q: How do you transport an alpaca? A: If travelling for short distances, they can be transported inside a mini-van or SUV. The alpacas usually will "cush" (lay down) and very rarely have "accidents" inside the vehicle. Longer distances generally require transport in a horse or livestock trailer.
Q: So what do you DO with these animals? A: Well, they have a couple of important uses. First of all, they produce a soft and luxurious fleece/fiber, comparable to cashmere, that is turned into a wide array of products that range from teddy bears to sweaters to fine outer wear. The fleece itself is known globally for its fineness, softness, light weight, durability, excellent thermal qualitities, and luster/brightness. Additionally, alpacas represent an excellent investment and income-generating potential. Many alpaca breeders rely on the sale of their alpacas offspring (as breeding stock) and also finished goods/products for a large part (or sole source) of their income.
Q: How much acreage does it take to raise alpacas? A: Because the alpacas are so environmentally-friendly, you can usually raise about five to ten alpacas per acre, depending on terrain, rain/snowfall amounts, availability of pasture, etc. They can also be raised on dry lot, if desired.
Q: Are alpacas easy to care for? A: They are small and easy livestock to maintain. They should have basic shelter and protection from heat and foul weather. They do not challenge fences but you do have to fence to keep other animals out of their area like dogs and coyotes. Being livestock, however, they do require certain vaccinations and must be on an anti-parasitic control program. Additionally, their toenails need to be trimmed every couple of months or so and their fleeces sheared off once a year.
Q: What do alpacas eat? A: The primary thing alpacas eat is just plain grass or hay. High quality grass hay is the best thing for an alpaca. Alfalfa is discouraged or fed only sparingly, as it has a high protein content that sometimes can be unhealthy for alpacas. One to one-and-a-half, 60-pound bales of hay will usually feed between 20 to 25 alpacas each day. Most alpaca owners give their alpacas some type of supplemental grain product, especially in the winter. Some owners also give their alpacas food pellets as a nutritional supplement or training reward. Additionally, all alpacas require access to free-choice salts and trace minerals.
Q: Do alpacas spit? A: All members fo the camel family use spitting as a means of communication. The main time you'll see this is around the feeding trough, when the alpacas become very possessive about what they consider to be "their food". It is also an aggressive behavior that you may observe if two alpacas are fighting. But it is a rare that an alpaca would spit at or on a human on purpose (although humans can sometimes get caught in the cross-fire, especially during feeding time).
Q: How long do they live? A: Truth is, we're not really sure how long they can live here in North America. Our standards of care and husbandry for livestock in general and alpacas in particularly are better then most South American farms. Alpacas generally live 12 to 15 years in South America but have occasionally lived to be 20 years. Numerous farms in North America have alpacas that have lived past 20 years old, some males still breeding at that age. Alpacas have only "recently" been introduced to North America starting with imports coming in to the country back to 1984. We hope most alpacas will live at least to 20 years old and perhaps significantly longer in the future.