Alpacas are a member of the Camelid family. Other members include llamas and camels. There are two types of Alpacas: Huacaya and Suri. The Huacaya predominates. Alpacas are originally from the Andes Mountains in South America. Currently there are approximately three million alpacas worldwide with 50,000 (AOBA website) residing in the US. (As of 2004, there were about 6 million sheep in the US. —American Sheep Industry Association)
Alpacas are raised for their fleece. Unlike lamb’s wool, alpaca fleece contains no lanolin making it hypoallergenic. An alpaca can produce five to ten pounds of fleece per year. The fleece can be sold to small spinners in cottage industries, larger material manufacturers, or the Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America. Alpacas come in approximately 22 different colors and the fleece can also be dyed. In North America naturally colored fleece is highly desired.
Alpacas only produce one cria (baby alpaca) per year. This coupled with the fact that importation of alpacas into the United States was closed in 1998 ensures that the alpaca population grows at a slow and steady rate. The majority of alpacas in the United States are registered with the Alpaca Registry and are DNA typed. Alpacas can be 100% insured for 3.3% of their value. They are not aggressive and at most will be five feet tall and weigh 150 - 200 pounds. Required shelter consists of a three-sided barn and they tolerate cold well. In warm climates they will need a large fan or other method to keep from overheating.
Alpacas are environmentally friendly[i] and contribute to community conservation efforts in several ways:
o The alpaca's feet are padded and leave terrain undamaged as it browses on native grasses.
o The alpaca is a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
o Its camelid ancestry allows the alpaca to thrive without consuming very much water, although an abundant, fresh water supply is necessary.
o The alpaca does not usually eat or destroy trees, preferring tender grasses, which it does not pull up by the roots.
o A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites, and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer.
o An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm sweaters for its owner’s comfort or for selling to others. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts.