Alpacas were domesticated by the ancient Inca people 6,000 thousand years ago and remained hidden in deepest, darkest Peru for thousands of years. Now these lovely creatures are spreading across the world, including our herd in Orkney.
Bred from the wild vicuña, alpacas are part of the camelid family, related to llamas and camels. Unlike their cousins, they do not bear weight, but were bred for their luxurious fibre.
Alpacas have strong herding instincts. They should not live in a group of less than 3 alpacas and one should never be left alone. Alpacas make excellent guards; they have good eyesight and will protect any animal they deem under their watch. (Llamas too have these instincts and both are an important part of South American farming.) However, alpacas do not harm people… no matter how horrible!
Alpacas are sheared once a year; their fibre is unique making it highly valuable and sought after. The overall fibre is fluffy, although it spins up dense and shiny. The colours range from white to black, all shades of brown, including ‘cinnamon’ and ‘rosy brown’, as well as greys and spotted.
You may notice shearers often don’t shave off their hairstyles and fluffy tails. This is because alpacas use heads, ears and tails to communicate in ways people just don’t understand. Shaving these areas will upset alpaca chat!
Alpacas give birth to one cria (baby) each year. It is exceptionally rare for twins to be born. The gestations period is approx. 1 year*, meaning that after alpacas give birth they are immediately mated for next years offspring. Crias are often met by a curious extended family of aunties and will be watched over by everyone. They stay with their mothers for a long time, learning the politics and etiquette of the herd. Cria fleece is wonderfully soft and warm. Crias’ themselves are adorable and bouncy.
Alpacas are grazing animals with three stomachs. They also need a daily supplement mix, containing strange things like copper and alfalfa. In our bleak Orkney winters, alpacas are given warm sugar beet which they love. They are also supposed to love carrots and apples but so far ours have been unimpressed and suspicious.
Shhh! Yes you can. There is very little meat on alpacas (they are all fluff and no flab) so they are, literally, worth more alive then barbequed.
Alpacas can live for around 20 years
Yes! They are wonderful pets but a huge commitment. They have specialist food, shelter and shearing needs and you need at least three for them to live happily as a herd. You will also waste away your days watching them, smiling.