An alpaca is a camelid, a member of the camel family and a close relative to the llama. Alpacas are about one-third the size of a llama and are generally more docile. Alpacas weigh an average of 150 lbs. and are about 3 ft. tall at the shoulders. With a lifespan of between 15-20 years, the female spends most of her life gestating. Females begin breeding between 14 months and 2 years of age. Males begin breeding usually between 2 and 3 years of age. Pregnancies last around eleven and a half months and dams usually birth without intervention during daylight hours. Twins are extremely rare and single births are the norm.
There are two breeds of alpacas: huacaya and suri. Their fiber type is the distinguishing factor. The huacaya is much more common, having a very crimpy fleece that gives them a fluffy appearance. The rare suri has a silky hairlike fiber which drapes down in tight spirals and locks. About 90% of the world’s alpaca population is Huacaya and 10% is Suri.
Alpacas are raised primarily for their fiber. The “Fiber for Gods” was revered by the Incas over 5000 years ago, and only the nobility were allowed to wear this luxurious fiber that is as soft as cashmere, lighter weight and stronger than wool. Alpacas are the only fiber producing animal with 22 recognized natural colors, from black to white, with varying shades of browns, grays, and fawns in between. The alpaca fiber, which is shorn once each year, is used to make apparel from heavy socks, to wedding gowns and even lingerie.
The types of people that are Alpaca breeders vary from doctors, lawyers, business people, and cattle farmers, to name a few. Some Alpaca owners and breeders raise Alpacas as a full-time business while others only commit part-time. Alpaca breeders cover an array of people from young families to empty-nesters, people looking forward to retirement to full-time retirees. No matter where you live, you too can become an Alpaca breeder. Urban dwellers can board, or “agist”, at nearby farms/ranches so they can enjoy the benefits of ownership. Even though being an Alpaca owner and breeder offers a very attractive business and farming opportunity, people also raise these animals for companionship and to better their lifestyle.
Alpacas are relatively rare in the United States. Breeders have been lucky enough to import quality instead of mass quantity, and are now concentrating on perfecting and expanding their superior stock. The animals available are some of the best worldwide, and they have incredible promise for immediate and future returns. Immediately, there are profits to be made by breeding and selling the offspring, and there is personal satisfaction to be gained by maintaining and showing a beautiful herd. In the future, when we have increased our herds’ sizes, and optimized the production of their valuable fiber, we will also profit largely in the textile industry. An alpaca’s fiber is quite possible the word’s finest, incorporating all the best qualities of all natural fibers.
You can start with two adults, or, perhaps a female with a cria at her side. Many new breeders start with pregnant or proven females. Before choosing the animals you need to develop your goals or objectives for type of animals and fleece. Your goals will help determine the types of animals you will initially purchase. Most new breeders develop a business plan to help with their business goals and objectives.
For example, you can have a number of inexpensive geldings if you just want to use the fleece for your personal use. Or, you can have females that are known to produce good babies and/or an excellent herdsire that you hire for stud. There are many possible combinations.
A top-of-the-line proven herdsire can be valued at well over $100,000, however, if you are lucky enough to purchase this jewel as a young cria, he may cost as little as $5,000 to 10,000. Stud fees range from $500 to $5,000 each. So you can see the cost of breeding to someone else’s stud and also the potential income from a top herd sire that will command dozens of breedings per year.