Frequently Asked Questions
- What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas originated from the Andes of South America and are part of the Camelid family. They are cousin to the llama and are smaller than the llama. Alpacas stand about 36 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 150-200 pounds. They are a herd animal, so you should have at least 3. Alpacas have incisors on the bottom of their mouth, molars on top and bottow in the back of their mouth, and a dental pad on the top front. This allows them to gently graze the pasture. Their split foot with two padded toes also makes them easy on pasture. With this said, alpacas are much easier on pasture than horses or cows.
Alpacas are ruminants, which means they mostly graze pasture for their nutrition. They are also supplemented with a small amount of grain, free choice minerals, electrolytes (AKA Alpaca Gatorade), and hay. It costs about the same to feed an alpaca per month as it does your pet dog.
Because Alpacas are from the Andes of South America, they prefer cooler weather. On a hot summer day, you will likely find the alpacas hanging out by the fans in the barn. The best experience with alpacas is standing in the middle of an alpaca paddock with a running water-hose. The alpacas will run up and soak their bellies, legs and rears, or just drink the water straight from the hose. How refreshing!
Alpacas are bred for their luxurious fleece, which is warmer and lighter than wool, and as soft as cashmere. The alpaca fleece is hypo-allergenic, because it contains no lanolin. Hundreds of years ago domesticated alpacas were known as the "Gold of the Andes, because of their luxurious fleece."
Alpacas come from South America in two varieties, Suri and Huacaya. To compare the fiber produced by each is like comparing apples to oranges. Huacaya fiber has a fluffy, soft, and spongy appearance, much like a teddy bear. The fiber readily accepts dyes due to its scale configuration of crimp along the length of the fibers. Its scale structure also allows it to be efficiently spun into strong yarns. Suri fiber, on the other hand, is very lustrous and slippery, and resembles Angora goat fiber. It is commonly blended with huacaya, sheep's wool, and other fibers.
- Why Alpacas?
Even though they are just plain cute and addictive, there are many reasons for owning and breeding alpacas.
As mentioned earlier, alpacas have luxurious fleece. Huacaya alpaca fleece is fluffy and Suri Alpaca fleece is silky. Both types of fleece are very soft, strong and warm. As the fleece continues to be recognized for its outstanding qualities, the demand for alpaca fiber will grow. Alpaca fiber is used in quality sweaters, socks, mittens, scarves and hats, as well as designer suits, blankets and rugs.
Another reason for breeding alpacas is for the tax advantages. You can depreciate your alpacas alpacas, off-setting other income. In areas where property tax is high, the farm assessment helps to lower property tax. Most people who decide to breed and raise alpacas do it for the life-style. Some choose to breed alpacas as a life-style, and as part of a diversified investment portfolio. Alpacas are very peaceful animals, and when worked with properly by understanding and respecting their needs as herd animals you will find that it's easy to fall in love with them. If you want to learn more, book a farm tour with us. https://square.site/book/AHY637SZJ61SD/double-8-alpaca-ranch-purcellville-va
Be sure to note your interest in raising alpacas in the notes section. That tour includes discussion of farm infrastructure, breeding, nutrition, herd health, and individual alpaca evaluation and selection.
- How do I start an Alpaca Farm?
Visit as many farms and collect as much literature as you can on the huggable investment/alpacas! (please note: not all alpacas like to be hugged. It all depends on the handling of the alpaca, and their individual temperaments) Attend seminars and auctions, so that you can learn about the various topics of working with alpacas. If you don't have previous livestock experience or experience with alpacas, we would recommend boarding your animals for a minimum of 3 - 6 months. By visiting the boarding farm about once a week, we were able to get hands-on experience/knowledge of working with our animals. We learned all about the day-to-day care, handling, neonatal birthing and care, and how to give oral and injectable meds and dewormers. Hands-on experience is truly invaluable! Call us if you would like to LEARN more! We offer 3 months free board if you buy an alpaca from Double 8 Alpaca Ranch, and you're welcome to come by as often as you like to get your "hands-on" experience!
- What is "A Day in the Life of an Alpaca Breeder" like?
The best part of this experience is to find out that every day is different, and that every day (even for the most experienced alpaca breeder) is a learning experience. The times below can be altered to fit your daily schedule.
Any time btw: 7:00 - 8:30 AM - Greet the alpacas and ask them to go out into the pasture to graze and play. Clean barn or night paddock dung piles (alpacas pick a communal dung area) Once the alpacas decide where that spot is, some farms will create "Kitty-litter" type boxes around that area and fill it with sand or wood shavings for easy cleaning.
8:30 AM - Go out into pasture to check on the mommys-to-be. If you know that an alpaca is due to have her cria then take your cria kit with you. A nice guide to have on hand is the The Llama and Alpaca Neonatal Care book by Bradford B. Smith, DVM, PhD, Karen I. Timm, DVM, PhD, and Patrick O. Long, DVM. An alpaca baby is called a cria, and is usually standing and nursing on its own within 20 minutes after birth. You might need to stand the cria up for it to learn how to balance and walk itself. Show the cria where the milk source is and if cria doesn't have a strong suckling reflex then gently pull off the wax-like plugs from the dam's teats. Squeeze a little milk and rub on cria's lips. The cria then should catch on from here.
9:00 AM - Close up the feeding area and start putting feed into the containers. Rinse out water buckets and give about 2 5-gallon buckets of water with electrolytes and one bucket with fresh water. We wash the feed and water buckets with soap and water once weekly. It's nice to have an automatic waterer for every 6 - 15 alpacas so that there's always a fresh water source. Offer at least one container of free choice minerals. Alpacas will take this in as they need it. Set up a creep feeder, which is where only the crias can fit through an opening. Usually the older crias visit this area, so they don't have to fight the adults for food. The younger crias get most of their nutrition through nursing.
The alpacas will watch excitedly as you prepare their meal!
9:15 AM - Invite the alpacas in to enjoy their meal, and close them in so that you can monitor who is and who isn't eating. Alpacas are stoic, so this is a good time to see if anyone isn't feeling well. An alpaca who sticks her nose into a feeder, but doesn't come out chewing tells you that she might not be feeling well. However she might have consumed enough fresh grass, so she may just not be too hungry right now. I lock my bred moms and babies in for about 30 minutes to give them plenty of time to eat.
9:45 AM - Since you have the alpacas closed in the barn/feed area, and after they've eaten, you can administer any meds, take weights, or monitor any conditions at this time. Set up a stall in an area where it's easy to circulate the alpacas in and out. Also remember that alpacas are a herd-oriented animal, so you may want to make this area big enough for the waiting area, small work area, and then another big area for the animals to go when they are done with whatever task you are doing.
(This step doesn't happen everyday) You might want to monitor one, a couple or all depending on the situation.
9:45 or 10:15 AM - Let the alpacas back out to graze and play, or just sun themselves. If it's a real hot day you might choose to hose down their legs and bellies to help cool them down or as a special treat after working with them. You will want to pay special attention to your breeding males. High temperatures can result in lower active sperm counts. Be aware that too much water can cause "wool rot". This might happen if the temperatures aren't high enough to completely dry the alpacas' fiber. We've been hosing down the animals only on days when the temperature is at least 85 degrees. Another option is to put a timer on a sprinkler and let the alpacas play and cool themselves. This is another good time to check on mommys-to-be. Usually alpacas have their crias early in the morning between 8am - 10 am, so that the cria has enough sunlight hours to dry off its coat and learn to walk and nurse.
11:30 AM - Lunch Time/Break for the "2" legged!
Between 4:00 - 5:00 PM - Check electrolytes and fresh water if it's a real scorcher of a day, and replenish. A second feeding for mommys-to-be and nursing moms.
As mentioned earlier every day is different. You will want to plan times for breedings, which are better in the cool hours of the early morning. Plan times for sales and marketing, or a friendly visitor. If showing your animals, you will want to plan time to work on halter training, again better in the cool hours of the morning.