We receive lots of questions during our farm visits. Here are some of the more popular ones. If you have a question for us, send us an email or give us a call.
- What is the difference between llamas and alpacas?
- Do alpacas spit?
- How long is the alpacas' gestation and how long do they live?
- Why is alpaca fleece so valuable?
- If alpaca is such a great fiber, why don't I see it in stores everywhere? Why is it so expensive when I do find an alpaca hat?
- What do they eat?
- Why is there such a difference in alpaca prices with each farm?
- I live in the city; would it be possible for me to own alpacas?
- Is it OK to have just one alpaca?
- Do I need a lot of land to raise alpacas?
- Are alpacas easy to work with?
1. What is the difference between llamas and alpacas?
Both are from the camelid family, but each serves a different purpose. Llamas are about 300 lbs and are made for packing or guarding livestock. Alpacas are much smaller, between 120-150 lbs and are solely used for their fleece, which is softer than cashmere and twice as warm as wool. We use llamas and Anatolian guard dogs to help protect our alpacas in the pasture from predators. Click Here for a longer explanation
Suri Alpaca Huacaya Alpaca Llama
Photo by Mo & Erv Lischke, Rocking L Alpacas
2. Do alpacas spit?
Alpacas and llamas alike get a bad wrap about spitting. Yes, they can spit, but rarely do. Much like any dog has the potential to bite, if an animal is trained well and trusts its surroundings, you should have no problems with camelid spit.
However, when they do spit, it is usually at each other and there are two types. The first is a dry spit, a warning to another alpaca that they are not happy. The other spit has the follow-through...a green bile / grass / everything else projectile. This is used only if they feel threatened. Spitting is one of their few defense mechanisms, as they don't kick, bite or have any other way to defend themselves.
3. How long is the alpacas' gestation and how long do they live?
Most alpaca's gestations are 11 1/2 months, usually giving birth to one cria (baby) between 10 AM and 2 PM in the afternoon. Babies usually weigh between 12 and 20 lbs. Alpaca twins are very rare and usually neither survives. Most alpacas will live 20 to 25 years, though breeding males will usually live to about 15 years old.
4. Why is alpaca fleece so valuable?
Alpaca Fiber is as soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool. There are more natural colors (22) than any other fiber-producing animal.
This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed around the world. The fiber is a thermal insulator and absorbs ambient humidity, thus affording greater protection and comfort in a variety of climates.
The fiber will not burn unless it is in direct contact with a flame and therefore offers the wearer greater safety. High strength and elasticity make this fiber highly durable and lasting longer. Alpaca is flame resistant, meeting the standards of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission's rigid testing specifications as a Class 1 fiber for use in clothing and furnishings.
Alpacas fiber is water resistant, making spills easy to clean up before water saturates the fiber allowing stain to develop. It is also absorbent to oils, meaning that the oils do not penetrate the fibers, but merely cling to the fiber for easy cleaning without harsh chemicals.
Alpaca fleece is resistant to external water penetration like wool, but can slowly wick away perspiration because of its unique ability to act like cotton in moisture regain. These factors are what makes alpaca feel lighter than wool, but warmer than cotton in cool, damp conditions. Alpaca is free of lanolin, and thus can be processed without the need for high temperatures or harsh chemicals in washing. Alpaca is a natural renewable fiber with a wide range of applications.
5. If alpaca is such a great fiber, why don't I see it in stores everywhere? Why is it so expensive when I do find an alpaca hat?
First, there are not enough alpacas in the U.S. (approximately 150,000) to supply a mill with enough fleece to keep a U.S. textile mill running throughout a year. There needs to be an estimated amount of at least 500,000 in the U.S. in order to generate enough fiber, so we only have about 20% of the amount we need at this time. Peru has about 4 million alpacas, so they are able to produce many alpaca products from their mills.
Also, it takes special machines to process the fine, smooth alpaca fiber, so not just any mill can produce alpaca yarn or garments. Alpaca farms, like us, who do have their fleece processed must do it at boutique, specialty mills in small quantities, driving up the price. Then, many items (like ours) are hand knit, instead of on a machine, which again increases the amount of money put into the garment.
6. What do they eat?
Alpacas have 3 stomachs and are very efficient in digesting their food. They require only modest amounts of hay and grass per day (approximately 1% to 2% of their body). Its estimated that one 60 pound bale of hay will feed 20 alpacas per day when other feed is unavailable. Orchard grass hay is suggested, though some alfalfa is acceptable. In addition to hay, you can get pre-mixed "alpaca chow" from Farm & Ranch stores, and /or used equine pellets.
Free choice mineral supplements (like an alpaca salt block) are also necessary for alpacas to get all the minerals they need in their diet. We then compost the alpaca manure into excellent fertilizer, which we also sell.
7. Why is there such a difference in alpaca prices with each farm?
The price of an alpaca will depend on its quality (especially conformation and fleece qualities); its bloodlines; positive traits proven to be heritable in its offspring; whether it is a male or female; age; breeding history; and a host of other traits and factors.
The basis of the alpaca industry is beautiful, long, soft fleece to make into garments and that is the primary focus for a breeder buying and selling alpaca livestock and a gauge in how much an alpaca costs.
8. I live in the city; would it be possible for me to own alpacas?
Absolutely. Urban dwellers can board (or agist) their animals at nearby alpaca farms / ranches so that they can enjoy the benefits of ownership (personal and financial) while living in a large city or suburb. See the Alpaca Ownership for further information.
9. Is it OK to have just one alpaca?
As a general rule, the answer is no. Alpacas have very strong herding instincts and need the companionship of other alpacas to thrive. Gender-appropriate (or neutered) llamas sometimes will successfully bond with an alpaca. Otherwise, it is best to provide each alpaca with a companion alpaca of the same gender.
10. Do I need a lot of land to raise alpacas?
No. The specific answer is quite variable, and is contingent on such factors as: type of terrain, amount of annual precipitation, seasonal factors, availability of pasture and/ or hay, etc. For arid climates animals are usually fed on dry lot, with little or no pasture feeding. In Montana, we usually have a range of stocking density between two to six per acre. In milder, wetter climates (like the South) with abundant fresh pasture available, ten alpacas per acre can be the norm.
11. Are alpacas easy to work with?
Yes, alpacas are very intelligent animals that respond to a variety of training and handling techniques. They learn to halter and lead in just a few training sessions (usually around 6 months old), and even most children can easily handle them. They are innately shy, but once caught, they are easily handled for checking fiber quality, trimming toes, shearing or performing a health check.