Marchmont Park Alpacas
Marchmont Park Alpacas

Did you know...

Where did alpacas come from?

Alpacas originated in South America (Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina). They were first introduced to Australia by Charles Ledger in the mid 1800s, but they eventually died out. They were reintroduced to Australia in 1989 and are becoming more and more popular. Some sheep farmers have 'guardian alpacas' among their herds to help prevent lamb losses by predators.

Alpaca breeds and physical characteristics

There are two breeds of alpaca: Huacaya and Suri.

Huacayas have a sheep-like fleece that stands at right angles to the body. Suris have a dreadlock style fleece that hangs from a centre part, and is finer and silkier than Huacaya fleece.

Alpacas are ruminants (cud chewers), and have three stomachs (unlike cows, which have four). They are predominantly grazers, and occasional browsers (eating from trees).

They have soft padded feet with two toes on each foot. Animals which graze on soft ground need to have their nails trimmed regularly to prevent lameness.

Alpacas are easily halter trained and this is usually done when they are weaned, although it is possible to halter train an adult. Halter training is done to enable the animals to be handled easily for shearing, showing, husbandry and transportation. The halter is similar to the kind worn by horses, although much smaller.

Males have six fighting teeth (four at the top, two at the bottom) which appear when they reach sexual maturity (around 2-3 years of age). These teeth can be trimmed to avoid injury to other animals in the herd.

Mating and breeding

Female alpacas must be receptive to the male for mating to occur. If the female is unreceptive (usually if she is pregnant), she will run away from the male and/or spit at him. If she is receptive, she will sit in the 'kush' position and the male will mount her from behind. Joining time can range from 5 - 50 minutes (average 20 minutes), and during this time the male makes an 'orgling' sound (he sings to her).

Alpacas have no fixed breeding season, so a receptive female can be mated at any time of the year.

Gestation takes an average of 11.5 months. Twins are extremely rare. Newborn alpacas are called cria (pronounced 'cree-ah').

Alpacas and the environment

Alpacas are environmentally friendly - their soft feet do not damage soils, they don't ringbark trees, their fleece requires less chemical processing than other natural fibres and they do not require drenching and dipping. They do not suffer from footrot, bloat or flystrike.

Alpacas use a communal dung pile, and do not graze near it, which reduces the risk of internal parasitic infestations such as worms. Their dung consists of small pellets, similar to sheep dung.

Shearing and fleece information

Alpacas are shorn in spring. This prevents them suffering from heat-stroke in summer, but allows the fleece to grow just enough to prevent sunburn in the summer months. On hot days, they will use their feet to throw water on their stomachs to cool themselves down. During the shearing process they are restrained to prevent stress and injury.

Alpaca fleece has better thermal qualities than sheep's wool, and is much softer than wool when worn against the skin - no prickling! It is up to seven times warmer than sheep's wool, and contains no lanolin. The fibres are measured in 'microns' (one micron = one thousandth of a millimetre), and the average fibre diameter is between 17-35 microns. Fibres that are less than 25 microns in diameter are considered to be fine. The lower the micron, the better the fibre.

The Standard Deviation (SD) is the +/- difference in fibre diameter that occurs in the fleece. Approximately 2000 fibres from each fleece are tested to produce these figures.