Alpaca are Camelids and come from the high Andes in South America, along with Llama. Both have been domesticated for several 1000 years. Alpaca are fairly small, about 90cm at the shoulder and 65 – 90kg in weight. They have always been prized for their fine and colourful fleeces which can be used to make very warm and light clothing.
There are 22 recognised colours. Llama are much bigger than alpaca and are used as beasts of burden as well as providing fine fleece.
Alpaca carry their young for 11 – 11½ months and the babies are called cria.
They give birth, or unpack their cria in daylight and twins are very rare and it is even rarer for them to survive. They do not lick the cria.
In addition to humming which is the most common sound they make, they click to the cria. Cria are up and running within a half hour of birth and weigh between 6 and 10kg.
There are two alpaca breeds, the huacaya whose fleece grows like that of a sheep. It is dense, crimpy and soft and has negligible grease and the suri whose fleece hangs down in long bundles, rather like dreadlocks.
Suri fleece feels quite cool to the touch. Both can be used for knitting, weaving and felting.
All camels spit and it is a way of keeping discipline in the herd.
They do not spit at humans but if they are arguing over titbits or the food ration you can get caught in the cross fire and it is smelly!
As alpaca are herd animals, you must always have a minimum of 2. Kept on their own they fret and can die of stress. They are easy to keep, requiring grass and little else.
They need an injection once a year for Clostridial diseases and worming once or twice a year.
They need shearing once a year and this is also a time to cut the toe nails if necessary