are domesticated members of the Camelid Family and are native to
the South American countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Chili. When you think of a
camelid, you probably think of the
old world camels with humps (Genus: Camelus). Archaeologists
believe that camelids originated in North America around
30 million years ago and were ultimately split into two
groups. One group, the old world camels with humps,
migrated to northern Africa and central Asia, and the
other group, the Lama group, migrated to South
two domesticated species of South American camelids,
including the llama and the alpaca, and two wild species of
South American camelids, including the guanaco and the vicuna.
For many decades, the domesticated alpaca was thought to
have been derived from the wild guanaco. New genetic
evidence shows that the ancestor of the alpaca is really
the vicuna, according to a 2001
genetic study by an international team including Jane C.
Wheeler, director of the South American Camelid Research
and Development Organization in Lima. Guanacos and
vicunas still exist in the wild, although
wild populations of both are considered threatened and vulnerable.
table shows the taxonomic classification (family tree) of the
Camelus, old world camelids
dromedary camel (one hump)
Bactrian camel (two humps)
Lama, South American camelids
Alpacas were first
domesticated by the Incans in South America over 5,000
years ago and were a cherished treasure of the Incan
civilization. An Incan's wealth was once measured by the
number of alpacas he owned. Alpacas were also
thought to be an important part of religious ceremonies,
perhaps as sacrifices to the gods. The Incans practiced
selective breeding and their alpacas evolved with the
finest of fleeces ever known to mankind, the likes of
which, has not yet been matched today.
the ancient Inca make the finest woolen cloth the world
has ever known? Be sure to read "Secrets
of the Alpaca Mummies", a fascinating article
from Discover Magazine.
the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the 17th
century, both the Incans and alpacas were massacred in
South America. The Spanish slaughtered the alpacas
by the thousands, seeing them as competition for the sheep
that they brought with them. The finest bloodlines
were lost and the many years spent producing the
"fiber of the gods" was all but lost. The
Incans that did manage to survive took what alpacas they
could and fled high into the sanctuary of the Andes
Mountains. Here they lived and survival of the
fittest ensued, ensuring a hardier and healthier alpaca.
recognized worldwide as producers of some of the finest
fiber in the world, alpacas are being successfully raised
and enjoyed throughout North America and abroad. There are
two types (or breeds) of alpacas - the Huacaya and the
Suri. The fiber of the Suri alpaca falls in long
lustrous locks while the fiber of the huacaya alpaca shows
greater density, crimp, and is
very fluffy in appearance. The ancient Incans can be
credited for creating these two distinct fleece types
through their selective breeding programs.
- The lifespan of the
alpaca is thought to be about 20 to 25 years and
gestation is 11.5 months; twins are extremely rare.
do not go "into heat". They are induced
ovulators and can be bred year-round.
- A baby
alpaca is called a cria and only weighs between 15 -
19 pounds at birth.
- Instead of hooves,
alpacas have padded feet (like dogs and cats) with
only two toenails, making them gentle on the land.
Toenails do need occasional trimming.
- Alpacas eat grasses and
chew a cud.
- Alpacas have a hard
pallet in their mouths instead of upper incisor teeth
so they cannot pick grass closely to the ground as do
sheep and goats.
- Alpacas typically do not
bite, unless fighting with another male.
- Adult alpacas are about
3 feet tall at the withers and generally weigh between
100 and 200 pounds.
- Alpacas are much smaller
- Alpacas are not used as
pack animals in South America, they are too small.
- They are gentle animals,
sometimes timid like a deer, and easy to handle.
- Clean-up is easy since
alpacas deposit droppings in community piles.
- They require minimal
fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre.
- Alpacas do spit, but
rarely on humans (just watch out for the cross-fire!)
- Alpacas are typically
shorn every spring in North America.
- The Alpaca Registry Inc.
(ARI) has been established to document bloodlines.
Alpacas must be blood typed in order to be registered.
Virtually every alpaca in the U.S. is registered.
Opportunities and Tax Advantages
alpacas is a growing industry and the demand for
breeding stock has been steady. Each animal is
blood-typed and registered with the Alpaca Registry,
Inc. (ARI). As a result the registry bloodlines
have been kept pure and well documented. The current alpaca industry is
based on the sale of quality breeding stock, which
demands premium prices. With the small number of
alpacas currently available, along with the slow
reproduction rate of one baby per year per animal, the
market for these animals will continue many years into
alpacas are actively raised for profit, all the
expenses attributable to this endeavor can be written
off against your income. Tangible property
(breeding stock, barns, fences) can be depreciated.
Alpacas can also be insured against loss. Alpaca
breeding allows for tax deferred wealth building
(example: a small owner can purchase several
alpacas and then allow his herd to grow over time
without paying income tax on its increased size and
value). Another bonus that many will appreciate
is that alpacas do not require butchering in order to
be a profitable investment. A very helpful IRS
publication, #225, entitled The
Farmers Tax Guide, can
be obtained online or from your local IRS office.
are practical for both large and small farms.
They are beautiful, intelligent, gentle, clean,
disease resistant, earth-friendly farm animals. They
are small, easy to handle and halter train. In
addition, they make wonderful pets that can be
transported easily in the family van.
are low maintenance in that they require little daily
maintenance. An acre of land can pasture 5-10 alpacas. Good
animal husbandry does require occasional grooming,
trimming of toenails and teeth, vaccinations, as well as
the annual or bi-annual shearing of the fleece.
an alpaca is for you?