Introduction to Alpacas

Alpacas...

  • ...live 15 to 20 years
  • ...grow to about 1 metre (at the shoulder)
  • ...weigh up to 70 kg
  • ...gestate for approximately 335 days (imagine being pregnant for 11 months!)
  • ...give birth to young weighing usually 6 - 8 kg (compared to 2.7kg – 4kg average human baby).

These unique animals begin life as crias. As they hit the adolescent years, they're called tuis, then grow into hembras (adult females) and machos (adult males). You may wonder, why so Spanish?

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Buying your first Alpaca

When you're thinking about joining the alpaca owner's community, there are lots of questions to consider. As it's a long-term commitment, it's important to be prepared and informed. If you are intending to start an alpaca based business, the information below will assist you in building your business plan.
To streamline this process, we've compiled a Buyer's Checklist covering all the most important questions.

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Alpaca Farming Choices & Agistment

If you've seen alpacas at shows or open farms and are thinking of becoming part of a fast developing industry with great potential, then you're thinking of starting out with alpacas.

At this early stage, it's important to consider what your goals might be, so you can work towards them from the outset. This way, you'll be best established to achieve those goals and get the most out of your alpacas.

Do you want to build a successful business on a larger scale? Or do you want to keep it small and simple? Even if you're not sure what scale you may develop to, it's important to start out by giving yourself the greatest range of options. For example, if you're interested in the fleece industry, you may want to breed for low-micron fleece that's best for soft garments, and so starting out with an older alpaca with high-micron fleece isn't the best option.

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Suri Fleece

The fleece is the primary distinguishing feature of the suri alpaca. The animal is covered with lustrous, silky, locking fibre, prized both in the show ring and by processors. The fleece hangs from a centre part – neck through to tail – with the locks lying close to the skin in a draped, free-swinging curtain.

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Huacaya Fleece

Huacaya alpacas have crimped fleece that grows directly out from the body, giving huacayas a rounded figure. The fleece should be well nourished and exhibit a defined, highly aligned crimp across all fibres, with excellent and consistent definition to the staples. Coverage should extend down the legs and up the neck to a full bonnet on the head with a clean muzzle and ears.

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Fleece & Fashion

High-quality fleece production is achieved through an effective breeding program, careful preparation and professional shearing. The AAA assists farmers with up-to-date information on standards and procedures, by educating others in the industry, and providing workshops, field days and regular information through the member's magazine and newsletter. The AAA's regions provide on the ground support for members through all stages of the process.

Depending on your alpaca breed, the fleece will have different characteristics. High-quality Huacaya fleece should have a uniform fibre with a consistent colour, length, strength and crimping. It is consistently bright and fine, with little guard hair.

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Alpaca Meat

Alpacas have long represented a major food source for South America peoples; they have been called the sheep of the Andes. Though mostly farmed for their fleece in Australia, the industry here is waking up to the further offerings of alpacas.

Some Australian farms have blazed the trail for large scale farming uses well-established breeding and husbandry principles to produce high-quality lean meat and fleece from their alpacas, as well as quality pelts. Selective breeding and advances in reproductive technology are being put to effective use. Australia is now well-positioned to lead the international market of high quality alpaca meat, alongside our excellent alpaca fleece industry.

Alpaca meat is highly nutritious, lean and flavoursome. It is an excellent source of protein with little saturated fat or cholesterol, and is environmentally sustainable to produce. Able to withstand dry conditions for longer than most livestock, Alpacas are a great green fit for Australia's farming climate. Their soft feet cause minimal soil disruption and ecosystem damage, far less than Australia's traditional livestock. As most parts of the alpaca can be used for meat, alpacas offer a high yield with little wastage.

As the Australian meat farming industry seeks to remain competitive and develop further, alpacas are being looked to as a great investment.