Frequently Asked Questions - All FAQs

FAQs - All FAQs

In Australia, 80% of alpacas are in herds of less than ten animals. Many owners are small breeders who want to be part of an exciting new industry.

That will depend on what sort of pasture and how much pasture your land is capable of producing. Different climatic regions and different soil types vary widely in their carrying capacity.

A standard unit of carrying capacity is the Dry Sheep Equivalent per hectare (DSE). For example, in areas of good soil and high rainfall your property might sustain 10 DSE/ha, compared with dryland areas that might be 1.5 DSE/ha. The DSE for your property can be determined by speaking to an agricultural consultant, or perhaps your neighbours if they are experienced farmers.

As a general rule, one alpaca wether is equivalent to one DSE. The nutritional requirements of pregnant alpaca are half as much again as those of a wether. The nutritional requirements of a lactating alpaca are twice as much as a wether. If you are prepared to supplementary feed, you may be able to increase your stocking rate.

It is possible, but not desirable to have a single alpaca; it's a lonely existence for the animal. Alpacas are herd animals and are instinctively gregarious, as are other domestic livestock. They obtain security and contentment from having at least one other alpaca for company, so two alpacas are the desirable minimum.

Alpacas do less damage than most other farm animals as they have pads, not hooves, so cause little degradation. Alpacas tend to graze gently, allowing faster pasture regrowth. Their dung makes excellent fertiliser and it is conveniently dropped in areas where they avoid grazing.

Alpacas are very closely related to llamas. They are both from a group of four species known as South American Camelids. The llama is approximately twice the size of an alpaca with banana shaped ears and is principally used as a pack animal. In Australia, alpacas are bred for fleece, and as stud animals, pets and herd guards against foxes.

Any fencing in broad acreage rural areas that keeps sheep contained is satisfactory, preferably without barbed wire. Alpacas do not tend to jump fences but are quite capable of clearing a standard fence if sufficiently stressed.

Electric fencing is not very common but it may be used. Advice on the correct height settings of the hot wires is best sought from an alpaca breeder who has experience with alpacas and electric fencing.

If you live in a well-populated area, wandering dogs are an issue – there are always some that are not locked up at night, despite their owner's claims. In these areas, it is essential that the boundary fencing is suitable for keeping dogs out. Dog attacks can have disastrous consequences, as an alpaca cannot withstand an attack by two or more dogs.

Apart from the boundary fences, the most important structure is a small yard or pen to catch the alpacas. Some alpacas will allow themselves to be caught in an open paddock, but even the friendliest ones tend to step just out of reach when you most need to catch them (such as shearing time). The yard need not be elaborate; simply place two three metre gates at right angles to each other inside the paddock corner. If the alpacas get used to being fed here, it makes them easy to catch.

Lastly, it is essential that shade trees are available in each paddock.

Alpaca fibre is highly prized for its very soft feel (handle), its high thermal properties, its durability and its variety of natural colours. It is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts and coats. Jumpers knitted from alpaca fleece are soft, light and warm. Because of its natural warmth, it is also used as a continental quilt filling. Coarser fibre is used to make luxury carpet and car seat covers.
A list of commercial buyers is available on the AAA website. Marketing opportunities also exist with spinners, felters and textile artists. Some alpaca owners also process their own fibre and add value by processing it into yarns and garments. Commercial prices depend on quality, with a premium paid for finer micron fibre – and may be up to $45 per kilogram. Sales to home spinners vary and prices may be higher.

There are fleece buyers around Australia willing to purchase alpaca fleece.

Alpacas do stay the same colour they are born. However, some alpacas that are born black can develop dark brown tips as the fleece grows out. Also, animals that are thought to be white at birth might prove to be light fawn later on. These minor variations may depend on the accuracy of the initial assessment rather than an actual change in colour.

Compared with other livestock, alpacas are relatively disease free. Because of their dry fleece and naturally clean breech, fly strike is not an issue, nor do they require mulesing or crutching.

They are vaccinated twice yearly with the same '5 in 1' vaccine used for sheep and goats to protect against tetanus, pulpy kidney, black leg, black disease and malignant oedema.

Some geographic locations also vaccinate against leptospirosis with '7 in 1', so check with other experienced alpaca breeders in your area or with your local agricultural authority. Likewise, alpaca owners need to know if they are in a 'sporidesmin' area. Sporidesmin is the toxin in a fungus that causes facial excema and can be fatal. However, it is confined to specific geographic locations and is easily managed by not allowing animals to graze on affected pastures during warm and humid weather. Restrictions of animal movements may apply, particularly between some states.

Breeders have the opportunity to participate in either or both of the animal health/bio-security programs currently being conducted to provide assurance of their animals' health status. Animal Health Australia administers the Australian Johne's Disease Market Assurance Program for Alpaca (JD MAP) which deals with Johne's Disease only. The Australian Alpaca Association also administers the Q-Alpaca Program which covers a broad range of diseases.

When buying alpacas for breeding purposes it is advisable to arrange a veterinary check to ensure you are buying a healthy animal.

When interacting with humans, kicking and biting is highly individualistic. Alpacas are usually sensitive around the hind legs and will instinctively kick backwards if they sense a threat from the rear.

Never let small children near the rear of an alpaca. If an adult is unlucky enough to be kicked, a bruise will result, with little chance of serious damage due to the soft food pads of alpacas; however the same cannot be said for a child whose head is in kicking range.

Most alpacas do not kick at humans but there are individuals that can be quickly identified as being prone to kicking. This is more evident in a pregnant female that wants to deter the advances of an amorous male. Most alpacas respond very well to desensitisation of the hind legs if they receive good handling as youngsters.

Alpacas that bite people are extremely rare and it is not a general problem. If it does occur, it tends to be an attention seeking behaviour by spoilt pets rather than an attack.