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It combines softness with strength. Alpaca product feels great next to the skin, yet has the durability of a coarser garment – all the benefits of wool and less of the itch! It is warm, yet amazingly light. Alpaca fibre comes in a beautiful range of natural colours – white, silver, all shades of grey and fawn, chocolate brown and true jet black; it also dyes beautifully.

Other than annual shearing and twice-yearly vaccinations, alpacas require very little else, just an occasional trim of toenails and teeth.

Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in spring. Shearing is the biggest maintenance required and usually takes around five to ten minutes per animal for an experienced alpaca shearer. The preferred method of shearing is to lay the animals on their side, either on a shearing table or the ground, and restrain their legs with a tether at each end. This restraint allows the alpaca to be shorn safely and efficiently.

Electric sheep-shearing equipment is normally used, but because alpaca fibre is non-greasy, care needs to be taken that shears do not over-heat. If you are purchasing your first alpacas, ask the vendors for the name of a recommended shearer, or ask if you can bring the alpacas back to the property on their shearing day. The AAA also advertises local shearers, and can provide advice to new owners.

Depending on the density of the fleece, alpacas cut anywhere between 11/2 and 4 kg of fleece. Some of the high quality stud males will cut higher weights.

Alpacas are principally grazers but sometimes enjoy casual browsing. They are fastidious food selectors and eat small amounts of a variety of plants. Although they can survive very harsh conditions, alpacas do best on good quality pasture and benefit from having access to plant material with long fibres: eg. hay. Bulk feed is found through grazing, and commercial alpaca mixes are best used sparingly to supply vitamins and minerals. Alpacas are affected by the same poisonous plants as other livestock. Alpacas need ready access to good quality, fresh drinking water.
It is important to introduce any changes to the diet gradually, over a period of several weeks. This way, the microbes in the gut have time to adjust to any feed changes.

Alpacas can bond well with other types of animals. Naturally, alpacas and aggressive dogs are not a good combination, but there are many cases of quiet dogs mixing well with alpacas. Individual alpacas have been successfully run with sheep and goats to act as fox guards. The alpacas tend to bond with the foster herd and are naturally aggressive towards foxes.

If running alpacas with other livestock, particularly ruminants, alpacas may pick up the internal parasites from the other livestock. In this case, alpacas should be treated with suitable anti-parasitic products specific to the situation and type of parasite encountered. As all parasite management procedures are 'off label' for alpacas, veterinary advice should be sought. Also, because of the risk of the alpacas being kicked, caution should be used if running them with cattle or horses.

No, because alpacas usually give birth during the day. Birthing is generally trouble free and very quick. Crias (baby alpaca) usually stand and nurse within one hour.

Most alpacas make great pets if they are treated well, however they are not domestic animals. Alpacas are naturally curious and intelligent; let them approach you, rather than rushing to them. Given time, most alpacas will eat out of your hand and training them to lead by a halter is a straightforward process.

Like any livestock, the more handling they receive as youngsters, the quieter they are as adults. Although alpacas look cuddly, they generally don't like being held, and are particularly sensitive to being touched on the head.
When alpacas mature into adults they can engage in herd seniority behaviour. If they have been treated as pets, they may treat humans as competitors and behave in a rough manner to establish their seniority. The best thing to remember is that they are alpacas, and not dogs or cats, and should be allowed to be alpacas.

Not at all. They are comfortable with people and quick to learn. They can be moved easily around a farm without the aid of a dog, and transported in anything from a horse-float to a small van.

Yes, they do spit, but rarely at people. It is one of the few defence mechanisms an alpaca has, and it is an effective deterrent. Sometimes a female will spit at a male if she does not welcome his amorous attentions! Mostly it is used to determine pecking order.

The spitting ammunition is regurgitated or recently chewed grass, so it brushes off when dry. It does have a distinctive and somewhat offensive odour, thus it is best to avoid being a target. If a human hit occurs, it is usually because the person has stepped into a pecking order dispute between two squabbling alpacas.

Trees and bushes provide the best protection against extremes of heat and cold. Most alpacas will not voluntarily seek shelter in sheds. There is no need for special fencing as alpacas are generally content to stay in their own 'backyards'.

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.

Alpacas travel well in a van, covered trailer or horse float. Most alpacas will sit during the journey and travel best in the company of another alpaca. On trips over two hours it is advisable to plan for a stop so the alpacas may have a toilet break. Clean straw on the vehicle floor helps absorb jarring on rough roads.

Laws on transporting livestock vary from state to state and you should contact your Department of Agriculture for more advice.

Alpacas can bond well with other types of animals. Naturally, alpacas and aggressive dogs are not a good combination, but there are many cases of quiet dogs mixing well with alpacas.

Individual alpacas have been very successfully run with sheep and goats to act as fox guards. The alpacas tend to bond with the foster herd and they are naturally aggressive towards foxes.

If running alpacas with other livestock, particularly ruminants, alpacas may pick up the internal parasites from the other livestock. In this case alpacas should be treated with suitable anti-parasitic products specific to the situation and type of parasite encountered. As all parasite management procedures are 'off label' for alpacas, veterinary advice should be sought.

Because of the risk of the alpacas being kicked, caution should be used if running them with cattle or horses.

Females become sexually mature at around 12 to 18 months of age and once they reach 45-50kg in weight. Males can display sexual interest from a few weeks of age but are not sexually active or fertile until 18 months to 3 years of age. (Some individuals will fall outside this age range.) Libido in males is not a criterion of stud quality in alpacas.

Alpacas do not have a breeding season and, providing they are receptive, females can be mated at any time of the year. Like rabbits and cats, female alpacas are 'induced ovulators' which means it is the act of mating that causes them to ovulate. It is preferable, though not essential, to avoid mid-late summer matings. Given the 11 to 12 month gestation, this reduces the incidence of heavily pregnant females and new cria in very hot weather.

Alpacas mate in the 'cush' (prone) position and if a female is not receptive (e.g. already pregnant) she will refuse to sit down and probably spit at the male. This rejection response, known as a 'spit-off', can be used to regularly monitor the progress of the female's pregnancy.

The average gestation period is 11 1/2 months, but pregnancies that go for over a year are not uncommon. Births are generally trouble-free and most occur before the middle of the day.

Cria should be 6-8kg at birth and most will be on their feet and drinking within 2 to 3 hours. The mothers are often very protective and the cria will stay with its mum until weaning at 5 to 6 months.

Females are usually re-mated 2 to 6 weeks after giving birth.

Twinning in alpacas is extremely rare (approximately 0.0001% of births) and should not form any part of a breeding plan.

Price is directly related to the individual breeding potential, and the potential quality of the offspring. For example, a wether (castrated male) has no breeding potential and is therefore the cheapest alpaca to buy. On the other hand, a high quality male with many good progeny can be worth many thousands of dollars. He can also command a high income from the stud services he provides.

Female prices are a reflection of quality, age, breeding history and to which stud male she is mated. Females can be worth anything from a few thousand dollars to a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Income from females is derived from selling the offspring. However, breeding plans should be made so that long term depreciation of the older breeders and increases in quality of offspring are taken into account.

Although the average gestation is eleven and a half months, a projection of three offspring in four years per mature female is more realistic than expectations of one offspring every year.

There are a number of things to consider before launching into the breeding industry. Firstly, it is best to talk to as many experienced breeders as possible. You will gain lots of useful information from people who have already done the leg work.

If you are serious, it is advisable to develop a business plan and, if you don't already have one, find an accountant who specialises in primary industry clients.

To be able to register your offspring you will need to become a member of the Australian Alpaca Association and apply for Herd Registration (Herd Prefix and Herd Code). The National Office can send you the appropriate forms.

Also ask which region you will belong to and attend any workshops or seminars that are being held. The more you can educate yourself about all aspects of breeding, the more informed your choices will be.
Some people have bought a couple of wethers to begin with, and once they feel confident that alpacas really are extremely easy to manage, they then start a breeding herd.

Most breeders want to start as soon as possible, and enjoy the experience as they learn along the way.