Alpaca Facts

Alpacas orginate from the high mountains of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia, and for over 6,000 years they have been and remain treasured by the locals. Alpacas are members of the South American Camelid Family which is made up of the vicuña, guanaco, llama and alpaca. Unlike the llamas, which were primarily used as pack animals in South America, alpacas were raised for their cashmere-like fiber, once reserved for Incan royalty.

There are two types of Alpacas: Huacaya and Suri. The difference lies in their fleece. The Huacaya’s fibre has a wavy or crimped appearance while the Suri’s fibre hangs in uniform locks. Alpacas come in many different colours and can be found in many countries around the world. First imported into Australia in 1989, our current herd numbers of registered animals exceeds 40,000. The long term goal of the Alpaca industry is to produce fleece but in the meantime increasing quality stock numbers is the immediate goal.

Alpaca fleece is used to create high quality clothing which can be found all across Europe.

Male Alpacas reach sexual maturity at 2½ to 3 years of age. Adult males develop very sharp ‘fighting’ canine teeth designed to emasculate their rivals. Castration before two years of age normally prevent these from forming.

Females are usually first bred at around 1½ years. They are very protective of their young and each other possessing strong herd social instincts. They have a gestation of around 11½ months and usually give birth during daylight hours, are excellent mothers and are not disturbed by human intervention directly after birth.

An Alpaca’s lifespan ranges from 15 to 20 years and they come in 22 basic colours with many variations and blends. Alpacas make excellent pets, and are also show animals. They are easily trained to lead and are gentle enough to be handled by children. Alpacas are extremely alert and communicate with each other through body posture, tail and ear movements as well as through some sounds. The sound heard most often is a soft humming.

Alpacas are small and easy to maintain and are an asset to any land. Like all Camelids they do not have hooves but large soft padded feet, each with two fairly soft toenails. Their ground foot pressure of 39kPa is much less that sheep (82kPa), cattle (185kPa) and humans (95kPa). Even the Kangaroo at 46kPa exerts more pressure on our thin topsoils than the Alpaca. Alpacas are normally gentle toward humans and other animals that are not seen as threatening. Its defence against attack by smaller predators such as dogs and foxes is to chase them away or run the animal down and stamp on it with its forelegs. Alpacas are fast runners and can catch foxes and smaller dogs.

The instinct for one or two Alpacas to bond with other grazing animal herds, and especially their proven ability to protect sheep and goats, has resulted in the growing use of wethered adult male Alpacas as sheep flock guardians, especially during and after lambing. Cases have been recorded in Australia of Males/Wethers bravely standing in front of females and progeny in the corner of a paddock fending off multiple dog attacks. In some cases a guardian has been killed by dogs while at least some of his flock survived.

Further detailed information on guardian alpacas can be obtained from the Australian Alpaca Association (AAA) website. Follyfoot Alpacas is located in the Hawkesbury-Blue Mountains Region of the AAA.