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20 Things to Know About Alpacas

We have three alpacas on the farm named Cappuccino, Latte & Mocha. You can guess which ones which by their fleece colours!

Lets get started with this list shall we....

1) An alpaca is a domesticated species from South America. It resembles a small llama in appearance.

2) Alpacas are social animals and are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of southern Peru, northern Bolivia, Ecuador, and northern Chile at an altitude of 3,500m to 5,000m above sea level, throughout the year.

3) There are only two breeds, the huacaya (wuh-kai-ya), which has fluffy hair akin to a teddy bear, and the suri (pronounced like Katie Holmes’ daughter’s name), with long wavy hair that hangs off its body forming silky dreadlocks. Our alpacas are of the huacaya breed.

4) Alpacas were domesticated by the Incas more than 6000 years ago, mostly bred for their silky fibre which is the most versatile fibre found in nature for which they are shorn annually. Alpaca fibre is extremely soft and fine and is used for making knitted and woven items, similar to wool. However because the fibre bears no lanolin this makes it hypoallergenic, it is also flame resistant & water resistant.

Alpaca is a specialty fibre that has been described as stronger than mohair, finer than cashmere, smoother than silk, softer than cotton, warmer than goose down and better-breathing than thermal knits.

5) Items made out of the alpaca fibre includes blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, socks, coats and bedding in other parts of the world. The fibre comes in more than 22 natural colours and hundreds of shades, from white to light rose grey to dark fawn.

6) Alpacas are typically sheared once per year in the spring. Each shearing produces approximately five to ten pounds (2.2–4.5 kilograms) of fibre per alpaca. An adult alpaca might produce 50 to 90 ounces (1420–2550 grams) of first-quality fibre as well as 50 to 100 ounces (1420–2840 grams) of second- and third-quality fibre. We sell our alpacas fleeces in our farm shop!

7) A lot of alpacas spit (especially Latte who you should watch out for). "Spit" is somewhat euphemistic occasionally the projectile contains only air and a little saliva, although alpacas commonly bring up acidic stomach contents (generally a green, grassy mix) and project it onto their chosen targets. Spitting is mostly reserved for other alpacas, but an alpaca will occasionally spit at a human.

For alpacas, spitting results in what is called "sour mouth". Sour mouth is characterized by a loose-hanging lower lip and a gaping mouth. This is caused by the stomach acids and unpleasant taste of the contents as they pass out of the mouth.

8) Alpacas use a communal dung pile, where they do not graze. This behaviour tends to limit the spread of internal parasites. Generally, males have much tidier, and fewer dung piles than females, which tend to stand in a line and all go at once. One female approaches the dung pile and begins to urinate and/or defecate, and the rest of the herd often follows.

9) Alpacas make a variety of sounds. When they are in danger, they make a high-pitched, shrieking whine. Some breeds are known to make a "wark" noise when excited. To signal friendly or submissive behavior, alpacas "cluck", or "click", a sound possibly generated by suction on the soft palate, or possibly in the nasal cavity.

Individuals vary, but most alpacas generally make a humming sound. Hums are often comfort noises, letting the other alpacas know they are present and content. The humming can take on many inflections and meanings. When males fight, they make a warbling, bird-like cry, presumably intended to terrify the opponent.

10) Alpacas can live for up to 20 years.

11) Alpacas require much less food than most animals of their size, needing to eat 1-2% of body weight per day. They generally eat hay or grasses, but can eat some other plants (e.g. some leaves), and will normally try to chew on almost anything (e.g. empty bottle).

To provide selenium and other necessary vitamins, ranchers will feed their domestic alpacas a daily dose of grain.

12) When alpaca eat grass, they snip off the top of the plant unlike some other animals that pull the grass up by the root when eating. (Which is why they have a reputation for being good lawnmowers.)

13) Alpacas are pseudoruminants and, like other camelids, have a three-chambered stomach; combined with chewing cud, this three-chambered system allows maximum extraction of nutrients from low-quality forages.

Alpacas will chew their food in a figure eight motion, swallow the food, and then pass it into one of the stomach's chambers. The first and second chambers (called C1 and C2) are where the fermentation process begins digestion. The alpaca will further absorb nutrients and water in the first part of the third chamber. The end of the third chamber (called C3) is where the stomach secretes acids to digest food, and is the likely place where an alpaca will have ulcers, if stressed. The alpaca digestive system is very sensitive and must be kept healthy and balanced.

14) The last weekend in September is known as National Alpaca Farm Days. In 2017 this will be 23rd & 24th September.

15) Alpacas have soft pads on their feet, which don’t churn up the ground like a cow or horse’s hooves do.

16) They “cush” when seated, meaning they fold their legs under their body making them easy to transport in a smaller vehicle.

17) Alpacas’ tails are used to express feelings to each other. If they’re bothered by something they will twitch it back and forth. If an animal is being submissive it will raise its tail over its body and crouch down.

18) Mothers almost always have their babies in the morning. Perkins says this is also related to life in the high desert in South America where temperatures are very cold at night. By having their babies in the morning, the little ones will have the whole day to dry off, begin walking around, and nursing from the mother before the temperatures begin to drop.

19) Females have an 11-month gestation period and about 90 percent of the time don’t need help in the delivery of the babies. “They just go into labor and deliver the baby within an hour,” says Perkins.

20) Alpacas love to sunbathe. “You’ll come home and all the alpacas will be laying out in the field. They lie down on their sides, stretch out and soak up that sun,” says Perkins. She admits “it’s pretty scary if you don’t know what they’re doing” since they kind of look like they’ve dropped dead.

Thats it for the alpaca facts for now. Why don't you come and see ours for yourself!

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