1. What is a Suri alpaca?|
There are two breeds of Alpaca; the Suri and the Huacaya (pronounced wa-KI-ah).
The main difference between the two breeds is how their fibre grows. The Huacaya fibre grows straight out from their body,
while the Suri has a more silky fibre that grows straight down in long 'locks'.
2. Where do they come from?
It is believed the Alpaca is a descendent of the vicuna, having been domesticated and revered for its luxurious fibre during the Inca Empire.
The largest populations of Alpacas are in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. The largest herds outside of South America are in North America, Australia and New Zealand and then in the United Kingdom, in that order.
There are some herds in Europe.
3. How long do they live?
Alpacas live for up to 20 years.
4. How much land do you need to be able to keep them?
It is generally accepted that you can keep 5 to 10 Alpacas per acre. In reality, you will need to have more than one paddock as you will need to rest one whilst the second is grazed.
Where you have a small amount of land, it is good practice to keep the paddock clean, either by collecting up the Alpaca poo and storing it in a large pile, (which you can then use on your garden), or by selling it to a local Garden Centre. We found that within a month of starting our business, the local Garden Centre was keen to stock and sell 'Alpaca Poo'.
One thing to note here is that if you start breeding rather than just keeping Alpacas, then at some point you will have to be able to separate the males from the females.
As with all animals, once the males become mature, their natural instinct is to want to reproduce, so you then have to decide whether your male is potentially good enough to be a Stud, or whether they
are not up to your required standards, in which case they will need to be made in to wethers.
Alpacas are herd animals, which means that they are much happier when they are part of a small herd. If you are just starting out, we recommend that you start with at least 3 animals, and the more the merrier.
5. What do they eat?
Alpacas eat grass and like hay, with some supplements.They will eat longer grass but they do prefer shorter grass.
The supplements that people use depend upon the breeder, but one of the most common ones is Camilibra.
6. Are they easy to look after?
They are very easy to look after and incredibly sweet natured. They are realtively hardy coming from some quite rugged landscape and cold weather in South America, and so UK weather is not severe for them.
However, we would recommend that you fence your land in with a 4 foot fence. They do not challenge fences. We would also recommend that you either construct a basic shelter or buy a ready made 'portable' field shelter.
7. How often do they need to be sheared?
Suris coats grow to long luxurious lengths and animals are generally sheared once every 2 years. If you are intending to show your Suris, you will want to show them with their fleece on.
Suri fleece can be sold or spun yourself if you are that way inclined. There are a few mills in the UK that can handle Alpaca wool.
8. How much do Alpaca's cost?
An average male Alpaca gelding will cost anywhere from £500 to £1,000. Females, because they can reproduce and provide one baby per year, generally cost more than males with an average female costing from £3,000.
Top Stud males or top show winning females will attract much higher prices due to their potential for breeding and providing excellent offspring.
9. Are they dangerous?
No, they are not dangerous. Alpaca's will spit, but this is usually at one another and usually because one animal has annoyed another one by getting too close or by 'stealing' their food.
They will spit at humans but usually only if you are trying to separate a mother from a baby, and then only if they do not know you or are stressed. Female Alpacas will also spit at Male Alpacas that try to mate with them if the female is already pregnant.
This process is called 'spitting off' and is generally a good indication that a female is pregnant.
10. How often do they produce offspring?
Alpacas will produce one baby (cria) per year from the age of about 18 months. Pregnancy lasts approximately eleven-and-a-half months. The baby cria will usually stay with the mother up to around 6 months old, when they need
to be weaned away from their mothers by separating them out in to different paddocks, ideally out of direct site of one another, although not necessarily if you do not have this luxury.
11. Can you recommend a good book on Alpacas?
There are several good books on Alpacas. A couple of very good books that we can recommend are:
- Llamas and Alpacas: A Guide to Management, Gina Bromage
- The Complete Alpaca Book, Eric Hoffman with contributing authors
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