Mulberry Alpacas Home Page
Located in the mountains of Ashland, Oregon  
Mulberry Alpacas Tuesday, 17 January, 2012  

Alpaca FAQ's

These Frequently Asked Questions cover getting started, caring for your animals, fleece issues, and breeding & gestation. You can use the drop down list to go directly to a specific FAQ.

Getting Started.....

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Q. How do I get started if I want to breed alpacas?

A. There are a number of things to consider before launching into the breeding industry and 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 legwork. A great source of contact details is the AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders) website at http://www.alpacainfo.com We at Mulberry Alpacas take enormous pleasure in helping new breeders become interested in this wonderful industry, and one way we can do so on our alpaca farm is to sell you one of our beautiful animals.

Some people buy a couple of geldings to begin with and once they feel confident that alpacas really are extremely easy to manage, they take the next step to start a breeding herd but most breeders simply want to get going as soon as possible and enjoy the experience as they learn along the way.

By the way, to be able to register your offspring you will need to become a member of the Alpaca Registry, Inc and apply for herd registration. The registry office can send you the appropriate forms.

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Q. They're really expensive, aren't they?

A. At this stage of the industry's development, price is directly related to the individual breeding potential and the potential quality of the offspring. For example, a gelding (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 on the ground has a very high breeding potential and can be worth many thousands of dollars. He can also command a high income from the stud services he provides. Click here to see how we try to keep a range of prices on our alpaca farm.

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 tens of thousands of dollars. We work to try to keep a good balance here at our Mulberry Alpaca Farm

Income from females is derived from selling the offspring. Breeding plans should take into account both long term depreciation of the older breeders and also increases in quality of offspring.

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Q. Why are alpacas becoming so popular?

A. Unlike most other types of livestock, alpacas can be profitable without going to the slaughterhouse. Alpacas are considered to be the aristocrat of all farm animals, providing a fiber that is sought after by the textile industry world wide for its warmth and softness. Add to their glorious fleece the fact that they are easy to look after, are a delight to watch and yield a terrific return on your investment ...and throw in very promising tax incentives and you will begin to understand why they are becoming so popular!

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Q. Can I have an alpaca as a pet?

A. Most alpacas make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations. Given time, most alpacas will eat out of your hand and training them to lead by a halter is a straightforward process.

Alpacas generally don't like being held and are particularly sensitive to being touched on the head. They are naturally curious and intelligent and if you let them approach you, rather than rush at them and expect an affectionate response, the interactions can be very rewarding. Here at Mulberry Alpacas we run sessions (anything from half a day to four days) to help owners understand the enormous benefits of handling an alpaca properly in order to maximise the rewards.

It is possible to have a single alpaca, but it is not a pleasant 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. For this reason, it is usually recommended that two alpacas is the desirable minimum.

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Q. Can I run alpacas with other livestock?

A. Alpacas can bond well with other types of animals. Naturally, alpacas and large 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 toward foxes.

If running with different livestock, alpacas will pick up the internal parasites associated with the other animals and should be put on the same worming regime.
Because of the risk of the alpacas being kicked, caution should be used if running them with cattle or horses.

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Q. How much acreage does it take to raise alpacas?

A. They are an ideal “small acreage” livestock. You can comfortably stock between five and ten animals per acre. This makes the alpaca ideal for people who have only a few acres and who want the pleasure of a small herd and a healthy investment return.

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Q. How do you transport alpacas?

A. As long as they are handled properly, alpacas are relatively stress resistant. Treated correctly, they load and travel calmly and can be transported in the family mini van, station wagon, utility vehicle, or horse trailer. Some breeders have been known to transport their alpacas in small planes. Once enroute, the alpaca lies down and enjoys the ride. We at Mulberry Alpacas will always help to load alpacas sold out of our alpaca farm, and , while loading, will teach certain kindnesses and efficiencies so that transport need never be an issue for you as an owner.

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Q. Can I start out with just one animal?

A. Alpacas are very social animals and tend to be unhappy alone, so therefore you should really plan on starting off with two or more animals. If you are wanting to become a breeder, then two or three females are a great way to start because it gets your herd growing quicker. Gelded males are usually relatively affordable, and make great companion animals to your breeding females. We at Mulberry Alpacas would be delighted to work with you to put together a package that gets you up and running with an assortment of animals and at a price that suits your needs.

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Q. Do I have to have an alpaca farm to be involved with alpacas?

A. Absolutely not! Lots of people who live in the city or don’t want to raise the animals themselves are involved with alpacas. Many owners buy alpacas strictly as a great investment. Here at Mulberry Alpacas we are delighted to continue to house and look after alpacas which are sold to investors, or to owners who are new to the industry and are considering buying acreage at a later stage. The care of such alpacas on a host alpaca farm is called agistment.

Caring for your animals.....

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Q. How do you take care of an alpaca?

A. Alpacas are simple to care for. They require little beyond regular worming and vaccinations, in addition to occasional trimming of their nails and teeth. They should be shorn annually.

Daily care includes feeding and keeping the barn clean. Alpacas prefer to be outside grazing on pasture grasses in the fields. Unlike hoofed animals, their softly padded feet are extremely easy on pasture. They have two toes and a split upper lip which allows them to cut grass as they graze. They browse pastures, and utilize community dung piles, making pasture and manure management easy.

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Q. What, and how, do alpacas eat?

A. They are ruminants, which means they chew cud like a cow or deer. They use their lips to pull grass into their mouths. Alpacas chew the grass, but have only lower biting teeth, no upper teeth. So alpacas would really have a hard time biting you.

They survive well on different kinds of low protein hay or pasture grass, providing it has a balanced mineral content. Because alpacas evolved in harsh conditions, they utilize their food more efficiently than other ruminants. Although they can survive very harsh conditions, alpacas do best on good quality pasture and benefit from having access to plant material with long fibers such as hay.

Alpacas will not normally overeat. Most breeders choose to give their animals a commercial feed daily (year round) to ensure that they receive adequate vitamins and minerals. One important rule to remember is to introduce any changes to the diet gradually over a period of a couple of weeks. This way the microbes in the gut have time to adjust to any feed changes. N.B. Although some people think alpacas don't drink huge amounts, they do need to have ready access to good quality, fresh drinking water.

An alpaca costs far less to feed than most traditional domestic animals.

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Q. Are alpacas easy to care for?

A. Alpacas are easy to maintain, rarely overeat and require no extraordinary care. They should have basic shelter for protection against heat and foul weather. They do not challenge fences. Outside of the obvious, they simply need shearing, worming, and vaccinations.

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Q. What sort of diseases to alpacas get?

A. Compared with other livestock, alpacas are relatively disease free. Because of their dry fleece and naturally clean breech, fly strike is not an issue with alpacas. Vaccination programs vary by geography on the local veterinarian's advice.

Some gardens contain a number of plants that are toxic to most livestock (oleander, rhododendron, laburnum, etc.). Care should be taken when fencing off gardens that such plants do not overhang into alpaca areas. Local nurseries can provide good advice on poisonous plants or check with your county extension agent.

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Q. What shelters or barns do alpacas require?

A. Alpacas are native to the altiplano (highlands) of Peru and are used to a harsh environment, high above sea level. The snow, freezing wind and bone chilling cold are familiar to these hardy animals.

There are no barns for alpacas in Peru. They are put in corrals at night for protection from predators and to keep them from wandering away. Most alpaca breeders here in the United States construct open shelters as opposed to closed barns for their animals. Alpacas simply need to get out of the wind and have a dry place to eat or lay down during a storm. Alpacas are generally uncomfortable unless they have an escape route and are much happier in open sided structures.
These shelters allow the alpacas to come and go as they please! In harsh winter climates, some alpacas breeders choose to bring mothers and young cria indoors into a covered barn.

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Q. What type of fence is most suitable for alpacas?

A. The most important thing about fencing for alpacas is safety against predators. Any fence will keep alpacas IN since they do not challenge fences, so the important thing is to keep other animals OUT. This varies according to geography and the local predator population.

"New Zealand " deer fence is good fencing for alpacas, and so is “no-climb” horse fencing. Fencing is very much a matter of personal preference and budget. It is important to review your local wildlife and then give due consideration to preventing predators from climbing over (and don’t forget digging UNDER!) your chosen fencing.

Fleece issues.....

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Q. What do you do with an alpaca?

A. They provide an excellent investment opportunity and are the source of luxurious fiber. The fleece, comparable to cashmere, is known for its fineness, light weight, and luster. Alpaca textile products are recognized world-wide. Everyone should own a soft, warm alpaca sweater.

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Q. Are all alpaca fleeces the same?

There are two breeds of alpacas: huacaya and suri. Their fiber type is the distinguishing factor. The huacaya is much more common, having a very crimpy fleece that gives them a fluffy appearance. The rare suri has a silky hairlike fiber which drapes down in tight spirals and locks. About 90% of the world's alpaca population is Huacaya and 10% is Suri.

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Q. Tell me about shearing alpacas...

A. Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in spring or early summer. Shearing usually takes around five to ten minutes per animal for an experienced alpaca shearer.

A very small percentage of alpacas (including the ones kept here at our alpaca farm) are shorn standing up, but the more common method of shearing is to lay the animals on their side and restrain their legs with a tether at each end. This protects the shearer and the alpaca from being accidentally cut. One side of the animal is shorn and it is then rolled over and shorn on the other side.

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. Certainly we at Mulberry Alpacas are always glad to help in whatever way best suits your needs.

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Q. What do you do with the fleece?

A. Alpaca fiber is highly prized for its very soft feel (handle), its high thermal properties, its durability and its variety of natural colors.

It is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts, and coats. Sweaters knitted from alpaca fleece are soft, light and warm. Because of its natural warmth, it is also used as a continental quilt filling. Coarser fiber can be used to make car seat covers.

The international market for alpaca product is enormous with demand always exceeding supply.

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Q. How many ounces of fiber will one alpaca produce?

A. An adult alpaca might produce 50 to 90 oz. of first-quality fiber as well as 50 to 100 oz. of second and third quality fiber. Some alpacas are already exceeding these levels.

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Q. Who buys the fiber?

A. Alpaca fiber is sold several ways. Hand-spinners and fiber artists buy raw fleece. Knitters often purchase alpaca yarn. You can join the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association's (AOBA) fiber co-op, Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America (AFCNA). The co-op is made up of shareholders that are alpaca breeders.
A few alpaca owners prefer to hand spin their fiber. Commercial prices depend on quality with a premium paid for finer micron fiber. Sales to home spinners can be considerably higher. Fiber Cooperatives Mills collect alpaca fiber and process it on behalf of the producer.

Breeding and Gestation.....

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Q. At what age do alpacas start breeding?

A. Females become sexually mature at around 12 to 18 months of age and once they reach 90 - 100 pounds 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. (There will, of course, always be individuals that fall outside this age range.)

Alpacas do not have a breeding season and provided 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.

Alpacas mate in the "cush" (prone) position and if a female is not receptive (perhaps she is already pregnant?) she will refuse to sit down and probably spit at the male. This rejection response, known as a "spit-off," is used in the management of the female to regularly monitor the progress of her pregnancy.

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Q. How long is gestation?

A. The average gestation period is 11.5 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 12 - 20 pounds at birth and most will be on their feet and nursing within 2 to 3 hours. The mothers are often very protective and the cria will stay with its mother until weaning at 5 to 6 months of age.

Females are usually re-mated in the period of time 3 to 6 weeks after giving birth.

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Q. Do alpacas ever have twins?

A. Twinning in alpacas is extremely rare (approximately 0.0001% of births) and should not form any part of a breeding plan. A baby alpaca is known as a cria and the weaned crias are known as weanlings or tuis.

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Q. What is an alpacas lifespan and reproductive cycle?

A. An alpaca’s lifespan is 15 – 20 years. Females are induced ovulaters and therefore are ready to breed at most any time of the year. She will ovulate in response to mating and will normally spit off an advancing male if she is pregnant. Gestation is approximately 11 ½ months. They give birth to a single cria, weighing between 12 to 20 pounds. You can usually begin to breed females 16 to 18 months of age, and their pregnancy can be confirmed with an ultrasound test.
Knowing about the animals in general...

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Q. How can mountain animals like alpacas survive in states like Texas?!

A. Alpacas are hardy and adaptable to most climates, altitudes, and conditions. They are most content when they are outdoors. However, some form of protection from the elements should be provided such as a 3-sided building. Alpacas only require fencing adequate to keep predators out; they don't normally challenge fences.

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Q. What do you call an alpaca?

A. A baby is known as a cria. Weaned crias are known as weanlings or tuis. In Spanish, the adult males are known as machos and the females are hembras.

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Q. Can you pack with an alpaca?

A. They can carry a small child or a light backpack on summer outings, but for heavier loads the larger llama is more appropriate.

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Q. Are alpacas related to llamas?

A. 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. Alpacas are exclusively bred as fleece animals.

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Q. Are alpacas dangerous?

A. Absolutely not! They are safe and pleasant to be around. They do not bite or butt, and they do not have the teeth, horns, hooves, or claws to do serious injury.

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Q. Are alpacas smart?

A. Yes, they are amazingly alert animals who quickly learn to halter and lead. They constantly communicate with each other through body posture, tail and ear movements, and a variety of sounds.

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Q. Alpacas spit, don't they?

A. Not often, but yes, sometimes! Spitting is perhaps the least endearing feature of alpacas. It is one of the few defense mechanisms an alpaca has and is quite an effective deterrent. The material is basically regurgitated or recently chewed grass and it brushes off when dry. It does have a distinctive and somewhat offensive odor and it is best to avoid being a target.

It really is quite rare that alpacas spit at people. It is normally used as a pecking order mechanism with other alpacas. If a human hit occurs, it is usually because the person has not read the signs properly when stepping between two squabbling alpacas.

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Q. What is their personality like?

A. Alpacas are alert, curious, calm and predictable. They need the companionship of other camelids, and will huddle together or move en masse when frightened or wary.

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Q. How do they communicate?

A. Alpacas express themselves with a soft hum, with other vocalizations, and with body language, such as neck posturing, ear and tail positioning, and head tilt. They have excellent eyesight and hearing, and will alert the herd and their human keepers with a staccato alarm call of perceived danger. Alpacas rarely spit at people unless frightened or abused, but will use this form of communication with each other to register a complaint.

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Q. Are they registered?

A. About 95% of North American alpacas are registered by The Alpaca Registry. DNA technology verifies lineages.

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Q. How long do they live?

A. Truth is, we're not really sure. In South America, they can live for about 15-20 years. But the alpaca was only recently brought to North America (significant numbers were first imported in 1984), so we don't have enough data yet to know how long they will live under the conditions found here. We hope they will live at least twenty years, and perhaps significantly longer.