Alpacas are natives of the Andes Mountains in the South American countries of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. They were held in high esteem by the ancient Incan civilization for their lustrous, cashmere-like fleece once worn only by royalty. Alpacas are members of the Camelid family, which includes alpacas, llamas, camels, guanaco, and vicuna.
In 1984, the first alpacas were imported from South America into the United States. The borders were closed for importation in 1997, thus protecting the investment for US breeders.
Types of Alpacas
There are two types of alpacas. The Huacaya (wah-kye-ya) has a fine, dense, crimpy wool-like fleece. The Suri (sir-ee) has long, straight, silky fiber. Both types of fleece can be processed into beautiful garments. Alpacas’ luxurious fiber comes in 22 natural colors (including white, which can be dyed) and is used by designers and manufacturers worldwide as well as by local fiber artisans.
The average adult alpaca is 36” at the withers and weighs between 130 and 180 pounds. A female alpaca is bred between the ages of 1 1/2 to 2 years of age and carries her baby (cria) for between 11 and 11.5 months. Females are typically bred once a year and can breed up to about 15 years of age. Males begin breeding after two years of age.
Alpacas are relatively easy to keep and care for and require pasture, hay, grain, minerals, and fresh water. Typically, a farm can raise five to ten alpacas per acre. Routine health care consists of annual vaccinations, periodic de-worming, weighing, and toenail trimming. Alpacas are shorn once per year, typically in the spring, which allows them to keep their fleece at its shortest during the hot summer months.
Alpacas are easy on your farm. Their padded feet cause minimal wear and tear on pastures and they do not pull grass out by its roots. They do not typically try fences. Rather, fences are most needed in order to keep out predators since alpacas have virtually no defenses other than spitting and kicking. A well-built fence will typically keep out predators; however, some farmers use electric fences or guard dogs or llamas as an added precaution.
Alpacas are very inquisitive animals and are often quite curious to know what the humans are doing. They all have their very own, unique personalities which one comes to learn and enjoy during daily contact and routine farm chores. Because alpacas are so docile, children are able to help with the farm chores as well as learn how to train and show alpacas.
Alpaca are raised by families, couples, and individuals. Many people enter the world of alpacas either pre- or post-retirement, using the income raised as money for the retirement years. Those with simply a great love for animals will have alpacas as pets, as they are easy to keep and cost only as much as a large dog to feed. Weavers and spinners also have alpacas, enjoying the wonderful fleece for their business or hobby.
State and National Support
Most states and regions have an alpaca association through which farms work together toward many shared goals and host annual alpaca shows as well as educational events. In Kentucky, this organization is Kentucky Alpaca Association. Karen currently serves on the board of directors of Kentucky Alpaca Association and holds the title of Special Events Coordinator. The group that governs alpacas on a national basis is the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA). All alpacas are registered through the Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI).
Tax advantages to alpaca breeders
Raising alpacas on your farm for profit offers many attractive tax advantages just like in other types of farming. Business expenses can be written off against your income. If you choose to board your alpacas at another farm, many tax advantages will still apply. The Farmers Tax Guide IRS Publication 225 can be found on the Internal Revenue Service’s web site or can be obtained through your local Cooperative Extension office.