Alpacas were first imported into the United States in the early ’80s. They are members of the Camelid family, along with camels, llamas, vicuna and guanaco. While camels and llamas were raised as beasts of burden, the alpaca is not built for carrying weight and is raised in North America exclusively for its soft and luxurious fiber (fleece or wool). Adult alpacas stand approximately three feet tall at the withers (shoulder), 4 ½’ to 5′ to the tips of their ears and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Alpacas do not have hooves. They have two toes with hard toenails on the top of their feet and a soft pad on the bottom, much like a dog’s foot. Therefore, compaction of the soil and damage to the pasture is much less than that experienced by other types of livestock. The gestation period for a female alpaca is approximately 11 ½ months, normally resulting in a single, healthy baby called a cria. While having twins can occur, it is highly uncommon and very rare. Alpaca mothers are protective and devoted, as is the entire herd. The average life span of an alpaca is between 15 and 20 years.
There are two breeds of alpacas. The huacaya (pronounced “wah-KI-ah”) has a soft, dense fleece with a waviness (“crimp”) that gives it a fluffy, teddy bear-like appearance. The suri (pronounced “SIR-ee”) has no crimp, so the individual fibers wrap around each other to form lustrous, pencil locks that hang down from the body, elegantly parted at the spine. While their body types are the same, the unique fibers they produce give them their own distinguished look. The suri is rare, with a worldwide ratio of huacayas to suris at about 98% to 2%.
Producing one of the finest, most luxurious natural fibers in the world, alpacas come in 22 identified fiber colors and color variations recognized by the worldwide fiber market. From pure white through fawn, browns to jet-black, there are color shades from pale silver to steel blue, to rose-grey. The alpaca is the only fiber animal that can produce a natural red color.
Alpacas produce 3 to 10 pounds of fleece, ranging from 3 to 6 inches in length, depending on the age of the animal and the shearing method and schedule. They’re usually shorn once a year in the spring. Alpaca fiber is as soft as cashmere, seven times warmer and three times stronger than sheep’s wool, yet only half the weight. It is non-allergenic and does not feel scratchy like other animal fibers. Alpaca fiber is unbelievably soft!
Alpaca fiber has no lanolin or other greases and it is usually relatively clean and dry, unlike sheep’s wool, which contains lanolin and significant amounts of waste material. This makes cleaning and processing simpler and more enjoyable. Both types of fiber blend well with wool, silk, cotton, mohair, and cashmere. Alpaca fiber also easily accepts dyes. Suri and Huacaya fiber are highly sought after by both cottage-industry artists (like hand-spinners, knitters and weavers, for example), and the commercial fashion industry, worldwide. Its uses are endless in clothing, luxury apparel, textiles, even specialty interior fabrics. Used alone or blended, left natural or dyed, alpaca end products are soft, luxurious, pleasurable treasures to own.
Why invest in alpacas? There are so many reasons why investing in alpacas makes sense. Alpacas are gentle and timid, yet curious. These docile, easy-going creatures possess an intelligence and social nature that make them easy to train. They are simple to care for and adapt well to most climates. Clean, quiet and easily managed, alpacas make great pets and 4-H projects for kids – the whole family can be involved.
Alpacas offer an outstanding choice for livestock ownership. They have long been known as the aristocrat of all ranch animals. Alpacas have a charismatic manner, they do very well on small acreage, produce a luxury product, which is in high demand, and a large herd is not required to be profitable. They are considered the finest livestock in the world!
Unlike the end products of most “exotic” animals, as well as most “traditional” livestock, the end product of an alpaca is its unique fleece – a continuously growing cash crop that can be reaped year after year, without killing the animal. One of the many aspects we appreciate most about alpaca ownership.
Alpacas are a sound, quality, huggable investment. There are excellent profit opportunities and tax advantages:
- The cost of each alpaca can be depreciated against personal income over a five to twenty year period.
- Alpacas can be depreciated over a two to ten year period, without loss of value.
- The sale of breeding stock and their offspring can provide capital gains benefits.
- Because alpacas reproduce one offspring each year, the investment grows annually and taxes are not paid until the alpacas are sold.
- Due to the slow reproductive rate and the high demand for these beautiful animals, it’s not uncommon for an offspring to sell for more than an investor paid for the dam.
- All expenses pertaining to their care are deductible.
- They are 100% insurable against loss.
- Alpacas can be financed.
- Alpacas can be placed in the care of established breeders for those who choose a part-time “passive” approach rather than the full-time, hands-on role.
Alpacas can provide a satisfying addition to one’s investment portfolio with generous financial returns and they add an enchanting and joyful aspect to any lifestyle. Best sideline benefit: Alpaca ownership is a great way to meet a whole new world of wonderful people and make new friends along the way!
Contributing to one of the most exciting and growing industries in the world today, new alpaca breeders come from many walks of life. Alpacas are increasingly becoming an important source of income for many people. Entire families, young couples, single women, retired couples, hand-spinners and veterinarians, to list a few, all enjoy owning and caring for them. Many herds are owned by families and couples where one spouse has a city job, and the alpaca business is managed by the other on their acreage in the suburbs or country. A large number of breeders are working couples that tend to their herd in the evening after work. There are city dwellers that have discovered the option of boarding their alpacas, thereby giving them an operational alpaca business while still retaining an urban career. For all owners, alpacas offer a delightful and enjoyable way to diversify their financial portfolio with a rare commodity that is in demand worldwide.
Alpaca owners also enjoy the many benefits of endless resources with answers to every question. The Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI) is a database documenting and housing the genealogy, blood typing and ownership records of alpacas in North America. Alpacas must be DNA blood typed in order to be registered and virtually every alpaca in the U.S. is registered. There is a strong and active national breed association (AOBA). There are a number of fast growing regional affiliates, a fiber co-op (AFCNA), numerous committees addressing every aspect of the industry and countless publications providing information from A to Z. There is exceptional support around every corner.