Alpacas – introduction
Information about the physical and behavioural characteristics of alpacas.
Alpacas are members of the camelid family along with camels, llamas, vicuna and guanaco.
There are two types of alpacas:
- Suri – This type has silky, soft handling, dense, locking fleece with high lustre that hangs from the topline and gives the alpaca a flat sided appearance.
- Huacaya – This type has a sheep like fleece that stands perpendicular to the body.
Young alpacas are called crias, mature females are called hembras and mature males are referred to as machos.
|Size||Measured at the withers: 90-95 cm when fully grown|
|Weight||70 - 85kg|
|Age at adult size||2 - 3 years|
|Weight at birth||5 - 10kg|
|Gestation period||11 - 11.5 months|
|Number of offspring||Normally 1|
|Range of breeding ages||Females reach sexual maturation at 12 to 18 months and males at 2 to 3 years|
|Weaning age||6 - 8 months|
Alpacas have excellent vision and are very capable of spotting danger and alerting their herd or other animals around them. For this reason alpacas are commonly used as guardian animals for flocks of sheep or lambing ewes. Their excellent vision means that when herding and handling alpacas, handlers should move slowly so as not to frighten the alpacas.
Alpacas have very good hearing. This contributes to their excellent ability to recognise danger and predators and alert their herd. Their sensitive hearing means that loud noises, whip cracks, dogs barking and clanging gates will frighten alpacas and cause distress. Loud noises should be avoided around alpacas.
Alpacas are alert and inquisitive animals. They find comfort in groups or herds and move together in a mob when herded. They will scratch themselves on trees, posts and bushes and like to have dust baths. A suitable area for a dust bath should be considered when keeping alpacas.
A herd of alpacas will have a community dung pile and if necessary will wait their turn to use it. They may lie down and bathe in the sun and may wade or swim into creeks or dams on hot days to cool down. Alpacas have three stomachs and chew the cud. They are usually placid and easily trainable, especially from a young age. Animals that are frequently worked with do not object to being touched or handled around their heads and legs, however animals that are infrequently worked with, may find this form of handling threatening. These animals will require time and consistent familiarisation to this handling.
Alpacas are generally social, placid animals that enjoy living in groups. They are easily trained to a halter and have a gentle non-aggressive nature. Alpacas will spit occasionally in an act of aggression, most commonly at feeding time, if they feel threatened or when defending their young. Alpacas also use kicking and biting as a self defence mechanism or when asserting dominance.
Alpacas used as protection
Alpacas are very protective animals and will fiercely guard their herd from predators such as dogs or foxes. This has led to them being commonly used as protection for sheep. Many farmers will keep an alpaca with their sheep to protect the mob, especially young lambs from dingoes, foxes and dogs. Alpacas are usually quiet, docile animals but when they spot a predator they will let out a piercing alarm sound to warn the herd and scare off the predator. They will chase the predator and spit and stamp at it with their front feet. This behaviour makes them extremely useful guard animals. Their similarity to sheep also increases their usefulness as they require similar maintenance, feed, care and facilities. This makes them an easy addition to a flock of sheep.