What You Need to Know About Alpacas
Alpacas are more than meets the eye. From their elite role in the clothing sector, these gentle creatures are also adored as house companions. There’s a lot to know about alpacas since their arrival traced from million years ago.
Distinguished for their fluffy fleece, alpacas are part of the camelid (camel) and llama family, originating from South America. Back then, they are part of religious ceremonies and the sole source of indigenous people’s food, transportation, and clothing.
It was in 1532 when the alpaca breed almost reached its extinction. During the Spanish invasion, the conquistadors have witnessed how people depend on the alpacas for their livelihood. Because of this, 98% of the alpaca population were killed by the Spaniards. Alpacas were cross mated with llamas springing off to two-coated fleece alpacas of today to alleviate the extinction.
Many alpacas are found mainly in Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Meanwhile, a breed of alpacas was brought to Canada and the other parts of the United States in 1984, resulting in the now roughly 20,000 alpaca breeds thriving in both countries.
The Alpaca Breeds
Alpacas are classified into two types, namely the Huacaya and the Suri breed. The distinction of each class does not differ much on the genetics but rather just the way the fleece looks.
Huacaya breeds make 90% of the alpaca population. Alpacas under the Huacaya breed are almost teddy bear-like because of how thick and fluffy their fleece could grow. Meanwhile, 10% of alpacas are under the Suri breed. Alpacas under this breed are easily spotted because of their long, flat and dreadlocks-looking fleece.
Alpacas are herbivores that flourish in high-altitude ranches. Whether you are raising them as pets, for business, or both, it is imperative to know how and what makes them thrive. These llama-looking animals often eat 12 pounds of hay and consume a maximum of 5 gallons of water per day. As much as how healthy this diet sounds, overfeeding them may cause birthing problems, especially in female alpacas.
Like camels and llamas, alpacas’ stomach has three compartments. The first and largest compartment, referred to as C-1 is mainly for the digestion of nutrients. C-2, the second section, is where the by-product of C-1 goes. It is where nutrient absorption happens. The last area is called C-3 or the “true stomach.” C-3 is where the absorbed remnants from C-2 pass to reach an alpaca’s small intestine. C-3 is also where ulcer forms among the alpacas.
Alpacas are herd animals, and it is advisable to raise three or more of them when starting. Interestingly, they only poop in a common area, making them ideal house pets, not to mention how cuddly they can be during the winter.
The 300 shades of Alpacas
What’s more interesting than an assortment of alpaca shades? Twenty-two colors range from 300 shades of rich whites, striking silvers, gorgeous browns, and elegant blacks.
When sheared, alpacas give out rich and dyed-free shades of the following significant colors: White, Light Brown, Light Silver Grey, Beige, Medium Brown, Light Rose, Grey, Light Fawn, Dark Brown, Medium Silver Grey, Medium Fawn, Bay Black, Medium Rose Grey, Dark Fawn, True Black, Dark Silver Grey, and Dark Rose Grey.
The Alpaca Personality
Alpaca breeders regard alpacas as respectful, intelligent, and trusting animals. Raising them makes life easy, and the only uphill part of the job is the shearing season when their fleece hits the market.
These softballs of fleece communicate by humming and screeching. One misconception about alpacas is they purposefully spit on people. In reality, you can only be spit on when caught between two alpacas at war. Like any other animal revolting during not-so-good times, alpacas also have their bad days and often show it to their fellow alpacas.
Alpacas’ spit can reach up to 10 feet, and spitting is their defense mechanism when scared, stressed, and wanting to show dominance. They are one of the safest domesticated mammals that anyone can handle and can be put around children since they do not have sharp teeth and claws.
The Alpaca Therapy
Along with dogs, alpacas can also be therapy animals visiting thousands of hospitals, shelters for the elders, and rehabilitation facilities. Alpacas’ fluffy fleece and bubbly personality provide enjoyment to people’s systematic way of life living with sickness, trauma and disabilities.
It is probably the odds of having an alpaca as a therapy animal than the typical domesticated animals like cats and dogs that make them remarkable and effective.
Some therapists also conduct counseling in natural settings with the presence of alpacas. The increasing trend of alpaca therapy reflects in the number of alpaca-assisted therapy centers in the United States.
The National Alpaca Farm Day
Celebrated every year is the National Alpaca Farm Day, where owners open their ranch gates to the public for an up-close bonding with the alpacas, ranch tour, lectures, and most of all, showcasing the products made from alpaca fleece.
The National Alpaca Farm Day is every September in the United States, where families, stressed individuals, and potential alpaca raisers convene to honor the contribution of these animals to society.
Here are other amusing facts about alpacas:
- Alpaca females give birth in the morning. It has been the norm of the alpaca ancestors’ way back when the nights are freezing in South America. Giving birth during the day spares them more time to dry their fleece and find shelter for their baby, referred to as “cria.”
- Male alpacas produce 10 pounds, while female alpacas produce 8 pounds of fleece. They are sheared only once a year during the spring.
- Alpacas love the sun. Though they thrive in cool areas, alpacas love their daily dose of sunbathing. They always sleep under the sun.
- An average alpaca can live up to 25 years.
- Female alpacas only give birth to one cria at a time. The gestation period takes up to 12 months.
It is incredible how the economy and people’s emotional stability depend much on these fluffy creatures. It’s good that people recognize their importance by spearheading animal rescue organizations geared towards making sure that these genuine animals receive the treatment they deserve.
Indeed, it is exciting to foresee how prosperous alpaca species can get with human efforts in the following years.