It is generally accepted that Alpacas were derived and domesticated from the South American wild Camelid, the Vicuna. There are two breeds of Alpaca,
The Suri, whose soft fleece hangs in long spiral locks, Suri fibre is very smooth which gives this fleece high lustre. Suri has no crimp and thus is a better fit for woven goods.
The Huacaya whose fine dense fleece grows straight out from the body giving it a sheep like appearance. This is where the similarity to a sheep ends. The fibre from a huacaya is soft, durable, luxurious and silky. It’s not prickly and contains no lanolin which makes it hypoallergenic.
Due to being raised at high altitudes in the freezing cold, the Alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fibre than almost any other animal and it is naturally water-repellent and fire retardant.
The fibre, which comes in twenty two shades of solid colour. The Huacaya’s fleece has a natural crimp which makes the yarn naturally elastic which is well suited for knitting.
A mature Alpaca weighs in at 60 to 90 kg and measures 85 to 95 cm tall at the withers and has a life span of approximately twenty years.
A male alpaca is called a Macho and reaches sexual maturity at 2 to 3 years of age. Only the very best should be used as Stud Males.
A Wether is a castrated male. A male is castrated at approximately 18 months of age. This can be done for a number of reason although primarily because the male is not good enough to become a stud. Another reason can be the male is required as a fibre provider; the quality of fibre from a castrated male stays good and doesn’t degenerate as much over the years, as it does in a working male’s fleece.
Wether’s make good pets, but because they are a highly social herd animal they will die from stress related illnesses if not kept with others. If considering Alpacas as pets a group of three is the ideal. Wether’s also make good guard animals, to protect livestock i.e. chickens and lambs from foxes.
A female Alpaca is called a Hembra. A female Alpaca reaches sexual maturity between the ages of 12-18 months old.
Alpaca’s are induced ovulators, the act of mating cause the female to ovulate. This is great for the owner as they can plan when to have cria arriving. The breeding season in the UK generally runs from April through to September. The gestation period is between 11- 12 months and they give birth to one cria. Twins are very rare. They are re-mated 17 days after a normal delivery.
Cria is the name of baby Alpaca’s and is used up until they are 12 months old. They are weaned from their mothers between 5 and 6 months old, depending on their size.