Alpacas: Gold of the Andes

ALPACA PRIMER

What exactly is an Alpaca?
(The First Question Your Friends Will Ask)

Huacaya(wa ki a) and Suri (sir' e): The two breeds of alpacas. Huacayas have full, fluffy fleeces and are more common that the Suri alpaca. Suris have long, silky locks that hang downward creating a draped appearance.



Sire and Dam: Dad and Mom of a cria. The Alpaca Registry keeps genealogy records to verify husbandry and help create a high standard of North American genetics.

Cria (kre` a): Baby alpaca. Females have only one cria a year after a gestation of 11 months.

Lifespan: 15 to 20 years.

Average Weight: 15-20 pounds at birth; 125-170 pounds as adults.

Alpacas were revered and treasured by the ancient Inca civilization. These beautiful animals were one of the key foundations to Inca commerce. Alpacas have been domesticated for around 6000 years and today 99% of the world’s approximate 3.5 million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. South American countries have recognized the value of alpacas and have only allowed limited exportation of the animals. They were first imported into the United States in 1984. Today, there are still fewer than 100,000 alpacas in all of North America. The industry centers primarily around the breeding and selling of the animals to increase our national herd to a size that can support a commercial market for the fiber.

Alpaca fiber is regarded by many fiber experts to be more valuable than cashmere. Only the vicuna, a relative of the alpaca is more rare. Demand for fiber is high among hand spinners because of its fine qualities and limited availability. For individuals who work with fiber, the alpaca offer a product that incorporates the finest features of natural fiber---softness, warmth, resiliency, and a variety of colors. Raised at high altitudes in freezing cold, the alpaca has developed more thermal capacity in its fiber than almost any other animal. The fiber contains microscopic air pockets that create lightweight garments with high insulation values. Sixteen natural colors have been designated, more than any other fiber producing animal. Garments of alpaca fiber are soft and durable without the irritation often associated with wool. If you haven’t seen or felt an alpaca garment, it’s probably because of the availability of the fiber.

Efforts are underway to nationally promote alpaca fiber and increase public awareness of its wonderful qualities. The national organization (AOBA), uses extensive marketing resources to inform people of the wonderful characteristics of this luxurious natural fiber. Each year a conference is held to inform, promote, and celebrate alpaca fashion to alpaca breeders and the public

Updated January 13, 2011