The homeland of alpacas is South America – Bolivia, Peru, Chile, and Ecuador. The largest herds are found in the hills of Peru and in the highest places in the Andes, where they are looking for food.
Alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are domesticated camel family (Camelidae) species living in the Andes, the South America and outwardly look like a little llama.
The Alpacas have always been grown to produce wool for blankets, hats, capes (Poncho), woollen fabrics for sewing clothes, gloves, socks, scarves, sweaters and other knitted products. According to the Peruvian classification, alpaca produces wool worsted in more than 52 natural shades, according to the International classification – in 22 shades. Alpacas as domestic animals for wool production South American Indians have grown for several thousand years. During the time of the Inca Empire, only noble could afford garments of alpaca wool. Alpaca meat is also used in South America, but commercially available very rarely.
The alpaca is considerably smaller than the llama. Its body length, including the head, is 1.2 – 2.25 m, height at withers is 90 to 130 cm, weight 54 to 68 kg.
Although the wool-covered alpaca looks bulky, its body is slim and finely shaped, it has a long neck and legs, a fine head, and proportionally long and pointed ears. Alpaca incisors grow only in the lower jaw, but in the upper jaw there is a hard, ribbed gum plate. Males’ incisors and lower canines develop into the teeth suitable for fight, and they are longer than 3 cm. Females’ teeth do not develop so long.
Hair of alpaca wool can grow up to 50 cm in length and it grows on the whole body. Besides, hair may be in many different colours: both monochrome and variegated.
There are two alpaca breeds distinguished: Huacaya and Suri. The most popular for rearing is the first one. The main difference is that the hair of Huacaya wool is shorter than the Suri alpaca hair. Long, curly hair covers Huacaya alpaca’s body, neck and thighs, but on the head and lower part of the legs it is short. Suri alpaca wool is silkier and grows faster, and the hair is not curly.
Thanks to the thick fur, alpaca has no problem to withstand a sudden temperature change in the mountains, when at night the temperature drops to 0 °C and rapidly warm up to 16 °C in the day. However, alpaca survival more or less depends on humans. Wool is shorn off once a year, obtaining 2.2 – 4.5 kg of wool from one alpaca.
The Alpacas are very social, curious and friendly not only to each other, but also to the people. They usually graze together with llamas, sheep and goats. Alpacas form small family herds with one alpha male, several adult females (5 to 10) and their calfs. Alpacas are also very cautious and vigilantly watch the surroundings, loudly warning the whole herd, if notice any danger. Alpaca males may attack smaller predators with teeth and front feet, biting, spitting and kicking. Females also spit if someone is coming closer to her calf. Not all alpacas spit, but every alpaca is capable to do it. They spit not only to the enemies, but also spit to each other and sometimes can spit on people. To each other they split to establish the dominance in the herd, but to the people they spit out of fear. Spit consists of saliva, a lot of air and little gastric juice, which is green, grass coloured.
All alpacas of the herd try to leave their droppings in specific locations and form piles of droppings. In these places they do not eat grass. Besides, males form a separate pile of faeces. In the “Rakši” they are collected by a special large manure collector – a vacuum cleaner, and used for recycling. “Rakši” is currently working on the specific animal manure processing in soil nutrient pellets that are environmentally friendly.
Female alpacas reach sexual maturity at 12 to 15 months of age, but males reach it from 30 to 36 months of age. The breeding season for alpacas has not been determined and mating can occur at any time when the female is mature.
Gestation lasts about 11 months (342 – 345 days). One calf is born, weighing 8 – 9 kg. The mother nurses her calf for 6 – 8 months. Sometimes babies come to suck the milk of other female who may react very differently: allow to nurse, just go away or try to chase the calf away, spitting on him.
Alpaca lifespan ranges from 15-25 years.
The first alpacas in the „Rakši” were imported from South America in 2008.