Alpacas are a very eco-friendly farm animal. They are primarily raised for their fleece, also called fiber, the same way as sheep. Alpacas produce the most sustainable and ethical wool of wool you can find. Their fleece is hypoallergenic, water and odor repellent, and soft not scratchy like sheep wool. These qualities make their fiber ideal for many types of textiles.
The alpaca is a native of the Andes Mountains of South America. Although it is often confused with the llama, it is a descendant of the vicuna. Alpacas grow to 32-39 inches tall at the shoulders and weigh between 100-200 pounds. Llamas can weigh up to 450 pounds and are taller. Perhaps the easiest way, though, to tell the difference between llamas and alpacas, are by their ears: llamas have large banana-shaped ears while alpacas have smaller straight ears. An alpaca’s lifespan generally is between 15-20 years which makes them very sustainable.
The range of the llama and the alpaca in South America overlap. Alpacas were bred specifically for their fiber, unlike llamas, who were bred to be working animals. There are two breeds of alpacas: the Suri alpaca and the Huacaya alpaca. Fiber from both breeds is used to make knitted and woven clothing and home accessories. Alpaca fleece is widely used by couture fashion designers to the casual knitter. Huacaya fleece is crimped and sticks straight out where Suri fleece is made up of locks that drape down. Huacayas account for roughly 90% of the world’s alpacas and Suri for the other 10%.
As livestock go, alpacas are easy to keep and are a joy to care for. They prefer to be in groups of 3 or more and can be raised on a small pasture as long as they are supplemented with good quality hay. Many owners use horse shelters or divide a section of their barn to shield them from extreme heat and cold. They are intelligent, know their name, and can be trained to poop in a litter box, go through obstacle-like courses and wear costumes.