About Alpacas

Alpaca Definitions:



A family of animals of which the alpaca is a member
One of the two types of alpacas
The more rare type of alpaca
A baby alpaca
The wool of an alpaca
The father of a cria
The mother of a cria


Alpacas are members of the Camelid family which consists of camel, llamas, guanacos and vicunas. They are thought to have evolved from the wild protected species, the vicuna, and are generally smaller than the llama standing at just under a metre at the shoulder. They produce a wonderful, heavy fleece of luxurious fleece that comes in 22 basic colours which is renowned the world over for its strength, soft handle and luster. It is often compared to fine merino and cashmere.

During the Spanish conquest most of the alpaca population was slaughtered to make way for sheep and cattle and unfortunately, with the eradication of the Incan culture and population, the alpacas and their breeding programme disappeared as well. The remaining stock fell into the hands of peasant farmers living at 4-5000m above sea level, on the high Alti Planto of the Andes. The alpacas were subject to conditions in which other domestic animals would not survive. Only two main factors secured their survival: their great importance to the native Indian people, and their outstanding ability to cope in high altitudes. The alpaca quickly adapted to sparse, low value vegetation, extreme temperatures that fluctuate from burning sun to below freezing at night, with little or no shelter. While most herds in Chile & Bolivia are coloured, the Peruvian's have been breeding for white. However it now seems that Peru is going back to colours again, not wanting to lose the heritage of natural colour, but the main focus is on black and fawn, after white.

Alpaca Breeds

There are two types of Alpaca, both available at Waimarie Alpaca, and are easily distinguished by their fleece. The Huacaya is the more common type of alpaca, making up approximately 95% of the world's alpaca population. Huacayas have a "fluffy' dense body of fleece growing straight out from an even coverage over the body, neck, and extended down the legs. The Suri fleece is highly lustrous and silky and resembles dreadlocks with pencil-like locks that hang down from the body, neck and legs.

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What are they bred for?

Alpacas are bred for their abundance of soft, lustrous fleece, which is used in a variety of textiles. There are 22 natural colours ranging from pure white through shades of fawns browns, greys to jet black. Alpaca is a rare speciality fibre, warm, lightweight and incredible soft. It is highly suited to fashion garments such as suits, coats, jumpers, scarves and hats. A single alpaca can produce between 3 - 5 kilos with some producing sup to 7kgs of fleece. Having little or no natural grease, alpaca fibre is a delight for hand spinners.

What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas are grazers and can survive on a wide assortment of grasses. They should also have access to clean water. Being ruminates alpacas chew their cud (much like a cow). They do very well on rough, low protein grasses, provided it has a balances mineral content. They should also have access to hay (for roughage). Supplementary feeding may be given to females in the later stages of their pregnancy and while lactating.

How long do alpacas live?

The lifespan of an alpaca is approx. 20 years of age with the female remaining productive for most of their lives.

What sort of fences do they need?

Normal 7 or 8 wire sheep fences are sufficient to retain alpacas in their paddock. They do not challenge fences although if the wire strands are too loose the young may try to climb through.

What sort of shelter should they have?

Alpacas are well protected from the harshness of our winters having developed a thick insulating blanket which is comprised of millions of extremely fine fibres. Their native habitat is high in the Andes Mountains at 4000 to 6000 Metres. Our summers can be a very different matter for the alpacas and during very hot days they do require some sort of shelter from the sun. A shady area or a lean-to will usually provide sufficient protection from the heat.

Do Alpacas spit?

An alpaca will occasionally spit when threatened. Almost always, the act is directed towards another alpaca - usually over food disputes or to protect their cria. They do not spit at people unless sorely provoked. The female will also spit at the male who is intent on mating if she is already pregnant. (this is called the "Spit-Off" Test.)

How often do alpacas require shearing?

Alpacas require shearing once a year. They are generally shorn mid to late spring - preferably before the grasses go to seed. Toe nails also need trimming. At Waimarie Alpacas we offer assistance at shearing time - We have a portable shearing table (and our own experienced shearer) It usually takes about 10 - 15 minutes to shear one alpaca.

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Are Alpacas prone to disease?

Alpacas are generally disease free with only minimal vaccinations required. We give our animals a 6 monthly 5 in 1 vaccine to protect them against Blackleg - Pulpy kidney - Malignant Oedema - Tetanus etc, and a drench of Ivomec, Dectomax or Vetdectin which helps protect them from intestinal parasites. You could also use the white drenches which are used in the sheep industry. We also give our alpacas a twice yearly injection of vitamin A D & E. Alpacas are valuable animals and should be looked after properly. You are unlikely to have any problems with foot-rot or fly-strike.

Facial Eczema:

Alpacas are susceptible to facial eczema. This is a seasonal problem brought about by the production of fungal spores in the pasture, which if ingested in sufficient quantities can be fatal. Taking precautions is the only thing to do. The disease is controlled by fungicide spraying or by supplementary feeding of zinc.

Ryegrass Staggers:

Most perennial rye-grass in New Zealand has been deliberately infected with an endophyte to provide protection from attack by the Argentine Stem Weevil. Unfortunately a serious side effect for the alpacas is rye-grass staggers. Symptoms are unmistakable with the first signs being a slight tremor of the head and neck. If no action is taken the shaking will get worse and be followed by an unstable gait, collapse and possible death. At the first signs the animal must be removed from the infected pasture immediately and provided with fresh water and good quality hay (with no rye-grass) Keep them quiet and eventually most will recover.


This is a skin disease which the alpacas can get in warm, damp weather, usually in the middle of the back where it shows as a flattened area of fibre. It feels like a large hard type of scab and will need frequent bathing with detergent and a strong zinc sulphate solution. Young alpacas can get another type of dermatitis (scaly lumps) on areas that are bare of fibre - a daily application of zinc ointment will help clear these up.

Tuberculosis (Tb):

Alpacas can get Tb. Tuberculosis is infectious in alpacas, but not necessarily contagious. The Alpaca Association has set up a procedure for testing and reporting of camelid herd Tb status. The scheme is voluntary but all owners are strongly recommended to take part. At Waimarie Alpacas, we have our whole herd tested annually and have a "C9" rating.

Do alpacas make good pets?

Alpaca make great pets and are very much at ease with people. They can be halter trained and will eat out of your hand and are gentle enough to be handled by children. One of the biggest reasons an alpaca buyer cites for purchasing their animals, is the personality of the alpaca. The alpaca has a gentle nature and is a real pleasure to be around. Alpacas have no upper teeth (they do not bite), soft padded feet, and non-aggressive, docile personalities. They are truly wonderful farm animals, pets and companions. Alpaca pets are always sold as a minimum of two as they are a social animal and need the company of other alpacas for their own wellbeing.

Personality and Social Behavior:

The personality is one of the biggest reasons for alpaca buyers cites for purchasing their animals. Being very gentle animals they are easy to handle and make delightful companions. They have only bottom teeth, soft padded feet and have a non-aggressive, docile personality. Alpacas can be halter trained and can be taken on walks where they are usually adored by all they come into contact to. They seem to have a fixation on children and will usually approach with a curious but gentle gaze. An alpaca will occasionally spit at each other and this defensive behavior is for protection of an infant or for being challenged at feeding time. They will rarely spit at a person unless sorely provoked.

How do alpacas communicate?

Communication between alpacas is made with a variety of humming sounds which has quite a calming effect to anyone within hearing range. The hums seem to resemble the chants of monks medicating in the Himalayas.

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Can you use Paca Poo?

Alpacas have a very nice habit of dropping their waste in certain areas. They are very clean animals and prefer not to graze where they have located their waste areas. Alpaca poo makes excellent fertilizer and because they use a common waste area it is very easy to collect.

How much Veterinary Care do they need?

Veterinary care is usually minimal. Six monthly de-worming and immunization is necessary for the alpaca's health. The occasional ultra scan will give further assurance of pregnancy. Toenails need to be trimmed every six months to one year (or so) which is a relatively easy and painless job. Sometimes teeth need maintenance too, but most of this work can easily be done without the need for a Vet. At Waimarie Alpacas we offer free, unlimited training to our customers. We will happily show you how to care for and train these beautiful and gentle animals.

What age can alpacas start breeding?

Female alpacas can become sexually active from around 12 months of age with a minimum weight of 40 kgs. Males can should signs of sexual maturity at a very young age, but they are usually able to "produce the goods" from about 2 years of age. There is always the exception to this rule though. The act of mating will induce ovulation in females and are therefore, able to be mated at any time of the year providing the female is receptive.


An "open" female will accept the male's advances by sitting down in a kush position, but if she is pregnant or not ready to breed, she will reject the male quite violently by squealing, spitting and actively rejecting any male which approaches her. This is generally called the "Spit Off Test" as it is also used to determine pregnancy. On the other hand, when she is near a male and if she has not ovulated and does not think she is pregnant, she will sit and wait her turn to be mated. She will give birth to a single baby (called a cria). The cria will be born almost exclusively between the hours of 9am and 2pm, on a nice sunny day with the cria up and walking within the hour. When the female is about to give birth she will leave the rest of the herd, go to her pre-selected place and give birth on her own. Human assistance is not normally needed. Once the cria is up on its feet (usually within the hour) and had its first drink she will re-join the herd. Fourteen days after she has given birth she will be ready for re-mating. Because alpacas are induced ovulators, a female does not get "on heat" but releases her eggs in response to mating which means that we can breed the male to the female at nearly any time we choose and the cria will be born approx 11 months later.

What is the gestation period for an alpaca?

The gestation period for alpacas is around 335 - 350 days, but premature and extended periods are not uncommon.

When should a cria be weaned?

A cria is ready to have its diet changed from mother's milk to grass and hay when the alpaca is about 6 months of age. Some breeders wean their cria as young as 4 or 5 months; some say 8 months is the ideal age to wean. Ideally you should wean two or more cria together but if this is not possible - the newly weaned cria should be put in a separate paddock with a wethered male or a female who has also had her cria weaned.

What is the physical size of an Alpaca?

The average height of a mature alpaca is 3 feet as measured at the withers (the top of the front shoulders).

How much do alpacas weigh?

The average weight of a mature male adult is about 70 - 80 kgs, the average weight of a female is 55 - 65 kg, although alpacas can exceed weights of over 100kgs. A healthy new baby (known as a cria) will weigh between 6 to 8 kgs and will gain about 250 grams a day after initially losing up to half a kilo straight after birth.

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