Apart from being incredibly cute? The alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is the oldest known domesticated animal, a camelid originating from South America where they are still farmed for fleece. There are two distinct species – the Huacaya and the Suri. The Huacaya has a more dense fleece and typically much more coverage – and in my biased opinion the better looking. The Suri has fine silkier locks that almost resemble pencils and apparently it is a spinners dream.
The alpaca is a herd animal and creates strong bonds in family groups. Sociable but also extremely protective of their young and their territory, they like to ‘cush’ down and chew the cud, are playful and inquisitive. The term ‘pronking’ is used to describe their unique gait when moving at speed.
The alpaca is a fibre animal – being farmed for it’s highly sought after fleece. Alpaca fleece is finer than sheep wool and is generally warmer. Processing is less intense as – unlike sheep – alpaca fleece does not contain lanolin. It is possible for a hand spinner to card and spin the fleece before washing. There are 22 colours which make it very eco-friendly, assuming you want natural tones – no need for any dye! There are many uses for alpaca fleece – from the finest micron yarns producing luxury goods through to the higher micron being used for filling duvets. There is a use for it all and it should never just sit in a barn collecting dust. Someone will make use of it!
Typically other uses are:
• Herd guards
• Land clearing
• Rural tourism i.e. alpaca trekking
• Breeder production
Herd guarding has become very important with 2-3 alpacas looking after flocks of sheep, particularly during lambing time. They also guard poultry to good effect. When living in Spain my two resident pet boys demonstrated their protectiveness with our hens on numerous occasions – even from us! Our mongoose family were persuaded to move further towards the perimeter of our land.
Land clearance is also a benefit to keeping alpacas though they do prefer shorter grass. They will eat the young shoots from trees and brambles which can be a good or a bad thing.
Alpacas are easily halter trained, particularly if started young after weaning and there are many successful rural tourism businesses offering alpaca trekking – some alongside accommodation.
Breeder production in France is growing though with the absence of a dedicated database it is difficult to determine exact numbers. From my research here it seems there is a strong demand for pets. There is a necessary movement towards increasing awareness and raising the standard of alpacas bred through elite genetics and improving animal husbandry. Several breeders like myself have invested heavily in importing top quality stock and these animals can only improve the gene pool further.
There is one use I have not mentioned – that of meat production. It remains a dirty word for most alpaca lovers though it has to be accepted there is a growing market in other countries.
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