Where do they come from?
Originally farmed by the ancient Inca people in the high plains of the Andean mountains, alpacas and their relative the Llama have been domesticated for over 5000 years. Commonly referred by native South Americans as the"Fibre of the Gods", they produce a luxurious fibre in 22 natural colours. Alpacas are still being traditionally farmed in Chile and Peru today.
Are they "easy" livestock?
Alpacas are hardy, generally placid and easy to care for and manage, have less impact on the enviroment than sheep or cattle. With an incredible resistant to diseases and other problems that can strike cattle and sheep, they are an ideal option for the lifestyle farmer, who may have little or no farming experience. They can be easily handled, and trained to halter and lead, especially when just weaned.
However due to hormones while pregnant, some females can occasionally become "surly" and "bossy"towards other females, but very seldom towards humans. A full grown well trained Stud Male can be handled by one person.
A simple pen in a corner is all you need, they can be easily driven along run ways or fence line with guide ropes into a pen, for ease of haltering, injections, toe trimming etc. They learn to recognise rountine, and their individual names. They are a different option of grazing livestock for the lifestyle block farmer, easy to care for, little health care requirements, light on pasture.
What kind of health requirements do they have?
They need a twice yearly injection of 5-1 or 10-1 , to protect them, against diseases much same as sheep. They also require a injection of Vitamin A,D&E twice yearly. Females due to unpack require both injections 6-4 weeks birthing.
It is important they receive adequate Vit D, due to fact where they originate from is at high altitude compared to NZ climate, which is why you quite often see alpacas "sunbathing" lying stretched out for long periods of time. Vit D is importanat for strong bone growth and development.
Denching is by way of injection. At El dos Cadena we cross graze with our horse after the alpacas have finished a paddock, and clean up and remove the poo piles up regularly to lower the worm burden. Recommend regular FE counts (Many farm stores have a excellent, reasonable service and do-it-yourself kits. We drench rarely unless feel a need to as we believe most livestock need to build up a natural immunity to worms. We do not graze our sheep in the same paddocks as they share the same worms unlike horses and alpacas which do not.
Like any grazing livestock, regular checks on your soil (therefore) pasture's mineral health is important. NZ soils can be low in important minerals that alpacas require for their overall health. There are many natural herb sources of necessary minerals /vitamins. Some alpacas like mineral blocks, others don't. Seleium in alpacas while important, should not be given in same dosage as for sheep or cattle, therefore do not recommend mineral blocks with added seleium or to fertiliser. Seleium injections can be given for correct dosage by a vet if deemed necessary.
What kind of pasture is suitable?
Generally most pasture suitable for sheep, horses. They need a higher fibre and lower protein diet than sheep, and can become actually underweight if pasture is too lush and very high in water content. Hay is supplemented daily for them to get enough fibre and roughage. Breeding females need higher amount of protein than wethers, non-breeding females or stud males. They can be given supplements such as lucerne/chaff and alpaca nuts to keep them a good weight and healthy throughout pregnancy and while feeding a cria. Fodder trees such as willow and poplar are a excellent source of vitamins and just adored by alpaca. They perfer pasture around 4-6 inches. Alpacas can suffer from rye grass staggers similar to ponies and horses, treatment is to remove completely from pasture and feed a dry diet. Some recover fully, others have recurrring episodes. As it is high-med endeotype rye grass that causes staggers, low/non endeotype ryegrass would would be preferred pasture, also a mixture of meadow grasses and not overgrazing too low to ground. Some alpacas appear more suspectiable than others.
While it is commonly acknowledged that alpacas require much less grazing than sheep (ratio commonly given is 6 alpaca to 1 sheep on 1 acre), BUT this depends on several factors. Such as quality and type of pasture, weather conditions ie dought prone areas, ability to rotate paddocks, how clean the pasture is from dung heaps etc. Alpacas seldom eat near their dung heaps, nor for some time after, which can create large areas of paddock uneaten. There are various ways to control this, such as cleaning up dung heaps regularly, keeping pasture area of a old dung heaps short and treating it with lime/salt to alter ph. Males tend to be "tidier" than females and have one or two very neat piles, female dung piles are usually spread over a certain area/s, as they seem to prefer their individual area and cria take time to realise where to go.
What kind of fencing?
Sheep netting is prefered around 1.8 m high (recommend slightly higher for stud males) from ground, ensuring no gaps from bottom for a cria to roll under. Electric fences do not tend to work on adult alpacas as their skin is very thick and with a full fleece on they simply do not feel a charge. Deer netting is suitable especially around stud male paddocks, and post & rail is fine as long as gaps are not too large for a cria to step through and other animals such as dogs to get in. Barbed wire fencing is not suitable as can cause nasty injuries to both young and older animals.
How long is a alpaca pregnant for?
Females gestation is usually about 11.5 mths, however a normal gestation is considered between 355 and 375 days. The term unpacking refers to the birth of the cria. They normally birth in daylight hours from early morning to around 1pm, births outside this time are a indication that there may be a birthing problem. Alpacas have a high rate of normal births and relatively little problems birthing. Multiple births are very rare world wide.
We would recommend a Neo-natal course prior to your first alpaca birth to get expert help in this area, We also offer at El dos Cadena on going advise and if local assistance if required. We would stress if in doubt during a birth for any reason CALL A VET, preferably one with experience in cameloids. At El dos Cadena, we also have birthing agistment service for customers, conditions apply.
What is a Spit Off?
Females are induced ovulators meaning they generally ovulate once mating occurs and therefore do not go into a season at a particular time, they still have periods of being more receptive to a male about every 11-14 days. Due to this once mating occurs, after Day 7 the male is reintroduced to the female, if she spits/runs away she has more likely ovulated, after Day 14, if this continues then she has most likey become pregnant, and is continued to be spat off every 14 days until scanned.
Most breeders have a pregnancy scan around 60 day mark to confirm pregnancy. This can be done up to about 100 day mark then it becomes more differcult. Blood tests to determine if hormones indicating pregnancy can also be done.
If the female "sits" for the male, then it generally means she has failed to fall pregnant and is remated. Note some females especially maidens will sit if very stressed, so ensure those females are penned up well in advance, can see their herd, kept calm. Get to know your alpacas personalities can help as well, as most females undergo a change in their personalities as soon as pregnant.
Are they a worth while investment?
Yes, for a good quality female or potential male, and a stud male can bring in regular income as well. Income from their fibre depends of your ability and desire to market, sell and produce high quality product. Therefore for small to medium and big commercial alpaca farms, a reasonable income can be made from alpacas. The emphasis on alpacas as a breeding investment livestock is slowly shifting to a fibre based livestock investment. The industry is still realivetly new in NZ and Australia compared to sheep farming for instance. Alpaca fleece is starting to be more and more recognised as a fibre for the future especially in these global times of preference for more natural fibres and garments. Alpaca fibre has special qualities that set it apart from other fibre producing livestock and deserves to be ranked alongside, if not above cashmere and mohair on the world fashion market.
Just looking for a pet?
While alpacas are not a domesticated pet such as a dog or cat, but are a domesticated livestock similar to sheep, they can however be trained to a halter and lead, be trained to eat out of your hands, can recognise their name and a routine. Some are very friendly and cute, others aloof, some frisky, each alpaca has a personality that can suit anyone. Male alpacas tend to be wethered around 12-18 mths, after growth starts to slow, they then become calmer and easier to handle. Most pet alpacas are wethers, that for whatever reason are not deemed suitable stud quality by their breeder. Their fleece however may be as good or some cases better than a working male or breeding female and therefore can still be shorn and their fleece utilised.
Do I have to show my animals?
Of course not, but showing is not just about possibly of winning a ribbon, it is about networking, learning from other breeders, sharing ideas and information, getting to see other breeders animals, where the industry is going. There are Classes for each colour, gender and age groups, plus usually a Fancy and wether class and Child/Junior handler classes. Cost to enter is minimal , roughly between $4 to $8 per entry. If you own or thinking about owning alpacas, think about showing or attend a local show.
Only registered alpacas with AANZ or AAA can enter the Championship Classes. Not all A& P shows have alpaca sections. But generally this is changing and more shows now have an alpaca section. Our local Northern A&P show at Rangiora and Oxford A&P show had alpacas for the first time in 2009 /2010 show season with a good number of entries. Alpacas are shown either in Suri or Huacaya with Supreme Champion Suri and Huacaya, and occassionaly the two Supremes do battle for Alpaca of the Show.
The National Alpaca Expo show is generally held in October each year, rotating each year between the North or South Island. This is a great chance to see the best of the best of alpacas in NZ in one place. It is held indoors over three days and attracts all types of breeders from very small hobbist to large scale commerical breeders/farmers.
What is the difference beween a Suri and Huacaya Alpaca?
As far as the animal, they are the same. The difference is one gene that causes fleece to either be Suri or Huacaya.
Huacaya alpacas have a similar crimped fibre stucture to sheep. The fleece appears dense and soft, springing away from the body. The crimp can vary, from a bold wide crimp to a fine narrow crimp. Their fleece is processed similar to sheep's wool. With their "teddy-bear' looks they are always a firm favourite of adults and children. Huacaya alpacas make up 94% of the alpacas in NZ.
Suri alpacas have completely different fibre stucture, with smooth scales on the fibre, which results in a slippery silky fleece, that hangs in ringlet locks down from the body. The lock structure itself can be tightly twisted, corkscrewed, fan, or waves. The structure of the locks do not themselves determine the micron or the handle. Suri alpacas tend to have more of a wedge shaped face, longer narrower ears, finer apperance and appear a more elegant animal than Huacaya. Once shorn they appear almost identical to the Huacaya, with slight differences in face and body. They also seem to mature quicker than the Huacaya, and be sexually mature earlier, but little study as to why has been done.
The lustre and handle of a Suri fleece is highly prized. Suri alpacas make up 6% of the alpacas in NZ and worldwide. Due to centuries of interbreeding with Huacaya alpacas and Llamas, the Suri alpaca was almost wiped out, but due to careful back breeding they made a comeback and now are beginning to make a impact on the world stage. The fleece processing of Suri Fleece in NZ is still a relatively new industry.
What is a F1 and BC Suri?
A F1 or more correctly a FC1 is a First Cross Suri, which has Huacaya and Suri parents. Just about all Coloured Suri have Huacaya ancestors somewhere in their genetic background as most were backbreed to achieve colour. F1's are generally more "fluffy" in appearance, hence the nickname "Fluffies".
An Huacaya will always throw an Huacaya alpaca, but a Suri would have to be Homozygote to only ever throw Suri alpacas, but if Hetrozygote carries ability to throw either Suri or Huacaya. To be a proven homozygote male takes alot of Suri progeny and can never be 100% proven.
A BC1 is a Back Cross 1 Suri, one generation on from F1, therefore BC2 two generations, BC3 four generations, and BC4 at five generations, generally regarded as 100% "Pure" Suri. However even a fifth generation Suri if Hetrozygote has ability to throw a Huacaya offspring.
Many F1 or BC1-BC3 have "beaten" pure Suri in the Show ring, with some taking out Supremes. The quality of a fleece is determined on other factors beside genetic makeup such as enviornment, diet, health, pre-post natal etc.
How to get colour?
To achieve colour in our Suri, we have chosen to only try to breed like colour to like colour where possible, using coloured males with good genetic make up and reasonable quality of fleece, and that we determined had strong possibly of being Homozygote, so far they have thrown only Suri. There are few proven Homozygote Coloured (Mid Fawn to Black) Stud Males in NZ at the present, with Brown Suri Stud males being very rare.
Of course the odd surprise colour appears even after careful breeding, as much as Suri fleece takes up to five generations to be considered "pure' then it is possibly up to five generations either side before a particular colour could be guanteed for offspring. The more coloured ancestors , more chance in achieving colour, which colour is harder to predict. Some colours such as white appear more dominment, but little research has been done on the dominmence of other colours. A "spot" of colour in a fleece can be a indicator that the alpaca carries that particular colour gene. So a white alpaca with a brown spot can throw a solid brown cria, much as a grey alpaca with a black and white spot can throw a solid black or white cria. This is on either linage, dam or sire. But the preference is to breed for a solid one coloured animal with no spots at all. The most differcult colour to breed for is grey.
More than 10% of another colour the alpaca is considered a Fancy or multi , and can only be shown in a fancy class not a championship. Their colouring of course does not affect their fleece and alot of fancys have beautiful quality fleeces. It is the mill processors and the fashion industry that generally prefer solid one coloured animals, and the world wide alpaca standard is to try to avoid colour contamination of the fleece.
Can alpaca be dyed?
Yes, either in a cold or hot dye technique. White or Light fawn alpaca can be easily dyed into whatever colour you wish. There are some beautiful colour choices available today. Mid-Dark fawns, Brown, Blacks and Grey fleeces are lovely as they are. Natural colours while classed as Fawn, Brown, Black and Grey - are various shades in between from striking gold, cinnamon, copper, chocolate, sherry, steel grey, lavender, blue black and red black. Having a fibre with such variations of shades results in a beautiful 100% natural product.
Should I register my alpacas?
If you have spent money on a registered alpaca and hired/ leased /purchased, a registered certified male as a stud, then any cria that results should be registered if free of faults. The cria receives a ear tag as ID and this is their IAR number from their registration certificate.
Males can be registered as a wether on the register as well. A registered alpaca has a proven genetic background, should be free of breeding and/or colour faults of of course deformaties. The AANZ (Alpaca Association of NZ) and prior to this the AAA (Alpaca Assoication of Australia) have been set up to improve the overall herd quality and therefore fleece in alpacas. Buying unregistred females and using unregistered and/or uncertified males as studs lowers the overall standard of alpacas in NZ and Australia as well as increasing deformaties as no genetic background is known. A registered Stud Male has to go through a through lengthly health and free-of-faults check by an approved vet firstly and application for certification it is sent for approval. A alpaca therefore has more value if registered.
Should I join the AANZ?
Yes, if you are planning on breeding alpacas, even if only for yourselves then your Herd can be registered. Your animals have more value now and in future if registered. You cannot register a alpaca with breed faults or deformaties nor a alpaca cria from unregistered parents. The AANZ website and reference book clearly sets out faults and what is deemed as deformed.
You can join as a fully paid up member or as a member. Full members can apply to register their Herd, receive a herd code, chose a Herd name, (the Herd name then is prefixed to any cria registered), vote on AANZ matters, receive a comprehensive alpaca reference book, which has all the built up knowledge and advise you may need, receive free bi-monthly magazine, plus can show their animals in Championship classes at A&P shows and the National Expo. AANZ members also can have a input and say as to the direction of where the industry is headed but being involved in local regional or national councils.
If buying pet wethers, recommend join at least as a member.
The AANZ website is free for anyone, and includes alot information and advice. It details calender of upcoming shows, the AANZ Alpaca registry search, breeders and resource references as well. It can be used by full registered members to download and load online forms.
What is the "National Alpaca Day"?
2009 was the first year that breeders from around the country joined in to open up their farms to the public on one particular day. Big, and medium and small breeders/ owners used this open farm to promote, sell, advise and just demostrate everything about alpacas, the animal, its fibre, yarn, spinning and weaving, halter training tips etc.
We had a reasonable group of diverse people through from serious buyers, interested neighbours, to senior citizens and passers by.
2011 National Alpaca Day will most likely be the first Sunday in May 2011. This years was held on 2 May 2010 (Refer to our News)
We are regularly part of this and our farm will be open to public from 10.30 to 4pm on this day.
Bring along picnic or just browse through our alpaca pens and yarn/fibre for sale. We will be having some garments for sale as well and hopefully demos on spinning and weaving alpaca fibre. Children are most welcome, but we request they be supervised at all times.
Please leave your pet dogs at home, no dogs are allowed onto our farm even if on a leash or left in a car, as they upset the animals especially the mums with cria and pregnant females. Any strange dog is seen by alpacas as a predator. Please respect this and also if visting A&P shows that most alpacas in pen or show ring still see a strange dog however small as a threat, and can become very alarmed and stressed especially if pregnant/ in confined pens, so please do not be upset if a owner requests that you move your dog away.
What should I do with my fleece?
This is soley up to the owner. Seems pity to pay good and sometimes alot money for a animal that has been breed for its fibre not to use that fibre in some way. Fleeces if properly stored can be kept for few years and then processed, combined other smaller breeders or pet owners and processed, made into yarns, felts etc. Try to only send your best fibre to be made into yarn and therefore garments. Even lower quality fleece can be utilised in socks, felts, matting, bedding stuffing, mulch, insulation. At El dos Cadena we can buy back quality fibre from alpacas we have sold. Conditions apply.
Shop around processing mills, sometimes the closest is not necessary the mill for you. Some offer discount for large bulk, others specialise in fine yarn, some let you accumulate kilos over time to lessen the cost etc. Some do 100%, others a mixture with wool.
How often should I get my Alpaca shorn?
Under new Animal Welfare Law, exact length of time an animal can be left full fleeced will be written into law. At the moment by AANZ and SPCA it is recommended that Huacaya to be shorn yearly and should be shorn before 2 years. Suri can be shorn yearly, every second year and should be definately shorn before 3 years. The longer / older the fleece the chance the fleece will "blow out" and/or be damaged and lessen quality and may have to be cut to be processed therefore wastage increases. Pregnant females should not be shorn too close to birthing. Cria are usually left to first year, but occassionaly shorn around 4-6 months, or "tipped".
Alpacas are shorn actually lying down, either on a table, or on the floor with legs strapped and tethered firmly. One side is done then the other. Show fleeces are treated with more care and wrapped in a cotton wrap seperate.
Shearing one animal takes a professional with two helpers about 10 min. Injections, toe trimming, body score check can be all done at this time.
How do I know my alpaca is eating enough?
Body score, a regular check along the middle of spine, to determine rough condition of the alpaca. Different criteria than sheep. Ask your breeder or AANZ website or health card will show you how to do this. Regular scoring is important as nice fat looking full fleeced alpaca can be actually underweight once shorn.
Obestity affects overall health in the alpaca including fertility in both female and male. Pregnant, lactating females, and cria should have a sligher higher body score. Skinny underweight alpaca can suffer from hyperthermia and die very quickly after shearing, so any underweight should be on higher protein diet or investiagated as to why underweight (such as worm burden) prior to shearing.
How do I trim their toes?
Need to be able to pen up a animal, preferably if halter-trained, loosly tied, it is a two person job. One restrains the animal, other deflyfirmly holds onto the leg at the knee joint, bending and lifting leg up and slightly out, so animal slightly off balance, and quickly remove any excess toe nail, trimming in a Ve shaped wedge, following the natural shape of the toes. Most breeders learn to do this themselves, can arrange to show you how to do it, many shearers will also trim toe nails at shearing time for small fee and also vets. However blond toe nails seem to grow much quicker than darker ones, and need more regular trimming to keep a nice triangle shaped toe. Sheep toe nail clippers are fine, just ensure nice and sharp and use care. A board behind a "kicker" will hep as well.
THESE ARE JUST SOME OF THE QUESTIONS ASKED, IF YOUR QUERY IS NOT COVERED, FEEL FREE TO EMAIL US AND ASK OUR ADVISE, OR FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ALPACAS AND THEIR REQUIREMENTS CHECK OUT THE AANZ WEBSITE www.alpacas.org.nz