Alpacas are unique creatures that have only been in the United States since 1984. Most people know little about them and have a difficult time locating quality facts and information. The internet is full of incorrect statements, facts, and figures. The more I read, the more incorrect information I find, and the more frustrated I become.
In this post, I’d like to answer the most common questions we receive and provide some other alpaca facts you might want to know. The data points include everything from history and population to personality traits and tips on raising alpacas.
History & Population Facts & FAQs
When were alpacas discovered?
Alpacas are one of six animals that are part of the camel family, known as Camelidae. The ancestors of today’s camelids evolved in North America between 9-11 million years ago, although it is said that the most distant relatives were living as far back as 35 million years ago.
When were alpacas domesticated?
Alpacas were domesticated over 6,000 years ago. The domestic form of the alpaca is Vicugna paco.
How many alpacas are in the world?
The Alpaca Owners Association (AOA) has over 200,000 registered alpacas in 19 countries. The United States, Canada, and Australia have the highest number of registered alpacas, however, this data alone will be misleading.
South America actually has around four million alpaca with Peru accounting for the world’s largest alpaca population. Other countries with high volumes of alpaca include Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Australia, England, and Canada.
Recently, Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI) recently stated that Peru has around 3.8 million alpacas, which is 87% of the world’s alpaca population. The annual production of alpaca fiber in Peru is over 4,501 tons and the Peruvian alpaca fiber exports surpassed $68 million (USD) by the end of 2017. Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur) stated that the country’s alpaca exports increased by over 110% in 2017 and the average export price increased by 14%. Peru continues to the world’s largest producer as well as exporter in the alpaca fiber market and the main destinations for the Peruvian alpaca fiber exports remain China and Italy.
Sadly, there is no unified database of consistent data on the alpaca population and where they live.
What we do know if the overall alpaca market and fiber usage are growing.
How many alpacas are in the United States?
Alpacas first arrived in the United States in 1984. The United States has over 192,000 alpacas registered with the AOA and the 2017 Census of Agriculture accounted for over 121,000 alpacas in the US. That said, neither figure represents the true number of alpacas in the United States.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (MINAGRI), Peru, recently stated that Peru is the largest alpaca fiber producer in the alpaca fiber market, as around 3.8 million alpacas in the country – which is 87% of the world’s alpaca population. The annual production of alpaca fiber in Peru stands for over 4,501 tons and the Peruvian alpaca fiber exports surpassed US$ 68 million by the end of 2017. The Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (Mincetur) stated that the country’s alpaca exports increased by over 110% in 2017 within a span of one year, with the rise of over 14% average per kilogram in the export price.
Peru continues to the world’s largest producer as well as exporter in the alpaca fiber market and the main destinations for the Peruvian alpaca fiber exports remain China and Italy.
The AOA figure includes alpacas that are now deceased, but not yet updated in the association records. It also does not include the smaller farms that opt against paying for registration with the AO. The US census only accounts for farms that actually replied to the inquiry and many of these farms would not be registered with the AOA. Thus, we do not have a true number of alpacas.
What states in the US have the most alpacas?
According to the AOA database of registered alpacas, the ten states with the highest alpaca populations are:
- Ohio = 27,000
- Washington = 19,000
- Oregon = 18,000
- Colorado = 17,000
- California = 14,000
- Pennsylvania = 13,000
- New York = 13,000
- Virginia = 9,000
- Michigan = 8,000
- Wisconsin = 7,000
Physical Characteristics Facts
What do alpacas look like?
Alpacas are larger than their cousin the vicunas, but smaller than their other cousin the llama. Alpacas have short faces with spear-shaped ears.
There are two types of alpacas and the look of the alpaca will vary based on the type (also called breeds). The huacaya alpaca offers fluffy, thick fiber that is wavy with a crimp. Tighter crimps signify higher-quality fiber. The suri alpaca has longer fiber that is straight and without a crimp.
Alpacas are evaluated and judged on conformation. Desired traits within alpaca conformation include:
- Straight legs in the front and rear
- Straight backs without humps
- Rounder rump (butt)
- Short triangular muzzle
- Spear-shaped ears
- A neck that is 2/3 the length of the back
Desirable esthetic traits include:
- Length of the ear (you do not want long ears that mimic the llama)
- Strong fiber coverage
- Slight Roman nose
- Length of the tail
- Color of the toenails
- Distance between eyes
- Distance between ears
What colors do alpacas come in?
The AOA show system recognizes 16 different colors with 8 additional classes that are not actual colors. Not all alpacas are a singular color and they can have a mix of primary and secondary colors within their fiber.
The 16 recognized colors include:
- White – WH 100
- Beige – BG 201
- Light fawn – LF 202
- Medium fawn – MF 204
- Dark fawn – DF 205
- Lights brown – LB 209
- Medium brown – MB 301
- Dark brown – DB 410
- Bay black – BB 360
- True black – TB 500
- Light silver grey – LSG 401
- Medium silver grey – MSG 402
- Dark silver grey – DSG 404
- Light rose grey – LRG 408
- Medium rose grey – MRG 211
- Dark rose grey – DRG 306
The 8 additional classes include:
- Modern grey
- Classic grey
- Indefinite light
- Indefinite dark
White is the most common color and it accounts for over 25% of the registered alpacas within the AOA database.
The highest demand for alpacas is currently those with grey colors. Light rose grey is the rarest and accounts for only 1% of the registered alpacas within the AOA database.
What is the difference between a llama and an alpaca?
Llamas are bigger than alpacas in both height and weight. Llamas have longer faces and larger ears. Llamas were bred as pack animals and alpacas were bred for high quality, luxury fiber.
Llamas are protectors and they are very alert animals. They are pack animals and workers. Alpacas, on the other hand, are timid and more relaxed. Although alpacas are also often alert, they are not used as guard animals like the llama.
We cover 30+ characteristics in our blog post alpacas vs. llamas. We recommend you read that post to get a full list of similarities and differences.
When are alpacas fully grown?
A female alpaca is considered mature at 18 months and a male alpaca is mature at 2-3 years. A fully grown alpaca will measure about 35 inches high at its shoulders.
How long do alpacas live?
Alpacas typically live 15-20 years. The oldest known alpaca is 27 years old.
How much do alpacas weigh?
The birth weight of an alpaca is generally between 8-23 pounds. Adult alpacas typically weigh between 100-200 pounds, with the ideal weight of an adult alpaca being between 105-185 pounds. We have one alpaca named Anastasia who is 240 pounds, but this is not ideal.
How much can alpacas carry?
The answer is very little. An alpaca’s bone structure is not designed for heavy loads. The alpaca’s cousin the llama is a pack animal and used in many countries for transportation of goods.
Can you ride an alpaca?
No, you cannot ride an alpaca. An alpaca’s bone structure is not designed for heavy loads. An alpaca also does not like to have things placed on his back.
Do alpacas spit?
Alpacas do spit, but they generally do not spit on humans. An alpaca will send a warning spit or a full-blown spit to another alpaca if it is feeling annoyed, threatened, or fighting for food. This is a sign of aggression or dominance.
When I am providing treats to my alpacas, I do not allow them to spit on each other. I give a stern “mom look” and say “no ma’am” to stop the behavior. Alpacas are trainable and this has been a very successful technique for limiting aggression during feeding.
Alpaca breeders will use a “spit test” to assess pregnancy. This is called a spit test. A female alpaca will spit at a male alpaca if pregnant. This spit test is very accurate and commonly used within the industry to access the status of pregnancy.
How far can alpacas spit?
An alpaca spit can reach a distance up to ten feet.
Do alpacas bite?
Alpacas are docile creatures and do not to bite humans.
Females will express anger via spitting and use this as their method of communication.
Intact males and herdsires can be aggressive, and a male alpaca fight can lead to injury. Some alpaca breeders will remove a grown male’s fighting teeth to prevent this from happening.
Are alpacas smart?
Alpacas are smart and highly trainable animals. They can learn commands, hand signals, and tricks.
Are llamas or alpacas friendlier?
While the alpaca and llama are cousins, the alpaca is more friendly and much more docile. Thus, the alpaca would be considered friendlier than the llama.
Do alpacas and dogs get along?
Yes and no. Alpacas are known for living peacefully with dogs, when breeds such as Great Pyrenees, serve as livestock guard dogs and live within the alpaca barn and pasture. In other cases, alpacas can be fearful of dogs and react with spit or jumping.
Can alpacas die of loneliness?
Alpacas are a herd animal, and as such, they require other alpacas for socialization and security. An individual alpaca would be in a constant state of stress and sadness, which compromise its health and could eventually lead to death.
An alpaca herd should have a minimum of three alpacas. This allows for one alpaca to serve as the alpha alpaca and the remaining alpacas to serve as the supporting herd.
Do alpacas make good pets?
Alpacas are docile, social creatures who are smart, trainable, and quirky. These qualities and their overall teddy bear appearance allow them to serve as excellent pets.
It is also important to remember that they are considered livestock and they are a herd animal. Due to this, they require a farming environment and must live with other alpacas to excel.
Alpacas cannot live as singular pets inside apartments, cities, or subdivisions.
You should check on your local zoning rules prior to purchasing any alpacas.
What noises do alpacas make?
Alpacas commonly hum, but they make a number of other noises which include an alarm call, snorting, grunting, screaming, screeching, whistling, and orgling.
These noises are made based on activity with the most common ones including:
- Humming – This is not an aggressive noise. An alpaca mother will use humming to talk to her cria (baby). My alpacas use humming to tell me if they want something or are unhappy with a situation. Like a human child’s cry, you can learn the different humming sounds of your alpacas to know what the hum means.
- Orgling – The male alpaca will make this sound during mating. This sound will attract unbred females, however, it is loud and annoying, so it is not pleasant to humans.
- Screeching – This is associated with aggression and anger. Our alpha alpaca will use this during shearing to express her displeasure with the situation. It ends at the ending of the shearing and she quickly returns to happiness and joy for her newfound appearance.
I talk about alpaca behavior more in my article titled How to Understand Alpaca Behavior and Positively Influence It.
Are alpacas easy to care for?
Alpacas are one of the easiest livestock animals to care for, and quite honestly, they are easier than dogs and cats. They have minimal requirements for food, cleanup, and care.
How many alpacas should you have at one time?
You need to have at least three alpacas to form a herd large enough for the alpacas to feel safe and socialize. Anything less than that will put stress on the animal.
How many alpacas can live on an acre?
One acre can technically house 2-8 alpacas, although we suggest the minimum herd size be at least three alpacas. We also recommend giving alpacas plenty of space to roam, which will lead to less stress, arguments, and fighting.
Can you keep an alpaca in a backyard?
An alpaca could live in a backyard if it had other alpacas and plenty of space. The backyard would need to have an acre dedicated to the alpacas to live, graze, and roam.
The backyard would also require proper shelter and fencing that will protect and deter predators.
If the herd includes both males and females, the males and females cannot live in the same barn or fencing. They must be kept separate to keep the females healthy and safe. Gelded (or castrated) males must also be kept away from females.
How often are alpacas sheared?
Alpacas are sheared once a year. In the Midwest, we shear in the month of May, as this is the optimal time to combat spring’s cold nights and summer’s hot days.
Alpaca shearing is generally done by professional teams who travel the country and shear animals at various farms.
Do alpacas stink?
Alpacas do not stink. This is because they are clean animals who prefer to use a communal litter box for peeing and pooping. Alpacas instinctively know to create and use a litter box if one is not provided for them.
How do alpacas sleep?
Most alpacas sleep lying down in a cush (also spelled kush) position at night. Alpacas are also great fans of sprawling out in the sun for afternoon naps.
Where do alpacas sleep?
The sleeping location of alpacas will vary by geography, weather, accommodations, and the alpaca’s personality itself. Some alpacas will sleep outside all year round and others will always sleep inside a barn.
Our alpacas originally slept outside and even in winter. Now they all tend to sleep in the barn. Our barn offers clean floors, mats, and straw for comfort, which may have shifted their behavior.
How do alpacas mate?
Female alpacas ovulate on sight and do not have a set timeframe or pattern for ovulation. This allows mating to occur at any time, although in the Midwest, we tend to schedule mating in spring to help keep births in the optimal climate for cria health.
The male alpaca will be brought to the female, and if the female is interested, she will lie down and cush. The male will then mount the female from behind and make a very loud and annoying orgling sound. This will last from 10-20 minutes.
A week or so later, a male will be brought back to the female to determine success. If the female spits off, she is considered pregnant. If she does not, a second mating will take place.
How much do alpacas eat?
Alpacas will eat 1-2% of their body weight each day. It costs roughly $220 per year to feed one alpaca.
What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas require a solid mix of water, energy, protein, minerals, and vitamins. Alpacas also have three stomach compartments, so they are not the same as a common dog or other domestic animals.
Our alpacas have three sources of nutrition:
- Pellet supplements
The alpacas have access to quality hay and mineral supplements all day long. We also provide pellet supplements in the morning and evening.
How often do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are grazing animals, so they munch on hay all day long. We also provide our alpacas with pellets in the morning and at night.
Alpacas should always have a solid supply of hay and minerals available.
What are alpacas’ favorite treats?
Many alpacas are fond of lettuce, apples, and regular old fresh weeds as treats. I have two alpacas that will eat apples right from your hand and others that love to munch on raw brussels sprouts. Overall our alpacas prefer their pellet supplements over any human treat.
Expense and Care
How much do alpacas cost?
An alpaca can range in price from $0-$500,000. Most pet quality alpacas will be sold around $500-$1,000. Show quality alpacas will range from $3,000-$20,000. A high-quality male can sell for between $40,000-60,000.
The price of an alpaca truly varies by country, available supply, as well as the quality of the animal in conformation and fiber.
When evaluating alpacas for fiber usage, a buyer should consider fleece weight, staple length, fiber diameter, crimp, tensile strength, color, and absence of guard hair.
The AOA and alpaca breeder can provide data on the alpaca’s fiber analysis so that the buyer can review actual histogram information to determine the animal’s true quality. This data will include such metrics as fleece weight, mean fiber diameter, standard deviation, spin fineness, comfort factor, and staple length.
If a breeder has registered an alpaca and has a histogram available, you should expect to pay thousands of dollars per animal.
How much does a baby alpaca cost?
A baby alpaca, also called a cria, will cost the same as an adult alpaca. The difference is the baby cannot leave its mother until it is weaned. It will also require companion alpacas to be purchased and housed together as a herd.
Why are alpacas so expensive?
Alpacas are expensive because they were created as luxury animals for the wealthy and aristocrat of South America. They were bred for their luxurious fibers.
Quality alpacas are bred through specific genetic review and breeding programs, are registered with the AOA, and have had histograms ran to determine fiber quality. All of this accounts for money that must be recouped in the sale of the animal.
Supply and demand also influence the cost of an alpaca. Grey alpacas, for example, will be more expensive because they are in higher demand and have limited supply.
Are alpacas expensive to keep?
Alpacas are not expensive to keep and tend to be much cheaper than a standard dog to feed. That said, they do require proper shelter, fencing, and food, so there will be startup costs for your herd.
Where do you buy alpacas?
Alpacas should be bought from registered breeders who are members of the Alpaca Owners Association. You can locate alpacas for sale via Google searches, the AOA listings, local association websites, and alpaca shows.
We recommend visiting multiple alpaca farms before making a purchase. You want to make sure your alpaca breeder is well educated on alpacas, the farm is clean, the alpacas have adequate shelter and food, and the alpacas are of the desired quality.
If you are new to alpaca farming, you should also look for an alpaca breeder that will serve as a mentor for you in the first few months of raising alpacas.
I cover the much more on alpaca cost and expenses in my article titled Alpaca Cost and Understanding the True Expense of Care.
What are alpacas raised for?
Alpacas are primarily raised for their high quality and luxurious fiber. However, they are also raised for animal sales, manure sales, and sometimes sold for meat.
Can you eat alpaca?
You can eat alpaca meat, however, this is not a common dish in the United States. Since alpacas are friendly and smart animals, few farms actually raise them for meat sales.
How much are alpacas worth?
An alpaca is worth what someone will pay for it.
There is no set price, and many times, the purchase can be an emotional one. The higher the quality of fiber and conformation, the more the alpaca is worth.
Alpaca sales are generally between $500-$15,000 per animal.
At the height of the alpaca market sales, one alpaca sold for a record $500,000.
How much money can you make raising alpacas?
An alpaca farm can be a side income, or it can produce enough income to support a family. It really depends on the farm’s business plan, sales and marketing capabilities, and their ability to keep costs at a minimum. I cover this topic in much more detail in my post titled 44 Tips and Resources for Creating a Successful Business Plan and Starting an Alpaca Farm.
Do alpaca farmers make money?
Smart alpaca farmers do make money and they can create enough revenue to make alpaca farming their primary and/or only source of income. The key is to have a solid business plan with a diverse revenue stream.
Alpaca farmers can bring in revenue via the following types of sales and activities:
- Raw fiber sales
- Finished alpaca yarn or roving sales
- Sales of finished alpaca products like socks, scarves, hats, or blankets
- Manure sales
- Animal sales
- Alpaca breeding
- Alpaca boarding
- Alpaca services like themed birthday parties, weddings, or photoshoots
- Bed and breakfast rentals
- Alpaca farm events like alpaca yoga or alpaca farm days
It’s important to have a strong understanding of your target market, their needs, and your ability to serve these needs. If these three elements align, your business plan can be solid, and you can make money as an alpaca farmer.