Frequently Asked Questions
Where do alpacas originate?
Alpacas are very closely related to llamas. They are both camelids. The llama is approximately twice the size of an alpaca with banana shaped ears and is principally used as a pack animal. Alpacas are specifically bred for their fibre. They were domesticated thousands of years ago by native American people in the Andean Mountains of South America.
What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas are selective grazers, they are highly adapted to eat small amounts of a variety of plants. Although they can survive very harsh conditions, alpacas do best on good quality pasture. If we need to hand feed, we prefer a good quality hay, followed by a few handfuls of a commercial alpaca mix, mixed in with a low maintenance horse chaff mix, available at any produce store.
Are alpacas hard to keep?
Compared with other livestock, alpacas are relatively disease free. Because of their dry fleece and naturally clean breech, fly strike is not an issue. They do not require mulesing or crutching. They are vaccinated twice yearly with ‘5 in 1 Vaccine’ used for sheep and goats to protect against tetanus, pulpy kidney, black leg disease and malignant oedema. We drench for internal parasites twice a year in summer and early winter if worms are suspected. We also administer vitamin AD&E and Selenium supplements routinely throughout the year, particularly to our young and pregnant alpacas. Toe nail trimming may also be required with alpacas that are kept on soft ground.
How many alpacas can I run on my property?
That will depend on what sort of pasture and how much pasture your land is capable of producing. A standard unit of carrying capacity is the Dry Sheep Equivalent per hectare (DSE). For example, in areas of good soil and high rainfall your property might sustain 10 DSE/ha, compared with dry areas that might be 1-2 DSE/ha. As a general rule, one alpaca wether is equivalent to one DSE. If you are prepared to supplementary feed with extra hay, you may be able to increase your stocking rate. A pregnant alpaca is approximately 1.5 DSE and a lactating pregnant alpaca is about 2.
What sort of fencing do alpacas need?
Any fencing that keeps sheep contained is satisfactory, preferably without barbed wire. Alpacas have a great respect for fences and do not tend to jump, but are quite capable of clearing a standard fence if sufficiently stressed. Apart from the boundary fences, the most important structure is a small yard or pen to catch them. Some alpacas will allow themselves to be caught in an open paddock, but even the friendliest ones tend to step just out of reach when you most need to catch them.
How often do you shear alpacas?
Alpacas are shorn once a year, usually in spring. The preferred method of shearing is to lie the animal on its side and restrain its legs with a tether at each end. This protects both the shearer and the alpaca from being injured. One side of the animal is shorn and it is then rolled over and shorn on the other side. Depending on the density of the fleece, alpacas cut anywhere between 1 and 4 kg. Of fleece. Some of the high quality stud males cut higher weights. There are a number of experienced shearers available.
What do you do with the fleece?
Alpaca fibre is highly prized for its very soft feel (handle). Its high thermal properties, its durability and its variety of natural colours. It is processed into high quality fashion garments such as suits, jackets, skirts and coats. Jumpers knitted from alpaca are soft, light and warm. Because of its natural warmth, it is also used as a continental quilt filling. Courser fibre can be used to make high quality carpet and doonas etc. In fact anything you can make with sheep wool you can make with alpaca. The international market for alpaca product is enormous with demand always exceeding supply. The Australian Alpaca Co-operative is crying out for all the alpaca fleece it can get.
Do they make good pets?
Most alpacas make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations. We particularly breed for a good quiet temperament but like any livestock, the more handling they receive as youngsters, the quieter they are as adults. Given time, most alpacas will eat out of your hand and are easily halter trained. Although alpacas look cuddly they generally don’t like being held, and are particularly sensitive to being touched on the head. Alpacas are naturally curious and intelligent and if you let them approach you, rather than rush at them and expect an affectionate response, the interactions can be very rewarding. The best thing to remember is that they are a stock animal, not dogs or cats, allow them to be just alpacas. We highly recommend that you keep at least 2 alpacas together for pets. They are herd animals and seem to rely on their mates more than most other animals.
Do Alpacas spit?
Spitting is perhaps the least endearing feature of alpacas. Being regurgitated chewed grass, it does have a distinctive and somewhat offensive odour. It is one of the few defences they have and it is quite an effective deterrent. Alpacas rarely spit at people. It is normally used as a pecking order to other alpacas, and we get caught in the crossfire. Alpacas do kick, they can be sensitive around the hind legs and can instinctively lash out backwards. Because the foot is a soft pad, injuries to people are minimal, however it does hurt and can leave a nasty bruise.
At what age do they start breeding?
Females become sexually mature at around 12 to 18 months and once they reach 40—50 kg in weight they can be mated. Males can display sexual interest from a few weeks of age but are not usually fertile until 18 months to 3 years . The average gestation period is 335 Days, but pregnancies that go over a year are not uncommon. Births are generally trouble free and most occur before the middle of the day. A young alpaca is called a cria and they should be 6-8kg at birth. Most will be on their feet and drinking within 2-3 hours. Females can re-mated 14-21 days after they have given birth. A cria is usually weaned at 6 months.
We at Riviera are only a new Stud, but we love being involved in the Alpaca Industry. We are always happy to talk alpacas and welcome visitors for a hands on experience with these beautiful animals.