Discover the World’s Finest WoolAlpaca WoolThe Alpaca

The Alpaca - a domesticated camelid of the New World

When you think of camels, you think of the creatures in the middle east with one or two humps, but there are other members of the family. Llamas and alpacas are both part of the camelid family, and they are found in South America.

Alpacas are the smaller of the two and are still found in the wild in Andes mountains. However, in the 1980s, they were introduced to North America and have turned into pets and money makers for their exclusive wool.

Hence today, you will learn more about about this extremely resistant  animal who is the source of this unique exclusive wool – the Alpaca. Excited? Let’s begin!

close up of alpaca head

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Some Alpaca Basics

Alpacas often live to be between 15 and 20 years, and are rarely over 40” at the shoulder. They can breed as early as 16 months, but males do not reach their sexual maturity until two and a half years of age.

Thankfully, female alpacas do not have a heat cycle, so you can breed them as soon as they are of age. Alpacas will only have one baby at a time, and if they have twins, they will generally be stillborn.  Due to an elongated gestation period, just over 11 months, you will only be able to breed an alpaca once a year.

Alpacas have a distinctive social behavior, which characterizes them as herd animals. That is why they must never be kept alone. They live in a loose family group, so even new animals usually get used to the herd very quickly. Alpacas are also very clean animals.

Alpacas are grazing animals. They need sufficient grazing and exercise area all year round. On one hectare of pasture 10-15 alpacas can be kept.

Made in Peru | Alpaca Wool - by: Alternative Apparel
Vulcano Parinacota
The Parinacota is a 6330m high volcanic mountain on the border between Chile and Bolivia, above the village Sajam

Its ice-covered cone forms practically the ideal shape of a volcano. From the Bolivian side, one can drive up to 5100 meters. So the Parinacota mountain can be climbed on a very long day with a start very early at 1 am in Sajama.

Alpaca Characteristics

The alpaca (Vicugna pacos) belongs to the camel family and originates from Peru. The alpaca belongs to the lucky mammals, which are not primarily bred by man to be eaten but to provide wool.

We distinguish between two types of alpaca, which can be recognized mainly by the structure of their wool fibers:

Huacaya: The wool fibers of the Huacaya alpaca are very fine and crimped. Also, the top hairs (guard hairs) should be as fine as possible to guarantee maximum wool quality.

For very exclusive high-quality products, you must sort out the top hair to process only the very fine and valuable shoulder and back hair.

Suri: The wool of Suri alpacas is smooth and curly.

Huacaya and Suri alpacas do not differ in their physique. Even if the coat structure of the Suri-Alpakas gives the impression that they are slimmer, both types reach an average weight of about 60 kilograms. However, particularly strong males can weigh up to 80 kilograms.

Alpacas live together in herds and feed exclusively on plant foods.

Alpacas are shorn once a year, here up to six kilograms of fiber. However, only half of this can be used for further processing into beautiful exclusive wool fabrics.

History of the Alpacas

Guanacos, vicuñas, alpacas, and llamas belong to the family of New World Camellias, which are native to South America, i.e., mainly Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, and Chile. The species can produce fertile offspring among themselves.

The Indios domesticated the wild living guanaco about 6000 – 7000 years ago, and through selective breeding, the lama we know developed from it. About the descent of the alpaca, there was no clear theory for a long time. But the latest researches prove that the northernmost species of guanacos and vicuñas are the ancestors of the domesticated llamas and alpacas.

There is also evidence that 80% of alpacas and 40% of llamas are hybrids of both species. Meanwhile, efforts are in progress to preserve the threatened pure alpaca and llama.

They live in South America for centuries at altitudes of 4000 to 5000 meters on the high plateaus of the Andes. These unique animals have adapted perfectly to the inhospitable conditions at this altitude, sparse pastures, and large temperature fluctuations between day and night. Therefore they are considered to be very hardy pets.

The camellias played a crucial role in the spread of civilization in the Andes. The primary use of the animals was initially for meat production. The oldest textiles the Inca made from alpaca date back to 500 B.C. However, the development from meat use to wool production did not occur until 1000 years later.

The Incas annexed all herds of llamas and alpacas during their rise around 1500 AD. The meat, fat and fur of these camels was essential for the survival of the Incas at these altitudes.

The excrement of the living animals was used as fuel and fertilizer. The fiber was necessary to produce textiles, ropes, and sacks. The Incas also used the llamas as a means of transport during their military operations.

High-quality alpaca fiber could only be produced under the conditions of the high Andes, which is why the vast herds of alpacas were only found at altitudes above 4000 meters.

The Incas appreciated the fine, silky and excellently insulating, warming wool of alpacas as something extraordinary. For them, it meant the “fleece of the gods” and these exclusive fabrics were exclusively reserved for the royal house of the Incas.

With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in 1532 the extinction of the Inca culture as well as the alpaca and llama populations began.

Since alpacas provided food and clothing for the Incas, the Spaniards figured out, that they could control the Indians better by depriving the Incas of their alpacas.

The Spanish also brought with them diseases that were fatal to alpacas. By decimating the approx. 40 to 50 million alpacas, the population is to be robbed of its food basis.

In 1567 individual herds of over 50,000 animals were still counted in the highlands of the Andes. But only 5 years later the total population was estimated to be less than 160,000 animals.

To save the alpacas from total annihilation, the Incas moved them to a high mountain desert plateau, called the Altiplano. So, as a result of the invasion, alpacas were forced to move higher into the mountains and remained there permanently.

The producer of one of the most exclusive natural fibers survived because of its great importance to the Incas people, and its incredible ability to adapt to enormous altitudes.

In the 19th century, the Englishman Sir Titus Salt rediscovered alpaca when he searched for new raw materials for the English textile industry.

When Sir Titus began to study the unique properties of alpaca fleece, he quickly recognized the fineness and unique sheen of the Alpaca fibers.

Since about 1980, llamas and alpacas are bred in increasing numbers also outside South America. The alpaca population today is estimated at about 3 million animals. A large part of the animals still resides in South America (Peru, Bolivia, and Chile).

The center of the alpaca textile industry is today in Arequipa in Peru. Products made from alpaca fibers are mainly sold in Europe, the USA, and Japan.

Distribution Area Map of the Alpaca 

Arequipa is the world's leader in the alpaca industry. It is also the primary retail center for Peruvian Knits, with many shops that sell alpaca as well as vicuna goods, in a wide variety.

Arequipa is situated at an altitude of 2,300 meters and is also called the "White City" because of its famous buildings of light volcanic rock.

Distribution Area Map Alpaca

Benefits of Owing Alpacas

Alpacas are among the best “Life stock investments” in the world, primarily high-quality animals are traded at amazing prices.  The initial investment is relatively high, but the running costs are low, and the increase in value and yield with good quality animals can be quite high.

The worldwide market development has shown that there is a very continuous and stable upward trend of average prices for alpacas with increasing animal quality.

Apart from the purchase of animals, the costs are relatively low. In addition to your own labour, the costs for fences and shelter are essential at the beginning. The main running costs are feed and veterinary expenses. The latter is usually low since alpacas are very robust animals and not susceptible to disease.

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Alpaca wool is one of the finest fibers in the world. Due to the slow reproduction of animals, it currently accounts for only about 1% of the world’s animal fiber production. With an increasing demand for natural fibers, the actual yield from alpacas will continue to be generated for a long time, primarily by breeding and selling better-quality animals.

Another fascinating use of alpacas is the animal-supported treatment of autistic, handicapped, and addicted people. Because the animals radiate an absolute calmness, they are unobtrusive but still have a friendly and curious nature. With their large dark eyes, they have a similarly fantastic effect as dolphins. This form of therapy is used more and more often.

Alpaca Wool

The main reason people consider owning alpacas is for their wool; the two best breeds of alpacas for wool harvesting are the Suri and the Huacaya.

You will find the Huacaya is more popular, as the hair fluffs up and crinkles. However, the finest wool of the Suri will hang from the animal, in a dreadlock fashion.

Just like in sheep, the younger the animal, the finer the wool will be. Their wool also comes in a variety of natural colors, including white, caramel, black, brown, and even red.

Top prices are paid on the world market for high quality in fiber and exterior of wool.

Alpaca wool is one of the most beautiful natural fibers, alongside cashmere and silk. Softness, fineness, and an indescribable sheen have made it so sought after.

Do alpacas spit?

It is rare for an alpaca to spit against humans. It can happen when they feel threatened or when you do something unpleasant for them.

Guard animals also guard the herd or young animals. So a stranger who enters the paddock may be spat at because he is not welcome.

Most often, they spit when it comes to ranking or food. If a lower-ranking animal comes too close to a higher-ranking one, the ears are put back as a warning. If the lower-ranking animal ignores this warning, then usually spitting occurs.

• TIP: Alpacas, Guanacos, Vicuñas, Llamas – if you want to see all the Andean camels together in one place, you have the best chances in the “Salinas y Aguada Blanca National Reserve.” On the drive from Arequipa to the unique Colca Canyon, you pass this unique place!

Tour buses stop in the beautiful “Pampa Cañahuas” at an altitude of about 3.800 meters. The “Pampa Cañahuas” is a particularly idyllic high landscape with wet moors – where you can find everything Peru has to offer in terms of camels.

Colca Canyon - Peru

The Colca Canyon is 3,269 meters deep, making it the second deepest canyon in the world. It undoubtedly reflects the beauty of nature and once again the versatility of Peru.

It was the home of the so-called Collagua culture (1400 B.C.), which knew how to use the region optimally for agriculture – through terraces created by human hands.

The main attraction in Colca Canyon is the Cruz del Condor

Care & Animal Welfare

Keeping and feeding of Alpacas

Llamas and alpacas must be kept in groups together with their conspecifics. If you keep them outdoors, they need protection from heat, wetness, and cold.

Alpacas are ruminants but do not have several stomachs separated from each other, but only one stomach with different areas. In the first area of the stomach comes roughly pre-chewed food. Here it is pre-digested and repeatedly transported into the mouth where it is chewed again.

Only after several hours (up to 60 hours) is the porridge transported to the second area and finally to the third area of the stomach. Due to the long digestion process, many components of the food can be utilized. The best diet for alpacas is rich in structure and low in protein.

Under no circumstances should alpacas eat easily digestible foods such as fruit, bread, horse muesli, etc. Furthermore, many plants are poisonous to alpacas. Especially yew and ivy are highly toxic and must be removed from the pasture. Wrong feeding is the most common unnatural cause of death of alpacas.

Diseases and care of Alpacas

Alpacas are relatively easy to care for. However, regular nail care is absolutely necessary to prevent the formation of malpositioned nails.

The care of the animals also includes regular checks of the teeth, the physical constitution, and the skin for possible changes or infestation of ectoparasites. Furthermore, the feces of the alpacas should be regularly examined and dewormed if necessary.

In addition, the shearing of the alpaca is, of course, on the agenda once a year. According to animal welfare regulations, this is absolutely necessary, since alpacas in summer, when fully clothed, suffer from severe heat stress, which can even be fatal.

Only Suri alpacas and very old animals with very little fiber growth can be shorn every two years.

We hope that the keeping of alpacas as pets and hobby animals will not experience a further upswing and that the animals will only be taken into the care of people who know their nature and take their needs into account in the long term.

From a political point of view, we believe that there is a need for further legal requirements that should be met by the hobby keeping of the demanding alpacas.

Alpaca stables and pasture

The alpaca is a herd animal, and no animal should ever be kept alone. The alpaca is very resistant and robust. It only needs shelter in winter and shade in summer. The animals feel most comfortable in an open stable with 24 hours of grazing access.

A lot of fresh air and light contribute to the well-being of the animals. The animals need an open stable at least 2 m high with at least 4 square meters of floor space for two animals.

However, the animals will certainly appreciate more space, as this is the minimum size. There are no specifications regarding flooring, but the floor must be dry. It is ideal if the floor is easy to clean and still non-slip.

The grazing area for alpacas must be at least 1’000 square meters for two animals; each additional animal requires an additional 100 square meters. These are indications of the minimum mass according to animal welfare.

About 10-15 alpacas per hectare of pasture can be kept. With this area, the hay must be produced separately or bought in addition. It is ideal if there are several pastures, and a rotation grazing can be operated.

It is important that there is no permanent grazing. In order to prevent weeds from multiplying and to control intestinal parasites, it has proven to be best to put many animals out to pasture per grazing period.

A maximum grazing period of 14 days and a grazing break of at least four weeks to interrupt the cycle of the intestinal parasites are important aspects of grazing with alpacas.


We hope that the keeping of alpacas as pets and hobby animals will not experience a further upswing and that the animals will only be taken into the care of people who know their nature and take their needs into account in the long term.

From a political point of view, we believe that there is a need for further legal requirements that should be met by the hobby keeping of the demanding alpacas.

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The Alpaca – References

  1. Alpaca, (last visited July 12, 2020).
  2. DJ’s Alpaca, History of the Alpaca – (last visited July 12, 2020).
  3. Alpaca Owners Association – Alpaca Info. (last visited July 12, 2020).
  4. Bonny Doon Alpacas – Alpaca History & FAQ. (last visited July 12, 2020).
  5. Alpaca fiber, (last visited July 12, 2020).
  6. INWOOL, Alpaka Wolle – Wissenswertes und Eigenschaften(last visited July 12, 2020).
  7. Alpakas vom Silberberg, Alpaca Geschichte in Stichpunkten(last visited July 12, 2020).
  8. The Complete Alpaca Book (2006) by Eric Hoffman: . Bonny Doon Press ISBN 0-9721242-1-7.
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  • Natural and sustainable

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