Do they make good pets?
Most alpacas make very good pets if they are treated well and the owners are realistic in their expectations.
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 training them to lead by a halter is a straightforward process.
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 alpacas, and not dogs or cats, and should be allowed to be alpacas.
Alpacas spit don’t they?
Spitting is perhaps the least endearing feature of alpacas. It is one of the few defence mechanisms an alpaca has and it is quite an effective deterrent.
The material is basically regurgitated or recently chewed grass and it brushes off when dry. It does have a distinctive and somewhat offensive odour and it is best to avoid being a target.
However, it is quite rare that alpacas spit at people. It is normally used as a pecking order mechanism with other alpacas. If a human hit occurs, it is usually because the person has not read the signs properly when stepping between two squabbling alpacas.
Do alpacas kick and bite?
When interacting with humans, kicking and biting is highly individualistic. Alpacas are usually sensitive around the hind legs and will instinctively kick backwards if they sense a threat from the rear.
Most alpacas do not kick at humans but there are individuals that can be quickly identified as being prone to kicking. This is more evident in a pregnant female that wants to deter the advances of an amorous male.
Fortunately, because the foot is a soft pad, injuries to humans are minimal. Most alpacas respond very well to desensitisation of the hind legs if they receive good handling as youngsters.
Alpacas that bite people are extremely rare and it is not a general problem. If it does occur it tends to be an attention seeking behaviour by spoilt pets rather than an attack.
Can I just have one or do I need to have lots?
It is possible to have a single alpaca, but it is not a pleasant existence for the animal. Alpacas are herd animals and are instinctively gregarious, as are other domestic livestock. They obtain security and contentment from having at least one other
alpaca for company.
For this reason, it is usually recommended that two alpacas are the desirable minimum. Sometimes if a single pregnant female is bought for breeding, a wether can go with her for company.
How do you transport alpacas?
Alpacas travel very well in a van, covered trailer or horse float. Most alpacas will sit during the journey and travel best in the company of another alpaca. On long trips over two or three hours it is advisable to plan for a stop so the alpacas can
have a toilet break.
Clean hay on the floor of the vehicle helps to absorb jarring on rough roads and also provides feed for the journey.
Can I run alpacas with other livestock?
Alpacas can bond well with other types of animals. Naturally, alpacas and large aggressive dogs are not a good combination, but there are many cases of quiet dogs mixing well with alpacas.
Individual alpacas have been very successfully run with sheep and goats to act as fox guards. The alpacas tend to bond with the foster herd and they are naturally aggressive towards foxes.
If running with different livestock, alpacas will pick up the internal parasites associated with the other animals and should be put on the same drenching regime.
Because of the risk of the alpacas being kicked, caution should be used if running them with cattle or horses.
At what age do alpacas start breeding?
Females become sexually mature at around 12 to 18 months of age and once they reach 45-50kg in weight. Males can display sexual interest from a few weeks of age but are not sexually active or fertile until 18 months to 3 years of age. (There will be
individuals that fall outside this age range.) Libido in males is not a criteria of stud quality in alpacas.
Alpacas do not have a breeding season and, providing they are receptive, females can be mated at any time of the year. Like rabbits and cats, female alpacas are ‘induced ovulators’ which means it is the act of mating that causes them to ovulate. It is
preferable, though not essential, to avoid mid-late summer matings. Given the 11 to 12 month gestation, this reduces the incidence of heavily pregnant females and new cria (alpaca babies) in very hot weather.
Alpacas mate in the ‘cush’ (prone) position and if a female is not receptive (e.g. already pregnant) she will refuse to sit down and probably spit at the male. This rejection response, known as a ‘spit-off’, is used in the management of the female to
regularly monitor the progress of her pregnancy.
How long is the gestation?
The average gestation period is 111/2 months, but pregnancies that go for over a year are not uncommon.
Births are generally trouble-free and most occur before the middle of the day.
Cria should be 6-8kg at birth and most will be on their feet and drinking within 2 to 3 hours. The mothers are often very protective and the cria will stay with its mum until weaning at 5 to 6 months of age.
Females are usually re-mated 2 to 6 weeks after giving birth.
Do alpacas ever have twins?
Twinning in alpacas is extremely rare (approximately 0.0001% of births) and should not form any part of a breeding plan.
They’re really expensive aren’t they?
At this stage of the industry’s development, price is directly related to the individual breeding potential, and the potential quality of the offspring.
For example, a wether (castrated male) has no breeding potential and is therefore the cheapest alpaca to buy. On the other hand, a high quality male with many good progeny on the ground has a very high breeding potential and can be worth many thousands
of dollars. He can also command a high income from the stud services he provides.
Female prices are a reflection of quality, age, breeding history and to which stud male she is mated. Females can be worth anything from a few thousand dollars to a few tens of thousands of dollars.
Income from females is derived from selling the offspring. However, breeding plans should be made so that long term depreciation of the older breeders and increases in quality of offspring are taken into account.
Although the average gestation is eleven and a half months, a projection of three offspring in four years per mature female is more realistic than expectations of one offspring every year.
How do I get started if I want to breed alpacas?
There are a number of things to consider before launching into the breeding industry.
Firstly, it is best to talk to as many experienced breeders as possible. You will gain lots of useful information from people who have already done the leg work.
If you are serious it is advisable to develop a business plan and if you don’t already have one, find an accountant who is used to dealing with primary industry clients.
To be able to register your offspring you will need to become a member of the Australian Alpaca Association and apply for Herd Registration (Herd Prefix and Herd Code). The National Office can send you the appropriate forms.
Also ask which region you will belong to and attend any workshops or seminars that are being held. The more you can educate yourself about all aspects of breeding, the more informed your choices will be.
Some people have bought a couple of wethers to begin with, and once they feel confident that alpacas really are extremely easy to manage, they then take the next step to start a breeding herd.
For most breeders, they simply want to get going as soon as possible and enjoy the experience as they learn along the way