Alpaca 101

Last week, Anthony and I were lucky enough to be invited to our neighbor's farm for their annual alpaca shearing. The Raidl's hosted the shearing in their barn and were joined by other alpaca and furry animal owners from the area to have their little guys cleaned up as well. This one had been sheared prior to our arrival. hiding alpaca There are 2 main breeds of alpacas, Suris and Huacaya (pronounced wah-KI-ah). The ones at the shearing were all Huacaya, and I was told that there aren't many Suris in the area. In fact, Huacayas account for about 90% of all alpacas. You can tell the difference mainly by their fluffy and crimped looking fleece. Suris have a different fleece from a Huacaya; it's long and silky and almost like a pretty dreadlock. Here's what a Suri looks like:
image image
Frank and Jeanie said that they've done this annual shearing for years, but that their kids and friends all used to participate in the actual shearing and holding the animals down. Jeanie said it was fun, but a bit crazy and now that her kids are older they aren't as interested in alpaca wrestling as they were in past days. Now they pay someone to come in and do the shearing, a guy that some were calling the "Alpaca Whisperer".
Alpaca T Shirt They even have cute t-shirts that they wear for the occasion
The whole shearing process lasted about 20 minutes per animal. The Alpaca Whisperer has a great system. He grabs a hold of the alpaca, places one hand around the neck, and another near the front of the back legs. He lifts them up, pulls them on their side and lays them down, ever so gently, in one fell swoop. Each time he did it I expected him to start wrestling, or to slam them down or even to start chasing them around the barn, but it never happened. This guy was good. Alpaca Whisperer Once the animals are on the ground, their legs are tethered, something is put into their mouth to bite down on and a small weight similar to a sandbag is placed on either side of their neck. The shearing begins, the teeth are checked, vaccinations are administered if needed and the toenails (not hooves) are trimmed. After that all of the restraints are removed and the alpaca is back on its feet, as good as new. shearing in progress Before: IMG_3676 Hank and friend And after: After shearing alpaca close up after While the alpacas are being sheared, the fleece is constantly being gathered, then sorted. From what I observed, the fleece was put into 3 different bags, from the first, second and third layers of shearing. Here are some more photos from our day: alpaca shearing
Alpacas This guy seriously needed a haircut
IMG_3702 IMG_3704 sheared alpacapeeking alpacaAfter watching this whole event, my interested was piqued. What's the story on these adorable creatures? What could they bring to our farm? Alpacas have never been at the top of our list of animals to keep. Yes, they are adorable, cute and fluffy, but I like the idea of having a Llama instead, or at the very least some animal to be more of an alert animal, or a protector. From what I have read, alpacas are meeker and more skittish than llamas. But this also makes their personalities sweeter and nicer to be around. After doing a bit of research, here's what I learned:
  • Alpacas weigh about 100-200 pounds. That makes the Alpaca Whisperer's moves very impressive, to say the least
  • Alpacas are herd animals, so they would need a few friends in order to thrive
  • They live on average about 20 years
  • They are fairly clean livestock to keep; they don't attract as many flies as other farm animals
  • They are kept mainly for their fiber - it is somewhat comparable to wool, but has no lanolin, so it is considered to be hypo-allergenic and is lighter and warmer
  • Yes, they spit, but not as much as Llamas and other animals in the Camel family
  • Alpacas are ruminants and eat hay, foliage and herbs
  • Their gestation period is just shy of a year. Yikes!
Frank and Jeannie said that they should be seeing some baby alpacas (crias) later this summer and invited us to check it out. And of course, we cannot wait! But as for owning them on our farm, well, the jury's still out on that. alpaca peeking
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