What is an Alpaca?
Alpacas are fiber-producing members of the camel family raised exclusively for their soft and luxurious wool. Their fleeces are sheared once a year, or sometimes every two years in cooler climates.   Each shearing produces roughly 5-10 pounds of fiber per animal, per year.


Two Breeds
There are two breeds of alpacas: the suri and the huacaya. The main difference between the two is their fleece production. The huacaya fleece has waviness or “crimp,” which gives huacayas their fluffy, teddy-bear-like appearance. Suri fleece has little or no crimp, so the individual fiber strands cling to themselves and hang down from the body in beautiful pencil locks. The suri is very rare, with a worldwide ration of huacayas to suris at about 98% to 2%.


Alpaca Characteristics and Idiosyncrasies



Physical Characteristics


Height - Alpacas stand approximately 36” at the withers (the point where the neck and spine meet). They are about 4.5 to 5 feet from toe to the tips of their ears.

Weight -
Female alpacas weigh anywhere from about 110-150 pounds; males weigh roughly 140-180 pounds. Some larger males and females, however, will weigh in over 200 pounds.

Toenails -
They have a hard, protective upper toenail that grows out and down and must be trimmed every few months. The bottom of their feet is a soft pad with a leather-like consistency. Due to the low body-weight, there is not a lot of weight distributed on those soft, padded feet. Therefore, there is little damage done to the ground compared to other forms of livestock.

Fiber -
Alpaca fiber is stronger and more resilient than even the finest sheep’s wool. Unlike sheep’s wool, however, alpaca contains no lanolin and is ready to spin right off the animal. It
comes in 22 distinguishable colors. It is considered hypoallergenic, because of the way the scales of alpaca fiber lie down against the shaft of each hair follicle, so it doesn’t irritate the skin.

Teeth -
Alpacas only have bottom teeth for eating. What’s on the top is a hard gum pad against which they crush grain, grass, hay in a back and forth grinding action. They have a split upper lip that makes the back-and -forth motion easier. They have very short tongues that are attached to their jaw, so they can’t grab hold of plants like goats and sheep and pull them up by the roots. Instead they nibble the plants down to about the 1/4 inch level and it can grow back quickly.



Idiosyncracies

Alpaca Communication - Alpacas have a very complex language of gestures that they use to communicate with each other. They use body posture; ear, tail, head and neck signals; vocalization; scent and smell; locomotion displays and herd response to communicate.

Broadside Pose - Mature males may strike a pose broadside to signal aggression from far off. They stand sideways, rigidly holding their tail high, neck arched, ears pinned back and nose tilted skyward. It can signal to an intruding male a mile off that it’s approaching the gesturing male’s territory. A male in the company of females is likely to strike this pose.

Alert Stance - When a another animal or unfamiliar "two-legged" walks nearby, all alpacas will stand with their bodies rigidly erect and rotate their ears forward in the direction they are staring. The tail is usually slightly elevated. This posture signals
curiosity about a change occurring in the immediate environment. This posture will come before an “alarm call” or rapid flight, if the herd interprets the change as danger. It also will cause the entire herd to bunch together and move forward in unison to investigate or chase of the intruder.  One day, I noticed all four of our females had stopped eating and turned to stare across the corral area of our barnyard.  I followed their gaze and discovered that they were eyeing a couple of kids playing with their two dogs quite a long distance away in a field of sage brush.  Once the Pyrs, Sophie and Bear, picked up on the "intruders", everyone calmed down and became more relaxed. Alpacas have keen eyesight and can often detect movement long before people can.

Stand off - Two animals will stand rigidly within a few feet of even inches of each other, ears pressed back, neck held high, head tilted upward and tail elevated. The stand-off is a middle grade show of aggression, often between alpacas of similar rank. It happens when neither alpaca immediately yields to another’s show of dominance. If one of the animals doesn’t eventually walk away or turn its head, spitting, pushing and aggressive noise may erupt. Females often resort to this behavior near food or in defense of a cria.

Submissive crouch - While slouching slightly, the animal lowers its head, curves its neck toward the ground, flips its tail onto its back. This is a posture seen in adolescent and young adult animals and signals to a dominant animal that its higher status is recognized and that no challenge will be forthcoming.

Vocalizations - Alpacas use complex sets of sounds to communicate with each other.

Humming - Humming is the predominant sound you’ll hear when you come to an alpaca ranch. Alpacas hum for many reasons. From birth until at least six months, mother’s and their crias hum to each other constantly. As a sign of distress at separation from each other, alpacas will hum mournfully. Weaning is a particularly stressful time for both mom and babe and humming is constant and heartwrenching. Alpacas hum when they’re curious, content, worried, bored, fearful, distressed, or cautious.

Snorting - Alpacas give a very subtle snort to another alpaca if he or she is coming too close, or being too familiar. I’ve seen a disinterested female wilt an eager male with a single snort.

Grumbling - Alpacas signal their food trough territory to each other by grumbling at equal rank animals. Feeding time often sounds like a bunch of complaining kids bickering at each other.

Clucking - Female alpacas use a clucking sound shortly after they give birth to call to their newborn cria.  The cria hears this as the first sound that is associated with its mother.  A mother may use this sound to call out to her baby during the first days of life.

Screaming - Some alpacas are very high strung and extremely fearful. When you handle them, or their babies, they may put their face next to your ear and let loose a deafening scream. If they are so frightened as to scream, a very revolting spit is probably not too far away!

Screeching - When fighting over food, some alpacas get very frustrated and let out screeches and accompanying spits at each other. Males will screech and scream when their wrestling gets too serious and someone gets mad.

Alarm Call - When something unusual or resembling a predator appears in the vicinity, sometimes one alpaca will sound a high-pitched, rhythmic braying sound which causes the herd to bunch up for protection.

Orgling - Male alpacas have a unique throaty vocalization they make when mating. Each male has his own style and intensity of orgling that may involve throats, lips and breathing aparatuses.

Spitting - Yes, alpacas do spit to signal their extreme displeasure, fear or dominance. Male alpacas horse around, stand each other off and spit. Both males and females spit in dominance wars over food. Moms will spit at other mom’s babies who try to suckle or mount her or get to close to her newborn. There are varying qualities of spit: air, grass, regurgitated stomach contents that are currently being rechewed, and spit from the bowels of hell!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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