An alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid. It resembles a small llama in appearance.
There are two breeds of alpaca; the Suri alpaca and the Huacaya alpaca.
Along with camels and llamas, alpacas are classified as camelids. Of the various camelid species, the alpaca and vicuña are the most valuable fiber-bearing animals: the alpaca because of the quality and quantity of its fiber, and the vicuña because of the softness, fineness and quality of its coat.
Alpacas are too small to be used as pack animals. Instead, they are bred exclusively for their fiber and meat. Alpaca meat was once considered a delicacy by Andean inhabitants. Because of the high price commanded by alpaca on the growing North American alpaca market, illegal alpaca smuggling has become a growing problem. In 2014, a company was formed claiming to be the first to export US-derived alpaca products to China.
Alpacas and llamas can successfully cross-breed. The resulting offspring are called huarizo, which are valued for their unique fleece and gentle dispositions.
Females are induced ovulators; the act of mating and the presence of semen causes them to ovulate. Females usually conceive after just one breeding, but occasionally do have troubles conceiving. Artificial insemination is technically difficult, but it can be accomplished. Alpacas conceived from artificial insemination are not registerable with the Alpaca Registry.
A male is usually ready to mate for the first time between two and three years of age. A female alpaca may fully mature (physically and mentally) between 10 and 24 months. It is not advisable to allow a young female to be bred until she is mature, and has reached two-thirds of her mature weight. Over-breeding a young female before conception is possible is a common cause of uterine infections. As the age of maturation varies greatly between individuals, it is usually recommended that novice breeders wait until females are 18 months of age or older before initiating breeding.
The gestation period is, on average, 11.5 months, and usually results in a single offspring, or cria. Twins are rare, occurring about once per 1000 deliveries. Cria are generally between 15 and 19 pounds, and are standing 30 to 90 minutes after birth. After a female gives birth, she is generally receptive to breeding again after about two weeks. Crias may be weaned through human intervention at about six months old and 60 pounds, but many breeders prefer to allow the female to decide when to wean her offspring; they can be weaned earlier or later depending on their size and emotional maturity.
Alpacas can live for up to 20 years.
Feeding:The alpaca is a ruminant, has three stomachs to digest fiber. On average each animal eats about a kilogram of vegetables per day as hay or grass and like all camelids does not need large amounts of water.