Alpacas are herd animals that have been domesticated for centuries. They are one of the easiest animals to care for and breed properly in a commercial setting, even if you want to keep them as pets. Alpacas are most commonly known for being herd animals that grow very large and prolifically. However, alpacas are classified as mountain goats and can also be found in lowland rain forests. The alpaca is also one of the few animals that is both adaptable to living in a variety of habitats, yet relatively unchanged from generation to generation.
There are four South American alpaca species: the alpaca, the guarico, the vicuna, and the guaranaco, both native, and later domesticated. Scientific name: Vicugna pics. Weight: Two to five pounds. Alpacas generally weigh from one to two hundred pounds. They also range in size from about twelve to sixteen inches in height.
Alpacas are naturally green with dark colored fur, except for white fur that is usually found on the undersides of their legs. Since alpacas’ body color changes with age, they generally have gray or brown coats during the winter, then switch to pure white fur during springtime. Alpacas are naturally silver-gray, but may also be found with gold-colored fur. In winter, alpacas tend to shed their white fur, turning it into silvery white.
Alpacas belong to the mammal family of the pigs and are semi-aquatic and arboreal. They are extremely adaptable; able to live both on land and in water. The most important natural characteristic of alpacas is their fiber, which is used to make clothing, but also useful in creating shelters, nests, traps and other animals such as bears. Alpacas are herbivores; they eat plants, seeds and grasses. They rarely drink water but instead gain water through eating leaves or the stems of grass.
Alpacas can breed only if they mate with another female who is genetically female. Otherwise, an alpaca mother can only produce a single child, called a sib and these children are not fertile. In the case of alpacas in captivity, most of them are bred to produce at least one site and are rarely bred for purposes of producing alpacas for sale. The exception is the Cauac manganese alpaca, which is used for breeding as well as being a source of fiber. It is also used to create leather furniture.
Alpacas produce their fibers in three different stages: fleece, wool and finer hair. Fleece is the most fine and fragile of the three, while wool is the strongest and can be used for clothing, blankets and other products. It takes a long time to make alpaca fiber because of its greater amount of twists and fibers. The finer hair does not take kindly to heat, therefore alpaca hair is usually hand washed to remove any unwarranted dirt or damage before it is placed for sale or to be used for crafting.