Cherished by Ancient Inca Civilization
The alpacas were a cherished treasure of the ancient Inca civilization and played a central role in the Incan culture that was located on the high Andean plateau and mountains of South America.
They have been domesticated for over 5,000 years and their popularity is only now becoming internationally recognized.
Luxurious, Natural Fibers
Alpacas produce one of the world's fines and most luxurious, natural fibers. Soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, it comes in more colors than any other fiber producing animal. This cashmere-like fleece, once reserved for Incan royalty, is now enjoyed by spinners and weavers around the world.
Alpacas make a sound financial investment as well as practical pets. The financial returns of owning a small herd of alpacas are numerous. Alpacas can provide a satisfying addition to one's investment portfolio with the added benefit of encouraging a healthy lifestyle and family cohesiveness. It's easy to see that alpacas are a stress-free investment you can hug.
- They are scarce and unique.
- High value to the textile produced from their fiber.
- There are excellent profit opportunities and tax advantages available to alpaca breeders.
- Alpacas sustain the economic force.
Alpacas make practical pets. They are clean, safe, quiet, intelligent and disease-resistant. Alpacas have soft padded feet, are gentle on the land and can easily be transported in the family van. They make wonderful companions and great 4-H projects for a child.
- Alpacas are small and easy to handle.
- They are safe - don't butt or bite.
- They are beautiful and come in 22 colors.
- Alpacas require no special shelter or care.
- They are intelligent and an investment you can enjoy.
A Brief History
Alpacas have coexisted with humankind for thousands of years. The Incan civilization of the Andes Mountains in Peru elevated the alpaca to a central place in their society. The imperial Incas clothed themselves in garments made from alpaca and many of their religious ceremonies involved the animal. Museums throughout the Americas display textiles made from the alpaca fiber.
The Spanish conquistadors failed to see the value of alpaca fiber, preferring the merino sheep of their native Spain. For a time, alpaca fiber was a well-kept secret. Beginning in the mid 1800's, alpaca was rediscovered by Sir Titus Salt of London, England.
The newly industrialized English textile industry was at its zenith when Sir Titus began studying the unique properties of alpaca fleece. He discovered, for instance, that alpaca fiber was stronger than sheep's wool and that its strength did not diminish with fineness of staple. The alpaca textiles he fashioned from the raw fleece were soft, lustrous, and they soon began making their mark across Europe. Today, the center of the alpaca textile industry is in Arequipa, Peru; yarn and other products made from alpaca are sold primarily in either Japan or Europe.
Outside of their native South America, the number of alpacas found in other countries is extremely limited. In fact, 99 percent of the world's approximately three million alpacas are found in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
The Earth-Friendly Farm Animal
Alpacas have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years and are one of Mother Nature's favorite farm animals. They are sensitive to their environment in every respect.
There are two types of alpacas - the Huacaya and the Suri. The life span of the alpaca is about 20 years and gestation is 11 months. They are about 36" tall at the withers and weight about 150 pounds, are gentle and easy to handle.
The following physical attributes allow alpacas to maintain their harmony with our Mother Earth.
- The alpaca's feet are padded and leave even the most delicate terrain undamaged as it browses on native grasses.
- The alpaca is a modified ruminant with a three-compartment stomach. It converts grass and hay to energy very efficiently, eating less than other farm animals.
- Its camelid ancestry allows the alpaca to thrive without consuming very much water, although an abundant, fresh water supply is necessary.
- The alpaca does not usually eat or destroy trees, preferring tender grasses which it does not pull up by the roots.
- South American Indians use alpaca dung for fuel and gardeners find the alpaca's rich fertilizer perfect for growing fruits and vegetables.
- A herd of alpacas consolidates its feces in one or two spots in the pasture, thereby controlling the spread of parasites, and making it easy to collect and compost for fertilizer.
- An alpaca produces enough fleece each year to create several soft, warm, sweaters for its owner's comfort. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts.
Alpaca Supply and Demand
Demand has increased dramatically every year since their introduction outside of South America. The demand for alpacas is part of a larger appetite for investment in rare breeds. Investment in rare livestock coincides with people's desire to live in the country, raise their children on a farm, or retire to a rural lifestyle.
Alpacas offer an outstanding choice as a livestock investment. They have long been known as the aristocrat of all farm animals. But most of all, alpacas are easy keepers, they have a charismatic manner, do very well on small acreages and produce a luxury product which is in high demand.
The developing market for alpacas has been restricted by lack of supply. There are approximately 110,000 alpacas in North America. Until recently, there has been little aggressive marketing of the animal, few auctions, and very little national media attention for the alpaca. Yet both North America and Australia have experienced exceptional demand for alpacas at very high prices. Canada has an active alpaca market, and many Canadians have recently purchased animals in the United States.
Supply will continue to be restricted in the near future for a number of reasons:
- Alpacas reproduce slowly.
- Many breeders retain their offspring, building their herds.
- Import of the animal from South America is restricted, as well as difficult, risky and expensive. The importer risks losing his entire investment if the animals develop heath problems in the quarantine or experience any number of other potential problems.
- Mass production of "cria," or babies, via embryo transplant is not feasible, since there is no available supply of suitable host females.
- The limited size of the national herds in each country outside of South America will restrain growth for some time to come.
- Some South American countries have developed export limitations to protect their national herds.
The Alpaca Registry
The Alpaca Registry, a breed registry, was created for maintaining the value of its bloodstock. The registry is a state-of-the-art and highly sophisticated system to document bloodlines.
Almost every alpaca in the United States is registered. Alpacas without registration papers are difficult to sell. As a result of the registry, bloodlines have been kept pure, and cross breeding with other camelids has been virtually eliminated.
The process - each animal is blood-typed prior to registration. Alpaca crias (babies) cannot be registered unless their dam and sire are also registered and their parentage is proven by the DNA blood test. The owner of each registered alpaca receives a certificate which documents its bloodlines and serves as evidence of ownership for the animal.
Alpaca owners enjoy a strong and active National Breed Association with a growing number of Regional Affiliates, a developing wool co-op and committees addressing every aspect of the industry.
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