Alpacas derive from the times of the Incas, and thus are an ancient species who have survived for thousands of years. Raising alpacas for fiber began in the Andes mountains, in the altiplano regions of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. There the temperature averages between 20 – 70F degrees. Below or above that, they require shelter. However, you will find farms that are raising alpacas everywhere from Arizona to Wyoming to Florida and New Mexico and everywhere in between; including Illinois, where shelter probably means not a 3-sided shelter or shed, but a barn. For their comfort, and ours! Ohio is the state with the greatest number of farms raising alpacas, probably due to all of the rolling green. Washington, Oregon and California are also big alpaca farming regions. Alpacas mostly eat grass-pasture; and do not require much space – eight alpacas per acre is the appropriate density, compared to, for example, one horse per acre. In dusty areas that aren’t green such as some areas of Colorado, and in the snowy winters across the country, alpacas are dry-lotted and fed 2nd cutting orchard grass mix hay.
There are two types of alpacas; one is the huacaya, whose fleece grows perpendicular to their skin, and are fluffy much like sheep. The other is the suri alpaca, whose fleece hangs and drapes their body in long flowing pencilled locks.
When raising alpacas, your crop is their fiber. So alpacas are a cool livestock choice, because they are not killed for their meat, at least here in the US. Alpaca fiber is a luxury fiber that rivals cashmere. Both huacaya and suri alpaca fiber is 8-10 times warmer than wool, hypoallergenic and can be worn right next to your skin without itching as it contains no lanolin. Suri alpaca fiber has the added characteristic of having luster, and its luster is inherent in the garment for life. Alpacas are also green and earth-friendly; they have no hooves, but instead alpacas have soft pads like dogs.
Alpaca fiber can be spun and knitted (a common end product of huacaya fiber which features good memory retention) or taken to the loom in beautiful woven garments that you’ll find on fashion runways. Suri alpaca fiber is especially beautiful taken to the loom as its sheen and drape add exquisite beauty to high end garments. Our alpaca fiber can be sent to the commercial mills back in Peru and knitted into standard garments such as hats, scarves, gloves and the like. In the US, it is still very much a cottage industry, although there are fiber co-ops that alpaca owners can become a member of that work with US manufacturers to build the alpaca fiber industry in the US, and there are many independent fiber mills as well to process our fiber into beautiful garments right here in the US. There are not enough alpacas yet in the US to justify a commercial mill such as they have in Peru, however their numbers continue to grow since the final export of alpacas to the US ended in 1998.
Some alpaca owners choose to be fiber farms, where they derive their income solely from the fiber. Alpacas are shorn once per year. Each step a fiber farm takes in processing their fiber, from skirting and washing, carding, spinning or weaving, increases the value and their profit. Alpaca fiber farms may work in cooperation with talented spinners, weavers and crafters.
We focus on breeding top quality breeding stock and show quality alpacas and to improving the quality of the American alpaca herd. We show our alpacas both locally and at national shows, and have continually produced champions from our breeding program. Our income from raising alpacas is derived mostly from the sale of alpacas to existing and new alpaca breeders, in addition to stud fees from our herdsires, boarding of alpacas, as well as of course marketing raw fiber and alpaca fiber products sold at our farm store.
All of us who enjoy raising alpacas and their wonderful fiber, need each other and work in concert to market and bring this exquisite fiber to its full appreciation in the US. As a side benefit, all of us find the alpaca to be an engaging creature, who “raise” us even as we raise them. They provide us with serenity in their presence and a wholesome and rewarding lifestyle. We consider ourselves fortunate to be shepards and stewards of one of God’s wondrous creations – the alpaca. Come visit and let us share the wonder with you.