Hi, I’m Jimmy Dee, aka JD, Spokes Alpaca for Hickory Bluff Farms. We get a lot of questions here about alpacas. So click on a topic below or just scroll down to read all about alpacas from an expert…that would be me.
What is an alpaca?
Alpacas are mammals who originated in the Andes Mountains in South America. We are cousins to llamas and camels.
We have three stomachs, and cloven feet with toenails, not hooves. We ruminate like cows and sheep, but our digestive system is very efficient.
Fully grown, we get to be about 5 feet tall, and weigh around 150 pounds. We are valued for our fleece, and most of us will produce about 6 pounds of fleece per year.
Female alpacas have one baby per year, called a cria. Twins are extremely rare. The babies are usually 12 – 16 pounds at birth and are up and nursing within an hour.
Females can begin breeding at 18 months, males at 3 years. (At least, that’s what we do here at Hickory Bluff Farms)
We don’t know a lot of old alpacas, but we know a couple who are at least 15 years old. And when one of my girlfriends was born, her mom was 12. It’s hard to know how long we live, since alpacas have only been in the US since about 1980.
There are about 100,000 alpacas in the United States. Our ancestors came from Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. Almost everybody at Hickory Bluff Farms was born in the good old USA, and the other one was a cria when she immigrated with her mom. So, now there truly is a North American alpaca
What do you do with alpacas?
Our fleece is the softest and most durable you’ll find in the animal kingdom. It’s as soft as cashmere, and just as strong as wool. Sweaters made from alpaca fleece are long lasting – we know people who have sweaters they still wear after 30 years!
The fleece is clean; no lanolin like sheep wool, and it’s hypoallergenic. No sneezing, no itchy feel. Best of all, alpaca fiber is not heavy. It actually seems to breathe. So you can wear alpaca garments three seasons and be comfortable.
What alpacas like to do with alpacas is make more alpacas by having baby alpacas. And our people like that, too
How often do you shear alpacas?
What do you do with the fleece?
Our people sell it just about every way. Spinners buy it right off our backs on shear day, or in smaller packages. Spinners love it, ’cause there’s usually no carding needed.
Some of it goes into yarn for knitters and weavers. Our farm store always has a supply of raw fleece and yarn skeins that came from my pals and me. In fact, Aretha and I won a blue ribbon for the yarn made from our fiber last year, and Ayzia got one this year for her yarn.
Our people are so into what they can do with our fiber they bought a mill last year to make the yarn from us and other alpaca farms. The mill is called New Era Fiber, and it’s just up the road. You can check it out at www.newerafiber.com
Then there are the sweaters, scarves, hats and blankets made from our Hickory Bluff Farms fiber. There’s a really great place that takes the yarn and makes the garments for us right here in the good ole USA. Our Mom Person has learned to knit and weave, too. Click on the Alpaca Store button to see what’s available. We’re making more!
What do alpacas eat?
Mostly pasture and hay. We graze and munch hay just about all day. Our hay comes in bales. We like orchard grass here at Hickory Bluff Farms, but just about any low protein high quality grass hay is good for alpacas.
We also get a special alpaca grain supplement with extra vitamins and minerals mixed in. Boy, do we love that stuff! But we don’t get much of it, just about 1/3 pound per day per alpaca
How many alpacas can you put on an acre of land?
It depends on the quality of pasture and feed. At Hickory Bluff Farms there are about 50 of us on 10 acres. The pasture is divided into smaller areas, and we rotate around to keep the pasture growing and the fields clean.
We know other alpacas who are on smaller acreage, and even some who don’t have pasture. Come see us and you’ll have a better idea of what I mean.
How many alpacas can you put on an acre of land? What about temperatures? Do alpacas mind cold or hot weather?
Bring on the cold! By wintertime, we’ve grown lots of insulation, so we are comfortable. Just give us some shelter in case the weather gets rough, and make sure we’ve got plenty of hay and water.
Hot weather is tough for us. It’s the number one reason to shear us. When temperatures plus humidity get above 150 (like temperature 90 + humidity 65 = 155) we suffer from the heat. So in the summer, give us shaded areas, plenty of water, and some big fans to sit next to. We also get “alpaca-ade” in addition to our regular water. It’s an electrolyte solution. I like the cherry flavor best.
Here at Hickory Bluff Farms in middle Tennessee, we do really well. Nine months of the year, we’ve got great weather, with only 3 months of hot humid days. But even then, our people do the best stuff to keep us happy and comfortable.
What kind of health care do alpacas need?
We’re easy. An annual vaccination for whatever large animals might get in the area where we live, and monthly deworming. We get dewormed monthly because white tailed deer live in the woods on our farm, and they carry meningeal worm, which is really bad news for alpacas.
The rest is pretty easy. We can grow some pretty long toenails, so most of us get our toenails clipped 2 to 4 times per year. And some of us need an occasional dentist visit.
Our people watch us pretty close to make sure we’re acting normal for us. And they get really nosy when babies are about to come, and pester us when we’re little to make sure we’re growing up to be nearly perfect.
The one thing they do around here without fail is poop scooping. Sanitation in the barn and pastures goes a long way to keep us healthy.
Do alpacas spit?
I knew you’d ask that. The answer is YES.
But only when we’re unhappy about a situation, and usually it’s between us alpacas. HAY, how would you like it if somebody was trying to eat your food? Or somebody cut in front of you? ‘Course, sometimes you’re just having a bad fleece day – Casper spit at a bird the other day. He missed, but the bird didn’t.
Why do alpacas Hum?
HMMM. Good question. It’s a form of communication. Our people can recognize our voices, and there are different hummings for different occasions. Us guys have high level “meetings” with a lot of humming. When babies arrive, their moms teach them to hum in a special way. Then there’s humming and singing for dating. You just have to be there. Come on and see for yourself at Hickory Bluff Farms.
Can you ride an alpaca?
Our cousins the llamas are the ones to ride. We’re really too small to carry people of any size, and we like to run and jump around too much. We do know a couple of alpacas who will pull a cart with a driver, and Gold Man’s Mom used to square dance with people. She was even on Letterman once.
It's tax time. Are there tax advantages to owning alpacas?
You betcha. Zapata, our CPA (certified proven alpaca) has written a brochure “Getting the Scoop on Tax Poop” with lots of tips on the tax advantages of owning alpacas. He writes in plain language that even I can understand. E-mail our people at email@example.com, and they’ll send you a copy by snail mail.
How long is the gestation for alpacas?
The pregnancy for alpacas lasts 11 months. The books say 342 – 356 days. Our people start watching the moms-to-be real closely at about 10 months and two weeks. My brother and sisters and I were all delivered at 11 months and 5 days. So my mom says the variation depends on the individual mom-to-be. And sometimes it goes longer. This spring the girls are averaging 360 days for whatever reason. It’s all about us, you know.
When do alpacas reach breeding age?
I’m glad you asked that one! I’m proud to report that I’m a going to be a Dad next spring!
Our people start breeding the girls when they are two to three. Girls develop a little earlier than us guys. They wait until guys are three to four.
There’s a lot that goes into the reasoning. There’s physical stuff like how big we are, but a lot more has to do with our social maturity.
Some people will tell you they start earlier, but our alpacamom person is convinced that we are more successful with conception rates by waiting. Boy, that’s hard on us sometimes, especially when she makes us guys go through rookie camp, and the girls right next to us.
But, as Diana Ross sings, “you can’t hurry love”