A Brief History of Alpacas
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 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. In the middle 1800's, Sir Titus Salt of Saltaire, England rediscovered alpaca. 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 Japan and 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.
A Few Basic Facts
* Alpacas are members of the camelid (or camel) family. They are mild tempered, gregarious animals with an inquisitive nature and a penchant for bringing great delight to their owners.
* There are two different breed-types: the huacaya and the suri. Although both types of alpacas are physiologically nearly identical, one main physical difference is clearly identifiable: the fleece. Huacaya fleece has a degree of waviness or crimp, thus giving huacayas a fluffy, "Teddy Bear-like" appearance. Suris on the other hand, have no crimp in their fleeces, so thier fiber clings to itself, forming beautiful "pencil locks" that hang down from the body in gentle, silky cascades.
* Indigenous to South America, the aplaca is raised for its soft fleece. this fleece is sheared once a year, yielding roughly five to ten pounds. After only minimal preparation, it is ready to be spun into yarn or used to make felt.
* Alpacas stand approximately 36 inches tall at the withers ( the area where the neck and spine come together) and weigh between 100 and 200 pounds.
* They require only modest amounts of food (approximately 1 1/2 to 2% of their body weight in hay per day), plus free access to fresh water and free choice minerals. Some owners also supplement thier animals' diets with additonal grains and crumbles, based on specific nutrional needs and preferences.
The Earth-Friendly Alpaca
Alpacas have been domesticated for more than 5,000 years. They are one of Mother Nature's favorite farm animals. They are sensitive to their environment in every respect. The following physical attributes allow alpacas to maintain their harmony with our Mother Earth.
- The alpaca's feet are padded and they 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 owners comfort. This is the alpaca's way of contributing to community energy conservation efforts.