Alpaca FAQ

Many questions, many answers

Over the years, we have hosted many visitors at our farm and have been asked all kinds of questions about alpacas and keeping them. Below are some of these questions along with their answers, separated into sections.

Just click on the question or the symbol to expand the section.

About the Alpaca

Which animals are relatives of the alpaca?

Alpacas belong to the camel family and are the domesticated form of the vicuña. The llama is the domesticated form of the guanaco. The camilids were once a large group of animals living in North America but only five species survive today. These are the guanaco and vicuña which are found in South America and three species of camel (Dromedary, Bactrian and wild Bactrian) which are natively found in Africa and Asia.
See: About the Alpaca for more details.

How many toes does an alpaca have?

Alpacas have two toes on each foot so are classified in the order of Artiodactyla, the even-toed ungulates. Other members of this order include deer, antelope, bison, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, giraffes, hippopotamuses and of course, camels. A Wikipedia article gives far more detail on the evolution of these animals.

Do alpacas have hooves like sheep and horses?

All camelid species have foot pads, rather like a dog's pads, but only two per foot. These effectively spread the weight of the animal of the ground, whether on sand or grassy paddock and cause very little damage to the surface. There is a nail at the end of each toe.

How old do alpacas get to?

The usual lifespan of a healthy alpaca should be 15 to 20 years. Some do become much older with New Zealand seemingly holding the record for the world's oldest alpaca, certified at 25 years old, as of April 2023.

What's the difference between alpacas and llamas?

Alpacas and llamas are very closely related members of the same family. They differ is several ways though, the most obvious being:
- Llamas are twice the weight of an alpaca and stand much taller.
- Llamas have ears that curve inwards (banana ears) whereas an alpaca's ears are straight.
Further details are given on this page.

Where do alpacas come from?

Alpacas are native to South America. There are estimated to be over four million which live in the mountainous regions of mainly Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The great majority are in Peru.


Alpaca behaviour

Are alpacas friendly?

Alpacas are calm and gentle animals and thus safe for children. They are happy to come to people and some will even rub noses with you. Unless trained or familiar with a person, they prefer not to be touched.

Do alpacas spit?

Alpacas splutter rather than spit. Unlike llamas, they rarely splutter at people but is done as a form of dominance behaviour and during disputes between herd members or between males. Occasionally, people get caught in the 'cross-fire' but it's usually clear who the intended recipient was!
Only if fighting becomes serious or an animal becomes very angry will an alpaca spit in the true sense but this is unusual.

Do alpacas make noises?

Most people will be familiar with the pleasant humming sound made when alpacas are content. However, alpacas make a variety of other sounds from the bird-like warbling noise to indicate danger to the other herd members, a clucking sound of recognition, a grunting sound made when asserting themselves, a screeching sound can be made when fighting and uniquely, a sound made by males during mating known as orgeling. Some of these sounds can be heard on this About the Alpaca page.


Alpaca breeding and crias

At which ages can you breed alpacas?

Female alpacas are sexually active from around 12 months though to ensure they have the mental and physical maturity, they should not be bred until a minimum of 18 months old and have a minimum weight of 50 kg.
Male alpacas should not be used for breeding until they are at least 2.5 years old. Before then, the penis and testicles are too immature for mating.

To which age can female alpacas breed?

Females can breed well into their teens. Great care must be taken with the older animals as they may struggle to maintain condition and particularly so if they are to feed a cria. Realistically, it is better to avoid breeding old animals.

How long is the gestation period of an alpaca?

The average gestation period is 350 days or 11.5 months. However, the range is from 11 to 13 months with some females being consistently early or late.

How many crias are born to each female?

The vast majority of females give birth (unpack) to a single cria. Only about 1 in 10,000 live births result in twins though if a cria has a birthweight of less than 5kg, there is no certainty that it will survive.

How heavy are the crias when they are born?

The average birth weight is about 8kg. Crias in excess of 11kg have been recorded and many born at less than 5kg have survived. It should be noted that the first cria born to a maiden and crias born to older animals will be lighter.

How can you tell if an alpaca is pregnant?

There are a variety of ways to discover if a female is pregnant. The easiest is to put her into an enclosure and introduce a male to her. Pregnancy can be inferred by the female spitting at the male although maidens in particular may run away, scream, kick out or even try to jump out of the pen to escape him. Sometimes just bringing the male to the fence line is enough to tell.
Much more detail can be found on this Alpaca Reproduction page.

When do alpacas give birth?

The great majority of females will unpack in the warmest hours between 11 am and 4 pm. If the weather conditions are poor the dam is able to defer going into labour. This is an evolutionary adaptation which at their natural high altitude environment gives her cria the greatest chance of survival. After birth, it must dry, stand and feed within a couple of hours, and be able to run within 12 hours otherwise it is unlikely to survive the cold of the night or predation.

Should I help the female give birth?

In the vast majority of cases, no help is required, apart from providing a clean area to unpack in. Alpacas have low rates of birthing dificulties. Under no circumstances should an owner pull on the cria or the placenta to 'help' passage as this may cause serious injury to the female.


Alpaca health

How can I keep my alpacas healthy?

Given appropriate care, alpacas will stay healthy. This care starts at six weeks with a programme of vaccination against Clostridial diseases, vitamin D injections and drenching against a wide variety of parasitic worms.
Appropriate nutrition is a major factor - providing adequate feed types in appropriate quantity so that they maintain the correct body condition. Alpacas are extremely stoic (do not show pain or suffering) so it is critical that an owner know each and every animal's normal behaviours and habits. If an alpaca then behaves abnormally, it can be quickly spotted and the cause investigated.
This Alpaca Welfare page gives much more detail on healthcare.

Are alpacas affected by facial eczema?

Facial eczema is a serious disease caused by a toxin in fungal spores that affects many species of farm animals. Due to the resulting liver damage it can be fatal. Unfortunately, alpacas are especially affected so protective measures need to be taken during the summer months, that is, the feeding of kibble containing zinc. In New Zealand, this is between January and April.
Given how severe this disease can be, it is covered in practical detail on its own Facial Eczema page

How often do you shear alpacas?

Shearing must be done once a year, at the end of spring or early summer (November/Early December in New Zealand). Leaving it later causes the alpaca distress as it is liable to overheat in a thick fleece.

How do you shear alpacas?

There are two main methods. In both cases the shearer will first remove the blanket (body and side wool, and sometimes the neck) and this is collected in one bag. The underside and legs are generally coarser and collected separately.
   Table shearing - the alpaca is raised onto a tipping table and the legs retrained in front and behind.
   Floor shearing - the alpaca is laid out on the floor with the legs similarly restrained.


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