Alpacas are one of the most adorable farm animals you will ever come across. They are environmentally friendly, meaning their feet do not damage the ground, they eat only the tips of the grass and not pull it out at the root, they’re easy to train and love being around children. Being easy to halter train gives children the opportunity to lead them around and be up close and personal with them. If you only have a few of them, and because of their nature, they tend to become part if the family and will follow you around, nuzzling your hands for that extra bit of feed.

My experience with these animals started back in the mid 90’s when I had a few in North Queensland, Australia. Not having owned livestock before, I found it enlightening as to their behaviour between themselves and with humans. They are very careful when around people so as not to hurt anyone, but can also become quite antsy with their fellow herd members.

Back in the 90’s, the Alpaca industry in Australia was very new, many vets had no knowledge of the animals so it was hit and miss as to how they treated them. I lost two because of this reason, as one of my Alpacas was pregnant and about to give birth but because of lack of knowledge by the vet, both died. Since then, the industry has grown tremendously, there is more expertise on handling and managing the animals, and prices have come down considerably making it more affordable for people to obtain and breed these delightful creatures.

When first thinking about buying an alpaca, bear in mind that you will need to buy two – Alpacas are herd animals and one on its own will fret, they need company therefore two is the minimum ownership. As they do not test fencing, it makes the job of keeping them in much easier – normal sheep fencing does the job quite well. Never use barbed wire as this will tangle in their fleece and can damage them.

One thing Alapcas do love is Lucerne – they will keep eating as much as you give them. I used to keep this feed for special feeding times, as with the grain mix I used to hand feed them every day.

North Queensland is known for its humidity and that is one thing Alpacas cannot handle, so twice a day in the summer season, you would observe my ‘pacas’ standing spread-legged with me hosing their bellies. They loved it and would stand still indefinitely allowing me to hose them down and cool them off. The bald area of the belly is the one place where heat can escape.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of alpacas are their ‘cria’ – the babies. The word cute barely measures up to the adorable character and antics these babies get up to. Like most animal babies, they run, jump, frollick and get into all sorts of mischief – as alpacas are highly intelligent, it makes for an interesting exercise watching these cria learn about the world around them.

One word of warning – alpacas are totally addictive. Once seen, never forgotten. They will permeate your life, weedle their way into your thoughts and constantly remind you they are around. Especially at night, if they see something that disturbs them, a high-pitched squeal emanates from these usually quiet animals, sounding like nothing you have ever heard before, and leaving one wondering what on earth created that noise.

If you are intending to create a breeding herd, genetics are all important, and good bloodlines cannot be beaten. Research is necessary to learn about the founding stock, who were to best breeders, and follow those lines to obtain alpacas with some of the best genetics of the industry. There are twenty-two colours of alpaca, and many shades inbetween, so its personal choice as to a coloured or white herd. I feel a mix is the best approach, that way there will be natural colours for spinning, and also white fleece for dyeing. Caution needs to be taken when examining the animal and fleece for purchase. A soft, dense, crimpy fleece will always outweigh a shaggy, coarse-haired animal unless you are looking at the fleece for rug making.

In conclusion, the alapca is a good all-rounder on the farm. Stable, easy to handle, a small eater, good watchdog, good with children, and best of all they produce the best fibre in the world. Have fun.

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