Visiting Alpacas by Cecilia M. Miller

Whether you are a family looking for an outing, an animal lover, an Alpaca owner, a prospective Alpaca business associate, or any combination thereof, you will be assured an unforgettable visit if you arrange a tour of an Alpaca ranch.

My family’s experience began on a postcard perfect Saturday morning in early June when my family visited a southern California Alpaca ranch for our first ever introduction to this branch of the Camelid family. The day could not have been lovelier had Hollywood scripted it. The sky was baby-quilt blue with fuzzy cotton-candy clouds lazily draping themselves over the distant mountain range. Oranges and lemons peeked through the greenery of the nearby orchards and generously permeated the air with the zesty tang of citrus.

Our first lesson was that Alpacas are not llamas and llamas are not Alpacas. They are both in the Camelid family however and can, and do, live peacefully together. There are two types of Alpaca and the difference is in their fiber type. Huacaya are known for the crimp in their fleece. Suri are noted for their tight spiraling locks. In the United States, Huacaya represent the majority of Alpacas though the Suri are gaining ground.
Our experience that warm summer day taught us that the tales we’d heard of Alpacas being ungainly and having a propensity to spit at humans were all wrong. These were elegant darlings vying for your limelight of affection and in whose eyes you could quite readily fall in love.

We found the Alpacas to be clean, safe, quiet and intelligent. They communicate through a combination of body language and a gentle humming. Their eyes are giant, chocolate-pudding orbs with sweeping lashes that luxuriously fan their delicate faces.
The infant Alpaca is known as a cria. After a gestation of approximately 11 months they have a life span that ranges from 15 to 25 years. These native South American animals are largely raised for the value of their high quality fiber, that is amazingly resilient and hypoallergenic. The fleece is harvested in an annual shearing.

We’ve witnessed the decline of the multi-generational, self-sufficient family farms of yesteryear where my grandparents lived out their days. In many places those farms have given way to the innovation of hobby farms. By modern definition, the hobby farm largely consists of smaller land blocks where young families in the ‘off’ hours from their careers can pursue activities of relaxation and varied interests yet share in the peacefulness that country-life aspires to. Alpacas seem to be the perfect accompaniment to the farms of these times. A general rule of thumb is 5-10 grass eating, cud chewing, Alpacas per pasture acre, which makes them ideal for the smaller farms that are so popular today. Alpacas are docile and easily handled by children, which is another selling point in the current market. Alpaca are known for the ease of manure cleanup, as they tend to make their deposits in one chosen area of their yard. The manure is pellet-like, adding to the ease in removal, and is an excellent organic fertilizer for the gardens and plants that are also often found on today’s farms.
Alpaca owners enjoy a strong and active national organization, known as AOBA (Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association). AOBA features national committees that address every aspect of the Alpaca industry, host shows, educate, offer support for breeders, and promotes this growing trade.

The Alpaca Registry (ARI) is a state-of-the-art system documenting bloodlines and using rigorous screening for the health and quality of imports. They work in union with AOBA to insure animals populating the United States, and in their shows, are safe, healthy, and well cared for.

After a magnificent day of Alpaca introduction and contact on the ranch, we left there both captivated and charmed by these doting creatures and wanting to learn even more. We chose to follow that adventure with a visit to a local Alpaca show in the Midwest. As self-proclaimed veterans of county and state fairs that have included raising livestock for 4-H project purposes, we were extremely impressed in so many ways at the Alpaca show.

The show we attended was held indoors. The animals were in pens with beautiful sod covering their floors. The lighting was so great that we didn’t need a flash for our photographic efforts to be successful. There was no appreciable manure smell at all. There was the genteel hum of Alpacas throughout and not the ear piercing sounds that other livestock shows so often entail. The people were extremely helpful and friendly and everyone there seemed to be wearing a vast and authentic smile. We found that many educational opportunities are provided at these events, and best of all, you can make new friends who share your enthusiasm for Alpacas.
Alas, for the perfect day of sensory delights, family bonding, business opportunity, lesson in global economic commerce, or just good old fun, I urge you go see an Alpaca today!