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About Alpacas

The alpaca is one of four species of South American camelids.  The other three are the llama (which is also a domestic animal) and the vicuna and guanaco (which exist only in the wild).  All are browsers and grazers and chew their cud. They have an even toed, padded foot and unique style of lying (kushing) down with their front legs bent and directed backwards.

Alpacas are known for being "easy keepers".  Because of their padded feet, they are very easy on their pasture and don't cut into the ground like cattle or horses.  They also have a very efficient metabolism, and are therefore able to sustain themselves on very little intake.

Alpacas are induced ovulators (like cats), meaning that rather than having a set heat cycle, the female becomes receptive to breeding when a male is introduced to her.  A common method of testing for pregnancy is known as the "spit test".  A female who is pregnant will generally not allow an interested male anywhere near her, reacting by spitting at him and running away.

Alpaca pregnancies last 11.5 months, and usually only result in single births.  Twins are possible, but it is usually a difficult birth and the twins very often are born sterile.  A baby alpaca is called a "cria".

The alpaca is the smallest of the domesticated South American camelids and is known for its abundant, fine fiber and gentle nature.  Until quite recently alpacas were almost non-existent outside of their native land, and few persons in this country could do more than associate the word "alpaca" with a luxurious type of sweater. Now that alpacas are establishing themselves in North America, more people are getting a glimpse of these delightful wooly animals and are asking questions about them.

South American camelids date back two million years. It's believed that the alpaca is a descendent of the vicuna, with its domestication taking place some 6000-7000 years ago. Alpaca breeding reached a peak in the 11th and 12th centuries AD under the Incan Empire. During this period, alpaca and llama breeding was conducted by a state organization whose members all belonged to a special nobility. Alpacas were the most valuable domestic animals of the time and were intensively selected for production of copious, fine fiber and for the perpetuation of the species. Through the centuries alpacas have also served as a source of meat and played an important role in the religion of their caretakers.

As a result of the 16th century Spanish conquest, with the arrival of new domestic animals from Europe and the development of mining as the most lucrative business activity in Peru, the alpaca was relegated to the higher elevations of Bolivia and Peru. Alpaca numbers dropped and husbandry practices deteriorated in the hands of the native Andean herders whose very life was a struggle on harsh "alto plano."

Appreciation for alpaca fiber experienced a rebirth in the 1920's. By the 1980's alpaca fiber production had risen to a strategic economic resource in Peru. Today Peru, which has over 85% of the world population of alpacas, considers the species a natural resource worthy of protection.

Until the 1980's only a very few alpacas existed in North America, and these were scattered among a few zoos and private collections. Importation restrictions were lifted in 1983 and 1984, allowing entry of alpacas from Chile.  This brought the North American population to some 500-600 head. Another group of alpacas arrived from Chile in 1988. In the 1990's, alpacas came to North America from Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and New Zealand. Importation came to a halt with the closure of the Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI), in 1999.

Alpaca fiber is one of the finest natural fibers in the world. It is silky soft, lustrous, and comes in 22 natural colors. Because alpaca fiber has a hollow core, it is very comfortable and breathes. The hollow core also traps air, acting as an insulator against both cold and heat. Alpaca fiber absorbs liquids - an added comfort level for alpaca socks! Alpaca fiber is the only natural fiber that is warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And because alpaca does not contain lanolin (like wool), it is naturally hypoallergenic.

Fiber from the alpacas is sorted into classifications. The highest quality is called Baby Alpaca. Baby alpaca doesn't necessary come from "babies" (crias), but is classified such due to its low micron count, which results in an exceptionally soft feel and comfort level.

How to Care for Your Alpaca Product

Sweaters, Hats, Gloves/Mittens, Scarves, Blankets, Socks, and other Garments:
Hand or machine wash gentle cycle, cold water. Do not agitate or bleach. Lie flat to dry. If needed, items can be tumbled for 5 minutes in dryer on cool for fluff. All alpaca garments can be dry cleaned safely.

Rugs and other raw fiber products:
Shake to remove dust, brush gently to fluff. Do not wash (raw fiber easily felts). Dry cleaning is best.

Alpaca Teddy Bears and Friends:
These animals, in addition to hugs and cuddles, may require additional re-fluffing. While they can be spot cleaned if soiled, they should not be immersed in water or machine washed.

Updated June 18, 2014