Alpacas - a lifestyle choice

Kit Johnson
Silverstream Alpaca Stud

Match 24, 2003

The alpaca is enjoying boom times in North America as more and more lifestylers come to appreciate this fascinating animal and its endearing qualities. They are intelligent, loveable, friendly and have exquisite good looks and their fiber is possibly one of the finest in the world.


Alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunas are part of the camel (camelid) family tree. Treasured by the ancient Inca civilization, there are today about 2.5 million alpacas in the Andean Altiplano region of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.

Camelids are a modified ruminant, not only eating less grass than most other animals but converting it to energy very efficiently. Unlike the true ruminant they have three compartments to their stomach not four. It is for these reasons that camelids can survive in areas that would otherwise be unsuitable for other domesticated animals.


Alpacas are thought to have evolved from the wild guanaco and are generally smaller than the llama standing at just under a meter at the shoulder. They produce a wonderful, heavy fleece of fine strong fiber that comes in 22 basic colors including whites, fawns, browns, blacks and greys.
A fully fleeced alpaca with good coverage around the face and legs is an extremely beautiful and captivating animal and a good reason why so many farmers and lifestyle block holders have entered the industry. Being smaller than llamas, alpacas are easy to handle and make delightful companions. Alpaca fiber is world renowned for its soft handle and luster and is often compared to fine merino and cashmere.

There are two types of alpacas:


The huacaya accounts for over 97% of the world’s alpaca population and is characterized by a thick dense fleece growing perpendicularly from the body. Good huacaya fiber has a soft handle, brightness of sheen and frequently has a defined crimp throughout the blanket area. Not all huacayas have these qualities.


The rare and prized suri is distinguished by its long silky fiber that grows parallel to the body and hangs in long, separate, distinctive pencil locks. Its softness and exquisite luster ensures a premium price on the world fiber market. The world population of suris is calculated at being just over 150,000 animals.

Why are alpacas so appealing?

Alpacas are raised for their lustrous, soft handling fleece and for the enjoyment of their delightful personalities. Alpacas require limited care, are small and easily handled – they do not get flystrike or footrot and they do not require tailing or crutching. Their enchanting good looks, their soft humm and their friendly disposition make them a popular choice of livestock for families with lifestyle blocks.

Alpacas do not require lush fertilised pasture and require minimal shelter. A standard five- wire fence, preferably without barbed wire is all that is required to restrain the animals. Occasional grooming, trimming of toenails, annual shearing and regular worming and vacinations are advised.

Alpaca farming is economically viable on small lifestyle blocks and therefore qualifies as a farming business in the eyes of the taxation authorities. Tax losses incurred on the farm can be offset against other income.

Are they profitable?

Unlike other exotic animals, alpacas have not gone through boom and bust times. Alpacas first appeared outside South America in the early 1980’s and have generally enjoyed prosperous times. Animals at the top end are in fact attracting higher prices now than before.
Alpaca for Sale

There is no artificial insemination or embryo transplant and the cost of importation is high especially from South America. Alpacas live to about 20 years of age and produce an average of 11 cria (babies) during their breeding life. Gestation is 11.5 months.
The alpaca is rare and as can be seen, supply will be limited.

Alpaca fibre is fine and has a soft handle and is sought after by the fashion houses of Europe and Japan.

Breeders working to a business plan who market themselves well and who keep abreast of developments in the industry, will be well recompensed for their efforts.

In conclusion, alpacas are a viable alternative to traditional livestock farming and most importantly are profitable on small acreages. They require limited care and offer excellent opportunities for a secondary income.

Kit Johnson
Silverstream Alpaca Stud