What is an alpaca?
It is a small camelid like the Lama, the Camel, the Guanaco, the Vicuña and the Dromedary. He lives in herds and is native from South America. We can find them particularly on the Andean highlands and in semi-desert areas, at high altitudes; Particularly in Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
Unlike his great cousin the Lama, who lives in the same areas, the alpaca does not carry loads. It is used mainly for dressing (its hair) but also for feeding (meat). It is a farm animal, like beef and pork in Canada.
First raised by the Incas, about 5000 years ago, alpaca is not a wild animal and has never been. His ancestor, the Vicuña, still remains in the wild.
There are two types of alpaca; The Huacaya and the Suri. The majority of alpacas (93%) are of the Huacaya type. 1
One of the softest and most luxurious fibers in the world!
Globally, alpaca is recognized primarily for the quality of its fleece which is reputed among other things for its Softness, his Fineness, his Thermal Efficiency (Hotter than the sheep), the Comfort It provides (including its breathability) as well as its many many natural colors (officially 22 shades in Canada, but more than 250 colors degree !).
Unlike sheep wool, alpaca fibre is a much smaller percentage of the fibres produced worldwide, making it more valuable.
Unlike other luxurious natural fibers such as cashmir, where the term refers to a certain quality of fibre, alpaca has a very wide range of qualities. It is therefore necessary to use the different grades of fibre (7!) for different uses, the softest being the most sought. The work of the breeder is therefore in part to reproduce his animals by having in mind a conservation or an improvement of the quality and characteristics of the fiber.
Other Alpaca Resources
Marginally, more and more people are beginning to appreciate the flesh of alpaca outside of South America. In Australia, for example, it is one of the four most ordered meats in large restaurants.
It's a red meat, rich in iron and low in fat. It does not have a very pronounced taste (between the calf and the Lamb). It is thus usable in almost all dishes since it marries well with the other ingredients. Quebec farmers are gradually starting to market it.
Fur and leather can also be recovered after slaughter and tanned to make different accessories.
The manure of the alpaca composts quickly (about 1 month) and is very interesting for gardeners. Small pellets of manure contain less phosphorus than other animals. They can also be used as they are in the garden without the risk of burning the roots of the plants.
Why is alpaca being raised in Quebec?
Alpaca is now raise all over the world even though the largest population still persists in South America. However, the countries of origin do not export alpacas; The alpacas found in Canada are generally registered and born here. They are also very well adapted to our climate, having sometimes more difficult conditions in South America. The resale of animals is one of the activities of most Quebec and Canadian farms with the fiber production and processing.
The alpaca requires little space and equipment, it does not need heated buildings and its size is perfect to make it a family-scale breeding. This is what makes it a very interesting choice for the neo-farmers and the peasants. The return to the land and the desire to change their life to go live in the countryside encourage many to get into the alpaca.
Alpaca Fibre (also called Alpaca, like the animal) is beginning to become more and more known (and recognized!) in Quebec; A breeding choice in view of our extremes of temperature and the possibilities offered by this fiber!
In fact, there are very few textile fibres that are still in production in Canada. The amount of clothing made in Quebec is also in a small proportion compared to those designed overseas. The growing popularity of local products is an advantage for Quebec alpaca breeders and it encourages the production of fibre and the local garment manufacturing.
A portrait of the animal in short;
The behavior of Alpaca
On the behavior side, alpaca is generally sweet and curious, but also fearful. He does not particularly like to be touched. Being naturally a prey that has no other means of defence than the escape, this fear is beneficial for its survival. Like any animal, however, the behavior of one individual can also vary from more or less fearful to more or less dynamic.
His life in the herd allows him to feel much safer and less stressed by his environment. Alpaca must not live alone; He needs his fellows and a group of 3 alpacas is usually indispensable to ensure a psychologically healthy herd.
Alpaca, like the llama, can spit to communicate with his peers. On the other hand, being less aggressive, alpaca does not tend to spit on humans; The sputum is often mistakenly received, passing between two alpacas that quarrel, for example... The female also spits on the male when it is trying to mate it if it is already pregnant or if it is not receptive to mating.
Feeding the Alpaca
Alpaca is considered a fairly ecological animal since it eats little (its digestive system is extremely effective), has a manure that contains relatively little phosphorus, makes common litters (thus does not contaminate all the pasture) and cuts The grass instead of pulling it out. It also has hooves and cushions under the paws and not hoofs, which makes it much easier to preserve the viability of the frequented pastures.
In addition to the pasture that he enjoys according to the seasons, he also eats hay that helps him in his process of rumination as well as grains (adapted molded) and mineral powder for an optimum diet in terms of minerals and vitamins, no matter the season. Its diet, in addition to its genetics, has a significant impact on the quality of its fibre.
Alpaca may become reproductive at 2 years of age for female, but more frequently at the age of 3-4 years for male. Physically, the alpaca reaches its adult size at the age of 3 years in both sexes. Females are commonly mated to 2 years so that they can have baby the first time when their pelvis is fully formed, after 11 and a half months of gestation (345 days) on average.
The baby (CRIA) weighs between 13 and 22 lbs at birth and is on foot after 1h of life. Once adult, the female alpaca weighs about 150lbs and the male 185lbs although there are many variations in individual weights. Males often have the same weight as females, for example.
Alpaca can live about twenty years in North America with the care we give them.
Want to know more about the reproduction of alpaca? Go see my article on reproduction and birth !
Shearing and care of alpaca
Alpaca is shear only once a year, in early spring (usually in May), to prevent it from getting too hot in the summer (and avoid heat strokes that can be deadly), but also for the fiber to have time to regrow for autumn and cool weather. This shearing is essential to the well-being of the animal and is made without injuring it.
It is done with the animal lying on a rug or a shearing table, the legs attached to prevent it from moving and injures itself. One shears in sections put in different bags to better separate the qualities according to the part of the body of the animal. It simplifies the sorting of fiber and fleece afterwards.
Shearing is often used to cut nails and teeth (which grow continuously) and to cut the tip of fighting teeth in males. Alpaca needs only a small amount of regular veterinary care annually; a vaccine and deworming.
Each alpaca produces an average of 4 to 10 lbs of fibre per year in total, containing various qualities.
You can also see an article about the preparation of the shearing.
The process of fiber
The quality of the animal is very important in order to make its time and investments profitable. For the beginner, it is therefore necessary to learn how to inspect an animal and its fiber before the purchase. Several scientific analysis tools are available to breeders and buyers to facilitate inspection, including histograms and biopsies, for density.
After shearing, the fibre is cleaned (all the detritus are removed by hand), sorted and sent in several batches to the mill. There, it is washed with a mild soap, dried, pricked, carded and spun. It is then sent back to the breeder for the design of the products. The fibre received is the one sent (it is not mixed with that of other breeders at the mill).
The path of the fibre to the finished product is different depending on the region of the globe. In South America, the amount of alpaca fibre is large enough to be sent into industrial processes. This is not the case in North America where the process is still artisanal or semi-artisanal.
As a result, the possibilities and the finished product are going to be different depending on the path.
1 The complete Alpaca Book. Eric Hoffman, Second Edition, 2006, P18.