Raising llamas and alpacas as an “alternative” livestock is a new and exciting industry in Pennsylvania (PA). Because llamas and alpacas do not require large acreage, extensive barns and fencing, or intense labor, they are an ideal livestock answer for dwindling open space and expensive labor. The demand for llamas and alpacas has remained high over the years.
The camelid family includes camels, guanacos, vicunas, llamas and alpacas. The last four of these are native to the Andes mountains in Chile, Bolivia, and Peru. Llamas were first imported into North America in the early 1970’s. Alpacas, however, were not imported until 1984. Both have adapted well to the North American climate and have become an attractive alternative to other more demanding farm enterprises. Because of advanced health and management practices of our domestic herds, the United States is producing high quality and healthy llamas and alpacas which are now being exported to other countries. Currently, llama and alpaca fiber is prized and used in the growing fiber industry. From spectacular yarns to clothing, blankets, and mattress pads that use scrap camelid fiber, the industry is healthy and growing, for breeding, selling, and fiber-related products.
An adult llama stands 38 – 46” at the withers and weighs between 270 and 450 pounds. The llama cria (baby) weighs between 20 to 35 pounds. Llamas come in all shades of natural colors. They are used for trekking and packing as well as for fiber production and showing. Their soft padded feet make llamas easy on the pasture and sure-footed on the trail. They are very hardy animals that require only “routine” inoculations. Because llamas respond well to training and have gentle dispositions, they make excellent pets. Llamas are also used as guard animals for sheep and alpacas in various parts of the country. Trending in the advertising sector are farm photo shoots of these magnificent animals.
The alpaca is about half the size of the llama. It comes in two types according to the character of its fleece, the huacaya and suri. An alpaca stands 34 – 36” at the withers and weighs between 130 and 190 pounds. The alpaca cria weighs between 10 and 22 pounds. Female llamas and alpacas can produce offspring until they are between 16 and 20 years old. The alpaca has long, dense and luxurious fiber which comes in 22 natural colors. The fiber of the alpaca is used in the fashion industry as an exotic fiber in knitwear and woven wear. Alpaca fiber, as well as smaller camelid species, is prized for the fineness. Nothing compares to a scarf made with first shearing cria fiber. In anyone’s possession, it is a prize beyond measure.
Housing and Fencing
Llamas and alpacas are social animals and prefer to be together as a herd, large or small. They are gentle, quiet (communicating with a soft hum), odorless, and undemanding in their care. Four to five camelids can be raised on an acre of land. They make no attempt to “escape”, either through or over a fence. A three sided enclosure is adequate for their housing. Since they require less labor than most livestock and are also more gentle, they are an ideal animal for 4-H club members, women, or active senior citizens. The camelid has minimal specific care needs and can be raised by people without previous animal experience as an avocation or by the experienced farmer as a vocation.
Care, Maintenance and Nutrition
The care and maintenance of camelids requires less time and effort than other livestock. They are maintained on 1 or 2 cups of a protein and mineral pellet in addition to grass in the summer or mixed hay in the winter. A single bale of hay each week will support an animal but pasture grazing is ideal and can support a herd depending on the season. Camelids use a common dung pile, which makes field clean-up relatively easy. Facility costs are minimized because the camelid can be housed communally rather than in individual stalls. The breeding and nurture of the llama and alpaca is an exciting and enjoyable lifestyle.