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Alpaca Info Library

What is an Alpaca?

The Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) is a domesticated species of South American camelid developed from the wild alpacas. It resembles a sheep in appearance, but is larger and has a long erect neck as well as coming in many colors, whereas sheep are generally bred to be white.

Alpacas are kept in herds that graze on the level heights of the Andes of Ecuador, southern Peru, northern Bolivia, and northern Chile at an altitude of 3500 to 5000 meters above sea-level, throughout the year. Alpacas are considerably smaller than llamas, and unlike them are not used as beasts of burden but are valued only for their fiber. Alpacas only have fleece fibers, not woolen fibers, used for making knitted and woven items much as sheep's wool is. These items include: blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, a wide variety of textiles and ponchos in South America, and sweaters, socks and coats in other parts of the world. The fiber comes in more than 52 natural colors as classified in Peru, 12 as classified in Australia and 22 as classified in America. Alpacas and llamas differ in that llamas have banana shaped ears and long tails and alpacas have straight ears and stubby tails. Aside from these differences, llamas in general are on average 1-2 feet taller, and bigger in proportion than alpacas.

In the textile industry, "alpaca" primarily refers to the hair of Peruvian alpaca, but more broadly it refers to a style of fabric originally made from alpaca hair but now often made from similar fibers, such as mohair, Icelandic sheep wool, or even high-quality English wool. In trade, distinctions are made between alpacas and the several styles of mohair and luster.


Alpaca Herd Growth Calculator 
Alpaca Compounding

A major investment benefit of owning alpacas is based on the concept of compounding. Savings accounts earn interest, which if left in the account, adds to the principal. The increased principal earns additional interest, thereby compounding the investor's return. Alpacas reproduce almost every year, and about one-half of their babies are females. When you retain the offspring in your herd, they begin producing babies. This is "Alpaca Compounding."

The following graph illustrates how a herd might grow in size over a ten-year period, assuming you begin with five pregnant females and two males. The herd growth depicted represents alpaca compounding at work. The initial herd grows to 126 animals, assuming an 80% reproduction rate and a 50/50 male/female ratio.

Please note that this graph, while clearly illustrating the principal of "alpaca compounding," does not depict the average owners' approach to alpaca ownership. Most breeders elect to sell all or some of the annual off-spring production for practical reasons, such as recovering their initial cash, acreage and building costs, and labor, not to mention making a cash income.



Please note you can select your own variables, such as the number of females, the ratio of males to females born, the reproduction rate, or breeding age of the females when first bred. Any variables that you do not select will default to the above assumptions.