Although they look similar, alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are not llamas (Lama glama); rather, they are close relatives and belong to the same biological family. They are both members of the Camelid family

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Livestock Classic

Alpaca Handbook

Alpaca Facts

  • Although they look similar, alpacas (Vicugna pacos) are NOT llamas (Lama glama); rather, they are close relatives and belong to the same biological family. They are both members of the Camelid family (technically: Camelidae). Physically, alpacas are smaller and more compact than llamas, they also produce more fleece (per surface area), and they have straight, “spear-shaped” ears whereas llamas have longer, “banana-shaped” ears.

  • There are 6 living species that belong to the Camelid family:

    • 4 New World Camelids = alpacas, llamas, guanacos (Lama guanicoe) and vicunas (Vicugna vicugna.

    • 2 Old World Camelids = Dromedary (Camelus dromedaries) and Bactrian (Camelus bactrianus) Camels.

  • There are two breeds of alpacas, they differ mainly in the appearance of their fleece:

    • Huacaya – dense and “fluffy” appearance with a “crimp” to their fleece.

    • Suri – their fleece hangs in dreadlock-like tendrils.

  • Currently, alpacas are native to, and a domesticated species of, South America.

  • History: It is a common misconception that Camelids are originally from South America. Ancient Camelid species actually originated in North America between 11 & 9 million years ago. One of these species migrated to South America approximately 3 million years ago. This particular species, which evolved and thrived in South America, turned out to be the ancestor of today’s New World Camelids (which includes alpacas).

  • Statistics: Alpacas usually weigh 8-23 lbs at birth and 105-185 lbs as an adult; fully-grown alpacas usually measure ~32-39” at the withers (the back); and the average lifespan of an alpaca is 15-20 years.

  • Some terminology: A baby alpaca is called a “cria” (male or female); females who have not yet been bred and are of mature age are called “maiden females”; intact males that are used for breeding are called “stud males” or “herdsires”; younger intact males who are to be used for breeding but have not yet been bred to a female are called “junior herdsires”

  • Alpacas are prey animals (meaning that they are hunted and preyed upon by predatory animals such as mountain lions and, in the U.S., coyotes) and have very strong herd instincts. Alpacas become extremely stressed when they are alone and separated from other alpacas; there have been cases of alpaca mortality from injuries or illnesses that would not normally be considered fatal when sent to veterinary hospitals for a length of time without a companion. Therefore, if one was to own alpacas, they would have to buy at least two, but preferably three or more.

  • Use of alpacas: In the United States, the alpaca industry is comparable to dog breeding and showing – it is all about genetics, breeding, and selling of animals. Many owners and breeders don’t even use the fleece that is shorn from their alpacas each year. Other alpaca farms however, are solely fiber farms (fiber= a common term for the fleece of an alpaca) and do not get involved in the showing and breeding aspect. In other countries (such as South America), alpacas are used mainly for their meat as well as their fleece.

  • Fleece: Alpaca fleece is very soft and warm. It is often compared to cashmere and is used to produce many luxurious fabrics and products. Unlike sheep wool, alpacas do not produce natural oils (like lanolin which can possibly act as a skin irritant) therefore, their fleece is considered hypoallergenic. There are 22 “official” colors of alpacas (alpacas are often classified by color on their registration and in showing) although there are many multicolored, patterned, and in-between shades seen in alpacas. When shorn, alpacas yield an average a weight of 7lbs-10lbs of fleece per year. In judging the fleece of an alpaca, judges look at many different fleece characteristics including (for huacayas – the breed of alpaca that we have at Hadley farm): crimp (definition and tightness/size of); density (more dense=better); handle (softness/feel to the fleece); micron (fineness); staple length (length of the fleece); and uniformity of color, and all of the other aforementioned characteristics, throughout the blanket of the alpaca (the blanket refers to the fleece covering the back and the sides of the animal).

  • Breeding: Sexual maturity is, on average, reached at ~1-2 years of age in females and ~2-3 years in males. Even though sexual maturity may be reached by one year of age (or earlier), females are usually not bred until they are ~2 years old. This is so that females will be mentally mature and physically strong enough to have and care for a cria.

  • Pregnancy: Alpacas are “induced ovulators,” meaning that they do not have a regular heat or estrous cycle. They have a gestation period of 11-12 months and generally give birth to only one offspring at a time (twins are generally aborted and live birth of twins is very rare; they usually do not survive the first few months of life).

  • Digestive System: Alpacas (and other members of the Camelid family) are classified as modified, or pseudo-, ruminants. They have a digestive process similar to true ruminants (complete with microbial fermentation), however, they have a 3 distinct compartments associated with the foregut and stomach (C-1, C-2, C-3) as compared to the 4 compartment ruminant stomach (rumen, reticulum, omasum, abomasum).

  • Teeth: Alpacas have incisors (teeth in front) only on the bottom, they have dental pad on the top yet they can still effectively graze on grass. It is a common misconception that alpacas have no top teeth at all, however, they have both top and bottom cheek teeth (molars) and fighting teeth (comparable to cuspids or canine teeth). In alpacas with a correct “bite” the bottom incisors should be even with the dental pad and the top and bottom jaws/molars should be in alignment with one another.

  • Feet: Alpacas have feet (not hooves!) with two toes; their toes have a soft foot pad and nails which grow over the top and to the end of each toe. (Nails should be trimmed as needed, the nails of individual alpacas grow at different rates… generally, nails need trimming every month to every other month.)

asic Skeletal Anatomy:

BCS = body condition score/ scoring:
The BCS scale is from 1-5 and uses whole numbers (some owners use a scale of 1-10 and/or decimals [.25’s and .5’s etc. for “in between” alpacas])

Showing of alpacas:

Purpose of alpaca shows and typical classes seen at alpaca shows:

In the United States (and in other countries that use alpacas mainly for breeding and the selling of breeding stock) showing is a major part of the alpaca industry. It is considered a necessary evil by many owners as it allows them to have the quality of their alpacas objectively evaluated by a judge thereby show off the quality of their animals. Shows are also a way for alpaca owners to network and also a way to gain recognition for their farm as well as genetic reputation for their breeding stock, especially if any of their alpacas receive first place and/or color championship awards in halter classes and fleece shows (fleece shows = shows where just the shorn fleece from an alpaca is shown and not the alpaca itself).
There are 3 different types of classes seen at typical alpaca shows where the animal itself is shown:

  • Halter classes: These classes are considered the most important by alpaca owners and breeders and are the main reason that owners participate in alpaca shows. Ribbon placement in these classes gains respect and status among alpaca owners and breeders. This is because halter classes are based solely on the quality of the alpaca being shown, and therefore, indicates good genetics being bred at the farm where the alpaca is from. The judging of these classes takes into consideration both the conformation correctness (50%) and the quality of the fleece characteristics (50%) of the alpaca.

  • Showmanship classes: Showmanship classes are participated in by owners mostly for fun. These classes are based not on the quality of the animal, but rather, how well the handler shows the alpaca in the ring. Ring etiquette is emphasized, as attentive ness to the judge is taken into consideration; handlers are to constantly focus on the judge and are to make sure that the view of their alpaca is never obstructed (handlers should move around so that the alpaca is always between the handler and the judge). Also, how well the handler leads their animal, maintains control of their animal, and responds to their alpaca’s behavior is a significant part of evaluation. Lastly, Alpaca owners are asked a general question (or questions) about alpacas to demonstrate their knowledge of the species.

  • Performance classes: These classes are also just for fun. However, they take a great amount of training in order to prepare an alpaca for them as alpacas are very skiddish and unaccepting of unfamiliar things by nature. Handlers are to complete an obstacle course with their alpaca. Usually, 3 attempts at an obstacle are allowed and points are gained by the pair for each obstacle that they successfully complete. (Other times, the handler has a set amount of time to go through the obstacle course with their alpaca. Points are gained for each obstacle that is successfully completed before time is up; obstacles may be attempted/completed more than once [but there may be a limit as to how many times a certain obstacle can be completed]).

Show Prep: Make sure to learn general information about alpacas, attend meetings at the barn to work with your coaches, work with the animal yourself and bring up any specific problems you are having to your coach, know the basic anatomy of alpacas as you may be asked to point out a certain body part by the judge. Bite – become familiar what a correct one looks like and with your alpaca’s bite as the judge may ask you if it is correct or not as a question in the showmanship class. Learn how to body score an alpaca as you may b asked to report the BCS of your animal to the judge. Get the age of your alpaca and the date that they were last shorn from your coach (this information may be asked by the judge).

  • Grooming (not much preparation is required for showing alpacas as far as grooming is concerned – they don’t like being brushed, they shouldn’t be washed as their fleece will not dry for a long period of time.)

    • DO NOT bathe your alpaca – fleece will not dry in time for the show!

    • Pick the large pieces of hay and bedding out of their fleece.

    • A grooming wand can be used to remove some loose dust/small debris from the fleece (the wand is a loop of thick metal wire that is supposed to create a static charge when run over the fleece of the alpaca in order to collect particles from the fleece).

    • Any feces stuck to the fleece (especially on the underside of the tail) should be removed.

    • Trim nails (most likely won’t be evaluated by judge – ask your coach to show you how!)

    • Working with the animal – practice

    • Learn how to herd, catch, hold/restrain, and a halter you alpaca (make sure to learn importance of halter fitting and learn how a halter should fit… make sure the halter is properly fitting your alpaca at ALL times!)

    • Work on leading your alpaca – from the left side, with some slack in the lead rope between your hand and the halter so that the alpaca can walk naturally (note: some of the alpacas drag you no matter what, in this case you do not need to allow much/any slack as they aren’t going to walk naturally anyway… you need to, more importantly, have control over your alpaca), walk straight! Learn what to do if your alpaca gets “stuck” (body language - NOT pulling on lead!)

    • Work on standing still, straight, and in place w/ your alpaca – learn how to correct crookedness and movement with body language (rather than circling and relining up to stand straight if it is not necessary)

    • Be able to hold and restrain your alpaca in the proper way so that the judge will be able to: touch the neck, along the entire back, and lift up tail to evaluate the genitals.

    • Be able to show the animals “bite” to the judge  show alpaca’s teeth by sliding the lips apart with your fingers.

    • Work on completing various obstacles with your animal (see “performance class” in the next section for list of possible obstacles).

    • If your coach can arrange it, it may be a good idea to have a practice session or two working in the indoor ring (to get the alpacas used to it since that is where they will be shown). Also practicing by going through a few mock shows and having a peer be a pretend judge is helpful.

Showing in the Ring/Show procedure for the Livestock Classic:

  • Showmanship Class – if there are 6 or more students then they will be split into two separate classes. From the showmanship class(es), the first and second place winners will move on to the best in breed class. During the showmanship class, students will:

  • Wait until the judge waves you in and then walk with the animal into the ring, walk straight towards the judge, pass and walk straight away from the judge and then have the animal line up in the ring either in peripheral or facing the judge/audience depending on how the judge wishes you to do so (follow instruction from the ring steward).

  • Once all the animals are lined up all the students will be asked to turn either facing the judge and audience or to the peripheral (the judge will instruct you on how he or she wants you to be lined up with your alpaca); the judge may even walk behind the animals (make sure that your alpaca is always between you in the judge so that you are not obstructing the view of your animal).

  • One at a time the judge will approach each animal, he or she may touch the animal and ask for you to show the animals bite.

  • The judge will also ask you a few questions about either alpacas in general or your alpaca specifically (facts about alpacas or BCS, bite, age, sex, date last shorn, etc.)

      • Performance Class (best in breed) – the first and second place students from the showmanship class(es) will participate in this round. The first place student from this round will move on to the best in show round. The obstacles may be put in any order; some obstacles may not be used at all and there is a possibility that some new obstacles may be incorporated. The alpacas will enter the ring and line up one at a time and the judge will then go over the course (how to do obstacles and in what order/allowed number of attempts or time limit) and he or she may also explain how the class is to be evaluated (scoring of obstacles based on difficulty of obstacle/how well it is completed by a handler and alpaca). Each student will attempt the obstacle course with their alpaca one at a time while the other student(s) remain(s) lined up in the ring with their alpaca (out of the way of the course).

Possible/past obstacles include:

        • Jumps (1’ or lower, usually 2 in a row)

        • Backing up through jump poles (without stepping out of/over the poles)

        • Figure eights or weaving through cones

        • Placing a towel over the alpaca’s back and walking for a distance (possibly required to walk a figure-8 or weave through cones with towel)

        • Walk across plywood – could be a see-saw by laying over a jump pole

        • Walk over a mat or tarp (something with a weird/different texture to it than normal ground).

        • Run for 10 to 15 feet – start from a complete stop and come to a complete stop

        • Pick up the alpaca’s foot while keeping the alpaca within a designated area (a circle/area marked off by cones/etc.).

        • Noise drop – making noise by dropping objects into a bucket or pan.

        • Best in Show – the final round, first and second place students from this round are awarded champion and reserve champion. Each student who placed first in their best in breed class participates in this round. Students are required to show every species/breed of animal (whether this is a halter/showmanship or performance class depends on the animal…).

The alpacas and llamas are usually in the same ring and use the same obstacle course for this class. Some of the obstacles from the performance class maybe changed and some may not be used at all. It is suggested that this round include: evaluation of proper handling, completion of performance obstacles and answering a few general knowledge questions about alpacas.
Show Attire: Don’t forget! Proper show attire includes clean khaki pants and a tasteful, preferably collared, white shirt. NO OPEN TOED SHOES! Footwear should be hiking or work boots if possible.

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