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Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

By Ray Hansen, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, hansenr@iastate.edu.

Reviewed June 2012.

Alpaca originated in the Andes mountain ranges of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. A member of the camelid family, alpaca are considerably smaller in size than both the camel and the llama. For thousands of years, alpaca have been raised in South America and prized for their quality fleece, which is shorn once a year. Traditionally, alpaca meat was the primary source of protein. It is rich in proteins and low in fat, with a cholesterol content of 0.16 percent.  

There are two genetically distinct types of alpaca: Huacaya (wa ki á) and Suri (sir ë). Huacaya, the most common breed, have a thick, dense, crimped fleece fiber, while Suri, the second type, are less common and have a fine, dreadlock-like fleece fiber. Over 90 percent of the registered alpaca in the United States are Huacaya.

  Photo courtesy of Xanadu Farm Alpacas.

Fleece quality and color are the major criteria in determining the market value of individual alpaca animals. Alpaca fiber is a naturally fine, soft product that possesses good thermal capabilities and is warmer than sheep's wool. It does not retain water and is unusually strong and resilient. In fact, alpacas produce the strongest animal fiber in the world, with the exception of mohair. More than 22 natural colors are recognized; all are shades of black, white and brown.
After being introduced into the United States in the early 1980s, alpaca quickly became an alternative agricultural enterprise because of their premium fleece production and their market value as breeding stock. In 2007, the United States had 8,708 farms that raised nearly 122,000 alpacas. The top three alpaca raising states are Washington, Ohio and New York. Over 13 thousand alpacas were sold in 2007 (Census of Agriculture 2007).
Prices can vary greatly for individual animals, ranging from one thousand dollars to ten thousand dollars per head, with some genetically proven breeding stock bringing far more than that. The initial high cost for individual animals can present a barrier to entry for many producers. However, many farm operations have built a successful full-time business around the breeding and marketing of high-quality alpaca.

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 Links checked February 2013.



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