Alpacas are South American in origin. They have become extremely important in the textile industry due to their lustrous and silky fibre. Their fibre contributes to the manufacturing of knitted and woven items, including a wide variety of apparel and other household accessories. Unlike the wool from sheep, lanolin does not exist, which means alpaca fibre is hypoallergenic. It is also means that less detergent in necessitated when processing alpaca fibre. It is also considered to be warmer than sheep's wool. It can be successfully blended with silk, cashmere and fine wool. On average, their fleece grows at a rate of 80- 150 mm per annum.
Alpacas were first introduced to Australia in 1958, however the first breeding stock wasn't introduced until 1989. Here, they are classified according to twelve different colours: white, light fawn, medium fawn , dark fawn, light brown, medium brown, dark brown, black, dark grey, medium grey, light grey, Rose Grey/Roan. However, alpacas do come in 22 natural shades from whites, to greys, to browns, to blacks. White alpaca fleece is extremely popular as it can be dyed to any colour.
By 2000, there were around 40, 000 alpacas distributed throughout Australia. Now, numbers have reached the 70,000 mark. The Australian Alpaca Association is the primary resource centre and registry for alpaca breeders in Australia .
Exports of Australian quality breeding stock currently occurs and looks set to continue in locations such the UK, New Zealand and South Africa.
Female alpacas are ‘induced ovulators'. This means that an act of mating will induce ovulation. Males typically begin mating between one and three years of age, while females are generally ready between one and two years of age. The outcome of pregnancy is most often a single offspring. Males usually remain sexually productive for a period of 3-16 years , while females typically remain productive for a period 2-17 years.
Alpacas are considered to be modified ruminants. They exhibit sound and efficient feed conversion and perform well on decent forage and hays.
The typical lifespan of alpacas is usually around two decades but ranging anywhere between 15 and 25 years.
The notion of alpaca ‘breeds' is in fact a contentious one. Some argue that there are no distinct breeds, rather just distinct types of fleece. However, it is widely accepted that there are two breeds/types: Huacaya and Suri.