Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Going Green with Alpaca

With world focus now on going green and making a soft imprint on the earth, the alpaca is taking center stage on the agricultural scene.

Alpacas are fairly new to North America with the first importation of this small camelid into the U.S. in 1984. Alpacas are native to South America, particularly Peru, Bolivia and Chile and were coveted by the Incan royalty.

4-H, FFA and like clubs are increasingly involved as youngsters enjoy interacting with the gentle, humming alpaca which weigh between 100 lbs. and 200 lbs. at maturity. Baby alpacas, crias, typically weigh about 17 lbs. at birth. As five alpacas can be supported on just one acre of good pasture, the aspect of raising alpacas for the gentleman farmer is easily within reach. City dwellers are included in the opportunity with many larger alpaca farms offering boarding services.

This eco-friendly animal needs to be in a group of at least two to prosper, requires only about two pounds of grass hay or grass per day per 125 pounds of body weight, plus some mineral supplementation. They tread gently on soft, padded feet, much like a dog's foot, that do not tear up pasture as hooved animals do. Alpacas have only four teeth on the bottom and a hard gum called a dental pad on the top of their mouths, allowing them to nibble off only the tops of grass with less disturbance to plant roots than other grazing livestock. They also have molars at the back of their jaws for chewing cud.

Articles in publications such as The Wall Street Journal along with TV ads have spurred interest in the investment opportunities and tax benefits of ownership. The relative ease of raising this gentle, fiber animal appeals increasingly to those heading into retirement.

The number of alpaca farms is increasing in Georgia and across the U.S. Two types of alpaca, differentiated by their fiber type, allows for fleece preference. The Huacaya (wa-kai-a) has dense, highly crimped, soft fleece that grows perpendicular to the body. The Suri (surrey), rarer of the two breeds, has a straighter, very lustrous fiber that drapes down the side of the body.

While raising alpacas offers one aspect of the benefits to this livestock option, the fiber produced with a once a year shearing is the icing. Recognized as the elite, natural fiber, there are 22 natural colors. White and fawn fleeces are very easily dyed. Each alpaca can produce between 4 and 10 pounds of prime fleece each year. The fiber is spun into yarn and can then be knitted, woven or felted. Alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin, is hypoallergenic, and appeals to those who cannot wear wool.

Alpacas are a natural for creating sustainable agriculture. More details are readily obtained from the Georgia Alpaca Association. This organization is presenting The Royal Alpaca Challenge on November 6 & 7, 2010 at the site of the Olympic equestrian events, the Georgia International Horse Park, in Conyers, GA (28 miles east of Atlanta just off I-20). This is an opportunity to talk directly with the owners who raise and show these unique, fiber animals. Children and adults will delight in this free, family friendly event! 

www.RoyalAlpacaChallenge.com or RoyalAlpacaChallenge@alpacamoon.com

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