- 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”
- There are 6 living species that belong to the Camelid family:
o 4 New World Camelids = alpacas, llamas, guanacos (Lama guanicoe) and vicunas
o 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:
o Huacaya – dense and “fluffy” appearance with a “crimp” to their fleece.
o 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
- 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
- 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.)
Basic Skeletal Anatomy:
BCS = body condition
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
Showing of alpacas:
Purpose of alpaca shows and typical classes seen at
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
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
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
Any feces stuck to the fleece (especially on the underside of the tail) should be
Trim nails (most likely won’t be evaluated by judge – ask your coach to show
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.