An alpaca is not a llama! But the llama and the alpaca come from the same family. Members of the camelid family, alpacas were domesticated in South America over 5000 years ago and are among the most ancient of domestic animals.
With their smaller bone structure, alpacas are not used for backpacking. Nor are they used as guard animals. They are valued for their fleece, which is generally sheared yearly. Their fiber is medullated, hollow fiber, with very warm and insulating properties. Because it is almost free of guard hair, it doesn't have the "itch" associated with wool.
Alpacas come in all sizes and colors. The average height of an alpaca is 35" at the withers, and the average weight of a mature adult is under 150 pounds--from 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a llama. The 22 recognized fiber colors range from true, non-fading black to brilliant white, with browns, reds, fawns, and rose grays. In the United States where alpacas receive more individual attention than they do in South America, their life span is between 18 and 20 years.
Alpacas are herd animals, so having two animals is the recommended minimum. You can easily care for 5-10 animals on an acre of pasture.
The average height of an alpaca is 35" at the withers, and the average weight of a mature adult is under 150 pounds. Alpacas have soft, padded feet. They have no upper teeth, so can't bite; they eat grasses and chew a cud. Their manure, "beans" or "black gold," makes the finest garden fertilizer. The manure doesn't need to be aged like some other livestock manure.
The U.S. Alpaca Registry was closed to imports in December 1998. Approximately 60,000 alpacas are currently registered in this country among 4000 breeders. Self-regulated, the Alpaca Registry uses a scientifically verifiable identification system with a genealogical database that tracks ownership and pedigrees.