Table of Contents
- Llamas and alpacas are pretty different.
- You don’t need a huge backyard.
- Veterinary care is a big factor.
- Llamas are great stress-busters.
- Finding a reputable breeder is key.
- Bonding can take some time.
- Can I afford a llama?
- From The Farm: How About A Pet Llama?
- What’s the Difference Between a Llama and an Alpaca?
- What is the Difference Between Llamas and Alpacas?
- The Llama vs. the Alpaca
- The Vicuña and the Guanaco
- Summary of differences
- Your guide to fibre
- Summary of fibre
- Why buy Alpaca?
Last year for their anniversary, Nicole Truman surprised her boyfriend Jeff Hatley by taking him on a llama trek. It might’ve been the big soulful eyes, the velvety snout, or the seriously funky haircut — but before the guided hike was over, the two were totally hooked.
They began spending weekends at Dakota Ridge Farm, a llama farm near their home in Schenectady, New York. It wasn’t long after that they became the proud owners of their very own baby llama, named Nimbus Thunderkat.
They’re not the only ones who have become enamored with the fluffy gentle giants and their cousins, alpacas. The number of llamas and alpacas living in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent decades (and there are the hashtags to prove it.)
And sure, the adorable animals are endlessly Instagrammable. But what’s it actually like to be the parent of a large, camel-like creature — and what should you know if you’re seriously thinking about buying one? Here’s what you should keep in mind:
Llamas and alpacas are pretty different.
Amateur photographer, still learning…/getty
If you’ve never interacted with them up close, you might assume llamas and alpacas are basically the same. But they’re not. For starters, llamas are way bigger — averaging between 400 and 500 pounds. Alpacas are literally lightweights by comparison, maxing out at 200 pounds. Their fiber is curlier and denser (read: warmer) too. It tends to fetch more money, and is typically used for sweaters and socks. Llama fiber, on the other hand, is usually used for rugs.
More importantly, they have pretty different temperaments. Because llamas have long helped people haul goods, they tend to be more comfortable interacting with us. Alpacas, though cuddly looking, are more aloof. “Alpacas are more like cats, while llamas are more like dogs,” says Cindi Hassrick, founder of Aurora Alpaca and Llama Farm.
Still, a llama will never act like the fun-loving golden retriever you had as a kid. “They’re not going to come running over to greet you,” Hatley says. “You have to earn their trust.”
You don’t need a huge backyard.
Judit Her_di / EyeEm/getty
Llamas and alpacas are like other farm animals: They need plenty of fenced outdoor space, along with a barn area to hang out in when it’s cold or rainy. So if you live in a city or a busy suburb, you probably won’t be able to bring one home.
That doesn’t mean you can’t own one — or several — though. Nimbus lives at Dakota Ridge Farm. They pay for his boarding and food (it costs about $100 a month), but Hatley and Truman are responsible for his care and training — everything from clipping his toenails to teaching him to walk with a halter. The farm is 25 minutes away from Hatley and Truman’s home, so they visit him on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as on weeknights if they can make it over before dark.
The setup doesn’t just mean that Nimbus gets the space he deserves. It also ensures that he spends time with other llamas (including his mom). “Llamas and alpacas are herd animals,” Hatley says. “They’d be depressed if it was just one of them.”
Veterinary care is a big factor.
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If you’re planning on bringing llamas or alpacas back to your property, make sure there’s a vet nearby who knows how to care for them. Because llamas and alpacas are susceptible to certain parasites, they require monthly checks to keep them healthy, Hassrick says.
Regular wellness visits aren’t the only thing to consider, though. Over the winter, Nimbus broke his leg in a freak accident when it somehow got caught under a door. That sort of injury can be life-threatening to llamas and alpacas (as well as to other livestock), since they don’t understand that they need to rest their injury.
Though Hatley and Truman live near Dakota Ridge Farm, the nearest animal hospital that could treat llamas was three hours away. “We rushed him there, and he had to stay there for two weeks and undergo several surgeries,” Hatley says.
Thankfully, Nimbus is now splint-free. But the expenses associated with his medical care climbed above $5,000. With the help of the local llama community, Hatley and Truman started a fundraising page and raised $4,500 for his care.
Llamas are great stress-busters.
Jarred Wilson / EyeEmGetty Images
Because llamas tend to be friendly, they’re legitimately fun to hang out with. “Hanging out with Nimbus is our go-to weekend thing,” Hatley says. “It sounds silly, but they’re just magical creatures. They have a calming presence.”
(And contrary to what you might hear, llamas don’t go around spitting on people for no reason. It’s a defense mechanism that they only use when they’re feeling threatened.)
That cool, calming quality — coupled with an ability to quickly learn new things — means that llamas make excellent therapy animals for both the elderly and children with special needs. You can even get them certified through some therapy animal programs.
Finding a reputable breeder is key.
Nadia Kompan / EyeEm/getty
Unlike dogs or cats, you’d be hard-pressed to find a llama or alpaca at your local animal shelter. The majority of the time, owners acquire the animals through breeders. (Occasionally, rescue organizations take in older llamas or alpacas who are retired from showing and don’t produce as much fiber.)
How can you tell if a breeder is good? For starters, breeders should do parasite checks every month and shear herds at least once a year. Without an annual haircut, llamas and alpacas are at risk for overheating in the summer, Hassrick says. Having a history of showing their llamas or alpacas is another biggie, since it’s a sign that the breeder cares about training.
Finally? “The person selling to you should be willing to teach you as well. Look for a mentor situation,” Hassrick says. Hatley and Truman spent months visiting Dakota Ridge Farm before they decided to buy a llama of their own. “The best way to learn how to care for them is by learning from an experienced llama owner,” Hatley says.
Bonding can take some time.
Brenda Loaiza / FOAPGetty Images
Both llamas and alpacas will become accustomed to the people that hang around them, but it won’t usually happen right away. “We notice that as we go to the farm more and more, the llamas are more comfortable with us,” Hatley says. “That moment that a llama decides that it likes you, it’s very special. It’s hard to describe.”
Marygrace Taylor Marygrace Taylor is a health and wellness writer for Prevention, Parade, Women’s Health, Redbook, and others.
Can I afford a llama?
Llamas as with any animal will need input and taking care of. It is recommended to check on your animals twice a day to avoid unnecessary vets visits. Also why wouldn’t you want to go and see them? Give Kuzco a piece of extra carrot and some words of encouragement to be the best llama he can be
How can my lamas make me money?
Lets just state for your hypothetical animals sake you cannot ride a llama. Imagine trying to give a piggyback to Donald Trump and how that would feel – don’t do that to your new llamas.
But how can you start to earn back that initial input.
There are standard way and imaginative ways.
Lamas will need their fleece shearing. You can get a vet to do this and pay for it or you can learn to do it yourself. A cleaned good quality sheering will weigh between 3 – 6 pounds. 6 pounds is 96 ounces and fleece can sell between £2.50 – £5 per ounce. £240 per fleece if sold at the lowest price. That means one sheering is likely to pay for two animals yearly food.
Days out and experience can be a great business option if you have the time to fulfil demand. This is where you can either get stuck in yourself or get yourself a member of staff depending if you want to keep the money for yourself. A 90 min lama walk can charge around £25 – £35 per person. Arranging for groups depending on the number of lamas you own.
Hen parties, animal handling experiences and other such options are great sources of income.
That sounds so harsh when worded that way but if you still want to sell on some of your llama family then a female breeding llama can produce between 10 and 12 babies in their life. Sell whilst young and you get between £500 and £750. Nurture them and let them grow and you can get back the couple thousand for selling breeding aged or even more for confirmed pregnancies.
How to get imaginative?
Everyone knows Weddings are big business. People also want unique things at their weddings. What gets more unique than having lamas there, perhaps even walking the rings down the aisle? Market yourself as lamas for hire and you could see wedding bookings, parties or corporate gigs coming your way.
If going this route you will need appropriate transport and insurances to consider for pricing.
Llama theatre! Get your sewing machines out and casting directors hat on. All it needs is a camera and determination and in no time…probably a fairly long time….you will be able to recreate the whole of The Emperor’s New Groove with a full Llama cast. Why not go wild and have the Llama turn into a human and be the only talking human? Youtube will love this film. Just stay clear of Disney’s long reaching arms.
Llama escape room. One group enters and has an hour to escape the room. Fail and you get covered in syrup and hay. Then the Llamas descend for nibble time.
How do the final numbers look
With all that information you may not know if you want llamas or not yet (how have I not convinced you?)
Numbers are based on four starting Llamas. Two adult two young. First year.
Land – £30,000
Llama – £14,000
Feed – £600
Miscellaneous – £10,000
Total – £54,600
Miscellaneous allows for vets bills of the first year if pregnancy occurs, adaptations to the land if needed and a bumper for any unknown events.
Fleece – £700
Llama walks – working 52 Saturdays, one group of 4 people each day – £6,240
One wedding booking – £500
Educational school visits – £400
Total – £7840
Put in more effort and you see that income rise. At this lover level the original cost is covered in 6 years 9 months.
That doesn’t include the sale of any young llamas produced or the increase income from fleece and walking groups that would be experienced.
Not too shabby for some research into what was originally a drunken question of “how much does a llama cost?”
Let us know if you bought yourself some llamas and how close to the mark the costings are.
From The Farm: How About A Pet Llama?
Llamas are first and foremost pets and companions. They are ideally suited to this task because of their predictable low-key temperament, intelligence and ease of maintenance. Llamas are becoming increasingly popular pets due to their mild manners, cleanliness and friendly dispositions.
Llamas are generally healthy, thriving animals which require little maintenance beyond good basic care. However, before you decide to keep a llama as a pet, you will need to have a basic understanding of this animal and its very specific needs:
- Determine if you have the right kind of property and accommodations to fit the needs of the llama. Llamas need plenty of room to run around and graze, as well as shelter to avoid extreme weather conditions. Your property must also be zoned for livestock.
- Consider whether you would be able to own more than one pet llama. These animals are extremely social and need the company of at least one other llama in order to thrive in their environment.
- Obtain a reliable source for llama supplies, such as food and grooming accessories. Llamas require a very specific diet to remain healthy, and wool shearing, toenail trimming and general grooming practices are all a part of keeping your llama healthy.
- Find a veterinarian that is familiar with the care of llamas. Llamas require a very specific schedule when it comes to vaccinations, de-worming, blood tests and health certifications. A qualified veterinarian will be able to show you how to keep complete health records, which is essential if you want to own a llama.
- Locate a reputable breeder from whom to buy your llama. One of the best ways to find the right breeder is to contact the Alpaca and Llama Show Association (ALSA), which can recommend a breeder in your area. Attending ALSA shows and competitions is also an excellent way to meet breeders and find out about any llamas they might have for sale.
Want to learn how to save on your llama’s veterinary care?
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Llamas are 40 to 50 inches high at the withers and 60 to 72 inches tall at the poll. They weigh 18 to 31 pounds at birth and should weigh 250 to 300 pounds at full maturity. Female llamas reach mature size at 2 years of age and males mature at 3 years. The average life span for llamas is approximately 20 to 25 years. Llamas have a long graceful neck and a relatively small head with large eyes and large curved ears.
Llamas are covered with wool approximately 3-to-8 inches in length, and comes in a variety of colors. Wool covers the neck, back and sides of the animal while the head, underside and legs are covered with short hair. A thick covering of wool enables llamas to withstand cold, wind, snow and rain. Short hair elsewhere on the body enables the llama to dissipate heat when placed in warmer environments. Unlike sheep wool, llama wool does not have the protection of lanolin to make it water resistant. Llamas have a tail that measures 12 inches in length at maturity. Llamas have characteristically high-cut flanks accented by a loosely hanging abdomen and a slightly forward-leaning carriage.
Llamas are well-socialized, very friendly and pleasant to be around. They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialized and over-handled as youngsters will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, because they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other, which is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck wrestling. Anyone bottle-feeding a cria (baby llama) should keep contact to a minimum and stop as early as possible.
When correctly reared, spitting at a human is a rare thing. Llamas are very social herd animals, however, and do sometimes spit at each other as a way of disciplining lower-ranked llamas in the herd. A llama’s social rank in a herd is never static. They can always move up or down in the social ladder by picking small fights. This is usually done between males to see who becomes the alpha. Their fights are visually dramatic with spitting, ramming each other with their chests, neck wrestling and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance. The females are usually only seen spitting as a means of controlling other herd members.
While the social structure might always be changing, they live as a family and they do take care of each other. If one notices a strange noise or feels threatened, a warning bray is sent out and all others come to alert. They will often hum to each other as a form of communication.
Want to learn how to save on your llama’s veterinary care?
Want to check pricing and try our veterinary discount program, risk-free?
The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going “mwa” is often a sign of fear or anger. If a llama is agitated, it will lay its ears back. One may determine how agitated the llama is by the materials in the spit. The more irritated the llama is, the further back into each of the three stomach compartments it will try to draw materials from for its spit.
An “orgle” is the mating sound of a llama or alpaca, made by the sexually aroused male. The sound is reminiscent of gargling, but with a more forceful, buzzing edge. Males begin the sound when they become aroused and continue throughout the act of procreation—from 15 minutes to more than an hour
The feeding and care of your pet llama is fairly simple, since llamas are hardy animals by nature and their feeding options are virtually unlimited. Llamas can thrive on a variety of natural grasses, fresh water and not much else. They are relatively easy to feed in comparison to more common types of livestock. Here are helpful tips:
- Provide a clean, fresh supply of hay for your llama, unless you are keeping him in a pasture where he has access to plenty of grasses. Avoid feeding llamas grains and seeds unless you have a female llama that is either pregnant or lactating. Llamas will eat about 10 to 12 pounds of hay per day, or about 2 to 4 percent of their body weight.
- Make sure your llama has plenty of fresh water every day. While llamas do not drink as much water as other types of livestock, an unlimited supply is essential for optimum health.
- Avoid overfeeding your llama. Like many animals, a llama will gorge itself if it has access to unlimited supplies of food, especially grain.
- Supplement your llama’s diet with a salt or mineral block. Look for free choice or pelletted mineral supplements as opposed to large blocks, since llamas cannot lick. The mineral block should contain plenty of selenium, calcium, phosphorus and salt.
- Add corn to your llama’s diet, especially if the weather turns colder. This will help your llama to maintain its energy levels through the winter.
It might sound silly, but keep your llamas healthy. No amount of grooming can help an unhealthy llama shine. Feed your llamas a nutritious diet and provide them with proper care. This “grooming from the inside” will go a long way towards having llamas that look good on the outside. Llama grooming is very important, and it can also be a great way to bond with your llama. Here are some tips on how to groom llamas:
- Treat your llamas with love and compassion. These magnificent creatures will reward you with love in return, and will be more likely to cooperate when it’s time to be groomed. Give the llama frequent breaks if grooming seems stressful.
- Pay attention to what type of fiber your llama has. If your llama has locks of suri fiber, you do not want to use a brush that will disturb the locks; however, you can be a bit more flexible with a silky type of fiber.
- Pull out any large debris from the llama’s fur. Depending on the debris, you can use a pick, a wand or your hands to do this.
- Give the llama a good blowout. Take a blower and blow just the surface of the fur in the direction that the fibers run to remove any additional small debris as well as dirt and dust. Once the fur is visibly clean, add a professional grooming product and blow a second time. Many llamas love a good blowout.
- Prepare to bathe. If your llama has suri fiber, you will have to separate each lock one at a time. This can take quite a while. If the fur is matted, plan to spend significant time removing mats. Consider spreading the grooming process over the course of a few days. For other types of fur, brush the llama thoroughly.
- Bathe the llama. Use a high quality shampoo followed by a high quality conditioner, making sure the products are appropriate for the type of fiber the llama has.
- Hand-groom your llama. Squeeze out any excess water and then straighten the locks or fur with your fingers or an appropriate grooming tool. Then let the llama dry, making sure to place it in a place where getting dirty again is unlikely. Consider a leave-in treatment. If you would like to keep your llama’s hair looking soft and shiny, use a leave-in conditioner. If you really want your llama to shine, use a finishing spray or add a grooming ointment to the face.
Llamas are quite hardy, although they are susceptible to many of the same diseases and parasites as cattle and sheep. The most notable disease which infects llamas is enterotoxemia, “overeating disease,” types C and D. This disease most often infects young llamas or crias. Veterinarians report success in decreasing the incidence of enterotoxemia through immunization of the female and subsequent immunization of young at 4 to 6 weeks of age. Llamas may also be subject to tuberculosis, Johne’s disease, anthrax, malignant edema and tetanus.
Llamas can be infected with internal and external parasites. Internal parasites include gastrointestinal nematodes, lungworms, meningeal worms, tapeworms and flukes. These parasites can be eliminated with medicines currently used to treat cattle and sheep. External parasites (ticks, mites and lice) can be treated with pesticides approved for use on cattle.
What’s the Difference Between a Llama and an Alpaca?
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How well do you know your llamas from your alpacas?
Llamas and alpacas are both in the camelid family hailing from South America. At first glance, they look very similar, causing many people to think they’re snapping an alpaca selfie at Machu Picchu in Peru when it is in fact a llama deserving the photo bomb credit.
These exotic herd animals have similarities. For one thing, both will spit on you. Llamas and alpacas are both bred for their wool and meat, sometimes even their milk. The camelid cousins do look similar in appearance, but noticeable differences exist. The behavior of each species is different, too.
Can you tell the main differences between a llama and an alpaca?
A good place to start with the difference between alpacas and llamas is with the ears. Llamas have long banana-shaped ears while alpacas have straight ears and they are smaller. Their faces are also a bit different with llamas having a longer face, while an alpaca’s face looks smushed. The llama is on the left, and the alpaca on the right!
Llamas are also bigger than alpacas, weighing up to 400 pounds. Average alpacas only get to about 175 pounds. For that reason, llamas are used more as pack-carrying animals on backcountry trips since they can carry heavier loads.
Another difference between the two, is the fur. You may have heard about alpaca wool, which is much softer than a llama’s double-layered, coarse outer coat over a softer inner coat. Alpaca fleece has finer fiber and more of it; it comes in 22 colors! There are two different breeds of alpaca used for wool: the Suri and the Huacaya. Alpacas also have a single coat and their hair is better for people who may be allergic to sheep wool guard hairs.
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Llamas are known to be good guard animals, while alpacas are a bit more skittish. In fact, some alpaca breeders have llamas in order to protect their alpaca herdmates. Llamas are also easier to train due to their steadfastness and independence. Llamas and alpacas can interbreed and have fertile offspring, but the babies won’t be as strong as a true llama nor have as soft as fleece as a true alpaca.
Other fun facts about alpacas?
- The belong to the camelidae (camel family) family of course!
- Alpaca fiber is much like sheep’s wool! It is lacking in lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic and also allows it to be processed without the need for high temperatures.
- The fiber is both flame-resistant and water-resistant
- Alpacas come in two types: Suri and the huacaya alpaca. The suri has fiber that grows long and forms silky dreadlocks. The huacaya alpaca has a wooly, dense, crimped fleece.
- During breeding, the male alpaca emits a unique throaty vocalization called “orgling.” They hum!
- Alpacas are domesticated versions of vicugña pacos, South American ruminants that live high in the Andes.
- During National Alpaca Farm Days everyone can meet an Alpaca at a local farm!
- According to the Alpaca Owners Association, they don’t eat much! A 125-lb. (57 kg) animal only eats around 2 lbs. (907 grams) per day (lightweights). This is typical bodyweight.
If you plan to raise alpacas they must be raised in pairs as they can die from loneliness. So make sure your baby alpaca (cria) has a companion.
Alpacas spit if they feel threatened. They were raised for natural fiber while llamas were raised to be pack animals. Contact the Alpaca Owners Association for more details.
We’re so happy these beautiful creatures are in North America as the fiber is wonderful.
Did you know there are two other camelids (besides the camel) that resemble alpacas and llamas? Guanacos and vicuñas are also native to South America. The vicuña’s fur is known to be softer and warmer than cashmere.
Did you know some of these facts? Do you think you can tell the difference between an alpaca vs llama now? Tell us in the comments below.
READ MORE: Llama Lovers, Rejoice! Now They Can Be at Your Wedding
WATCH NOW: This Farm Holds Llama Yoga Classes!
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What is the Difference Between Llamas and Alpacas?
Peru is commonly associated with two things: Machu Picchu, and the Llama. This famous South American animal often features on postcards and is seen as the typical image of Peru.
But did you know that the country’s national animal, which features on both the coat of arms and the national flag is in fact, a Vicuña? A member of the camelid family, the Vicuña is a cousin of the Llama, as well as of the Alpaca, and the Guanaco. They all share one common ancestor.
Often confused, before your trip to South America why not brush up on your camelid knowledge and impress the locals. (And if you’re already here, get reading!) Discover the difference between Llama, Alpaca, and their cousins. We’ve also included a guide to their different fibers, and useful info about buying Alpaca products.
Quick Tip: The best and easiest way to travel in Peru while seeing some of the country’s hidden gems is by traveling with Peru Hop.
Contents of this Page:
- The Llama vs. the Alpaca
- The Vicuña and the Guanaco
- The Vicuña
- The Guanaco
- Summary of differences
- Your guide to fibre
- Baby Alpaca
- Royal Baby Alpaca
- Summary of fibre
- Why buy Alpaca?
- What kind of products can I buy?
- Where can I buy them?
- What should I expect to pay?
- Tips when buying
The Llama vs. the Alpaca
For someone who knows nothing about these animals, it can be impossible to tell the difference between Llama and Alpaca. Here’s a list of distinct features to look out for.
1. Look for the ears!
The key in differentiating between these two species is by ear shape and length: Llamas have longer, curved, banana-like ears, whereas Alpacas have shorter, straighter, and more pointy ears.
The Llama is about twice the size of the Alpaca. Llamas are heavier (200 to 350 lbs / 90 to 158 kg) and can even get to 400 pounds (181 kg), while Alpacas are normally 100 to 175 lbs (45 to 68 kg). In terms of height (measuring at the shoulder), Llamas are the taller species, at 42 to 46 inches (over 110 cm). Alpacas measure in at 34 to 36 inches (no more than 90 cm).
The Llama has a longer face, whereas the Alpaca’s is blunter. Alpacas also have more hair on their faces and heads than Llamas, which gives them a cute, tufty-haired look. Which leads us to the next point…
Quick Tip: Find out the easiest and the safest way to get from Lima to Cusco without missing out on a single thing.
Another way to identify your animal is by seeing just how fluffy it is! Whilst Llamas have a coarse outer coat (and a fine undercoat), Alpacas have finer hair, which is very dense and fast-growing. They even have fuzzy little faces!
While this is less easy to tell from first glance, in general Llamas are more independent, and will protect themselves if needed. In fact, they often serve as guards for groups of other livestock, including Alpacas! More of a herd animal, the Alpaca also has a nervous disposition. Which leads to the question, do Alpacas spit? Only if you call them Llamas! (Joke…) As both the Llama and Alpaca are distant relations to the Camel, the answer is yes. However, this happens rarely, and normally under threatening conditions. The Llama is more disposed to this behaviour than the Alpaca.
One thing both these species have in common is that they have both been domesticated for around 5000 years. Since the Llama’s fur isn’t of the same quality as the Alpaca’s, it is more commonly used for meat. Being naturally bigger, the Llama is also bred as a pack-carrying animal. Did you know it can carry one quarter of its own weight? In fact, the Inca culture relied on Llamas to transport goods all around their Ancient Empire.
Quick Tip: Peru Hop makes it easy to add a Machu Picchu trip to any pass that stops in Cusco.
In contrast, the smaller and woollier Alpaca is bred for the luxury fibre it produces. It has a uniform coat colour (whereas Llamas are patchier), meaning a specific colour can be bred.
7. Where to find them
Head to the Andes Mountains to find the Llama, where the majority live in the high plateaus of Bolivia. It can also be seen in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and of course Peru.
The Alpaca is primarily found in central and southern Peru, but can also be spotted in Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia in the high Andes (Actually, the Alpaca – which originated in Peru – is found all over South America, as well as other parts of the world where they are kept on Alpaca farms.).
Quick Tip: Find out the easiest and the safest way to get from Lima to Cusco without missing out on a single thing.
Llama’s can also be found at the historical ruins of Machu Picchu. The Llama’s here are incredibly photogenic and used to tourists, so you might end up with more Llama pictures than pictures of the actual site!
The Vicuña and the Guanaco
There are two wild camelid species in South America you should know about: The Guanaco, and the Vicuña. It is believed that the Incas bred the Llama as a descendant of the undomesticated Guanaco, and the Alpaca as the progeny of the untamed Vicuña. The Guanacos and Vicuñas roam wild in the high alpine Andes, and you may well spot one – or both – of these varieties on your travels.
The Vicuña is more closely related to the Alpaca. It is a small, slender, deer-like creature, weighing less than 150 lbs (68 kg), and measures 75 to 85 cm at the shoulder (no more than 33 inches). It is known for its super-soft fleece, and produces one of the most sought-after fibers in the world – although in a low quantity, at just one pound of wool per year (making the wool very hard to come by). However, this animal is in fact endangered. Once protected by the Incas, this changed when the Spanish invaded and took to hunting the Vicuña for its wool. Thankfully today, due to the extreme drop in numbers in the 1960s, it is prohibited to hunt the Vicuña. However, it is permitted to shear a certain number of these animals each year (releasing them after).
Where to find it: In the highlands of Peru. It can also be spotted in Bolivia, Ecuador, northern Argentina and northern Chile.
The Guanaco is the smaller version of the Llama and shares the same characteristics of coarse outer hair and a soft undercoat. Weighing in at 200 pounds (90 kg), it is larger than the Vicuña. It has distinctive coloring, with a brown back, a white underbelly, and a grey face. Llamas, on the other hand, come in a wider variety of colors. The Guanaco also has small, straight ears. Like the Vicuña, the Guanaco is also protected, but as its upper coat is coarse, it has always been less desired, and so hasn’t experienced the same population struggle.
Where to find it: Go to Patagonia (Argentina). It can also be found in Ecuador, Colombia, Tierra del Fuego, and even the Atacama Desert. Guanacos can survive with little water, and at very high altitudes.
Summary of differences
When in doubt, go by size: Llama – Guanaco – Alpaca – Vicuña. The Llama is the biggest of the family and the vicuña the smallest.
Check the colouring: Although Alpacas and Llamas both come in a variety of colours, the Alpaca’s coat tends to one uniform colour, whereas the Llama can have marked coat.
The Guanaco has distinctive colouring, with a brown back, grey face, and white undersides. The Vicuña’s face is a yellow/reddish brown.
Now you know your camelids, read on to learn more about the different fiber types, and for useful information on buying Alpaca products.
Your guide to fibre
Peru is home to 80% of the world’s Alpaca population. Their luxurious fiber is exported internationally, and the textile industry is one of Peru’s largest sectors. There’s no better place to get your hands on quality products than here in Peru, and your spending also benefits Andean communities who herd Alpaca for a living. Before splashing your cash, it’s a good idea to get your head around the different fibers, so you know which to go for.
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Note: The thickness of the fibre is measured in microns. Different brands use their own assessment, as there’s no official standard.
(Going from lower to higher quality.)
The Llama has two coats, a soft billowy undercoat typically used for finer garments, and a protecting outer coat, coarse and thick, normally used for rugs, ropes, and wall hangings due to its rougher texture. It is considered difficult to process Llama fibre due to the grand difference between the tough outer coat and fine undercoat, and the necessity to separate the finer fibres from the coarse upper hairs.
Guanaco fibre is considered as superior to Llama fibre as it is easier to process. The Guanaco also has two coats, with the light undercoat having a fine, downy fibre, typically a pale caramel colour.
Which brings us to the Alpaca: It has a very dense and fast-growing fleece, which needs to be shorn in the summer due to the heat. The fibre produced is fine, strong, hard-wearing, soft, lightweight, luxurious, thermal, and hypo-allergenic.
There are two subspecies of Alpaca, worth mentioning due to the difference in their hair: The Huacaya Alpaca is fluffy and sheep-like, producing a shorter fibre, whereas the Suri Alpaca has a longer coat and so produces a longer fibre. (Note: The Suri are the rarer subspecies, and so products using Suri are more expensive.)
Baby Alpaca is a TYPE of Alpaca fibre – not as its name suggests, from a new-born baby Alpaca! This is taken from the first shearing, when the animal is less than one-year-old, from the underside of the neck and belly. Here the fleece is finest, lightest, and softest, measuring 21 to 23 microns in diameter (superfine Alpaca fibre’s diameter is 24 to 26 microns). Since Baby Alpaca fibre is so expensive, it is often blended with other fabric (ie. Sheep’s wool).
Royal Baby Alpaca
Royal Baby Alpaca is a category of Baby Alpaca, with fibres measuring less than 20 microns.
Vicuña fibre is considered as the best in the world: very fine, soft and of superior quality (with a matching price tag!). Indeed, in the ancient times, only Inca royalty could wear Vicuña, and they considered it a sacred animal. Today it is still a rare creature, and as it produces such little fibre, this makes the wool even more exclusive.
Summary of fibre
In summary, the Vicuña and Alpaca are the two species which are most valued for their fiber: The Alpaca’s fiber is high in quality and quantity, and the Vicuña’s coat is very soft and of a superior standard. Bear in mind that Vicuña is the most expensive: it was after all considered fit for the Inca Emperor!
Alpaca is more accessible, being specifically bred for this purpose. It is more prized for its fiber than the Llama, which has two coats, a rough one and a fine one, making processing (separating the fibers) tricky. This problem also applies to the Guanaco, although this species’ wool is considered more exclusive. It is uncommon to come across products made of Guanaco fiber. Overall, the Alpaca fiber and products have many advantages, which are outlined below.
Why buy Alpaca?
Alpaca fiber is softer, lighter, and stronger than cashmere or sheep wool. It is lanolin-free, unlike sheep wool, meaning it holds fewer allergens, bacteria, and dust, and doesn’t feel prickly against the skin. There are over 22 natural colours, ranging from shades of white, grey, brown, and black.
Alpaca fibre also has the advantage of being more ecologically sustainable when compared to cashmere: Not only does an Alpaca consume less water than a goat, it produces enough wool for four to five sweaters per year. In comparison, four goats are needed to produce enough wool for just one sweater per year!
Everything you need to know about the Alpaca and Llama products you can find in Peru.
What kind of products can I buy?
Many clothing and accessory items, blankets, and even cuddly toys. The most popular items are sweaters and ponchos. They come in a variety of sizes, qualities and colours. They make great souvenirs to bring back home.
Where can I buy them?
Head to any Artisan Peruvian or Bolivian market and you’ll come across Llama and Alpaca products. There is a market in Pisac (about one hour from Cusco) frequented by indigenous folk who sell their wares. If you’re in Lima, visit the Inka Market (Av. Petit Thouars). There are also luxury stores including Sol Alpaca and Kuna (check out their websites).
Both have stores in the cities of Arequipa, Puno, Cusco, and Lima (including the Larcomar shopping centre and the airport). The products don’t come cheap, but buying from a store guarantees their quality. Look out for sales!
What should I expect to pay?
If you head to the markets, bear these prices in mind:
- For a blended Alpaca product (ie. not 100% pure), it will of course be cheaper. Look to pay from 10 USD upwards for scarfs and sweaters.
- A pure Alpaca sweater could be 60 to 80 USD (versus 200 USD approx. in Sol Alpaca or Kuna).
- A Baby Alpaca sweater will be at least 80 USD. Smaller items (hats, gloves, scarfs, socks etc) are cheaper.
Tips when buying
- Bear shop prices in mind when you browse the markets. It’s worth going to Sol Alpaca or Kuna first to get a rough idea.
- Take a trip to the expensive stores, and just touch the fabric and products to know how they feel. Do this before going to markets, where the products are often marked as containing a higher percentage of Alpaca than they actually do.
- If you plan to save money and buy from a market, check carefully whether your item is mixed with wool or a synthetic material. Look at the product in the light – if you see colored flecks or sparkles, it has got synthetic material. Alpaca should also be cool to touch, whereas synthetic products are warm.
- Baby/Royal Baby Alpaca items are more expensive, and are best for garments you’ll be wearing close to your skin, as they are super-soft and don’t irritate. Normal Alpaca is better for rugs/blankets as it’s more durable and insulating.
- Always shop around to compare prices and quality, and remember to bargain at the markets.
- If you buy close to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu, expect higher prices, as these are typical tourist traps.
So You Want to Buy a Llama?
By Carol Reigh, owner Buck Hollow Llamas, Inc.
Llamas seem to be the rage right now. And why not? They are intelligent, beautiful, easily maintained, and versatile. As a breeder, the public interest in llamas is a wonderful thing, but some problems can and will occur for the new owner and the industry if education and ethical practices are not observed. Whenever an animal becomes a fad, the long term consequences of impulsive buying only comes back to haunt the buyer and the industry. For me the most important thing is to educate the perspective buyer regarding llama ownership and animal husbandry. Now, I must say that compared to other livestock, these animals are easy keepers; however, they are still livestock and have certain needs. So, if you are considering purchasing llamas, I would recommend the following:
1. Educate yourself as much as possible as to the needs of these animals. You must be able to meet those needs. I’ll mention a few for you to consider. Do you have at least 1 acre to house a minimum of two animals? They are herd animals and should not be alone. They absolutely need the companionship of another of its kind. (Unless they are being used as guard animals) Do you have, at minimum, a three-sided shelter for protection against bad weather and extreme heat? Can you or do you have someone who will shear them for you? These are the major issues but let me refer you to two very fine resources on owning llamas. A Guide to Raising Llamas by Gale Birutta (ISBN 088266-954-0) and Caring for Llamas and Alpacas by Clare Hoffman DVM and Ingrid Asmus (ISBN 0-9622768-2-0).
2.Take a self inventory. After you have done the preliminary work and determined that you certainly can’t live without these magnificent creatures, it is important to answer a few questions. This self-inventory will aid you in determining the type of animals you want to be looking to buy.
- Do I like big, medium, or small animals?
- Do I want light, medium, or heavy fiber on my animals?
- How much money am I willing to invest in this venture?
- How much time do I have to care for these creatures? How many can I house?
- Which is more important to me, disposition, fiber, or appearance?
- What do I want to do with these animals?
*Do I want a L.M. or L.O. (lawn mower/lawn ornament)? I want them because they are pretty to look at and nice to have mow the lawn. Don’t have much time for personal contact but like having these elegant creatures grace my pastures.
*Do I want a companion animal? I want to take a hike in the woods or the fields but with a companion that will not disrupt my solitude. I would enjoy coming home from a stress filled day and look at those long lovely eyelashes with that soft nose giving me a reassuring kiss that life really isn’t so hectic. *Do I want a pack animal? I love to go back packing but hate to carry all that gear. I need a llama. (They will lie down in the back of a minivan for transport)
*Do I want to do pet therapy? I would enjoy taking llamas to nursing homes and schools to share everything I know about these interesting creatures. I’m really just a big kid who misses Show and Tell. OR I have too much stress in my life. I need a llama to slow me down and help me to “smell the roses” once in a while.
*Do I want to do cart driving? Why walk when you can ride? Cart driving llamas are for me. My kids and friends will love it.
*Do I want to show? I love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I want the world to know that I have great llamas. I also want the world to know how creative I am, and how tolerant my animal is–costume class is for my kids and me. Or I love challenging the trust I’ve built with the animals and want to show it off in an obstacle class. Showing can be a real family affair.
*Do I want a fiber producer? I love to spin, weave, knit, and felt; and I need my supply of fantastic fiber. With my own llamas, I’ll have all the fiber I need.
*Do I simply want a pet? I’m tired of the normal dog or cat. I need some excitement in my life. Besides, llamas are probably cheaper to feed than a dog or cat. (About $350.00 a year for two animals)
*Do I need a guard animal? I need something to guard my sheep or goats. One llama per herd has been known to completely reduce losses from predators.
*Do I want to breed? I’ve always wanted to raise and sell livestock. These are the animals for me.
Determining what you want to do with the animal will help to determine the cost and type. If you simply want a pet, you do not need to be as concerned about conformation as a person wanting to get into breeding or showing. If you want a packer or animal to pull a cart, you probably want to stay with short or medium fibered animals with strong conformation. Having said that, the animal can be shorn naked to maanage the fiber aspect.
3. Visit as many different farms as possible and observe…how do they treat their animals, how do their animals respond to them, what kind of vaccination program are they on, do the animals look healthy? Ask if you can see them halter an animal and pick up its feet. Ask if you can take it for a walk. Ask to see the anima’ls health records. See how the animal responds to a lead. What kind of service after the sale do they provide? Any guarantees? What is included in the sale–halter, lead, breed back, delivery, follow up? Will they provide a contract?
4. Things to look for or be aware of…
*The animal should not follow you around or be too friendly. Although we all are drawn to this kind of behavior, when the animal gets to be about 3 years old it can start to become very mean. Remember these animals are livestock; they should not follow you around like a dog. If they do, they have bonded inappropriately to humans and that spells danger.
*I would avoid a baby that has been bottle-fed. There are right and wrong ways to bottle feed a little cria. If done incorrectly you could have an animal that thinks it is a human, and that will be trouble when he/she turns three years old.
*If you plan to breed a female ask if her parents were good milkers or mothers. A good mother is worth her weight in gold. Light milkers can mean a lot of work for you. Also, ask if there are any genetic problems in the bloodline and avoid it.
*Be sure that any animal you buy, if you plan to even breed once, is registered with the International Lama Registry. A reputable breeder will have all animals registered.
*Be sure that the animal was not weaned before 5 months of age. Six is the ideal but sometimes situations warrant a 5 month weaning.
*You may want to make sure that the breeder is a member of the local and national lama associations. That question can tell you much about the breeder.
*Have a vet do a pre-purchase exam, especially if you are a first time buyer.
*Beware of auctions unless you know what you are doing.
*Ask the breeder about the personality, strengths, and weaknesses of each animal. A breeder that spends time with his/her animals will know that. Be skeptical if an animal is perfect. No animal is perfect; you need to determine which flaw(s) you can live with.
*Ask the breeder if he/she will sell you a single llama knowing that you have no others. IF he says “yes” turn and walk away and never return. A llama should never live by itself unless it is in the position of guarding sheep. A lonely llama can turn into a mean llama.
*Buying off the internet might work if you get lucky. It is imperative to touch, walk, and halter a potential animal to purchase. If you do buy off the internet, is there a return policy if the animals does not suit?
The best advice that I can give a new owner is to know what you want. Go see many animals and breeders and eventually you will find an animal that you cannot live without, and you will find a breeder with whom you will feel comfortable. Oftentimes when you buy a llama you have also invested in a valuable, ongoing relationship. Buying an older animal proves to be less risky and very prudent. At an older age (say 3), what you see is what you get. Her face, personality, and conformation are pretty well established. She should have some breeding history to her, and you should be able to see what she passes onto her offspring. However, if you are not interested in breeding and simply want a companion animal, you will probably want to invest in nice geldings. You will discover many things as you do your homework. Time is on your side, so do not rush into anything. If you educate yourself and decide that llamas are for you, I doubt that you will ever regret that decision. I know that I haven’t. Happy llama hunting. IF you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them. Feel free to call 610 582-9051 or email me at [email protected] or visit our farm near Reading, Pennsylvania.
Llama education and support after each sale has always been the goal of “Timberlane Llamas”. As you tour our farm, we hope you will find some interesting ways you can share your llamas with others. Jack shares some of the original plans he has designed over the years that have made caring for our llamas much easier.
We retired from being teachers and administrators in the public school system many years ago.
What started out as a llove affair with our first two little boy llamas over 30 years ago has turned into a full time and a full service llama business in which we consider ourselves the luckiest people in the world!
We always tell people who come to our farm to NOT buy llamas to make money… however, you certainly can if you “treat them – feed them – breed them right”.
Our place is only 25 acres so we don’t call it a farm. This is pretty typical of many people who fall in llove with llamas and decide to raise them. But it’s plenty big enough for these animals!
Our specialty is helping new people get started and then staying with them as long as necessary because it’s important to us that they do it right.
Then … so much happiness and pleasure will follow! Guaranteed!