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About Camelids

Llamas, alpacas, (lamas) guanacos and vicunas are all members of the camelid family; they are known as New World Camelids and are originally from South America-as opposed to Old World Camelids from Africa and Asia, and those are camels. Llamas and alpacas are the domesticated version of the New World Camelids.



For more than 5,000 years, both llamas and alpacas have been domesticated. Llamas have been bred primarily for packing while alpacas are bred exclusively for their soft and warm fleece.

The most noticeable difference between the two is that alpacas are half the size of llamas; alpacas weigh around 120 to 170 pounds full grown while a full grown llama may weigh from 250 up to 400 pounds. Another noticeable visual difference is their ears: alpacas have straight spear-shaped ears and llamas have curved, banana-shaped ears. When looking out in a field, the llama stands proud with a straight back, their tails set high on their rump. Alpacas have a more rounded shape with their tails set lower.

Llamas, being larger, can be used as pack animals on hikes and camping treks, their foot pads being less intrusive on the trails than horses. They are often used to guard alpacas from coyotes, dogs and other wildlife threats.

Alpacas have fine fleece that is used for clothes, crafts, and home furnishings. Llamas fiber can also be used for the same items but their fiber can have coarser guard hair that must be removed from their fleece before processing.


Alpaca Uses
  Llama Uses
FIBER: Alpaca is considered a single-coated fleece unlike the llama's double-coated fleece. Their guard hair is often so fine that it does not need to be removed during processing. The fleece can be processed into the finest high fashion garments, blankets, yarn and is a delight to hand-spinners world-wide. The alpaca yarn is warmer than cashmere and lighter than wool.   

FIBER: Llamas fleece can be processed to remove the outer, coarser guard hairs. The fine undercoat fleece can be processed into very fine, durable yarn. 



SHOW: Alpaca shows are held all over the country to assess the results of breeding programs and encourage breeding for better fleece and stronger conformation.


  SHOW: Llama shows are also held all over the country and many llama shows offer substantial monetary rewards for the winning llamas! Llamas are shown for conformation although newer classes called "walking fiber" classes can be found at some shows.
No   GUARD: Llamas are often included in alpaca herds as they will act as a guard against dogs and coyotes, stomping on the predators to defend their herd mates.
No   PACKING: Llamas are widely known for their use as pack animals. Their soft foot pads, much like a dogs, is less damaging to the environment than a horse.
BREEDING: The long-term sustained high value of these animals makes breeding them a profitable venture.   BREEDING: Llamas can also be profitable for breeding and resale.

4H AND PERFORMANCE: Alpacas can be trained to compete in obstacle courses including going up steps, over bridges and jumps and under poles. Many county 4H groups have included alpacas in their programs.



4H AND PERFORMANCE: Llamas are great for obstacle courses and these courses are great for training llamas to handle obstacles on packing trails. Llamas are also popular in 4H programs.




Alpacas are raised primarily for their fiber. Generally once a year, an alpaca's fleece is shorn off in a process that does not harm the alpaca. Alpacas produce between one to ten pounds of fine alpaca fiber each year similar in quality to angora and cashmere.

Alpaca fleece is prized for its unique silky feel and superb "handle" and is highly desired and in increasing demand from hand-spinner's homes to the world fashion market. It can be very, very soft and yet is quite strong. There is no lanolin or oil in it unlike sheep's wool which makes it easier to process. The unique manner in which the scales of alpaca fiber lie down against the shaft of each hair follicle makes it hypoallergenic. There are 22 natural colors of alpaca fleece recognized by the national alpaca registry, ARI. You can have a wide variety of beautiful alpaca products with or without dyeing.

There are two types of alpacas in the US: Huacayas (WAH-KI-YAHs) and Suris (SUH-REEs). Huacayas are in appearance more like sheep with woolly fleece that grows straight out from their bodies. Suris differ in that their fleece is more like hair, falling in locks and hanging down around their bodies. The ratio of the US Huacaya population to Suris is about 80% Huacayas, 20% Suris. The fiber from both are highly desirable.


Llamas are categorized into four styles: short wool, medium wool, heavy wool and Suri. Many llamas are double-coated meaning that they have a very coarse, outer guard hair and a very fine undercoat. When the guard hair is removed, the fine undercoat can equal or surpass alpaca fleece in fineness!

There are single and double-coated fleeces. Single fleeced meaning that the guard hairs have been bred down to a fineness nearly equivalent to that of the undercoat for better results in fleece processing. And double-coated llamas are bred for warm coats to help them weather the climate and thus are used more for performance as pack animals.

Unlike alpacas, llamas can be groomed. Most grooming just entails brushing however for showing, most llamas are shampooed, blown dry and brushed. In the paddock, the best grooming practice is an occasional brushing. Too much grooming can have a negative impact on the fiber.


Alpacas and Llamas eat much less than horses and are easier on the land. Land requirements vary depending on the amount of daily upkeep and care you provide, but a standard recommendation is 5 to 8 alpacas and/or llamas per acre. These numbers are dependent on whether you're feeding just pasture or hay. Many alpacas and llamas are kept on dry lots.

Alpacas and llamas are similar in physiology which makes their diet and herd management similar.

The main diet is grass hay. Alfalfa should be limited due to its high protein content. Most farms feed supplements that vary from cob or grain, to specially formulated chews. Free choice salts and trace minerals should be available at all times (not block minerals). Feed can be found at farm feed stores or can be purchased on the Web. One to one-and-a-half 60 pound bale of hay can feed 20-25 alpacas a day. Llamas eat more, they're bigger!

We recommend a routine schedule of de-worming treatments and vaccinations. You would want to consult your local veterinarian for vaccine and worming requirements in your area of the country.

Camelids are herd animals and thus prefer to be around at least one or two other alpacas or llamas.

Toenails on camelids require trimming on a regular basis and some alpacas and llamas may need to have their teeth trimmed. Some breeders do these themselves and others have their veterinarian take care of this.

Shearing is performed once a year in the springtime to prevent overheating during the hot summer months.

Shelter can range from a three-sided run-in or lean-to to a sophisticated, heated barn.

You are likely to find them relatively easy to care for once you have your fencing and shelters in place. Fencing is more for keeping predators out than keeping your camelids in. Most won't test a fence.

My one recommendation to any new breeder is automatic waterers, I prefer Nelson. You don't have to lug water or chip ice for long before realizing what an outstanding investment automatic heated waterers make. Visit other farms to see their setup and planning for as many contingencies as possible will go a long way in ease of herd management.

Do they spit?
Both alpacas and llamas do spit as a form of communication. Usually its around the feeder or when a show of dominance seems warranted. Humans sometimes end up in the cross-fire. That doesn't mean we haven't seen a llama explain its dominance to a human! Don't worry, it washes out just fine.

Camelids are still relatively rare in this country. This, combined with their uniqueness, and the usefulness and increasing market for their exquisite fleece, makes breeding and raising these delightful animals a profitably rewarding business venture as well. Schedule a visit to Tapestry Farm to learn more about these enchanting creatures…

Updated December 16, 2015