Alpacas & Llamas are a niche livestock which allows owners with small holdings acreages to trade and earn income from their land if they wish. They also allow owners to diversify from other livestock and farming methods. Whilst still being fairly rare within the UK, they are growing in popularity because of their high value, high-quality fleeces they produce, and because they are extremely cute. The last point may be entirely subjective, but it is still valid.
Alpacas and Llamas originally come from South America, most notably Peru, Chile and Bolivia. They were treasured by the ancient Inca civilisation. The fine fleeces they produce were reserved for Incan Royalty only. The history of Alpacas and Llamas was less kind once the Spanish arrived in South America, who saw them as a competitor to sheep and were slaughtered, almost to the point of extinction, as a source of meat.
Because Alpacas were so revered by the Incans, they survived as they were taken into exile with the surviving Incans. It wasn’t until the 1800s when Alpaca fleeces came back into fashion as these remarkable coats were ‘rediscovered’ and started being promoted by tailors and fashion houses across Europe. This demand for the remarkable fur has grown ever since, and there are now 35,000 registered alpacas in the UK.
Llamas were selectively bred to produce strong animals for carrying loads during travel. This is why there is a size difference between Llamas and Alpacas. It wasn’t until the 20th century that they were rediscovered, however this time breeders saw the value in the Llama fur and fibre and not as a pack animal. There are currently between 2000 and 4000 Llamas registered in the UK.
Alpacas and Llamas are often mentioned as being the same, but they quite different. Llamas are much bigger having been bred as pack animals. Alpaca fleece is curlier and denser, which makes it warmer. This mean it is used for clothing and can fetch more money. Llama fleece is usually used for rugs and blankets rather than clothes.
Both Llamas and Alpacas can be friendly and approachable. Each animal will have their own personalities, but as a whole are found to be sweet, loveable and even huggable once trained and if they allow you! Llamas are considered to be the calmer and friendly breed of the two, which is why you’re more likely to find Llamas as pets. This is because they have long helped people move items as a pack animal, and so are more comfortable with humans. It has been suggested that Alpacas are like cats, whereas Llamas are more like dogs. They’ll only spit or bite if they have been abused and feel threatened.
As they are both herd animals, you should have at least two of them. For llamas, other hooved animals, such as sheep, can be companions as well as other Llamas.
2 . They protect other animals
Stand aside, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Camelids are here! Alpacas, with their acute sense of smell are quite efficient at being guard animals, keeping predators away from their offspring, but also sheep, chickens, and poultry. Llamas are instinctively alert and aware of their surroundings and can draw attention to a potential intruder with an alarm call. Not every Llama or Alpaca will excel at being on guard duty however, and has been found that they work better as a single Llama or Alpaca unit when guarding than as a herd.
From the ancient Incans, to the fashion houses of Europe, Llama and Alpaca fur has been in demand across time. Both Alpaca and Llama fur is coarse and fibrous, due to being built to survive hard mountain life. Alpaca fur is preferred to Llama fur for clothing as it is soft and easy to work with. Llama wool has to be separated from the coarse fibres which makes it rather expensive to work with.
It is warmer and stronger than other fabrics, such as cashmere, and softer than wool, which it is in such demand. Wearing a natural fibre has a multitude of benefits to the wearer. It naturally regulates temperature, wicks away moisture and even deters dust mites. It is used by Italian designers for yarn, and London Tailers use it to make the finest suits.
It is Hypoallergenic, and a great alternative to sheep wool as it is not prickly and does not contain lanolin. Plus, it’s a valuable commodity which fetches a nice selling price.
Llama and Alpaca poo is a gardeners dream compost.
It contains everything good about livestock manures – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium – but with added goodness. Their manure is almost weed seed free, so gardeners don’t have to worry about the spread of weeds in the gardens. This is because they are natively from high altitude plains of South America where they must digest everything they can.
It also doesn’t smell like normal manure, which makes it much nicer to work with. Apparently the ‘smell’ is quite offensive to deers and gardeners have reported using it and the local deers ceasing their eating of plants.
But probably the biggest bonus is that llama and alpaca poo can be used straight away on garden beds without risk of ‘burn’ that other manures risk due to their high nitrogen content.
You can have around 5-7 animals per Acre, or if you have half an acre, you can have around 2-3. This of course depends on how good your grass is. The more animals you have, the more you’ll have to supplement their diet with specialist feed. Llamas are about twice the size of alpacas so need a bit more space. Around 4 llamas per acre is recommended. You can have higher amounts of Alpacas or Llamas if you can rotate grazing areas.
Remember they are a herd animal and cannot be kept alone, so you cannot keep one in your garden.
Do you own Llamas or Alpacas? We’d love to hear any advice you have in the comments!