Friday, December 5, 2014


We visited an alpaca ranch in Virginia recently. Alpacas are part of a family made up of several other camel-like creatures including llamas, vicuñas, and guanacos. They are considerably smaller than llamas and are bred for their coats.

Llamas and alpacas are indigenous to the same areas of South America, countries through which the Andes pass and where their natural habitat is found thousands of feet above sea level. Llamas are used as beasts of burden while the alpaca's coat are used as a fiber similar to wool for woven and knitted clothing. This little guy was the prize male of the ranch's owner. His name was Freedom.

These are some of the young born earlier this year. They name them similar to the way race horses are named where each parent has two names and they do a creative cross to come up with a third name that reflects their lineage.

I'm not sure what the Freedom was worth, but the owner was dropping figures like $2-300,000 for some of the males used in breeding that other people in the "sport" had paid. The reason Freedom looks so alert here is because the owner had just brought three females into the room. Like most of the other camelids, alpacas spit. Freedom didn't spit at any humans but he did spit at a female that got close to him. My impression was he was saying, "Hey, ghurl. Wassup?"

The alpacas had been shorn in late summer, so their coats were pretty short, but they get quite heavy by shearing time. The quality of the fibers determines the worth of the animal.

The dogs are Great Pyrenees. They are used because they are such good guard dogs. They actually stay with the alpacas all the time to fend off threats like coyotes or, in the case of newborns, even eagles. The owners wife talked about how her dogs would follow a soaring hawk over the fields and bark at them, warning them to keep going.

The owner, who is also a university professor, loved to talk about every aspect of their lives. One of the surprising facts about their lives was what they had to do to keep them cool during particularly hot summer days. Because they live so high in the mountains, they are used to being much more comfortable in cold weather and heat really can be a problem. If a male gets too hot, it can actually affect his ability to produce offspring! At the price they are paying for them, an infertile male would be a disaster.

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