Frequently asked questions

What's the difference between an alpaca and a llama?

Alpacas and llamas are members of the camelid family. Llamas are pack animals, and about twice the size of the alpaca. Alpacas grow a prized coat of fiber, and are too small for use as a pack animal. And we think the alpaca is much cuter than its cousin, the llama.

How is alpaca fiber different from sheep's wool and other natural fibers?

Alpaca fiber is as fine as the finest wool, and is softer than cashmere. It is over 5 times as warm as sheep's wool. Alpaca is very soft, and is ideal for garments worn next to the skin. Alpaca comes in 22 natural colors, the widest range of any animal on the planet. It is among one of the world's most luxurious fibers. Alpaca fiber is stronger and warmer than sheep's wool and holds a much greater wicking capacity. Alpaca fiber is a hollow fiber, so it does not absorb moisture, but rather pushes water away from itself.

What is special about baby alpacas?

Alpacas have a single baby, called a cria (cree'-ah). It takes over 11 months for the baby to develop, and it weighs between 14 and 20 pounds at birth. Labor is typically short, from 1 to 3 hours, and births are usually daytime events. The cria is weaned at about 6 months. It is also when we train them to lead on a halter.

Are there different kinds of alpaca?

There are 2 kinds of alpaca - Suri (rhymes with jury) and Huacaya (wha-ki'-ya). Suri comprise about 10% of the world's alpacas, and Huacaya 90%. Suri fiber is long, straight, lustrous, and silky, often shorn every 2 years. Huacaya fiber is dense, crimpy, and warmer than Suri, and shorn annually in late spring. We raise Huacaya alpacas at Krystal Acres.

Why is alpaca so expensive?

There are a few reasons why alpaca fiber and knitwear made from alpaca fiber is so expensive. There are far fewer alpacas in the world than sheep for starters and there is a real lack of industrial infrastructure to process the specialty fiber. There are only about 350,000 alpacas in the U.S.. To put this in to perspective, there are 6 million sheep in the U.S. with mills able to process sheep's wool into yarn at around $18 per pound whereas processing alpaca fiber costs around $38 per pound. Additionally, it costs about $25-$35 to shear one alpaca versus $8-15 to shear one sheep. Mills also need specialty machinery or settings on machinery to process alpaca fiber as it is finer than sheeps' wool, and therefore cannot use the same mill machinery without making major adjustments.

Is alpaca fiber hypoallergenic?

Yes, it is! Alpaca fiber lacks barbs, scales and lanolin. Lanolin is traditionally found in sheep’s wool and irritates many wearers upon contact.

How long do alpacas live?

On average an alpaca lives 15-20 years. Our alpacas love living on San Juan Island so much, that one of our girls, Penny, is still grazing the pastures at the ripe old age of 22!!

How often do you shear alpacas?

We shear the alpacas once a year, usually right after Memorial Day. Shearing gets all that winter growth off their backs before the warmth of our long Summer days. The fleece grows back slowly over the Summer and into the early Fall, and by Winter it has grown enough to help keep them warm through the colder weather. By shearing time, the alpacas usually have grown about 3 to 4 inches thick of fleece.

What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas are happy to graze on a nice green pasture and can survive quite well on that diet alone if the pasture is well maintained and has good grasses appropriate for alpacas. We supplement their grazing with a good quality orchard grass hay, and a pelleted alpaca feed. As special treats, alpacas enjoy carrots, apples, and pears.

Why do we not allow visitor dogs at the farm?

As prey animals, alpacas are always on the alert. In their native lands, foxes are known to attack baby alpacas or crias. For that reason, it's best not to let even well-behaved dogs around alpacas. When the herd sees a dog, the alpacas will stand with their bodies rigidly erect and rotate their ears forward in the direction they are staring. This stance will come before an “alarm call” or rapid flight, if the herd interprets the dog as danger. Alpacas are known for living peacefully with dogs, when breeds such as Great Pyrenees, serve as livestock guard dogs and live within the alpaca barn and pasture.