Suri Alpacas are the rare type of alpaca and represent only about four percent of the world population of alpacas. Suri account for nearly ten percent of the North American alpaca population and experts in the industry doubt that the percentage will increase making the Suri a rare and valuable, long-term investment.
Suri Alpacas are distinguished in the camelid family because of their unique fleece characteristics. The fiber grows parallel to the body while hanging in long, separate, distinctive locks. Suri fleece presents an elegant and graceful look and it has been said to have been reserved for the Incan royalty. Suri is highly desirable in the fiber market and commands a premium price in the range of four to six dollars per ounce which is determined through a number of factors including luster, micron count, lack of guard hair and sometimes color, to name a few.
Male alpacas typically begin breeding at twenty-four months of age with some not becoming potent until thirty-six months and some impregnating females at just ten months of age. Successful mating requires audio, physical and chemical stimulation. Artificial Insemination, referred to by many as AI, has not yet been perfected with alpacas because a female must hear the male making a sound called orgling in order to release hormones necessary for successful mating. She also requires the physical stimulation of the male alpaca penis for a successful outcome.
Female alpacas typically begin breeding at eighteen months. But again, some are not sexually mature until two plus years and some have been impregnated at just eleven months. The gestation period for an alpaca ranges from 335 to 355 days. Typically, each birth results in only one baby called a cria. Crias normally weigh twelve to eighteen pounds. Twins can occur but are highly unusual and often don’t survive or are compromised.
During the eleven and a half month gestation, it is necessary to “spit test” a female. Simply putting a bred female into a pasture with a male alpaca does this and if she is no longer pregnant, she will cush down to breed with the male. If she is pregnant she will spit at the male and run away. Our program does a monthly spit test on each pregnant dam once per month. If there is any question about the pregnancy and we aren’t sure based on a dam’s behavior, we will have an ultrasound done for confirmation.
Alpacas are herd animals by nature so it is essential that you begin a farm or ranch with at least two animals. An option for those who choose to begin with one alpaca or are not zoned for farming, is boarding their alpacas at a farm with others. We do offer boarding, also called agistment, services at a Suri Farm, ltd.
One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is – how many acres do you need per alpaca? We’re guessing that most folks are thinking of horses that tend to tear up their pastures and need more room. Alpacas are very gentle on the ground and snip off the grass that they eat, unlike sheep or goats that tend to pull out wads of turf. Because of their efficiency, you can put five to ten alpacas on an acre depending upon the quality of your pastures. If your pasture is quite lush and free of weeds, you will be able to have more alpacas on the land. If the weather is uncooperative and you experience drought, then you’ll need to supply quality hay to your alpacas in addition to any grazing.
One thing we like to remind folks who talk with us about Suri alpacas - consider their native habitat, high in the Andes Mountains. It is a rough, almost barren land. Alpacas there must roam for miles to eat enough forage. And it’s cold … very cold. At 13,000+ feet above sea level, where the alpaca graze and crops won’t grow, the wind whips and the temperature drops at night. This is believed to be the reason alpacas have evolved over the centuries to deliver morning cria, so that they’d be dry by nightfall and not freeze to death in the frigid mountain air.
Being in the mountains isn’t all bad. It puts the alpaca closer to the sun and allows the absorption of various minerals and nutrients that they simply don’t get at lower elevations. That is why we should as breeders, test our pastures and hay for their mineral content and feed quality. The fiber production and overall health of alpaca are impacted by the quality of the food they ingest. No different really than any other being.
We have been so pleased with the Suri program we’ve built at our farm. And we continue to learn … every day about these amazing creatures. Improving the North American alpaca is an overall goal of the industry. And on our farm, that is a priority as we continue to breed for the finest quality Suri alpacas possible. We only have one regret; it is that we didn’t start our business sooner by taking advantage of the ability to buy and agist animals while we searched for our farm property.