Alpacas have been domesticated for over 5,000 years and played a central role in the ancient Inca civilization. They were treasured for their incredibly soft, luxurious fiber, and believed to be a gift from the gods. Like the Andes, the climate of Northern Vermont promotes all the qualities that are sought after in Alpacas. Is it any wonder that many local farms here in Vermont have now begun to raise these “gifts of the Gods”.
Alpacas are members of the camelid family that were domesticated thousands of years ago by the inhabitants of the Andes Mountains in South America. These ancient herders developed two types of domestic animals from native wild camelids: the llama, which was used as a beast of burden, and the alpaca, which was raised for its fiber. Alpaca fiber is known as one of the world’s luxury fibers, similar to cashmere in its fineness and softness. There are two distinct breeds of alpacas. The more common breed is the huacaya, which has a crimped fleece and a “fluffy” appearance. Suri alpacas are less common and have fiber that grows in long locks. Both animals are prized for the fineness, softness, and brightness of their fiber.
Until recently, Peru, Chile and Bolivia were home to virtually all the world’s alpacas. In 1984, alpacas were first imported into the United States and, today, there are over 100,000 alpacas being raised in all areas of the United States. This boom in North American alpacas has been driven by both the demand for their fiber and for the animals themselves. There is a growing market for alpaca fiber for hand spinning and fiber artists as well as commercial processing into yarn, clothing and house wares. Alpacas themselves are also valued in the United States as pets, fiber producers, and breeding stock.