Califonia Bountiful

Why are llamas and alpacas suddenly everywhere?

January/February 2020 California Bountiful magazine

And what's the difference between the two?

Fluffy farm animals, llamas and alpacas are challenging the unicorn as today's beloved creatures. Their unique appearance and pun-ready names have made them a trendy choice for children's books and quirky décor such as pajamas, wall art, throw pillows, folding chairs and office supplies.

Maureen Macedo of Macedo's Mini Acre in Turlock raises alpacas for fleece, as well as llamas and miniature horses, with her husband, Larry. The ranch hosts "picnic with the alpaca" events in the summer.

"We get a kick out of their recent popularity and are thoroughly enjoying the 'in' moment," she said.

Graceful and smart, both species of camelid cousins are native to the Andes Mountains and have been bred for thousands of years as pack animals, for fiber and, in some countries, for meat, Macedo said.

"We conduct tours of our ranch and frequently show people the difference between llamas and alpacas," she said.

  • Alpacas have a blunt face and spear-shaped ears. Smaller than llamas, an average alpaca weighs around 150 pounds and stands about 3 feet tall at the shoulder. 
  • Alpacas are gentle, inquisitive and easy to handle because of their temperament and relatively small size. They require minimal fencing and can be pastured on small acreages. 
  • Alpacas produce one of the world's finest and most luxurious natural fibers. Warm, light and strong, alpaca fleece comes in 16 basic colors, with many variations and blends. 
  • First imported to the U.S. in 1984, alpacas are successfully raised throughout North America.
  • There are two breeds of alpacas—Huacaya (shown above) and Suri. They have almost identical body types, but very different fleece types and therefore different uses in garments. 

  • Llamas have a long face and banana-shaped ears. An average llama weighs as much as 440 pounds and at the shoulder stands about 4 feet tall. 
  • Highly intelligent and curious, llamas are easily trained and can be taught to pull a cart and negotiate obstacles. 
  • Llamas have fleece that's less fine than alpacas and less abundant. But it's a high-quality fiber that is warm and light and can be spun, woven and knitted into scarves, hats, coats, sweaters, shawls and rugs.
  • Less timid than alpacas, llamas can be used as guard animals for sheep and other livestock.
  • Bred primarily as pack animals, llamas are sure-footed and can carry loads up to a quarter of their weight.

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