John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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The Alpaca Industry in the United States

The alpaca industry in the United States began in the 1980's when small numbers of alpacas were imported from Chile.

In the United States there was initially little differentiation made between alpacas and their close relatives the llama.  Bear in mind, at the time there was a thriving breeding market in llamas, so alpacas were largely seen as a curiosity. (Many of the original importers and/or owners of alpacas were major players in the llama industry at the time.)

By 1988 US alpaca owners saw the need to organize themselves, and they formed what was to become the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association (AOBA).  The same year they began work on the creation of a registry in which to record the pedigree of their alpacas.  At first the US registry was maintained as a sub-registry of the International Lama Registry (ILR).

The ILR originally used blood typing to assure that pedigrees of alpacas were accurate.  In later years the registry adopted more stringent DNA testing to verify pedigree.

The alpaca registry remained associated with the ILR for over a decade, but the relationship between AOBA and ILR was strained from the beginning.  In part, this was due to the desire of alpaca owners to maintain a registry independent from the llama registry, and to assure that only alpacas were admitted into it.  This led to the creation of the Alpaca Registry, Inc. (ARI) that, while administered by ILR, was in many ways independent of both ILR and AOBA.

By 1990 ARI had formed a screening committee to insure that all animals admitted into the registry met certain minimum standards.  Fees charged for the screening of imported animals ($500 per head) provided the alpaca registry a significant amount of income, and in 1995 the Alpaca Registry, Inc. was formally created.

By 1998 a storm was brewing.  Large numbers of alpacas were being imported from South America into both the US and Canada, and some North American breeders worried that the domestic markets would become saturated with imported animals.  After a period of intense debate, the ARI was closed to further imports.

Between 1998 and the present (late 2007) the National herd has grown significantly, and now numbers in excess of 100,000 registered head.  There are an unknown number of non-registered alpacas in the United States, as well as a number of animals registered through the Canadian registry. 

The growth in herd size is having a predictable effect on the U.S. Alpaca industry.  There are clear signs of a dichotomy of purpose within the industry.  On the one hand, many would like to see maintain the breeder's market for as long as possible, and some even state their desire to model the industry on that of the Thoroughbred horse industry.  On the other hand, a growing number of breeders see the industry as being inextricably tied to alpaca fiber, and see a more traditional livestock industry emerging with production herds sustaining a high end seed stock industry.  

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"The foreman turned round to hear patiently and, lifting an elbow, began to scratch slowly in the armpit of his alpaca jacket..."

James Joyce
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