John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Alpacas are a unique breed of livestock with many characteristics setting them apart from traditional types.  Owners often use words like "calming" or "magical" when describing these animals.

A herd animal, alpacas do not do well when they lack the company of other alpacas.  While they have been successfully run with sheep or goats, a lone alpaca will show many signs of stress.

Alpacas demonstrate a "striding" gait unique to camelids. Rather than walking with alternating front and back legs, they will lift both legs on the same side when walking forward.  (Camels also walk this way, creating a swaying motion that has led to them being called, "The ships of the desert.")

Herds of alpacas will generally stay in close proximity to each other.  In fact, an early sign of illness in an alpaca will often be that they have separated themselves from the rest of the herd.  These herds tend to form communal dung piles, a trait that helps the alpaca owner's manure management, and one that helps prevent the spread of parasites.

Males will readily form bachelor herds, and if kept out of sight of females will co-exist peacefully.  However, if females are visible then the males may become quite aggressive towards each other.  It is not uncommon to see them wrestle each other to the ground, ram each others chests, or even attempt to castrate each other with their sharp "fighting teeth" (which should be removed as soon as they erupt at age 2-3). 

Alpacas tend to be most active in the morning and at dusk.  It is not uncommon to see play behavior in the late afternoon and early evening, especially with the youngsters.  They will chase each other around the pastures at high speed, and will occasionally be found "pronking".  The pronk, as it is known, is a springing gait.  The legs can hardly be seen to move as the animals spring about the pasture, often chasing each other, and clearly expressing joy.

They have excellent eyesight and will often spot things at long distance that mere humans are unaware of.  We have seen our herd get quite excited at cattle on a hillside a mile away, cats hiding in the tall grass, or at night possums, raccoons, or other animals that we have been totally unable to see or identify.  They can spot a strange dog from a significant distance, and the herd will gather together and sound alarm calls.

Alpacas are extremely curious.  Youngsters will often approach such novelties as birds in there pasture, obviously trying to figure out exactly what they are seeing.  (This can be problematic with things such as poisonous snakes, and snake bites are not uncommon.)

They have a wide range of vocalizations, the most common being a gentle "hum".  They have a distinct, loud and piercing alarm call.  They can sometimes be heard clucking their tongues, usually towards their young.

Their herd instinct is strong, and they form clear bonds with their herd mates. When a herd suffers a death, there are often signs of mourning.  Likewise, when a former herd mate returns (like a female returning to the farm for breeding) the entire herd will excitedly run out to greet them.  This herd bonding is striking, and unlike any other livestock that we have encountered.

While often billed as "huggable," we have found alpacas to be stand-offish.  They generally do not like human touch, although they will tolerate it when it comes time for normal husbandry tasks.


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"A wrinkled face like an old woman's, came shuffling slowly along in list slippers, a shiny alpaca overcoat hanging on his stooping shoulders, no ribbon at his buttonhole, the sleeves of an under-vest..."

- Honoré de Balzac
Cousin Betty
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