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According to ancient Incan legend, alpacas were loaned to humans on Mt. Ausangate in Peru, left on earth as long as they were treated well and respected. Domesticated for over 5000 years, they were used by the Incas for food, fuel, clothing, and transportation, although today their usage commercially is mainly for their fleece.
Alpaca wool is considered as soft as cashmere and lighter than sheep?s wool, and is fine and strong. Alpacas come in 22 basic colors, including white, black, brown, grey, tan, and cream. The finest part of alpaca fleece is found on their back and sides. They are sheered much like sheep and the fiber is combed, carded, and after a basic cleaning process is ready to spin. Two types of alpaca and therefore two fiber types exist: the more common huacaya, which have a dense, crimped and wooly fiber, and the rarer suri, which have long, separate locks with a high luster that hang much like the fur of afghan hounds.
Alpacas themselves are herd-oriented and known for their soft, pleasant humming. Other alpaca means of communication include body posture to indicate social order and spitting when extremely provoked. They live 15-25 years and weigh 100-170 pounds. They have long necks, large eyes, a short tail, ears that point outwards and are a member of the camelid family (which also includes llamas). They were introduced to the United States in 1984, but almost 99 % of the world?s 3 million alpacas still live in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia.
Environmentally friendly, alpacas have padded feet without hooves, doing little damage to their terrain. They also have a 3 compartment stomach and digest their diet of grasses and hay efficiently. Their camel ancestry means that they drink little water. A study by Ohio State?s College of Veterinary Medicine concluded that alpacas were one of the lowest risk species to humans in North American agriculture, because they are cleanly with their feces and do not carry any harmful pathogens. While still small in numbers in United States, alpacas are a growing agricultural business and one that is uncommonly earth friendly.
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