Today they have about 100 Suri Alpacas and they just finished shearing their fleece for the season.
Alpacas are fleece animals from the Andes
Mountains of Peru,
They weigh from 100-175 lbs and live 15-25 years. Each year they need to be
shorn, like sheep, for their fine wool fleece. There are two alpaca varieties,
the more common Huacaya, which grow fluffy, crimped fleece, and the rare
variety that David Moran farms, called Suri Alpacas, whose fleece grow in
straight, silky locks.
“The animal is laid out and stretched out,” Moran says. “It’s
not like shearing a sheep. Shearing an alpaca is a little bit different in that
we lay them out and shear one side. And what Chris is doing, he’s taking off
the best fiber right now, which we call the blanket. And he’s shearing it onto
this plastic sheath. We’ll collect the blankets as the best fleece and we’ll
throw the rest of it away.”
Just like camels, alpacas will spit if they are really
upset, and it’s no ordinary spit. Traveling shearing-man Christopher Aiken says
running and spitting are the only defense mechanisms of the alpacas, which,
standing only about five feet tall would otherwise seem like an easy meal.
“If you wanted to kill an alpaca and you were a predator,”
says Aiken, “it would be pretty easy to get one and kill it, but in the process
of that, I guarantee you get spit on. And if you got spit on by an alpaca, you’re
stinky and it doesn’t go away. So in the wild everything is going to smell you
coming for the next year. So you aren’t going to eat again for a year. So
probably, it taught the predators, stay away from the alpaca or you starve.”
When Moran decided to go into the alpaca industry, he went
back to school to learn about animal husbandry and now he serves as an adjunct
professor at West Virginia University.
He’s become an expert in all things Alpaca and teaches a class called Camelid
Husbandry. He says there are four new-world camels including the alpaca and the
llama, and two old-world camels with which most people are more familiar.
“We believe that the common ancestor to all six of these
animals was actually indigenous to North America,”
“And somehow or another, hundreds of thousands of years ago the animals
split up and some of them drifted north and across to Asia
and down into Africa and the others drifted south
into South America and they evolved into these other
Moran teaches that of the four, South American species are
wild while the llama and the alpaca were domesticated and used for their fiber
fleece by the Incas.
“We think that their production of fiber was about twice as
good as what we do now,” Moran says. “Nobody knows why. But any of the samples
that we’ve been able to find in grave sites and that sort of thing are
incredibly fine, beautiful alpaca fibers.”
Aiken, who has also been involved in the alpaca industry for
quite some time, also has an alpaca farm in California—or
an alpaca ranch as they call them in the west. He says breeding for beautiful
and fine fleece has always been the objective.
did a big study recently on fiber micron, which is the fineness of fiber,”
Aiken says. “They found that with more nutrition the fiber is getting coarser.
So actually, the more you starve these animals, the finer the fiber is.
they’ve come out of Altipano where—there’s almost nothing to eat down
there—their fiber is becoming more and coarser if anything. And we like to
over-feed our animals and feed them grain and hay and all this stuff that they
would never get down there.”
Moran says that the alpaca breeding industry isn’t lucrative
like it used to be before the recession in 2008, but alpacas are still fun
animals to farm.
“This is a good family livestock because they’re small
enough that anyone can work with them. It’s not like working with cattle which
is tough to do and you have to have a lot of heavy-duty equipment. And they
love children. Anybody who is shorter than them, they love. And so they will just
gravitate towards kids.
"The best showmen in the ring are young girls and boys
showing alpaca. They’re just fantastic because the alpaca respect them, they’re
not threatened by them, and they’ll do whatever the kids want them to do,”
Moran says most every alpaca heard needs a guard llama.
“A llama will actually face a threat. For instance, we have
coyotes all around us and the llama will face the coyote. That doesn’t mean she
could win in a fight between her and a coyote, but a coyote doesn’t really know
what a llama is.
"They look at it, they’ve never seen one and they are a little
hesitant to take it on because they just don’t know what it looks like. So in a
field she will turn toward the threat and then make an alarm cry. And all the
alpaca will run around and stand behind her.”
Moran says maintaining the health and safety of alpaca is an
important job that does require work and attention, but that nonetheless, they
make great pets.