This is basic information I have learned as I have been researching these great animals. For more information from better resources please see “my links” page.
The Camelid family
Llamas (Lama glama) and Alpacas (Lama pacos) are members of the Camelid family and have similarities to their distant cousins the Camels. Other South American camelids include the Vicuna (Lama vicunga) and Guanaco (Lama guanicoe).
Their inclusion in this family is based upon their characteristic traits of being hornless, cud-chewing ruminants with an even number of toes and padded feet.
Trimming toenails is another once a year job. Some animals will need it done twice a year. Again it is not difficult to learn to do and most of my animals accept that it is something the crazy farmer wants to do to them. I prefer trimming alpaca toenails over doing dog toenails !
There are two types of Alpacas. These are Huacayas and Suris. While they are similar in many ways, there are several key differences. World-wide, Huacayas account for 98% of all alpacas, while Suris only account for 2%. Both Suris and Huacayas come in a variety of colors. The only major difference their fiber. Huacayas have wavy and fluffy fiber, while Suris have long, fiber that looks similar to dreadlocks.
Huacaya (pronounced as wuh-kai-ya) have fluffy fiber – think of cotton balls or cuddly, teddy-bear look. Huacayas are the most common of alpaca. This look is because their fiber stands upright, perpendicular to their skin. Huacaya fiber is popular among spinners because it is easier to spin. A dense Huacaya may shear up to 10 pounds of fiber per year but 5 pounds is closer to an average.
Suri is the rarer alpaca. Suris have long, shiny, locks of fiber (fleece) which are both soft and wavy. Suri fiber is also more valuable than Huacaya fiber. Many beginning spinners mix Suri fiber with cotton, wool, or silk because Suri fiber is much more slippery to spin. However, experienced spinners prefer Suri fiber because of the extreme luster. Suri fiber is quite long and has an almost string-like appearance. High-quality Suris have tightly twisted locks with very high luster. Luster is actually more important to Suri fiber than fineness.
While colors are similar among Huacayas and Suris, Suris have certain colors and markings that are uncommon among the Huacayas. For instance, there are many beautiful appaloosa Suris, but appaloosa Huacayas are extremely rare. Conversely, grey Suris are extremely rare, but there are many grey Huacayas.
The differences and variations among the two types of Alpacas are not significantly relevant with regards to production or the survival.
Alpaca are herd animals and require a group to be happy. The Alpacas have no real defense against predators except alert calls from the rest of the herd. And then all they run away.
Llamas are not split up into "breeds", rather, llamas are the entire species. Now there are four potential divisions of fiber classifications. They are “Classic” or short wool, Medium, Heavy wool and then the ultra rare Suri.
I would say Llama are larger than Alpaca in general. I have seen a farm that is raising miniatures that are as small as alpaca. The real appeal of the Llama is the personality traits they can have. Some are used for guard animals for other herd animals, sheep, goats, cattle… They are just as curious as Alpaca but have less flight instinct. They stay around watching are willing to be petted and love to work by carrying items. The Alpaca’s body structure is not made for carrying items. Fiber quality can be as good as Alpaca. That can be a hot topic to discuss among owners of each.