ALPACAS ARE GREEN
…and That’s Nothing to Spit At!
By Cindy Harris
In this age of environmental consciousness there is much controversy over sound and humane ways to raise commercial livestock. All species—cattle, sheep, chickens, pigs, goats—seem to be under more scrutiny by the USDA, as well as groups concerned with global warming, humane treatment, and healthful practices in packaging and shipping.
Environmentalists concerned with greenhouse gases worry about the volume of methane gas produced by large herds of cattle. Chicken and goat ranches are becoming rare in rural areas due to complaints by encroaching housing developments. Animal rights groups are understandably up in arms about the inhumane treatment of many suppliers of food animals. Although livestock is necessary for food and other essential products, working with animals presents problems. The North American Alpaca offers healthy, natural solutions to today’s difficult livestock problems.
Environmental issues are of paramount importance, and alpacas are uniquely positioned to take a special place in the farms, ranches and hearts of America as the livestock of the 21st century.
The alpaca is the luxury fleece-producing cousin of the llama. Because they are much smaller than the llama, they are easily manageable by women and children, and extremely well-suited to small family farms.
Resource consumption is a concern with all agricultural enterprises. Alpacas have minimal impact on Mother Earth. They are quiet, and consume far less food and water, pound for pound, than other common livestock breeds. They are modified ruminants, having 3 stomachs, and are very efficient users of their food. Their pellet-like manure is relatively low in nitrogen, making it the perfect ph-balanced natural fertilizer. There is virtually no odor, it composts quickly with little methane gas release, and is even useful as a bio-fuel.
Alpacas are also kind to the ground they walk on. Being camelids, their feet consist of two soft oval pads and toenails rather than a hard hoof, so even in wet conditions pastures are not trampled and bogged. Alpacas have no upper incisor teeth, although they do have efficient grinders in the back. Because they cut grass and hay with their bottom incisors against a hard palate, they are not destructive to the roots of grasses and native plants, ensuring that pastures will last longer and grow better.
The alpaca is first and foremost a fleece-producing animal, like the merino sheep and cashmere goat. Unlike other species, however, we do not slaughter alpacas for meat in the United States. One of their strengths in this quickly growing phase of the industry is their longevity, producing fleece and offspring for close to 20 years.
Alpaca fleece is ecologically sound because unlike sheep, they do not produce lanolin, so the fleece has no need for harsh chemicals in processing. They also live on a simple, natural diet of hay, grass, and simple grain and mineral compounds and are not subject to many of the diseases that are common in other species.
The fleece itself is lighter, warmer and softer than sheep’s wool. It also has the advantage of a longer staple length than cashmere, making it more durable despite the extreme softness. Garments made from the prime fleece are largely hypoallergenic because of the lack of lanolin and the smooth texture of the yarn.
Coarser grades of alpaca fleece, usually from the legs, belly, and neck, retain the durability and wonderful thermal qualities of the finer fleece, so are well-suited for outer garments, socks, blankets, rugs, and upholstery. Even scraps from the shearing room floor can be put to such creative uses as insulating outdoor pipes and composting.
We can say, then, with confidence that alpacas are THE environmentally friendly livestock. Alpaca fleece is the natural alternative to synthetic petroleum-based products. It is:
Sustainable—there is an ever-growing American herd on the horizon
Natural—not synthetic and absolutely biodegradable
Renewable—every year there is a fresh and growing supply of fleece
Durable—archeologists have found remains of Incan alpaca textiles
Organic—there is no need for the use of chemicals in raising alpacas or processing their fleece
Recyclable—many an alpaca baby blanket has been handed down through generations of children, its final destination the compost heap to help grow new pasture for the next generation of alpacas