How do alpaca farmers honor ancient Peruvian traditions?
Who doesn't love cute alpacas? Even better: did you know that alpacas have been adored (and loved) for thousands of years already? True fact. But why so long already? And have many things changed in the Andes and how locals treat the alpacas?The next time you want to impress someone with some fluffy facts, you'll have this information to share with people.
An alpaca way of living
The Incas were quite obsessed with the fleece of alpacas.
It kept them warm and the high quality made it fit for royalty.
They even valued alpaca fiber more than gold and silver.
Nowadays, beautiful products are still made of alpaca fiber. Providing a crucial income for Peruvian alpaca shepherds.
Being a shepherd in Peru is not a one-(wo)man-job.
It is a way of living for the entire family. Often you will see three family generations taking care of the alpaca herd.
An alpaca herd will contain of approximately 30-50 alpacas. Keeping a close eye out on the well-being of the herd and which alpacas need shearing are important daily tasks.
Keeping the herd big and healthy is what is best for the families and the alpacas.
Shearing is one of the ways to achieve this.
Shepherds and traditional alpaca shearing
Shearing is necessary once a year.
Without shearing an alpaca would eventually pass away, since the fiber keeps on growing.
When it's time for shearing the alpacas are led to a stone corral. Alpacas tend to get used to this process quickly.
The shepherds lead the alpaca to the required spot and put the alpaca on its side.
When the alpaca is down, the head will be kept down during the entire shearing process.
Often, it is the women of the family that perform the actual shearing.
A sharp knife is used for this process as machines are not available high up in the Andes.
Shearing is done with caution and respect for the alpacas.
Alpacas on average live 18 to 24 years, but not all alpacas reach these numbers.
Sadly, external factors can shorten the lifespan of these wooly animals.
Sickness, extreme weather events, climate change, genetics or accidents can cause for early deaths.
Every year, 10% of the total population of alpacas in the Andes (approximately 4 million) passes away due to natural causes.
This means that 400.000 pelts become available for the shepherds, excluding the amount of alpaca wool that is shorn.
However, the actual number might be a bit less, since not all pelts are used or processed in time.
On average, an alpaca grows 5 to 7 pounds of wool per year, which is used for many woven products, such as the Alpaca Throws or Alpaca Scarves.
Luckily, there's no shortage of alpaca fiber or pelts.
Nature in balance
The shepherds in the Andean Highlands have strong family ties and traditional values.
Alpaca farmers working together closely with the alpacas is a great modern-day example of how animals and humans can live together and benefit from each other durably and with respect.
Of course, alpacas are just amazing to look at.
Alpacas & Sustainability