Canada’s alpaca population has been rising over the past 14 years, as farmers say the animals are easy to work with and its coat continues to rise in popularity for clothing.
In Canada, there are close to 28,500 alpacas —an increase of nearly 50 per cent over the past fourteen years, according to the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association. Close to 40 per cent of the country’s llama and alpaca population is in Alberta.
The trend is new to some Alberta farmers, but others jumped on the long-necked bandwagon years ago.
Leanne and Kevin Sept bought an alpaca to graze the grass on their Leduc County acreage a little over two decades ago, but now the family owns close to a hundred at Sunnyhill Alpacas.
“Their temperament is really good. They’re easy to work with because they’re not big animals. You only have to sheer them once a year. Typically their births are fairly easy. They don’t eat a lot. They all poop in the same spot.,” said Leanne Sept.
The couple are also co-owners of Twisted Sisters & Company Fibre Mill.
Leanne says it’s a lengthy process to turn alpaca fibre into yarn and there’s almost a two-year waiting list at the fibre mill.
“I’m turning away one or two customers a week at least,” said Leanne Sept.
She says more mills are opening and she hopes they will pick up the slack, as the interest in using alpaca fibre for clothing continues to grow.
“We’re finding more and more uses for the fibre. Socks are huge. The socks are amazing. Everybody likes their socks,” said Jody Pellerin, the vice president of the Canadian Llama and Alpaca Association (CLAA).
The rise in Alberta’s alpaca population is concerning for Pellerin. She says quite often she’s contacted by people who have already acquired one and want more info.
“I probably get five to 10 calls a week from people looking for information on alpacas that have just been bought off the Internet or you know through Facebook or through Kijiji or they’ve picked it up from Aunt Sally or whatever, but then they don’t get the after sales support,” she said.
“And then they have no idea how to take care of an alpaca. They have no registration. They have no idea of what the animal is or where it’s come from.”
South of Edmonton, Rynn Parraw, a shaman therapist with a doctorate in parapsychology, works with a client to work on working on creating deep relationships. Parraw uses the animals in therapy sessions.
They stand inside a pen of a dozen alpacas as the client approaches the animals, analyzing their movements and the client’s reactions.
Over the past 12 years, Parraw has worked with close to 300 clients.
“It amplifies the emotional experience for people. They are small enough that people aren’t afraid or intimidated. So you’re more likely to interact in a comfortable way,” Parraw said.
“They do still protect themselves. They alarm. They spit they can kick. So they still have that ability to push you away. But I find the people are much more receptive to them.”
As for new owners of the long-necked mammal, Pellerin of the CLAA recommends registering alpacas with the association, so they can track it’s genetic lineage. Inbreeding can lead to deformities and affect the quality of the animal’s fur, she said.