The Garden State boasts at least 47 farms that are home to the animals, which are considered good sources of income for their fiber, which is made into roving, fabric, and yarn.
April and May are the best time for alpacas to be sheared before the hot summer weather, and many farms are beginning now to harvest the three to five pounds of fur each alpaca yields. Some of the farms even host an annual "shearing day" commemorating the day. Contact a farm to schedule a visit.
Alpacas were domesticated from vicuna over 5,000 years ago. This makes them the world's oldest breed of livestock. The vicuna's coppery-gold fleece is the finest and most expensive natural fiber in the universe, selling for as much as $2,000 per square yard of cloth.
When the Incas ruled Peru, alpaca fiber measured two microns finer than cashmere. Then came the conquistadors with their merino sheep from Spain. In the Colonial period that followed the Spanish conquest of Peru, the alpaca began a long period of decline until today there are fewer than 2.5 million alpacas in the world.
In 1983, the first alpaca were exported from South America to the United States. Before that export, alpacas were found only in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. Today alpacas are being raised in Australia, Japan, Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, and Israel.
For the last 500 years, alpacas have been tended by the Quechua Indians who have been unaware of the modern advances in animal breeding based on the relatively new science of genetics. Today, alpaca breeders worldwide are unlocking the genetic treasure chest of the alpaca. Both the suri and huacaya breed of alpaca are being rediscovered and rapidly returned to their place at the pinnacle of fiber producing livestock. We, as breeders, are only beginning to understand the ultimate value of the alpaca.