Ten Things You Never Knew About Suri Alpacas

Published on Thu, 08/07/2014 - 4:18pm

The U.S. history of Suri alpacas began with the importation of 100 of the white animals in 1991. Previously, the breed was unknown in this country, even among the handful of breeders who had imported Huacayas. The Suri remains a mystery to many, little known outside its native Andean high plains of South America.

When people in the U.S. think of alpacas, they typically picture a small, docile creature with dense springy fiber—like a big sheep with a long neck. This breed is called a Huacaya.

A less familiar breed is the Suri. The most obvious difference between Suri and Huacaya alpacas is their coats. Instead of the sheep-like coat of the Huacaya, the Suri’s coat—or fiber—consists of long, distinctive locks that drape down the sides of their body. Suri fiber has a cool, slick feel that combines cashmere’s softness, wool’s warmth, and silk’s luster. 

Here are few reason why you might consider raising them:

Rarity – It’s estimated that the worldwide Suri alpaca population is only around 100,000—less than 10 percent of the total alpaca population. In the U.S., there are currently 32,000 registered Suri alpacas, representing about 24 percent of the entire U.S. population.  

Style – Few animals are more beautiful than a Suri running through the pasture, locks swaying while catching the sun with their brilliant luster. 

A rescued breed – Although Suri alpacas have been a distinct breed in South America for thousands of years, commercial fiber mills aren’t geared toward processing their fiber. For this reason, many Suris were culled from South American alpaca herds, making them extremely rare. Fortunately, the Suri’s numbers have grown steadily in the U.S. over the past 20 years.

Unique fiber – One large advantage Suri has over cashmere, camel, and vicuña is the longer staple length, meaning Suri fiber doesn’t pill as easily. It also has an unusually high tensile strength, making it ideal for industrial processing. 

In demand – Suri fiber is currently coveted by the fashion industry and cherished by hand-spinners. Along with its strength and feel, Suri fiber’s ability to accept color dyes makes it a favorite. Suri fiber blends well with other natural fibers and can be knit, crocheted, or woven. 

Adaptable – Suri locks form a part and lay flat along the back of the animal, exposing the skin. This is a plus in hot climates because it allows for better evaporative cooling. While this same area can lose heat in the winter, proper management techniques enable Suri alpacas to breed successfully in northern climates.

The Suri Network – Members can take advantage of marketing, research, and educational opportunities—for both alpaca breeders and the general public – which are all designed to increase knowledge and awareness of this wonderful breed.

Breed standard – In 2006, U.S. breeders adopted a standard to help the Suri achieve recognition as a production livestock breed. Written with input from breeders from all over the country, this standard will help guide future development of the Suri breed.

Research support – The Suri Network Product Development Committee actively seeks to identify, fund, and conduct research projects that will help the North American Suri industry compete in the world market. 

We’re number one – The U.S. is positioned to surpass South America’s total Suri fiber production in five to ten years. This gives breeders a tremendous opportunity in shaping future demand of Suri fiber.

One of the biggest challenges of the industry is to expand the numbers of Suri alpacas in order to produce a consistent amount of high-quality fiber for commercial yarn production. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to attract more breeders into this market. Alpacas are ideal for both small- and large-scale farms and ranches. Easy to raise, the Suri is a great breed for those with existing livestock operations or first timers.