sheep and alpacas eating hay

Are Alpacas Related to Sheep? (If Yes, How?)

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Alpacas and sheep have an undisputable resemblance, from their wool and grazing habits to timidity. The former are known flock guarders, and farmers around the globe have introduced them to their sheep flock to scare predators. Despite their undeniable similarities, alpacas and sheep have a few distinguishing features, which raises the concern, are alpacas related to sheep?

No, alpacas and sheep are not related. The two animals belong to different taxonomical families, with the alpaca descending from the Camelidae family, whereas the sheep belong to the Bovidae family.

The alpaca is closely related to the domesticated llama, wild vicuna, and guanaco. In contrast, sheep are related to goats, antelopes, gazelles, cows, buffalos, and giraffes.

sheep and alpacas eating hay

Are Sheep And Alpacas Related?

When alpacas and sheep are grazing together, they look like cousins with a common ancestor. Their similarities are apparent from their wool structure, grazing habits, staring, and timidity.

However, the two animals have notable differences in their body structure, height, sounds, and reproduction.

Alpacas are larger than sheep, with a longer neck resembling a camel or llama. They are camelids and originated from the South American region known as the Andes region.

This mountainous region is mainly Peru and some parts of Chile and Bolivia. Together with the llamas, alpacas are the domesticated species of the Lama genus, while the vicunas and guanacos are the wild species.

The distinguishing characteristics of animals in this genus include a long neck, slender and elongated bodies, small heads, short tails, and upright ears. They are gregarious( like to stay in herds) and spit when anxious, agitated, or threatened.

On the other hand, sheep are short and fluffy animals, one of the earliest domesticated ruminants. They are bovids, which consist of any hoofed mammal that chews the cud and has unbranched horns.

Other animals closely related to sheep include goats, antelopes, giraffes, buffalos, and bison. Sheep originated in Central Asia and have since spread across various parts of the globe, including the US, Australia, Europe, and Africa.

Sheep are shy, move in herds, graze on grass, and are reared for wool and meat. They are short with round bodies, laid-back ears, and like to stare. Unlike the alpacas, sheep don’t spit. Instead, they bleat when agitated or threatened, and some rams, especially the horned ones, may become aggressive.

The closest relation between alpacas and sheep is they both belong to the Order Artiodactyla. Commonly known as ungulates, Artiodactyls have hoofed feet whereby they support their body weight on two toes.

What Are the Differences Between Alpacas and Sheep?

Alpacas differ from sheep: their outward appearance, phylogeny, feeding habits, breeding, and wool properties. Let’s take a deeper look into each distinguishing characteristic below:

Alpaca vs Sheep Phylogeny

Phylogeny compares the descent of species based on their genetic makeup. Alpacas differ phylogenetically from sheep in that they are camelids while the sheep are bovids.

The alpacas are relatives of the llama, guanacos, viyunas and the domestic camel. On the contrary, sheep relate to goats, antelopes, bison, cattle, and giraffes.

Alpaca vs. Sheep: Outward Appearance

Unless you are new to sheep and alpacas, it’s easy to note their varying bodily features and characteristics.

The alpacas are bigger, with long slender necks and elongated bodies. A small head supports their funnel-like ears that mostly stay upright.

On the other hand, sheep are smaller and short in stature. They have rounded bodies, short necks, medium-sized heads, and floppy ears.

Alpaca vs. Sheep: Body Size and Height

While alpacas are the smaller species in the Lama genus, they are bigger than sheep. An average alpaca weighs 121 to 143 pounds( 55-65kg), while a sheep weighs about 99 to 220 pounds( 45-100kgs).

However, due to their poor feeding habits, alpacas rarely achieve the extreme weight a well-fed adult sheep attains.

Alpacas are taller than sheep, standing at about 3ft( 0.9m) compared to the sheep’s average height of 2.2 ft (0.68m).

Alpaca vs. Sheep: Feeding

Both Alpacas and sheep are grazers and primarily feed on grass and hay. However, alpacas are selective feeders compared to sheep and might leave some grasses untouched when you give them ready-to-eat feed.

Regarding digestion, both animals take their food, swallow it, and then chew cud when resting. However, alpacas have three stomach compartments, while sheep have four.

Alpaca vs. Sheep: Wool

Both alpacas and sheep produce wool. Alpacas have less wool than sheep, producing at least 4000 tonnes per year compared to the sheep’s 500,000 tonnes. The rarity of alpaca fleece makes it more expensive than sheep wool.

The fiber characteristics of alpaca and sheep wool are another distinguishing characteristic. Alpaca wool is fine, silky, and soft. Its fiber is hollow and traps more warmth when woven into woolen clothes. Alpaca fleece is also lanolin-free and water-resistant.

Sheep’s wool is a bit coarser, although it makes soft, warm, and comfortable woolen cloth. It contains lanolin, a grease-like substance that protects sheep from harsh environmental conditions.

However, the lanolin gives sheep wool its distinctive odor, which may be unappealing to some consumers.

READ ALSO: Do Sheep Smell Bad?(Can Or Should You Do Something About The Smell?)

Alpaca vs. Sheep: Reproduction

Unlike most animals, whereby the female ovulates and enters the on-heat period for conception, the female alpaca is an induced ovulator. This means that a female alpaca will only ovulate when there is a successful mating with a male.

The conception rate in alpacas is excellent, and only a few cases of failed conception occur. The gestation period of alpacas is 11 to 12 months, and they give birth to an offspring called a cria.

On the other hand, ewes ovulate every 16-17 days during the breeding season. When a ewe is on heat, it is said to be in estrus, and the signs include restlessness in the presence of the ram, swollen and reddened vulva, and a watery discharge.

Upon successful mating with a ram and conception, a ewe gestates for about 152 days and gives birth to a lamb.

Can Alpacas And Sheep Breed?

In an ideal situation, there should be no breeding between the two animals because they belong to different species. However, male alpacas may sometimes mate with ewes, but there is no record of an alpaca and sheep offspring.

Final Words

Alpacas are not related to sheep. Despite their similarities, alpacas are camelids, while sheep are bovids. They differ in several ways, including taxonomical classification, feeding habits, outward appearance, body size, and reproduction. So that’s it! We hope you now have the answer to the question, are alpacas related to sheep?


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