Basic Alpaca Husbandry
Alpacas are known for being a relatively low-maintenance livestock. In terms of shelter, most can do well with a simple three-sided shelter to provide an escape from the wind and snow, especially in Canada.
Although an alpaca will rarely challenge a fence, they do require sturdy fencing capable of repelling dogs and coyotes without pieces that an inquisitive or itchy alpaca may rub against and catch themselves upon. It is generally recommended that alpacas are housed in a fence made of woven page-wire (with holes small enough that they cannot put their heads through!), or no-climb fencing.
Electric fences are not recommended for alpacas, as when they are in full fleece they may not feel the shock and may become entangled and electrocuted to death. It should be tall enough that an alpaca cannot jump over it, and that predators cannot jump over or climb under it. A top-wire of barbed wire, as well as a ground level strand are often used to deter predators, as are hot-wires on the outside perimeter of the fence. Some breeders will even bury the bottom of their fences to a certain point below ground, to help deter predators from digging underneath.
In general, alpacas don't need very much space, with 4 or 5 animals being able to live comfortably on an acre of land, however they do need good pasture. The average alpaca consumes only 2% of their body weight, which is roughly 2 lbs of feed a day. They also need access to adequate shelter (especially here in Canada, where winters can be harsh) and fresh water.
Some breeders opt to keep their alpacas on drylot, which may be useful for keeping fleeces clean, it can deprive alpacas of good, green forage. It also increases the costs of raising them, as one need to have an adequate hay supply to ensure they are well fed year round.
Alpacas can be bred once a year, producing a baby alpaca (Cria) after a roughly 11.5 to 12 month gestation period. Female (Hembra) alpacas do not go into estrus as horses or dogs do, but are rather induced ovulators, producing an egg when stimulated by a male (Macho) alpaca's orgling. Alpacas can be hand or pasture bred. The resulting cria usually weigh between 14 to 20 lbs, and need to be dried off when born, as the mother alpaca will not lick them dry as with other animals. She will, however, humand cluck to her cria. A female alpaca can usually be rebred 2 to 3 weeks after giving birth to a cria.
Because alpacas can be bred year round, it is important to keep intact males away from open females unless you want them to breed. It is also quite useful to keep them downwind of females, and preferably out of sight, to prevent pacing and other aggressive behaviours amongst the males.
As the males are much larger than yearlings and weanlings, it is also recommended that you separate young males who are not fully grown, from both females and adult males, until they are large enough to "hold their own" so to speak, with the adult males.
Alpacas need to be shorn once a year, although older animals with little fibre from the years previous growth may be left for a second year (this is entirely at the discretion of the owner). They also require regular vaccinations and deworming, although alpacas are generally disease-resistant, good upkeep and a knowledge of the few diseases that alpacas are susceptible to is always good.
Alpacas are useful for companions or pets (alpacas can even be litter-trained, and may live in a house!), besides from their fibre. An alpaca's fibre can be used in a variety of ways, from yarn to stuffing. Alpacas that are registered with the best fibre and conformation may also be shown in alpaca shows, as well, both unregistered alpacas and registered alpacas can also be used as "fibre" animals, who are used exclusively for producing textile quality fibre.
Alpaca feces (pellets) are also useful, being some of the best natural fertilizers available. Alpaca pellets can be placed directly on plants, without the worry of it "burning" the plant and therefore damaging or killing it.