Basic Alpaca Husbandry
Known as a hardy, low-impact livestock, alpacas can be raised easily on any acreage or ranch with minimal modifications to most pre-existing set-ups. It is not hard to provide the basic care for alpacas, and so a breakdown of the minimum requirements for raising them is discussed below.
Unlike cattle and goats, alpacas do not often challenge fences. Their small stature and less than adequate defences however, necessitate the use of fences to keep predators out, more so than the alpacas in.
Alpacas do best in fences that are:
- 5 feet high or more
- No barbs or catches which could entangle animals by their fibre.
- Woven or Mesh to prevent predators from getting inside.
- Flush with the ground to prevent predators from climbing under and to deter digging.
Although 5ft woven no-climb is the minimum fence of choice, alpacas can do just as well in 5ft field fencing/pagewire.
Alpacas can realistically be housed in nearly any type of fencing with the exception of barbed wire, if it is being used as interior fencing with an adequate no-climb or page wire perimeter fence in place to prevent predators from getting in. Popular interior fencing includes high-tensile wire, or rail fencing.
Ideally, all perimeter fences should include components to discourage the digging and/or climbing of fences from predators on the outside. Many breeders opt to include strands of barbed wire on the bottom of the outside of fences to deter digging, or even electric hot-wires provided the alpacas cannot touch the hot-wires themselves if they were to stick their head through the fence.
It is also worth noting that fencing only serves to protect the livestock adequately if the accompanying gates are also secure. Gates are often the weak spot in pastures, and can make for easy entry into any area no matter how well fenced. Mesh gates, or even standard livestock gates with wire attached, can be modified to prevent predators from slipping between the openings, as well as extended to prevent predators from climbing.
Housing & Pasture
- Can be housed on Pasture or Drylot
- Quality and Quantity of Pasture determines Stocking Rate
- Excellent quality pasture can house 4-5 alpacas per acre
- Average quality pasture may house ~3 alpacas per acre
- Males must be housed separately from females and weanlings
- Need access to long-stemmed roughage at all times for proper gut function
Why House Males Separately?
We are often asked to sell male/female pairs under the assumption that males can be housed with females, which is just not the case.
Male and female alpacas must be housed separately. Alpacas are induced ovulators, which means they can be bred any time of the year, which can mean for unplanned winter pregnancies should males be allowed to pasture breed females year-round. Male alpacas, both intact and gelded, are both very capable (and interested in) of breeding, and when left in with females have been known to cause infertility and infections as a result of constant breeding. The mechanisms through which a male breeds involves the scraping of the uterine wall with the cartilaginous tip of the penis, which can harm pregnant and open females alike if they are constantly being bred.
A Note on Cross-Species Housing
- Parasite Management
- When housing alpacas with sheep or goats, it is necessary to fecal test and potentially deworm more often to ensure the health and wellbeing of the alpaca.
- Goats and sheep tolerate much higher parasites than alpacas.
- Horses and alpacas do not generally share parasites.
- Blanket deworming is not recommended because of increasing dewormer resistance amongst parasites.
- Disease Susceptibility
- Alpacas are a relatively disease free species on their own.
- Alpacas did not develop as a species alongside sheep and cattle, and so have little immunity to diseases endemic to those species. Indeed, it was exposure to disease amongst sheep that helped decimate alpaca populations after the Spanish arrived in South America.
- Alpacas can contract Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVDV) from Cattle, as well as Johnes Disease.
- Alpacas registered with the AOA have the option of their blood also being tested for BVDV.
- Alpacas are at risk of contracting Caseous Lymphadenitis (CL) from Sheep and Goats.
- Goats and sheep can live with CL chronically and be asymptomatic.
- We recommend testing sheep and goats for CL before introducing alpacas, as CL will often kill alpacas within a matter of months.
- Clipper blades used on CL positive sheep or goats, or who have CL abscesses, should not be used on alpacas or CL negative sheep or goats.
- Separate Feeding Areas
- Alpacas have different nutritional and mineral requirements than other species.
- They should avoid being fed minerals and supplements designed for other species.
- They are not as physically "close" as other species and may be easily pushed away from feed sources.
- Just-in-Case Pasture
- Alpacas are small and lacking in the bone structure conducive to head-butting or even serious kicking. This puts them at risk of serious injury if their new pasture mates do not like them.
As an animal with a built in sweater, alpacas actually need very little by way of shelter. In full fleece, it is often quite frustrating as alpaca owners to watch our animals forego the use of their shelter in favour of standing out in the snow or rain, getting drenched.
That is not to say alpacas do not need shelter, because that is not the case. Although they may not always use it when we feel they should, having access to a shelter that can provide protection against the wind and the other elements will be used in the worst of conditions, and provides peace of mind. They are much more likely to use their shelters when shorn, especially in inclement weather, so having one available is a must.
The minimum requirement for shelter is a 3 sided building that is tall enough that the alpacas will not feel crowded, but set in such a way that prevailing winds will not reach them. It should be large enough for all of the animals in that pasture to hang out inside comfortably.
Feed & Nutrition
Alpacas are fairly low maintenance in their feeding requirements. During the summer, they appreciate access to grassy pastures, though offering hay to animals on dry-lot or during the winter is a must. Alpacas need access to long-stemmed roughage to allow for the proper function of their fore-stomachs. As pseudo- or quasi- ruminants, alpacas have a three chambered stomach that allows for rumination, but also relies heavily on the health and wellbeing of the flora in the gut. They should have free choice access to feed at all times.
Important Feeding Notes:
- Alpacas will eat 1.5% - 2.5% of their weight in feed daily (with pregnant and lactating dams requiring more)
- Avoid Stemmy Hay
- Alpacas thrive on grassy hay with as few stems as possible.
- Coarse or stemmy hay is harder to digest and increases hay wastage and risk of tooth abscesses.
- Alfalfa hay is a good choice to mix in for putting weight on animals who are thin or eating for two, and will not blow out fleece micron, which is a common myth.
- Too much Alfalfa hay for males though, may put them at increased risk of urinary stones.
- Alpacas need anywhere from 8% to 15% crude protein, depending on their weight and energy use.
- Growing cria, pregnant and lactating dams need anywhere from 12% to 15% protein.
- Males, open females, and animals just needing to maintain weight, are fine at 8% to 12% protein.
Alpacas do not generally require supplementation beyond forages, but many breeders and owners feel better offering some sort of supplemental treat to ensure their animals are getting enough nutrients, or to improve their relationship with the herd. The microbes in the first compartment of the alpaca’s stomach make them excellent at fermenting the starches in grains, making alpacas prone to grain-overload. As such, whole grains such as oats, barley and other grains should be offered only in tightly controlled, limited quantities (as in no more than a quarter of an 8 ounce cup). Other grains, like corn, especially cracked corn, can be too hard on the stomach and have been implicated in the development of stomach ulcers.
When offering supplements, we choose to use a specially formulated llama/alpaca pellet and no grain. When we have animals in need of a little extra supplementation, such as lactating dams or animals recovering from illness, we will mix that pellet with soaked beet pulp.
We use alpaca specific mineral blocks by Agriblock, called “Camelid Delite”, although other breeders prefer loose alpaca specific minerals. Alpacas will not lick traditional salt licks, and one has to be careful when choosing a mineral that they do not select something with too much copper or selenium.
Alpacas as a whole require very little by way of regular medical intervention and maintenance. Alpacas in Western Canada enjoy a less intensive medication regime than do those animals in the Eastern part of the country. Down east, alpacas need to be injected monthly with ivermectin to prevent contracting meningeal worm. Here in Alberta, m-worm is not a problem that we have to worry about.
However, this does not keep us from having to do regular maintenance in other areas.
Maintenance Requirements for alpacas:
- Annual Shearing
- The blunting of Fighting Teeth in intact Males
- Regular toenail trims
- Deworming when fecal tests indicate parasite loads
- Vitamin boosters during the winter for cria and growing alpacas
- Appropriate Vaccination protocols
- We vaccinate yearly with an 8-way based on the recommendations of our vet