Alpaca Husbandry & Care
Alpacas are lovable and endearing animals that are a pleasure to be around and to work with. Their docile nature and natural curiosity makes for easy handling and yet they are hardy and adapt well to our climate.
Alpacas are easy to halter train and we would recommend that new owners go on a Camelidynamics Course which will teach them how to handle their animals in a calm and safe way.
Alpacas are equally at home in a small paddock or as part of a larger herd in a field. They will happily graze with other livestock although they will not compete at the feed troughs. They are instinctively herd orientated preferring to rest, graze and move together. Individual animals cannot be kept on their own, with the smallest recommended group being three.
Stocking rates of 5-6 an acre are comfortable on average pasture, with examples of 10 to the acre being achievable with proper rotation management. They will grow to about one metre at the shoulder and weigh 60-80 kg when mature.
They communicate amongst themselves by body posture, tail and ear positions and a variety of soft humming noises. They warn each other if they feel crowded and spit at each other if necessary. They are rarely aggressive to humans and spit only when mishandled. The absence of horns and hooves makes them safe to be around young children.
There is no special requirement for fencing as they do not challenge it and are reluctant jumpers. For perimeter fencing standard medium stock fencing and top plain wire to a height of four feet is adequate to contain them. Barbed wire should not be used and electric lines have limited effect because of the overall fibre coverage.
Alpacas cope well with foxes seeing them off with a combination of screeching and advancing as a herd. Consideration will need to be given to creating catch pen areas, and if breeding, to a separate weaning paddock, as well as one for entire males.
Access to some form of stabling or stall is also essential should an animal become sick or injured.
Wintering out is quite normal with free access to simple three sided field shelters to protect them from the extremes of weather and to provide dry areas for winter feed.
Alpacas are ruminants who are exceptionally efficient converters of fodder, grazing happily on pasture grass, preferring the shorter moist grasses, with hay and supplement recommended in winter, during lactation and the final stages of pregnancy and for young stock. Hay should be available all year. (1.8%of body weight DM per day). Alpacas are browsers as well as grazers and will enjoy stripping young trees if allowed.
The common toxic plants such as Ragwort, Laurel, Laburnum and Yew should be avoided within grazing areas. Access to clean drinking water is essential at all times at around a couple of litres per head per day. They will dehydrate rather than take sour water.
With their soft padded feet they do little damage to wet pasture ground during grazing.
Alpacas have the habit of defecating at a small number of fixed dung piles and avoid grazing around these sites, making the spread of parasite infestation low and cleaning of pastures much easier. The firm and dry pellet makes an excellent fertiliser.
We recommend annual vaccinations and a worming and mite control routine on a six monthly basis, subject to faecal egg counts. The control of mange mites is essential. Cover for Liver Fluke can be required if grazing on very wet pasture or if the ground has standing water. Frequent monitoring of body score is desirable as fleece growth can easily hide health issues until it becomes very serious. Toenails should be trimmed as and when needed and this generally amounts to 2 or 3 times a year. Teeth trimming is only necessary on an annual basis and is usually done when the alpaca is restrained for shearing.
Alpacas do not suffer from foot rot nor do they require dipping, dagging, crutching or tail docking as they are free of fibre under the tail. With attentive husbandry, fly strike is rare. Like any livestock, management of disease risk is essential. They are susceptible to bTB, BVD, F&M, however good management and good nutrition will go a long way to ensuring healthy alpacas and minimising vet bills.
The female alpaca can be ready for mating at around 12 to 18 months of age or when she has reached about 65% of her final body weight. She is an induced ovulator and can be bred all year round. Ovulation occurs up to 26 hours after mating and she will be covered by the same male once a week until she refuses him.
Pregnancy confirmation is usually made by ultrasound testing. The gestation period is typically 11 1/2 months and will produce one baby or ‘cria’, with twins being rare, recently estimated at around one in every 2000 births.
Re-mating usually occurs 14 days post partum and with a productive life expectancy of 12 years or more, she spends most of this time pregnant. Since the foetus remains small for much of the pregnancy this is not an excessive burden on the animal.
Alpacas are devoted mothers and the cria will suckle until weaning at six months of age. Males will be mature from about 2 1/2 years of age. We run a strict assessment of young males as regards their suitability for breeding, with the majority being castrated. A sensible management plan will ensure spring or early summer births with shearing programmes from late spring through to mid summer.
Bio-security is an important consideration and breeders should fence out wildlife such as badgers or deer that could carry bovine tuberculosis. Feed and water troughs should be raised high enough above the ground so that badgers cannot access them. Any contractors coming on farm that will have contact with the alpaca fields should disinfect their footwear and the wheels of their vehicles.