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Alpaca Q&A

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  If you have a question about alpacas that we haven't addressed here, e-mail it to us. Collectively, we have over 50 years of alpaca experience to draw from, and we are glad to share with you.  
Care and Feeding of Alpacas
Are alpacas easy to care for?
What do alpacas eat?
What sort of diseases do alpacas get?
How much acreage does it take to raise alpacas?
How do you transport alpacas?
What shelters or barns do alpacas require?
What type of fence is most suitable for alpacas?


Q.  Are alpacas easy to care for?


A.  They are small and easy to maintain, rarely overeat and require no extraordinary care. They should have basic shelter for protection against heat and foul weather. They do not challenge fences. They simply need shearing, worming, and vaccinations.


Q.  What do alpacas eat?


A.  They are ruminants, which means they chew cud like a cow or deer. They survive well on different kinds of low protein hay or pasture grass, providing it has a balanced mineral content. Because alpacas evolved in harsh conditions, they utilize their food more efficiently than other ruminants. They cost about as much per month to feed as a dog.

Although they can survive very harsh conditions, alpacas do best on good quality pasture and benefit from having access to plant material with long fibers such as hay.

There are a number of commercial alpaca mixes available, but these are best thought of as supplying vitamins and minerals rather than the bulk feed which is obtained through grazing.

One important rule to remember is to introduce any changes to the diet gradually over a period of a couple of weeks. This way the microbes in the gut have time to adjust to any feed changes.


Q.  What sort of diseases to alpacas get?


A.  Compared with other livestock, alpacas are relatively disease free. Because of their dry fleece and naturally clean breech, fly strike is not an issue with alpacas. Vaccination programs vary by geography on veterinarian's advice.

When buying alpacas for breeding purposes it is advisable to arrange a veterinary check to ensure you are buying a healthy animal.

Some gardens contain a number of plants that are toxic to most livestock (oleander, rhododendron, laburnum, etc.). Care should be taken when fencing off gardens that such plants do not overhang into alpaca areas. There is a history of calamities with other livestock that have inadvertently been fed prunings from such plants. Local nurseries can provide good advice on poisonous plants or check with your county extension agent.

Although some people think alpacas don't drink huge amounts, they do need to have ready access to good quality, fresh drinking water.


Q.  How much acreage does it take to raise alpacas?


A.  They are an ideal small acreage livestock. You can comfortably stock between five and ten animals per acre. This makes the alpaca ideal for people who have only a few acres and who want the pleasure of a small herd and a healthy investment return.


Q.  How do you transport alpacas?


A.  They are stress resistant, load and travel calmly and can be transported in the family mini van, station wagon, utility vehicle, or horse trailer. Some breeders have been known to transport their alpacas in small planes. Once enroute, the alpaca lies down and enjoys the ride.


Q. What shelters or barns do alpacas require?


A. Alpacas are native to the altiplano (highlands) of Peru and are used to a harsh environment found at 12,000 to 17,500 feet above sea level. The snow, freezing wind and bone chilling cold are familiar to these hardy animals.

There are no barns for alpacas in Peru. They are put in corrals a night for protection from predators and to keep them from wandering away. Most alpaca breeders here in the United States construct open shelters as opposed to closed barns for their animals. Alpacas simply need to get out of the wind and have a dry place to eat or lay down during a storm.

These shelters allow the alpacas to come and go as they please! Gravel as opposed to cement is the best flooring material. The feed troughs should allow about 18" per alpaca to eat. This means that 12 alpacas need about 18 feet of feed troughs. I like to see about 16 feet of roof over their heads from the back wall to the eaves.


Q. What type of fence is most suitable for alpacas?


A. The most important thing about fencing for alpacas is safety against predators. Any fence will confine alpacas since they do not challenge fences. The important thing is to keep dogs, foxes and coyotes out of the pasture.

Standard 2" x 4" farm fence, four feet high is adequate. You may want to add a barbed or hot wire at the top. "New Zealand " deer fence is good fencing for alpacas. It can be purchased in heights of 5 or 6 feet and is woven wire with smaller squares at the bottom. Nine to eleven wire electric fencing works well, but is hard on the neighbor's kids.

The terrain is a consideration. The woven wire fences work better on flat ground and the electric wire does better on steep or uneven terrain. One tip that works well on all fences: lay a strand of barbed wire on the ground, attached to the posts, on the outside perimeter of the fence. This keeps dogs from digging their way under the fence.

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