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Animal husbandry requirements below are an abbreviated outline of the basics

For more info download ARI’s “The Basics of Care” Brochure

Pasture / grazing

Alpacas pasture requirements are minimal. They can be pastured at approximately 5 animals per pasture acre. The health of the herd and pasture are the ultimate factors when deciding how many animals are appropriate. Pasture layout should be such that at least minimal rotational grazing can be achieved for the health of the pasture. Be sure to observe and inquire about the different pasture layouts at farms you visit.
 

Feed
Alpacas are modified ruminants, meaning they have a three compartment stomach (cows have four). They convert grasses and hay to energy extremely efficiently, so lower protein, less expensive grass hays can be fed when pasture is not available. They eat much less than typical farm animals (roughly a small bale of hay per week per animal, or 2-4 pounds of hay per day per animal when not on pasture).

Fresh free choice minerals should be available at all times. Mineral blocks are not typically used, as camelids do not readily lick them. Many areas of the country are deficient in Selenium in the soil, (the Eastern US and Midwest are very deficient) which makes addition of selenium to the diet essential in these areas.

 

Additional essential minerals to the species including, selenium can be provided in a pre-mixed grain & mineral supplement. A small amount (approx. 1/2 to 1 lb. per day - two to three cups) of this supplement is often fed to pregnant and lactating females to meet higher vitamin and calorie needs. Males may also do well on a smaller amount (approximately a cup) of grain & mineral supplement to insure vitamin and mineral intake. Most feed coops have or can obtain alpaca specific feed mixes (SGL-Kibblet - made by Kent - is one such brand).

 

Some small sized pellet mixtures can cause esophageal choke in camelids.  A loose or "crumbled" mix, or larger pellets can be feed to avoid the possibility of choke. Note - opinions in the US differ greatly on this subject - talk to your vet and other breeders about what might be best for your situation.

 

Water
A
clean, abundant source of water is required. Streams and lakes are not a recommended source because of the inherent disease and parasite potential.  Adults typically drink about a gallon of water per day - slightly more when the air is hot in summer or very dry in winter.  

 

Shelter
Size
- Studies by Ohio State University have shown that 34 square feet per animal can be used as a rough guide. For example, two to three animals may be sheltered in a 10x10 shed. In severe weather, animals may temporarily crowd in at about 18 sq. ft. per animal. Shelter size should be adjusted according to individual herds and animals. Putting too many animals of any type in a small area can be very stressful on the animals, and less dominant animals will be pushed out.

Type - Because of their origins in the Andes mountains, the species is very hearty. In many parts of North America a three-sided structure is adequate for their shelter needs. It should be noted however, that temperatures in the Andean Altiplano do not reach the extremes they do in North America. As with all livestock, health care during these temperature extremes (hot and cold) must be carefully managed. Building material does not necessarily need to be all wood and more economical structures may be appropriate for some areas. 8 - 10’ over hangs on buildings work particularly well for alpacas - they often prefer to loaf outside of enclosed buildings but out of the sun and rain.  

Summer - Relief from heat is a critical health factor, so shade is absolutely necessary in the summer. When organizing shelter layouts, shade must be made available at all times during the day. Building over hangs are very helpful for providing shade when there are no trees in the pasture.

Winter - An area that has relief from wind must be provided. A deep bed of straw or shredded paper (4-6 inches) should be provided for comfort. Wood shavings are not often used as they are nearly impossible to remove from fiber.

 

Health care  

Alpacas are generally disease resistant but still require some preventative medicine and ready access to veterinary services. Knowledge of South American Camelids is limited among veterinarians. Lining up a Vet that is willing to take you as a client is necessary before you obtain animals. There is little worse than facing an emergency with no-one to call for help.

Some yearly or biennial vaccinations are necessary. Your vet should know what is appropriate for your area. (Here in Southwestern Wisconsin we give a biennial CDT vaccination)

An inexpensive
monthly (April thru December) injection of avermectin (i.e. Ivomec or Detomax), and oral Fenbendazole (i.e. Safeguard or Panacure), for parasite control is necessary.   It should be noted that opinions differ on frequency. Geographic location and parasite loads are the major factors that determine need. Monthly Ivermectin injections are absolutely necessary in areas with whitetail dear populations to prevent meningeal worm, which can be devastating (and often fatal) to camelids. (for more on meningeal worm and other camelid health care issues see The Ohio State University web site)

Nail care and trimming is necessary, and not difficult. Toe nails should not be allowed to grow long and curl.  Toenails need to be trimmed about every other month.  

Because of their very social herd nature, it is not recommended that alpacas be kept alone for any extended length of time without a herd mate. Being alone is very stressful and may result in long-term health problems and even fatal ulcers.   

 

Shearing
Alpacas must be shorn once a year. It is believed heat stress has the most significant effect on camelid health and is the most preventable stress factor.

Shearing can be hired out or be done effectively by owners with the proper equipment and a little practice. Great care should be taken when shearing, as shears can cut and burn the animal. (For more information on how to shear alpacas follow this link to the
Gateway Farm Alpacas on-line shearing tutorials).

 

Manure management
Sanitation is important to all livestock operations to minimize exposure to disease and parasites. Camelids are unique in that they use common dung piles, which makes manure management far easier than with most other animals. The "beans" are very dry and this also makes smell less of an issue as with other animals. Dung piles should be cleaned on a regular basis (unless of course you LIKE flies).

Planning for how and where the manure will be disposed of must be considered. As a rough planning guide, five alpacas will make about a medium size wheelbarrow of “beans” in about 4-5 days.

 

Fencing
Alpacas are herd animals. They choose to remain in groups and do not aggressively challenge fencing. Of course there's always the exceptional alpaca who can pop through anything. These guys will usually stay close to the group, just on the naughty side of the fence.

Although alpaca owners tend to over-fence, adequate fencing is very important for predator security. Exterior fencing should be able to reasonably keep out potential predators, including domestic dogs and coyotes. There are many different styles and systems available. A popular fencing choice is 48” woven wire and may include an electrified top wire as an additional predator deterrent The use of barbed wire is not appropriate as it tends to cut skin and tear out fiber. Because the "
grass is always greener" and "leaning over" is common, fencing should be attached to the side the animals are housed on.  www.premier1supplies.com is an excellent source for fencing supplies suitable for alpacas - ask for their catalog - lots of pictures!

 

Predator control
Like llamas, alpacas have an instinctual defense mechanism and can charge and "spit" at predators. They are, however, in the group of livestock that is considered prey animals (like sheep and goats), so the ability to self-defend is very limited.

Domestic dogs are the most serious threat to alpacas. Loose dogs, either alone or in groups account for more alpaca deaths in the US than any other predator. This is why every state in the US has laws addressing dogs and livestock. Even if they don't actually take an animal down, they may run it to death. DO NOT trust anyone's dog around your livestock - never forget, all dogs are descendants of wolfs. Enough said.

Depending on a particular area, other threats may come from coyotes, mountain lions, bears, and wolves.  Be aware there is no single predator control "device" that is effective against all predators. Trusting solely in any one thing to protect your animals is naive and can lead to disaster. A more realistic predator control approach should include a combination of several tactics. For instance, the combination of electric fencing, removing over-hanging tree branches at fence lines and a livestock guardian dog would be a more sound approach than relying on electric fencing to stop everything from getting in or a guard dog to keep everything out.   

Farm and Husbandry Plan

Dr. Hans E. Love - LGD

On look-out over

Dougherty Creek Farm at sunrise




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