Alpacas adapt readily to different climates. As with any livestock, during extreme weather, care has to be taken. In mild climates, a three sided shelter for protection from sun and precipitation is necessary. In harsh climates, such as Minnesota, any enclosed draft-free barn with ample bedding is adequate. We provide heat on extremely cold days by means of in-floor heat, heated pig mats or overhead lamps. If babies are expected during the cold of winter, a heated area is necessary.
Five to ten alpacas can be comfortably stocked per acre. Because they have two-toed padded feet, they will not damage their environment like hoofed livestock. Alpacas pull grasses off above ground, rather than out by the roots. Given time to re-grow, even pastures eaten to the ground will replenish and are not permanently damaged.
Excellent ready-to-use fertilizer. Alpacas manure is much like a rabbits, virtually odorless pellets that can be liberally applied directly to gardens without composting or aging. The beauty of alpacas are that the entire herd use communal dung piles, which is a plus for any breeding/birthing livestock operation.
Veterinarians quickly learn to love working with alpacas. They are much smaller and easier to handle than many of their large animal patients. They often find it challenging and interesting to learn about a new species. Though alpacas appear to be exotic, they are like most other domestic livestock. There are a few things that differ about alpacas, but any good Veterinarian that deals with horses, llamas, goats, sheep, or cattle can a adapt to caring for alpacas as well. Many small animal Veterinarians have embraced practicing with alpacas as well. Good animal breeders in any species take the time to learn as much about their animals as possible. Alpaca breeders are no exception.
Alpacas are modified three-chambered ruminants (pseudo-ruminants) and therefore naturally graze and browse. They exist very well in almost any environment, from all pasture grazing to feeding hay and grain year-round. Native grasses, hays, grains or commercially prepared palletized feeds make up the bulk of their diet. A free-choice mineral mix is usually offered to provide salt and minerals as well as balance their diet according to the forage being fed to them. Per pound of body weight, they are extremely efficient feed converting livestock. They typically consume 1.5-2.0% of their body weight in dry matter daily. An 150 lb. alpaca will consume an average of three to five pounds, as fed, of any combination of pasture, hay and grain daily. (i.e. one bale of hay will easily last one alpaca a week) The amount of feed that the animal consumes will depend on it’s state of production. Growing youngsters, late term pregnant and lactating females require more nutrients and energy than grown males and females in early pregnancy.
Despite the fact that they are related to Camels, alpacas need fresh clean water daily. Adults consume about a gallon per day, depending on the weather and whether or not they are lactating. Clean water is an essential aspect of Camelid nutrition.
Any fence that keeps alpacas in and predators out, will do. Barbed wire is never recommended. Two inch by four inch woven wire fence is ideal. It comes in varying heights and is fairly easy to put up. Electric wire, board, and plastic fences have been used with success. It is not difficult to keep alpacas in. They do not push or lean on fences. However, stray dogs, coyotes and other predators should be kept out. White-tailed deer carry a parasite that can affect alpacas and must be kept out as well.
Alpacas are quiet, clean, intelligent and timid animals. They are safe around children and pets. They do not bite or claw and generally will not kick, unless in fear. They are easily trained and readily adjust to travel and new environments. Few people can resist their soulful, intelligent eyes and graceful beauty. Because of their relatively small size and good temperament, many alpaca farmers and farm managers are women. Many AOA members are husband/wife teams, but with over half, the more active person involved in the family is a woman.
Alpacas travel very easily in any safe vehicle. They usually lay down while in transit and therefore should not be tied. Horse trailers, vans, buses, cars and even small planes have all been used successfully. Transporters need to stop periodically to let babies nurse, let adults get a drink of water and take a potty break. Alpacas generally travel more easily than horses. They step off the transport well rested and reasonably stress-free.