On our homestead, alpaca care is at the top of everyones mind at all times. They are one of our main sources of income, so we take our alpacas very seriously.
If you have ever considerred purchasing soem alpacas, make sure that you do some research first. They are very easy to care for but it might be a little different than some of the other livestock you may be keeping. As long as you can remember to provide food and water for your dog, you can take care of alpacas.
When I set out to write this alpaca care guide, I wanted to make sure that I coverred all of the questions that I get on a regular basis. The best way to do that, in my opinion, was to just format the article in a FAQ format. If you have any questions that are not answerred in the post, please let me know in the comment section below!
What Do Alpacas Eat?
Alpacas are ruminants, so they chew cud much like a cow does. They thrive on low protein hay and grass. Because of their rough natural habitat, the mountains of Peru, they use their food much more efficiently than most other ruminants.
These animals are designed to survive, which is the reason they are becoming such a popular backyard farm animal. Though they can survive in extreme conditions, they will do best with a lush green pasture supplemented with grain to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need. Even after including the cost of grain, an alpaca costs about the same to feed as your household dog. The difference is, your dog probably isn’t making you any money!
You can find commercial alpaca grain mixes at just about any grain store in The United States. They are designed to supply your herd with vitamins and minerals and should not be the primary food source. A well balanced diet makes alpaca care much easier in the long run.
Some of the more serious alpaca farmers also supplement their alpaca’s diet with shredded beet pulp. The beet pulp is soaked in water and served once a day to the alpacas that are eagerly awaiting this delicious snack. It is a great source of protein and helps get a little extra water into their system. Water consumption is one of the most important factors in creating soft fleeces.
It is important to remember to slowly adjust to any changes in your feeding plan. The microbes in the alpaca’s guts need time to adjust.
How Much Room To Alpacas Need?
You will find a wide range of answers to this question depending on who you ask. The real answer depends entirely on whether you are looking to pasture feed or not.
If you plan on feeding your alpacas entirely on pasture grass, you will need more room than someone who plans to rely entirely on hay. Most people fall somewhere in the middle because they plan to use both. As long as you don’t plan on relying completely on the pasture, 10-15 alpacas per acre is the general rule of thumb.
Alpacas only need a little room to stretch out there legs and go to the bathroom. They don’t need enough room to chase a ball like your dog, so they are perfectly fine in a smaller area. In fact, many will argue that they are more comfortable is smaller confines.
Do Alpacas Require A Shelter?
This is another question that is up for debate. The real answer is that they do not require shelters, but most people will agree that you should provide one for them.
In their native habitat of Peru, the locals keep do not provide them shelter from the elements. They allow them to forage during the day and lock them in an uncovered coral at night. The coral is only to keep them safe from predators and keep them from wondering off in the darkness.
These animals are hardy to the cold, which actually triggers them to grow more fiber. Their native habitat often drops well below zero with howling winds and they are fine.
Almost all alpaca breeders here in The United States provide some sort of shelter for their animals. Larger operations provide full barns, while smaller farms provide open shelters. The general rule is to provide them a dry place to eat and sleep during inclement weather. Long periods of moisture can damage the fleece and make it worthless.
What Kind Of Fencing Do They Require?
When providing fencing for alpacas, you are should be more concerned with keeping predators out than with keeping the alpacas in. Alpacas do not normally challenge fences, so anything they can’t walk over will keep them in but you will want something at least four feet tall for predators.
Depending on what local predators you need to protect against, you can go with a traditional wooden fence or a welded wire fence. Most alpaca farms go with a welded wire fence because it will keep dogs, an alpaca’s greatest predator, out in more cases. If you property is fenced in with chain link like mine, a simple 2’ x 4’ fence will surely keep them penned in.
When designing your pen, it is a good idea to include a catch pen for your alpacas. This will be a small area that you can herd the animals into so that you can catch them. Without one, you will spend a ton of time chasing alpacas in circles, trust me!
Do Alpacas Require A lot Of Water?
Your average alpaca will drink about a gallon of water a day. As I mentioned above, water intake is important for them to create soft fleeces. Alpaca farmers are always looking for ways to encourage them to drink more water, so make sure they always have a good source.
You can use any sort or durable water proof container to hold the water. As long as they can reach their heads into the container, it will work. If you plan on raising cria’s (baby alpacas), make sure that you have containers short enough that they can reach water.
How Often Can I Sheer Them?
Huacaya’s are shorn once a year, in the spring, while suri’s are usually shorn every other year. This gives the alpacas plenty of time to grow a full coat and stay warm for the winter. Sheering is one of the main parts of alpaca care, so don’t overlook what it takes!
The huacaya’s grow more wool in general, so they can be sheered every year. This is typically done in the spring, after the threat of frost has passed. It is not suggested to sheer your alpacas more than once a year because the fiber will not be long enough to be spun.
Some alpaca farmers will sheer their animals on their own but most hire professional’s. We hire a professional sheerer to come do our entire herd in one day. We help wrangle the animals and collect the fiber, and he sheers an average of one every 10 minutes. The process goes much smoother than it would if we did it ourselves and the alpacas endure much less stress.
How Long Are Alpacas Pregnant For?
The average gestation time for an alpaca is 11.5 months. That being said, it is not uncommon for births to come much earlier and much later, depending on the animal.
Alpacas produce a single baby, called a cria, and can then be rebred after 21 days. Alpacas rarely have twins and the complications involved in that process are never good. Even if all goes well in the birth process, the resulting cria’s will typically have birth defects.
You can start breeding alpacas as young as 12 months old but many people will wait until they are a little older and more mature. I recommend that you wait until they are 18 – 24 months old before you consider breeding. First time moms can present all sorts of issues, but they are less common if you wait until they are older.
Can I Keep Alpacas In The Same Pen As My Other Livestock?
Alpacas are very gentle animals and are rarely aggressive. Even when they are aggressive, they lack the offensive weapons to do any damage. The worst alpaca attack on our farm was the result of our dog wanting to play with a one day old cria. The cria’s mom did not approve and plastered our dog with spit. To this day, poor Rowdy still smells like alpaca spit!
We do keep some Llama’s in with our alpacas for protection but steer away from other pen-mates. Alpacas are so docile that they tend to be on the losing end of altercations. Even gentle horses can give an alpaca a painful kick if they are spooked.
That being said, I do know people that keep other animals in with alpacas. Sheep and deer are common species to co-mingle with your alpacas, but many will mix in goats as well. As long as all of your livestock are friendly, and you pay close attention to your alpaca care specifically, you shouldn’t run into any issues in reality.
Is Alpaca Care Harder Than Any Other Farm Animal?
In my opinion, alpacas are one of the easiest backyard farm animals to care for. They are very laid back and don’t take much regular maintenance compared to some of your other options.
Alpacas go to the bathroom in a “communal dung pile”. In other words, they all go to the bathroom in the same pile so it can be cleaned easily. The only downfall to this is that it is hard to control where that pile will be. Sometimes they decide that the pile will be right in front of the gate, for example.
In their native habitat, the mountains file away at their nails as they walk. Since that is not happening in your backyard, you will also need to trim their nails every other month to keep them at a good length. This is a fairly simple task as long as you do it regularly so your alpacas know you aren’t going to hurt them.
We do a monthly check on all of our alpacas to make sure they are doing well. We take and record their weight, trim nails, and vaccinate them all at the same time. It allows us to get our hands on the animals so we can be sure that they aren’t in any pain or distress.
Do Alpacas Need Heat In The Winter?
Alpacas do not need heat in the winter. In fact, you will need to be more concerned with keeping them cool in the summer than keeping them warm in the winter. They do a great job of keeping themselves warm without your help.
The only potential exception to this rule is for young crias. If you have any crias in late fall or winter, you may want to put an alpaca jacket on them for the winter. As a general alpaca care rule, we jacket all cria’s under 50lbs at night if the temperature is going to drop below 50 degrees.
How Does One Transport An Alpaca?
You can transport alpacas in a horse trailer, a van, and even in the back seat if they are well trained. I have used all three of these methods, depending on how many I need to move and how far. If I am only bringing a single alpaca up the street to the vet, I will see if they will get in the back of my SUV before I hook up the trailer.
When moving, alpacas almost always cush (lay down on their stomachs). In other words, you can be sure that they are not getting tossed around in the trailer.
How Can I Make Money With Alpacas?
There are numerous ways to make money with alpacas, but that will have to be another post. Here is a short list just to get your wheels turning:
- Selling their fleece
- Making products made from the fleece
- Selling products related to alpacas (books, figurines, lessons, etc)
- Marketing and selling the alpacas themselves
- Selling stud services from your males
- Selltheir poop as compost
- Charging visitors like a petting zoo