A General Guide to Alpaca Care

If you haven’t read our insane, how we got alpacas story, you really should. It’s good background for this post. 

A Complete Novice’s Guide to Alpaca Care: Meaning me, I am the novice. And I am here to share with you how I take care of our herd in a general every day basis.

There are daily basics that every homestead animal needs- Shelter, Fencing, Water, Food, Manure Management, General Welfare Checks.

This is a guide on what Alpacas need for these basics, but keep in mind, I am a novice as of this blog and am learning as I go. In fact, if you have personal experience with raising Alpacas, please comment with any advice you’d like to pass on!

Shelter – Alpacas are outdoor animals, but they DO need shelter from inclimate weather. A lot of places go with 3 sided, open ended sheds, but here in Maine we prefer a good sized 4 sided shed with multiple doors. For one alpaca you need from 17 to 20 square feet of indoor space. A 10’x30′ Barn would be more then sufficient for about 15 alpacas. We HIGHLY recommend having electricity out to your barn. You’ll want to put fans on them in the heat of the summer and for northerners like ourselves, you’ll need heated water buckets in the winter. Also, our shed has a skylight which has been awesome for keeping it naturally lit, even tho we do have a light.

Fencing – Alpacas are not, normally, fence jumpers. This does not mean that you can get away with shoddy fencing. Personally, we went with 5′ tall woven field fencing, on mostly 8 foot cedar posts, sunk 3 feet into the ground. At other points, we used 6 foot studded T-Posts, because of tree roots being in the way. We used a homemade fence puller and chain setup, and used our truck and our rider lawnmower to tighten the fence, at different points due to area access. Ideally, breaking up your pasture into 4 paddocks for rotational feeding is best for the animals and the fodder. We are having a really hard time finding 60″ woven wire fencing right now, so we only have one 60′ x 40′ paddock, which is barely sufficient. We’d like to double that ASAP and then next spring give them two more. The more space available for the animals to graze in, the better. You can get away with 15 alpacas on one acre, some say, but it is not a desirable situation. Over crowding leads to a lot of problems, including but not limited to, bullying behaviors, worm infestations, stressed out animals which become sick animals.

Update- newer info has come out agreeing with my first thought of overcrowding- they now say no more then 6 per acre really.

Water- Alpaca’s water needs to be kept up off the floor so they can’t kick it over and make a mess, or soak their fiber which can lead to other problems, such as rot. Just like any other animal, it is essential to keep it fresh and clean and available at all times. At minimum, an Alpaca needs over a gallon of water a day, and that is more when they are pregnant, lactating or just plain hot. For our seven Alpacas we have 2 hanging 5 gallon water buckets available and we clean and refill them every single day. Also, since 3 months of the year we live in a tundra, we got heated buckets to keep the water thawed in even severe cold.

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Food – Alpacas are ruminants CAMELIDS, but often are classified as ruminants because they do have similarities – like cows, sheep, goats, camels, llamas and many other grazing animals,  they have a a multi-chamber stomach. Unlike actual ruminants, that have 4 chambers, alpacas only have 3. They use the natural process of fermentation to digest their food, which is largely pasture based.

The process typically requires the fermented material (known as cud) to be regurgitated and chewed again. The process of re-chewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called rumination. Hence the classification of Ruminant. They are very efficient eaters, and tend to not overeat on their own unless you offer an excess of treats (More on that in another blog about nutrition some other day as I learn more about these magnificent, but kinda odd, animals.) For one day, you can feed 20 alpacas on a single, standard sized bale of hay. Our seven have gone thru about 2 in a week. We also feed them 1/2 cup each of cracked and crushed grains twice per day. Other farmers will say you only need to feed them one cup per animal, once per day, but we like going out and spending time with them.

UPDATE – We are now in the midst of winter, and our herd is eating almost an entire bale of hay every 24/36 hours. This is normal, as hay is their “slow burn” food that helps keep them toasty. 

One last note about feed – the grain MUST be cracked, crushed, pulverized, what ever but NOT WHOLE. The stomachs of ruminants have a hard time breaking down food other then pasture grain of 4-6 inches long. It is just not what their systems are built for.

ETA – as of October 2017, we have started giving them 7 oz of Blue Seal Alpaca feed every evening instead of 1/2 cup of crushed grain. The feeding instructions clearly call for more, but until we know how they will react to it, we’re starting slow. We have also purchased Stillwater Alpaca Minerals to add into their feed once a day. We are hoping that with this extra investment, their general health, and fiber, will be top notch. 

Manure Management- So, the not so fun, but really useful part of owning any livestock is taking care of the pooh. Yeah, I know, it’s not fun. But with alpacas, it’s at least pretty easy. They have a designated spot both inside and outside that they all use, and as long as you keep it cleaned up, they stick to that one area. We muck out the inside every evening before their supper rations and we muck out the pen every 3 or 4 days. We then cart it over to an ever growing pile and let it break down some. It’s referred to as “Alpaca Gold” or “Black Gold” because it is EXCELLENT fertilizer for your crops. In fact, it really doesn’t even need the breakdown, cooling off period, but it’s late in the season and we don’t need it this year. But next year, watch out. Our pumpkins are going to be HUGE.

General Welfare Checks- I am a stickler for rooting out possible problems before they become Big Awful Problems. I do it with our chickens by spending time everyday watching them and looking for behavioral changes. I now do it every day with the alpacas. I watch them eat. I watch them drink. I watch how the walk, how they run. I watch them hang out. I am not ashamed to admit, I’ve watched them poop. There is no way to avoid it, as any change in these daily go abouts is usually the first sign that something might be wrong. I’ve been worried about the stress of the move causing sickness especially, so I’ve been scouring the web to make sure they are at normal weights. I’ve peaked into their eyes and mouths when they’ve let me. I’m fairly certain I’m just an overwrought mama bear type, but this type of welfare check has saved us a lot of heartache. And headaches.

Okay, I feel like that was a lot of words.

I also feel like I could write individual blogs about each of these subjects, so as we get to learn more, build more, do more, I’ll do my best to update with new info.

Otherwise, until next time, have a wicked good day!

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