Alpaca Care and Diet
Of all livestock you can own, the alpaca is one of the easiest and most inexpensive to maintain. This factor contributes significantly to their overall investment value and the quality of life of those who care for them. Small wonder that the alpaca is now considered the world's finest livestock investment.
Their physical needs are simple and "user friendly" for the new owner as well as the experienced alpaca farmer:
Since alpacas have survived several millennia in the harsh cold of the high Andes, they have developed a remarkable ability to be comfortable during the worst of our winters (if only the same could be said of their human caretakers). A three-sided shelter with the open side facing east-southeast is usually adequate. The maximum number of animals you plan for that area should determine the size of shelter.
In warm weather, alpacas need shade and airflow. Make sure your shelter and/or barn has adequate ventilation and be prepared to use fans in these areas on warm, muggy days.
Clean, fresh water should also be available in or near the shelter. Alpacas do not consume much water, but they will resist drinking stale or dirty water.
The efficiency of the alpaca is especially noticeable when you consider that they are highly developed ruminants and require much less food intake than most animals their size.
If your pastures have adequate natural, non-fertilized grass, they will content themselves to simply graze there. Alternating them between pasture areas allows the grass to re-grow and fecal parasites to die before reusing the areas. Ideally, rotation schedules at least two weeks long will allow these desirable events to occur.
You can supplement grass intake with a low-protein grass hay. A little alfalfa is okay, but you need to watch protein levels. Remember, your alpacas are designed to utilize their food in a very efficient manner. Put their hay in an area where it can stay dry and in a container that minimizes waste.
Finally, most alpaca owners will add a small amount of commercial grain prepared for alpacas to their animals' daily diet. The important value of this is to provide selenium and other necessary vitamins, which cannot be obtained from grass and hay in the United States.
The general rule is that five to ten alpacas can be easily and efficiently maintained on one acre of usable land. This will vary depending on your farm layout, the nature of your land, and other factors. Obviously, if your pasture has a little grass and a lot of alpacas, you will need to provide additional high-quality grass hay for your herd.
Alpacas are non-aggressive animals that do not "challenge" fences like other types of livestock. Indeed, your fencing should be designed more toward keeping predators out than keeping your alpacas in. This suggests a height of at least five feet and mesh openings no more than four inches wide.
Under normal circumstances, your medical expenses for your alpacas will be minimal. These are essentially hardy and healthy animals, toughened by 5000 years of life in the hostile environment of the high Andes, and protected by stringent import guidelines maintained by the US government and AOBA.
The standard regimen of care for the alpaca includes annual inoculations and monthly worming. Toenails need to be trimmed every six months. As you become more experienced, you may want to handle most of these procedures and utilize your veterinarian only on an as-needed and consultative basis.
One of your first tasks in researching your alpaca options should be to locate a qualified veterinarian near you who has specialized experience in treating camelids, preferably alpacas. Your state veterinary association will be able to assist you in this search.