On this page you’ll find key information you need to know about alpacas.
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Alpacas have one of two fleece types, Huacaya or Suri.
Huacaya alpacas are often referred to as having a teddy bear look, their fleece grows outwards in thick staples making them look much bigger than their physical size. Approximately 95% of the alpacas in the world are of the Huacaya type.
Here are photos of a Huacaya and a Suri Alpaca, click on either photo for a larger image.
Suri Alpacas look more like Dougal dogs, their fibre hanging downwards in long individual locks, often twisted like a corkscrew. The hanging nature of their fleece means it flows as they move and makes them look much thinner than an Huacaya. Approximately 5% of the alpacas in the world are of the Suri type.
Alpacas come in 22 different colours ranging from white to black including fawn, brown and grey and all the shades in between. Some alpacas are solid coloured and some multicoloured or have white markings. You can find an alpaca in almost any colour you prefer. More work has been put into improving the quality of the fibre of white alpacas than into that of coloured ones. This is because it can be dyed any other colour and is therefore able to be used for any purpose. Click this link to see the main 12 twelve colour shades.
Originating in Bolivia, Chile and Peru, alpacas have been an important part of pastoral life for over 6,000 years. During the time of the Incas alpacas were highly revered, large herds were kept on the best valley pasture, (the Altiplano) and they were selectively bred for the fineness of their fibre. Only royalty were allowed to wear garments made from it. Clothing found on Inca ice mummies recovered from glaciers in Peru show a quality of fibre we cannot yet achieve today.
There are currently more than 2 million alpacas in Peru, and more than 40,000 registered in the UK.
How to Keep Alpacas
You can keep between three and five alpacas on an acre of good quality grazing land, but it is better to have additional land available to enable you to rotate their grazing and give the land a rest. It is very important to remove any poisonous plants from your pasture before introducing alpacas. Click to find a list of plants poisonous to alpacas (this will open a Microsoft Word document).
Alpacas have evolved in the high mountains to obtain maximum energy from the poorest of grazing. As a result they need high levels of low protein fibre in their diets, and ideally a wide variety of plant types including shrubs and trees on which to browse. They prefer to graze shorter grasses, so depending on stocking levels you may need to mow your paddocks. Leave the grass cuttings to dry and they will eat them too.
Alpacas don’t generally challenge fencing in the same way as sheep or cattle. Four rail post and rail fencing or taughtly erected stock netting with straining posts provide good alpaca proof fencing. Alpacas don’t have many predators in the UK, the main ones being dogs and foxes. They will try and face off both when confronted with them but it is good practice to run stock netting around all your boundary fences to stop stray dogs and foxes gaining access to your property in the first place.
Four foot fencing will generally provide a high enough barrier to prevent alpacas jumping between paddocks. Five foot boundary fences will help stop dogs jumping over. You will not necessarily have the luxury of putting up new fencing but if you don't it is important to remove any barbed wire in fields where alpacas will graze, they can easily get their fleeces tangled in it and become caught fast unable to move, some alpacas have died caught in this way. If you need to increase the height of stock fencing use several strands of plain fence wire.
Dividing fields into smaller paddocks enables you to rotate them and give each one a rest, it also makes it easier to round up your alpacas when you need to move them. Handling is also easier if you create a small corral, you can do this easily out of hurdles (you’ll also be able to move it when you need to). Feeding them in the corral will also make them easier to bring in when you need to do husbandry tasks.
Alpacas need some form of shelter from biting winds, driving rain and hot sun. Thick hedges, shelter belts or high walls will provide adequate shelter if they lie in the path of the prevailing wind. However, if your farm is situated in a particularly exposed, wet or cold position or you don’t have any other form of shelter you should consider providing some form of field shelter. These can vary in size from a standard horse field shelter to a barn. They should be sited with the opening out of the prevailing wind and the entrance should be wide enough to prevent individual animals being excluded from it by more dominant alpacas blocking the entrance.
Most alpacas prefer to stay in the open so don’t be surprised if they don’t make much use of the shelter you provide. However, you can encourage them to become familiar with it by feeding them there. The shelter can also serve as emergency accommodation should you need to bring an alpaca inside for veterinary treatment or isolate it.
Here is a photo of an ideal shelter (please note given the increased danger to alpacas of Bovine TB we would now recommend adding stock netting or similar to the bottom of your entry gates to keep out Badgers looking for food:
it is a good idea to register with a local large animal vet as soon as you buy your alpacas, click this link to find a link to BCVS registered camelid vets. If your vet is not already a member of the British Veterinary Camelid Society (BVCS) you may want to encourage them to join, membership is very cheap and amongst other things they can join in discussion forums on clinical issues and find out how other vets are treating particular conditions. Hopefully you will not need your vets services for quite a while, but at some point you will and if you have already made contact with them you will not be frantically searching for telephone numbers when time is of the essence.
Being prey animals alpacas show little in the way of obvious warning signs that anything is wrong until they are very sick. However, if you observe your herd regularly you will notice when things are not as they are usually. Things to look out for include: alpacas that are spending a lot of time lying down, particularly if they are not chewing the cud; alpacas that don’t move with the herd when the rest of the herd moves off; alpacas that are not feeding or grazing; alpacas that are moving stiffly or appear hunched up and lethargic; alpacas that have scouring (diaorrhea). Observing changes in your alpacas dung can be also be worthwhile (you’ll be doing this anyway when you clean your paddocks) as it can also be a good indication that something is wrong.
If you are in any doubt about the health of one of your alpacas ring your vet, and /or a member of the British Alpaca Societies Welfare committee. Alpacas are expensive animals, you will not only protect your investment but also prevent unnecessary suffering and disease.
Alpacas are modified ruminants grazing grass quickly, swallowing it and regurgitating it for later thorough chewing (cudding). It is normal for them to spend up to 8 hours a day chewing the cud. As already mentioned alpacas need high levels of low protein fibre in their diets. It is not only good practice but essential to provide free access to good quality hay in addition to pasture. Alpacas need long fibre (more than two inches) in their diet for efficient functioning of their rumen (third stomach). Alfalfa, lucerne or clover hay provide very good quality fibre. But due to their fragile nature and high protein levels are probably better fed in small amounts as chaff in feed bowls. Note: again for biosecurity reasons, it is good practice to keep feed bowls or troughs well up off the ground to avoid the possibility of badgers eating and contaminating left over food.
The feed value of grass varies considerably throughout the year. At its lushest it can contain up to 80% water, and between 15 -30% of crude protein as dry matter. The greener grass is the more protein it contains. As the season progresses protein levels will fall to around a third of their peak level. Inevitably this means alpacas must eat more of it to obtain the same levels of protein. Physically alpacas can not consume more than 2-2.5% of their own body weight. This means that those alpacas that are growing (young stock) or doing work such as stud services or bringing up babies (lactating mothers) will need supplementary feed of some sort.
Supplementary feed can be provided in the form of grain, pulses or prepared camelid mixes. It is easy to over do supplementary feeding causing digestive problems ranging from ulcers to obesity. The best way to monitor how your alpacas are responding to the feed you are giving them is to body score them every month, click this link to find out how to body score your alpacas. It is impossible to tell how well they are doing by simply looking at them as their fleece hides their real body shape. Prepared camelid mixes currently available include: Monarch Camelid Coarse Mix; Carrs Camelid Coarse Mix; Camelibra; Mole Valley and Camelid Complete Feed click this link to find contact details for the manufacturers. Feeding a small amount of prepared mix every day will keep your alpacas coming in (helpful when you need to round them up for routine husbandry) and provide them with low levels of essential vitamins and minerals.
Alpacas require a minimum of husbandry compared to sheep and other livestock, however, they do require some.
Trimming Toenails - toenails should be trimmed as required to bring them back level with the pad of the foot (usually twice a year), click this link to see how to do it.
Vacinations – the main vaccinations given are against clostridial disease. Current thinking varies between vaccinating on 6 monthly and 12 monthly cycles for alpacas over 6 months old, with 30 day / 60 day / and 6 month vaccinations for cria, and a booster for expectant mums 4-6 weeks before there due birthing date. Injections are given subcutaneously (Sub Q) using products such as Heptavac or Lambivac, click this link to see how to do it.
Worming – alpacas share many worm parasites with sheep and cattle. For alpaca health it is better therefore not to graze them together and to avoid follow on grazing them. However, they don’t share many parasites with horses and they can be usefully used in grazing rotation together with resting paddocks or leaving them for hay to help break the worm cycle. Many alpaca farmers prefer to collect dung samples and get their vets to measure Faecal Egg Counts (FEC) to determine what the worm burden is before giving treatments. Others routinely worm, although this risks developing resistant worm populations that will no longer respond to wormers. Wormers commonly used are Ivomec, Dectomax, Fasinex (Liver Fluke) and Eprinex Pour On. All apart from the later are given by Sub Q injection.
Paddock Cleaning – alpacas keep to specific sites for their dung piles and don’t contaminate the whole pasture. They will not the grass around their dung piles. If you regularly remove the dung you can help minimise worm populations and keep your alpacas generally healthier. You may also find it helpful to mow the grass around the piles after cleaning and compost the mowings, it is better not to leave them from a worm point of view. Dung can be removed with a barrow and a shovel, leaf collectors or if you can afford it a paddock vacuum or a towed sweeper. We have found the vacuum the best as it sucks up the dung without spreading it helping to contain any worm population. Click this link for details of paddock vacuum suppliers in the UK.
Shearing – Huacaya alpacas need shearing every year, Suris are sometimes shorn every second year particularly if the owner wants to grow a long fleece for show purposes. Fleeces left on the alpaca for too long can not only cause them to over heat during the summer months but also results in deterioration of the fibre reducing it’s saleability and processing quality. Shearing is usually done between May and July to help the alpacas keep cool in the warmer weather and to give them enough time to grow a good fleece for protection from the winter weather. Click this link for details of shearers in the UK. If you want to see pictures before, during and after shearing click on the thumbnail pictures below.