Tips on Alpaca Care
A big part of alpaca care involves taking time to be with your alpacas. Look at them, touch them, know their normal behavior. Handle your alpacas on the halter and lead and in the barn so that they are not afraid of you. The more time you spend with each alpaca, the easier it will be to catch any potential problem early and provide the proper care.
You can keep 7 or 8 alpacas on only one acre of land and they will not pull up the roots of the plants they graze on. Alpacas need some kind of pasture as well as hay. Orchardgrass is a good choice. Most alpaca breeders also give some pellet-type feed such as Llama Feed. You can get this at the farm store. Pregnant and/or nursing female alpacas should absolutely have this extra pellet type feed because it contains vitamins and minerals, and good quality pasture is also a must. Most alpaca breeders also give a mineral supplement. Test your soil before choosing a mineral supplement for your alpacas. You can make your alpacas sick if you supplement something that you already have in your soil.
Part of alpaca care is monthly worming shots or paste. You can buy the worming medicines in a local Farm store. Ivomec (for cows) works as does Panacur. Dectomax is similar to Ivomec but seems to be a little stronger. Rotate worming meds to avoid producing parasites that are resistant to any one alpaca wormer. Do not listen to any “expert” who claims you don’t have to worm a pregnant alpaca, alpacas in very cold weather, etc. Look at the current RESEARCH yourself before denying your alpaca protection from a deadly parasite (Meningeal Worm) that will cause a painful, horrible death.
We give 3 shots of CD& T to our crias, one per month for the first three months of their lives, and we give all of our alpacas CD&T one time per year. This is the shot that prevents Clostridium and Tetanus. It is illegal in Maryland for anyone but a veterinarian to give a rabies shot so we have our vet give all of our alpacas rabies shot each year excepting those crias under the age of 3 months.
Toenail trimming is a mandatory part of alpaca care! Your alpaca cannot walk well with overgrown toenails! You can use a pair of small garden shears for this. We also look into the ears of each alpaca each month to check for ticks. We like to weigh each alpaca as well, but you can also run your hand down the back to judge if the alpaca is over or underweight or close to perfect. This is called “body scoring.” While a livestock scale is optional, a cria (baby alpaca) scale is a must for proper cria care! You really need to make sure that baby alpaca is putting on weight after the first 24 hours.
All alpacas should be shorn once a year in the spring! We get many calls each year from people who have not made plans to have their alpacas shorn until it is summer and then they finally realize that most shearers will not shear in the summer. It is very dangerous to shear a heat-stressed alpaca because you are stressing it out further by shearing it. If you can’t find a shearer or don’t have the equipment, do it yourself with scissors but no alpaca should ever go through the summer in full fleece! Our alpaca care video has a very comprehensive chapter on alpaca shearing as well as the assembly and care of shearing equipment.
Most types of fences will do for alpacas, who are not prone to escaping the way goats or dogs sometimes are but don’t use barbed wire and remember, there is almost no fence that a newborn cria cannot slip under or through. A newborn alpaca should be watched carefully for their first few days. The main purpose of your fence is to keep out dogs and other predators.
Alpacas do not need a fancy barn but they do need shelter from the cold wind and, especially, the sun. When it is hot out, they should have cool water to drink but their water should not be too cold in the winter either. We use rock sand (not real sand!) for alpaca bedding but dirt is OK too. Straw is messy, smelly and will contaminate the fleece of your alpaca. We run large fans in our barn on very hot days.
Never keep an alpaca alone! Alpacas need other alpacas for company and are happiest with others of their own kind, ie: females with females, young males with one another or a gelding as a babysitter and breeding males with other breeding males of similar size and weight. Male alpacas will fight, so make sure that you have removed or leveled off the fighting teeth of a male alpaca before putting him in a field with others. If you plan to have an alpaca breeding farm, you will have to have more than one pasture and more than one section in your barn.
As with all animals, each alpaca has its own personality. Try not to confine a timid alpaca with her mates who are too aggressive. Try to ensure that each alpaca has access to food, water, and shelter without having to fight for it. The more space in the field, barn, and around the feeder and water sources, the better.