People often confuse alpacas with llamas. They are closely related but still distinctly different animals. Alpacas are smaller then llamas in both height and weight. Alpacas will have an average weight of 100 to 200 pounds while llamas can reach 450 pounds. Another difference is that alpacas are primarily raised for the luxurious fleece while llamas are primarily used for packing.
The Alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid (camel) family. Indigenous to South American, both alpacas and llamas have been domesticated for thousands of years and have been exported to many countries. Since they are raised as domestic livestock, for their fleece, they are classified as livestock by both the United States and Canada.
An interesting fact is that alpacas do not have hooves. They have two toes with hard toenails but a soft pad on the bottom of their feet. Because they do not have hooves, this minimizes their effect on pastures and grazing land. Also, they have a communal waste site, not randomly dispersing waste all over the pasture.
Planning to Add Alpacas
Besides the general shelter or barn, which needs to be near fresh, clean water, fencing is probably the most expensive item when starting to add alpacas to your farm. Woven fence is recommended, 5 feet tall with 4-inch squares. Larger squares can cause alpacas to get their feet or even head entangled. The predators in your area will also determine the type of fencing that you will need.
Research is always recommended before adding any new animals to your farm. A reputable alpaca farm is always the first place to start. Remember that the cheapest isn’t always the way to go. Ask for vaccination and anti-worming records as well as vet records and even references. Take some time to determine the breed and number that best fits your farm.
How Do You Care for Alpacas?
You can generally raise two to ten alpacas on an acre of land. They require little pasture and food as compared with other livestock animals. Of course, this depends on the terrain, fresh water and shelter available. They need plenty of fresh water daily. Also, alpacas are herd, social, animals and do not do as well on their own. As with most social animals, males will fight for their dominance but generally all will get along just fine.
These animals eat mostly grass and hay. An adult alpaca will eat approximately two pounds of food per 100-125 pounds of body weight per day. Alfalfa hay is not recommended because of its high protein content and it is not as digestible for alpacas. Simple grass hay is recommended. Because of their short tongues and fewer teeth, alpacas often only nibble on the tops of plants, not pulling plants up by the roots like goats often do. However, they do tend to also nibble on brushes and trees so an amount of caution should be used to ensure that those plants are safe to eat. Alpacas have a single stomach that is divided into three compartments – pseudo ruminates. They chew cud and can process simple foods very efficiently. However, pregnant and nursing alpacas may require mineral and nutritional supplements depending on the geographical location. There are several alpaca foods on the market for a variety of needs. You may want to talk to your local vet to plan the best diet and supplements for your herd.
These animals, just as other livestock, need basic shelter from heat and cold. They also require vaccinations and medications to strive and remain healthy. Although easy to maintain, they need their toe nails trimmed and a scheduled fleece shearing once a year, usually in the spring.
CD/T or 3-way Vaccine is generally used for alpacas. According to Dr. Stacey Byers, DVM, this is a commonly used killed vaccine and provides good protection against two types of Clostridium perfringens. He states in http://veterinaryextension.colostate.edu, that these bacteria cause diarrhea and sudden deaths in babies and adults. The second, Clostridium tetani causes tetanus, and all animals are at risk following infections that occur primarily through wounds, castrations, etc. This is another reason to carefully check the farm from which you are buying. You do not what to bring diseases into your herd. Farmers use various vaccination schedules. Most plans recommend vaccination of adults once a year, while pregnant females 4-6 weeks before breeding season. Babies should be vaccinated at 3-4 months old and again 4 weeks later then yearly thereafter. Other vaccines such as West Nile Virus and Rabies should be administered by your vet. A talk with your local veterinary will help get you started on the right vaccine, anti-worming, and medication schedule.
Alpacas on the Farm
Generally, alpacas are safe to be around. They do not bite or butt as some animals do. They run gracefully at a lope around the fields and often avoid interacting with people. Alpacas, like most members of the camel family, will spit as a means of communicating fear or protectiveness. They are protective of their food and may spit at other alpacas or animals as a way to ward them off. Also, males use this spitting to declare dominance or as a warning. They do spit at people but usually it is out of fear. However, each animal is different, and it is best to learn their behavior and avoid getting into a situation that would make the animal uncomfortable. On occasion, an alpaca will kick with its hind legs if touched near the rear or if scared from behind.
Alpacas are often raised for their fleece, also called fiber, which is soft and luxurious. You can get approximately five to ten pounds of fleece per animal and usually animals are sheared once a year. This fleece is sold globally for its light weight durability and luster. Various hues can be dyed from alpaca fleece, making it a prize among fleece lovers. Many farmers sell the fleece for supplemental income.