Alpaca are gentle and easy to handle. Alpacas are safe and very rarely bite or butt. Even if they did, without incisors, horns, hoofs or claws, little harm can be done. Clean-up is easy since alpacas deposit droppings in only a few places in the paddock and they all use the same spot. They require minimal internal fencing and can be pastured at 5 to 10 per acre. They communicate with a variety of "hums", ear, tail and body position. They are extremely intelligent and curious. They do not have strong defenses and rely on "safety in numbers", so they are strong herd animals. This means you must have two or more. If alone, they can become stressed, paranoid or, worse, stop eating and die. You can keep a bred female with a gelding (males who have been neutered), but it is recommended that you keep males and females separate after weaning.
CARING FOR THE ALPACA
As the region they come from has terrible and limited forage (some areas of Peru and Chili have not had rain in over 50 years!), they are among the most efficient utilizers of food on earth. An adult will consume around 2 1/2 lbs of forage a day although most breeders in the U.S. supplement this with a grain and mineral mix. Due to their efficiency, their solid waste looks like large rabbit pellets and is primarily composed of indigestible fiber. This means, unlike other livestock, they are relatively smell free and their waste can be composted for 0-6 months and makes an excellent fertilizer
Alpaca are easy to care for, but they are livestock and require more knowledge and care than a dog or cat. Compared to horses, cattle sheep etc., they are far easier to care for. The actual time involved in caring for them may only amount to a half hour or two a day but it is every day. Typical care might be:
- Hay and supplement feeding - 1-2 times a day
- Fresh, clean water - all the time
- Clean up poop pile - every other day (best if every day)
- Pasture and shed cleaning, fence check - weekly
- Worming and routine body check, including weight - once a month
- Trim toenails and check teeth - every other month
- Shearing fleece and cutting male fighting teeth- once a year
- Vaccinations - once a year (Rabies requires a vet)
- Visit from vet - once a year
- Your barn may need the walls washed off or swept every few months (cobwebs and dust)
- If showing- halter and lead training as required (including socializing), as well as health check and testing (usually a blood check).
- For pregnant girls – you’ll need to have the vet check for pregnancy (ultrasound, X-ray or blood-test) or you can "spit test" with a male. Usually they give birth without help, but occasionally need a little help from you or the vet. You should call the vet when she goes into labor and the vet should also check the new born cria. It is recommended that you have the vet perform an IgG (to test immunity transfer) at 24 hours after nursing starts.
- For breeding – generally the female is brought to the herd sire’s farm. You’ll need to arrange transportation. This is done every 12-18 months.
- Heat is a big concern for alpacas and you must provide shade and protection from strong heat. Fans and good air circulation are a must, as well as fresh water.
Alpaca are relatively helpless when it comes to protecting themselves. Therefore, predators are another big concern. Make sure your pastures and fenced areas are sufficient to keep OUT all other animals, including the neighborhood dogs. You may consider a guard llama or a protection dog to keep with each herd.