Alpaca Farming Tips & Advice
Alpacas are hard not to love. Originally from the mountains of South America, these livestock animals are prized for their silky fleece. There are 2 types of alpaca, the Suri and the Huacaya. The Suri breed has a longer, threaded fiber-like coat-similar to a shag carpet. The Huacaya have a shorter, denser coat which make their coat appear similar to that of a sheep.
Alpacas are smart, curious and gentle animals. They are also very well-suited for small farms and because of their wool and breeding value, can be a great agricultural investment.
They don't require a lot of space-only one acre is needed for four to eight alpacas-and their padded feet are easy on pasture. "Fiber herds are becoming increasingly popular, and it's the simplest husbandry," says Ruthanne McCaslin, an alpaca veterinarian in Chardon, Ohio.
Tips For Beginner Alpaca Farming:
Start a herd. Because alpacas are flight animals and their only defense against predators is to run, they have a strong need to live together as a herd. "You want to have at least four alpacas for them to feel safe and comfortable," says McCaslin. "They don't have fangs, hooves or even upper front teeth to fight with. So having the ability to take turns being on guard makes them feel much safer than being alone."
Fence them in. Provide perimeter fencing to keep predators out of your farm. "Alpacas aren't like goats that are always trying to get out. They'll respect a fence as long as you remember to keep the gate shut," advises McCaslin. Make sure your fencing material does not allow your alpacas to stick their heads through any openings, as they could be injured.
Provide a clean home. "Rather than trying to clean your alpacas, clean their environment," McCaslin suggests. "Don't let your grass get high enough to go to seed, or the seed heads can get caught in their fleece. You'll also want to avoid burs and thistles that can get caught in their fleece and ruin it." Second- and third-cutting hay is preferable because it has fewer seeds. Read more about pasture management.
Let them forage. Alpacas eat a diet of grass, high-quality grassy hay, and a salt or mineral supplement. "It's important that at least 90 percent of an alpaca's diet come from forages (hay and pasture)," says McCaslin. "A lot of people think of the pellets as their feed, but really it's just a supplement." Place pellets at or near ground level. "Alpacas were designed to be grazing animals, and they are much less likely to choke when they eat with their heads down."
Keep them cool. On hot summer days, alpacas need shade and cross ventilation. According to McCaslin, the underside of their bellies is where the heat exchange takes place. "They get into what's called a 'cush position' where they're lying down with their legs tucked under them," she says. They especially like to cush on a sandy area in the shade, or on sand that has been hosed down. "Alpacas don't like standing water or soggy conditions, but they love it when we turn on the sprinklers on a hot day."
Find out more information on Alpaca Farming by coming into your local Southern States to talk to one of our livestock experts, and also online from the United States Department Of Agriculture website on camelids.