Below we explain the main areas of husbandry you can expect to carry out as an alpaca owner. This is not an exhaustive list and may vary for your herd. If you are thinking of keeping alpacas, we recommend that you register with us and arrange a farm visit, so you can create and implement a tailored health care plan for your herd.
How many alpacas should you have?
- As herd animals, alpacas should always be kept in groups of at least 3. They thrive on social interaction and can become stressed and ill if kept isolated.
Males or females?
- If you wish to grow a breeding herd, you can begin with a few females in cria (already pregnant) so that you don’t need to worry about purchasing and housing studs immediately.
- If you just want a friendly herd to keep as pets, then gelded (castrated) males are your best bet. They have a milder temperament than females and will be much cheaper than females.
- You should NOT keep male alpacas together with females, or in the sight of females. Male alpacas tend to fight to compete for potential mates (even when castrated). They have fighting teeth located at the back of their mouths, which are used to attempt to castrate potential opponents. Although the teeth are trimmed, they can still inflict serious injury whilst fighting. There is also a risk of males (entire or castrated) over-mating females, which can lead to injury, exhaustion, and abortion, if pregnant.
- Standard sheep fencing is all that is required for alpacas. The recommended height for alpaca fencing is 4 ft. Alpacas do not challenge fences or try to escape.
- Plenty of water should be made available as alpacas are not used to high temperatures and humidity. As a result, they can suffer from heat stress, which can lead to illness and ultimately death if not caught in time.
- They will need some shelter, usually a 3-sided structure is sufficient so that they can get out of the wind, sun and rain when required.
- The suggested stock density is 5-6 alpacas per acre.
Vaccinations, Vitamin Supplements and Worming
- Alpacas need a Clostridial vaccination and worming twice a year in the spring and autumn.
- Vitamin D supplementation is required for proper growth in young stock and pregnant females. In their native land in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile alpacas are exposed to very high levels of sunlight and therefore can produce enough Vitamin D of their own. Here in the UK sunlight is limited during the winter so supplements are essential. These can be found in specialist alpaca feed.
- The breeding season in the UK generally runs from April through to October although alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning that they can be bred at any time of the year.
- Male alpacas generally become sexually mature at eighteen months to two years of age and females at one year.
- The gestation period for alpacas is eleven to eleven and a half months. For the first six months the foetus stays very small. It is only the last five to five and a half months where it grows to its birth weight.
- Birthing usually occurs between the hours of 7am to 2pm. This is due to their native land where if the cria is born too early in the day the temperature is very low and the cria will not dry off before it freezes. Likewise, if it were born too late in the afternoon the same would occur as the sun goes down. The cria needs to be up, dry and feeding before nightfall.
- Births are generally simple and straightforward with complications being very rare. The new cria needs a little intervention by the owner to disinfect the umbilical cord and maybe put a coat on if the weather is cold.
- Weaning normally occurs at six months of age with some larger crias being taken away at five months. This involves taking the cria from the mother and putting it with others of a similar age or early pregnant females and wethers in a paddock hopefully where the mother and cria cannot see each other.
- The main purpose of halter training is to allow for easy movement of your alpacas whether it is from a pen to the trailer or in the show ring or just for fun. It is a great way to interact with your alpacas and to get them used to you.
- All alpacas need to be shorn once a year in the UK. The time for shearing in Britain is between May and August. Shearing is carried out with the alpaca restrained on the ground and usually takes 6 to 10 minutes.
- Alpacas require access to roughage all year round. It is advisable to give ad lib hay all throughout the year. This may not be necessary in late summer and autumn as the pasture tends to dry out a little providing the roughage alpacas need.
- Pregnant females in their last trimester and lactating females may require supplementary feeding with lucerne or alfalfa to maintain their condition when grass is in short supply.
- Alpacas are very good at hiding their body condition underneath their fibre. Alpacas can put on weight very quickly, but the downside to this is that they can lose weight even quicker when they are sick.
- It is very important to condition score all your alpacas every week to fortnight and check to see if they are still in ideal condition. Correct and consistent condition scoring will alert you to when there is a problem before it gets too serious. It is also a great way of getting your alpacas used to you touching them and making them quieter to handle.
- Trimming alpaca toenails is something that needs to be done roughly every 3 months.
- Black toenails also seem to need trimming much less frequently than white or light toenails.
- Castrations or wethering is done between 12 and 24 months of age. Castration also helps males settle as they get older, and two wethers are less likely to fight than two entire males.
- Alpacas’ teeth are located in the lower jaw at the front of the mouth, which bite onto a hard palate in the upper jaw. They also have grinding teeth at the back of the mouth. As they grow, both male and female alpacas develop fighting teeth – these need to be trimmed in males to prevent causing injury when fighting.
- Alpacas of either sex can develop dental problems at any age.
- In females serious tooth problems are often more noticeable during late gestation or lactation when they have the highest nutritional requirements.