Alpacas


There is so much to learn and say about alpacas and there are many sites that have lots of useful information.  Here is just a selection of information that we have accumulated during our journey with alpacas and the regular husbandry activities that are required to keep the animals happy and healthy.


Alpacas are members of the camel family and as such they have padded feet with two toes and toe nails rather than any form of hoof.  This makes them much kinder on the land than horses etc. as although the surface may get muddy they do not churn it up and the mud soon washes off.


They originate from the high planes of South America, primarily Peru and Chile.  The natural climate of

these areas is arid with huge ranges of temperature.  The big change for them in this country is the lush pasture and wet climate.  Although they cope well with these conditions they do need supplements to boost the mineral content that exists in the meagre pasture in the altiplano. 


Although they will cope well in all weathers in this country, their fleeces can get waterlogged and with cold winds they can suffer.  There is often debate about whether field shelters are needed.  Some insist that they are essential, some say they are not necessary.  We found that our alpaca s coped well during the first winter in a field with good hedges and trees under which to shelter.  But the last winter was so consistently wet that we erected a shelter so that the could get out of the rain and dry their coats.  Some alpacas will not use shelters, this is usually because they are dark and enclosed - they don't like to feel trapped.

 

They tend to use specific patches in the field as latrines so it is relatively easy to remove their poo.  This helps greatly to keep the worm burden down and avoid patches where the grass has been burnt off.  With our original 4 alpacas we removed the poo by hand a couple of times a week.  But as numbers increased we invested in a 'poo hoover', which we also use for the horses as well.  Alpacas share the same parasites as sheep but not the same as horses so the worm cycle can be broken by grazing alternatively with alpacas and horses.  We have found that the fields come back very well after the alpacas have grazed the field.

 

There are regular husbandry activities that need to be performed.  As our fields are generally soft and not rocky like their natural habitat, their toe nails do need trimming on a regular basis.  You will need a catch pen or shelter that you can contain the alpacas in in order to do this.  We find that the white alpacas grow their toe nails much faster than the dark coloured alpacas.

 

During our dull cloudy winters the alpacas do not get sufficient sunlight on their skin so they need vitamin D supplement, this can either be in the form of a paste that you squirt in the mouth or as an injection on a monthly basis.

 

We have already mentioned parasites.  There are various labs that will analyse the alpaca poo to determine what worms are present and what would be the best wormer to use.  Regular poo picking massively improves the worm burden but you should consider worming any alpacas with worms.  Some alpacas also get mites that can affect their skin and cause dry scabby places and may need treating.


They will need to be shorn annually and usually your shearer will check their teeth and make sure they have not overgrown.  Alpacas only have lower teeth at the front which bite against a hard palette on the upper jaw.  If the lower teeth get too long then they either force the jaw apart or grow in front of the hard palette making it hard for the alpaca to eat.

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