How To Take Care Of An Alpaca: A Simple Guide

Alpacas and llamas are members of the camel family. While camels and dromedaries hail from the Middle East, northern Africa, South Asia, Tibet and China, other humpless members of the family come mostly from South America. In this article, we describe and discuss alpacas and their care. Read on to learn more on how to take care of an alpaca.

Why Would You Want Alpacas?

why would you want alpacas

Alpacas are long-lived animals, and they produce valuable fleece all their lives. Typically, a well cared for alpaca can live for about twenty years. The oldest alpaca on record lived to be 27 years old. A healthy animal will produce between 5 and 10 pounds of high quality fleece every year.

Alpaca fleece is very similar to cashmere, and it is used to create yarn, blankets, tapestries, clothing and more. This fine material is in great demand.

Generally speaking, the fleece from an alpaca is more resilient, warmer, lighter and stronger than that of any sheep. Very fine grades of alpaca fleece are called “baby alpaca”. This quality of fleece is considered hypoallergenic.

There is no lanolin in alpaca fleece, so it takes very little cleaning to get it ready for spinning. Alpaca fleece feels very silky and is extremely easy to work with, so people who go in for weaving, knitting and hand-spinning fleece prefer it to sheeps’ wool.

Alpaca fleece is sometimes combined with sheeps’ wool to make a softer product. It can also be blended with other fibers such as:

  • Cashmere
  • Mohair
  • Angora
  • Silk

Alpaca fleece also comes in a wide variety of colors. In fact, there are sixteen official alpaca fleece colors, they are derived from these basics:

  • Black
  • White
  • Brown
  • Beige
  • Gray
  • Fawn

Each of these comes in several subtle light and dark shades. The paler shades are very easy to dye and hold their color well.

The textiles created using alpaca fleece are warm, durable, soft and light. Many alpaca owners make their own products using alpaca fleece and sell these online, at farmers markets, craft fairs and through local shops.

You Can Breed Alpacas To Sell

you can breed alpacas to sell

Alpacas are also quite popular in their own right, and you can make a little money selling your baby alpacas once they are weaned.

The gestation period for alpacas is 11-12 months. Pregnant females typically deliver one baby weighing between 15 and 19 pounds. They do not usually need help delivering their babies, which are called cria.

The female alpaca usually gives birth during the daylight, and the baby is usually up, moving around and nursing on its own within an hour-and-a-half. Mom will take care of baby for about six months, at which time the baby should be weaned.

Alpaca Meat Is An Interesting By-Product

Although it is not economical to breed these animals for meat production, meat harvested from culled animals is considered a delicacy by many.

Pedigreed Stock Is A Good Investment

how many types of alpacas are there

When considering selling the offspring of your alpacas, keep in mind that it’s wise to invest in pedigreed breeding stock. It costs no more to take care of pedigreed, registered animals than mixed, unregistered animals. You will make a greater profit selling registered offspring.

In the United States, Canada and around the world, you can consult with the Alpaca Owners Association, Inc. (AOA) to find the best breeding stock.

This registry requires that every applicant for registration be DNA tested to its parents in order to qualify for the registry. This means that animals registered through AOA are guaranteed pure and are very desired.

The AOA also organizes fleece judging competitions and alpaca shows. If you are new to alpacas, attending these events can help you understand the world of alpacas and find a bloodline in which to invest. Pedigreed stock produces higher quality offspring and higher quality fleece.

How Many Types Of Alpacas Are There?

In South America, several strains of both alpacas and llamas have been kept as domestic animals for many centuries. There are also a couple of other varieties of alpaca (vicunas and guanacos) which roam in wild herds and are not typically domesticated.

There are two breeds of alpacas that are commonly domesticated. They are:

  1. Huacaya (wahKIah) make up about 90% of the entire alpaca population. This type of alpaca has very fluffy, soft fleece which makes these critters extremely cute.
  2. Suri (SOOree) have long, silky, shiny fleece (hair) that falls in graceful locks from their sides. Their fleece is extremely fine and is used to make very soft, delicate fabrics.

The Two Alpaca Breeds – Huacaya And Suri

Are Alpacas Farm Animals Or Exotic Animals?

With their luxurious appearance, it might seem that alpacas should be considered an exotic species; however, because they have been kept as livestock traditionally for many thousands of years, they are typically classified as livestock, just like goats or cattle. Even so, they do make very nice, smart, interesting pets.

Unlike many types of livestock, alpacas are comparatively safe to have around and are also suitable as pets. They are not aggressive and don’t tend to bite or kick. If they do kick (e.g. if taken by surprise) they don’t do it with hooves. Alpacas have soft feet with toes and nails rather than claws.

Unlike cattle, horses, pigs, goats and even llamas, alpacas are very quiet. Their usual sound is something like humming. Males will make a bleating sort of sound during mating. This is called “orgling”. There is also a shrill alarm sound which you may hear from time-to-time if the herd is threatened by a predator.

Another difference between alpacas and other livestock is that they are small and comparatively easy to take care of. They are not destructive to their environment because their grazing habits lean more towards nibbling than intensive grazing. Additionally, their soft feet don’t tear up the earth.

When compared with other livestock, alpacas attract very few flies and have very little odor. They’ll typically establish between two and four dung piles in their enclosure, taking up between 10% and 20% of their entire pasture area. This natural habit makes cleanup and parasite control very easy.

Alpaca Manure Is A Great Garden Amendment

Alpaca droppings are small, hard and dry and do not attract swarms of flies. The animals naturally return to the same spot to relieve themselves, so it’s very easy to clean up after them.

Additionally, their fairly odorless manure makes an excellent addition to vegetable and flower beds as-is. It is not especially acidic and can be safely used as fertilizer without composting. It also makes a good addition to compost projects.

For these reasons, another avenue for monetizing these critters lies in harvesting manure. All alpaca manure can be used and/or sold for composting, worm composting or as-is for soil amendment.

Alpacas Are Easy-Care In Most Environments

If you’ve been considering keeping livestock of any kind, you’ll be happy to know that when it comes to how to take care of an alpaca, both setup and daily care are comparatively easy.

Of course, as with any livestock or any pet, you must have appropriate facilities in place to care for them. A three sided shed can provide shelter from the elements; although, you may be surprised to find that your alpacas choose not to be sheltered from the elements.

These resilient animals are very well adapted to extremely cold climates and very hot climates. Even so, excessive heat and humidity can be hard on them. This is why it’s very important to make sure that your alpaca are shorn before the hot weather comes if you live in a very hot and humid environment.

In very hot places, it’s recommended that you set up fans in the alpaca shelter to help provide a cool setting. Some alpaca owners spray their charges bellies with cool water during very hot weather. It’s important to avoid spraying water on the animals’ back and sides, though, as this can spoil the fleece.

Of course, whether the weather is hot or cold, alpacas must have fresh clean water to drink twenty-four hours a day and should have free access to fresh, dry hay on a 24-hour basis.

Alpaca Care

Alpacas Need Consistent Care And Handling

As with other livestock, your alpacas will need a visit from the vet once a year. Check with your local veterinarian and/or county agricultural extension agent to find out what vaccines are needed in your area.

You’ll need to groom your alpacas periodically to keep their fleece tangle-free, and they should be sheared annually at the end of the winter. Alpaca toenails should be trimmed every two-to-four months.

Regular Training Makes Care Easier

A pair of alpacas make good pets. They are smart, and they’re pretty easy to train. This is especially true if you’re able to start training while your pet is still a baby.

You’ll want to put a halter on your alpaca right away and work on teaching it to lead with a rope. This is fairly easy because the animal will tend to want to follow you if it’s bonded with you.

Teach Your Alpaca To Travel Well

You can teach your alpaca to navigate obstacle courses, and this is a typical activity that is pursued at alpaca shows. If you get pedigreed alpaca and decide that you do want to attend shows, you will find it easier than showing horses, goats or most other livestock because you can carry an alpaca in your car.

If you have a van or SUV or are able to take the backseat out of your car, you can simply usher your animal into the space. It will typically lie down with its legs folded underneath. This position is called the “cush”.

Your alpaca will typically stay in this position until you’ve made it from point A to point B. For especially long trips, you’ll want to stop and let the animal out to stretch his legs and relieve himself occasionally.

How to Raise Alpacas – The Easy Way!

You Don’t Need Big Acreage For Alpacas

Alpacas are herd animals and cannot be kept happily alone. While you may be tempted to keep one alpaca as a pet, this would not be a good idea. You need at least two. Three are better. If you don’t intend to breed alpacas, you can keep two females or two neutered males together happily.

Luckily, these small, gentle animals do not need a lot of space. In fact, you can keep as many as eight alpacas on a single acre. They like a wooded setting with underbrush and a variety of plants to nibble. Second cutting grass hay should be provided.

If you don’t have a wooded setting for your alpacas, you can keep them in a corral setting and feed them just on hay. Talk with your county agriculture extension agent to determine what will work best in your situation.

Alpacas Are Fairly Inexpensive To Feed

Alpacas are light eaters, and they subsist mostly on grass and hay. For every 125 pounds of alpaca, you’ll need to feed 2 pounds of grass or hay daily. Generally speaking, you want to feed 1.5% of each animals’ body weight every day.

When you do the math, you’ll find that a herd of 20 alpacas needs 60 pounds of grass or hay daily. A typical bale of hay weighs 60 pounds.

You should feed grass hay, not alfalfa. Alfalfa hay is very rich and provides a great deal of protein which can be problematic for easy keepers such as alpacas, which are pseudo-ruminants. They have one stomach which is divided into three parts.

Like actual ruminants, they do produce rumen and chew their cud. This makes them capable of processing small amounts of food with great efficiency.

You may wish to give your alpacas nutritional supplements. This is especially true if you have pregnant females or nursing mothers. Talk with your vet to determine which vitamins and minerals are necessary in your setting with your feeding schedule.

Alpacas Don’t House Well With Goats And Sheep

alpacas don’t house well with goats and sheep

While you might think that alpacas are very similar to goats and sheep, they are actually somewhat different. For example, alpacas do not have long tongues like goats and sheep. This is why alpacas don’t strip pastures bare.

Goats and sheep can pull plants out of the ground by the roots. Alpacas simply nibble the tops. When kept with goats or sheep, alpacas may have a hard time competing for food.

Alpacas may also have trouble defending themselves against aggressive goats because alpacas have only two sets of teeth: back molars for cud chewing and a set of lower teeth in the front that work in opposition to an upper dental pad (hard gum).

This interesting front combination is used to crush hay, grass, leaves or grain before it is swallowed into the first compartment of the stomach. It also explains why alpacas don’t bite. They can’t! This leaves them a bit vulnerable if kept with more aggressive animals.

In addition to being unable to bite to defend themselves, remember that alpacas (unlike goats and sheep) don’t have hard hooves for kicking. They may kick a bit if attacked or provoked, but their soft feet and toenails cannot cause the kind of damage associated with hooves.

Alpacas will occasionally spit at other alpacas. For example, if one alpaca tries to steal food from another, it may find itself spat upon.

Alpacas will very seldom spit at people; although, it is possible for a person to be accidentally spat upon if one alpaca is trying to spit on another one. Regardless of the intended target, this spitting isn’t much of a defense.

Even so, alpacas have been found useful as guard animals for birds, such as ducks, geese and chickens. Alpacas are effective against small predators like raccoons, foxes and cats.

Good Fences Make Good Protection

good fences make good protection

Alpacas tend to be respectful of fences, so your fencing does not have to be especially strong to keep them in. Just remember that your fence should keep large predators out, so design it accordingly.

Generally speaking, 5 or 6 foot horse fencing is adequate for alpacas. In areas where predators such as bears, coyotes or loose dogs are problematic, special no-climb fencing is recommended.

Because alpacas are not able to defend themselves, you must take care if you plan to keep a protective animal, such as a donkey, dog or llama. It is wiser to keep this animal in a perimeter pen that runs around the entire outside of your alpaca pen.

Llamas Should Not Live With Alpacas

While many people believe that alpacas and llamas are the same animal, this is not the case. They are closely related, and they can interbreed, but they are very different animals.

Alpacas are only about 3 feet tall at the shoulder. They weigh between 100 and 200 pounds. Llamas stand between 4 and 5 feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh as much is 450 pounds.

Aside from size, a big difference between alpacas and llamas is the personality. While llamas have a reputation for being ill tempered spitters (like their camel cousins) alpacas do not typically spit.

Because of these differences in size and temperament, alpacas could easily be bullied and or injured by llamas. Additionally, unintentional crossbreeding could result in injury to alpacas and/or the production of oddball offspring that are of little or no use.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Farm & Animals since 2019. Farm animals have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.

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