Many people who are considering keeping alpacas wonder what do alpacas eat. The short answer is that they mostly eat grass and hay, and in comparison to their size, they don’t eat much of it. The typical alpaca weighs about 125 pounds and eats about three pounds of grass, hay, vegetation and feed daily.
In this article, we discuss alpaca feeding and provide sound tips for success. Read on to learn more.
What You'll Learn Today
- Why Do Alpacas Need So Little Feed?
- Alpacas Need Good Grazing
- An Alpaca’s Diet Should Not Be Too Rich
- What To Feed Alpacas In The Winter When Grazing Is Limited
- Fresh Water Must Be Available 24/7 Year-Round
- Don’t Spoil Your Pet Alpaca
- Know What Not To Feed Alpacas
- Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Alpacas
Why Do Alpacas Need So Little Feed?
Unlike goats and cattle, which are full ruminants with four stomachs, alpaca are pseudo-ruminants. They have one stomach with three compartments.
Like full ruminants, they do chew a cud and produce rumen. This allows them to process small amounts of food very efficiently to get the most nourishment from every bite.
Alpacas chew their cud with the molars located at the backs of their jaws. They only have one set of front teeth, on the bottom. On the top is a dental pad or hard gum.
The lower front teeth grow continuously and need to be worn down through grazing. Alpacas use these lower front teeth and the gum pad to shear off food and then swallow it whole. They regurgitate it and chew it with their molars in the form of a cud which is then re-swallowed and digested.
Alpacas Need Good Grazing
Alpacas have short tongues, so they cannot pull grass up by the roots, as can sheep, goats and cattle. This means that alpacas are easy on pasture.
Pasture should consist mostly of good grass, such as Bermuda or Timothy. Small stands of Yarrow, dandelions, clover and other wild, native plants are also desirable but should not make up the most part of alpacas grazing.
These hardy little animals may also enjoy being able to nibble on some shrubs and trees. Check with your local agricultural extension to find out which native shrubs and trees in your area are safe for alpaca and general livestock consumption.
An Alpaca’s Diet Should Not Be Too Rich
When adding feed to your alpaca’s daily diet, it is wise to choose commercially prepared mixes that are especially formulated for llamas and alpacas. Shredded beet pulp may also be added for extra fiber.
For the most part, less rich, grass hay is preferable to protein rich alfalfa hay. Even so, small amounts of alfalfa can be fed. Animals that are in need of extra nutrition, such as lactating and/or pregnant females, can benefit from added vitamin and mineral supplements.
What To Feed Alpacas In The Winter When Grazing Is Limited
In the wintertime when grazing is limited, you’ll need to increase the amount of hay you are feeding. Sometimes hay can be in short supply too. This is when soaked beet pulp is especially valuable as a source of fiber.
Although some people feed alpacas dry beet pulp, it is actually always preferable to feed it soaked. Dry beet pulp is a choking hazard, additionally, when you soak it in warm water you help your animals stay hydrated through the cold, dry winter months.
Feeding a warm, beet pulp mash also provides a bit of comfort food during cold weather.
Paca Tuesday – Winter Feeding
Fresh Water Must Be Available 24/7 Year-Round
Throughout the year, you must be sure that your alpacas always have plenty of fresh water to drink. You must make certain that their water source does not become frozen during the winter months and does not dry out during the summer.
Don’t Spoil Your Pet Alpaca
If you’re keeping your alpacas as pets, you may wonder “What do alpacas eat for treats?” You’ll be happy to know that they aren’t especially picky, but you do have to be careful what you feed them.
First off, you must understand that anything you give them for a treat must be cut up small because of the configuration of their teeth. Large chunks of treats could lead to choking.
To give your alpacas treats, keep these fruits and veggies on hand:
- Romaine Lettuce
- Iceberg Lettuce
- Broccoli Stalks
- Radish Greens
- Green Beans
Even though these are all healthy treats, you should take care not to allow them to make up too much of your alpacas’ daily diet. The main part of your animals’ diet should be fresh grazing and hay. Even if your alpaca is a pet, you should not spoil it with too many hand fed treats. This can lead to unpleasant, attention seeking behavior.
Know What Not To Feed Alpacas
It’s always a good idea to check with your local agricultural extension to find out what sorts of plants grow locally that may be a threat to your alpaca and other livestock.
There are also a number of plants and substances that are generally dangerous for alpacas. Plants that alpacas should not eat include any member of the nightshade family, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, etc. Additionally, kale is not recommended.
Pitted fruits, such as avocados and cherries are not recommended. Candy and junk food of any kind, especially chocolate should never be fed.
Naturally, these herbivores should never eat dairy products, eggs, meat or any other type of animal product.
Blue-green algae often grows in stagnant water. Be sure that your alpacas never have access to bad water and always have access to good water.
Fungus and mold can also result in mycotoxin poisoning. Always be sure that any feed, hay or bedding you buy is free of mold. Keep storage areas for these materials clean and dry and protected from the weather. Use up all foodstuffs promptly to prevent the development of mold.
Cantharidin is an oily poison that is exuded by blister beetles which can often be found in second cutting alfalfa hay. Always check to see whether any alfalfa hay you purchase is first or second cutting. Make certain that it was harvested before the plants were allowed to bloom.
Additionally, hay that has been harvested using a wind rower or self-propelled mower is less likely to contain the beetles than hay that has been harvested using a machine that crushes it, thus crushing the beetles into the hay.
Mineral salts, mineral blocks and high mineral mixes provide too much copper for alpacas. This is why it’s important to only use feed mixes that are especially prepared for alpacas and llamas. Always check with your veterinarian before adding any mineral supplement to an alpaca diet.
High levels of selenium in feed and plants may also be very problematic for alpacas. Too much selenium can cause lameness and stiffness in the joints, hair loss and a condition known as “blind staggers”.
In addition to being sensitive to copper and selenium, alpacas are also especially sensitive to lead poisoning. Naturally, you must eliminate any old lead-based fence or barn paint that may be on surfaces in their enclosures. This includes both wooden surfaces and metal surfaces of machinery.
High lead content in the environment can come from some plants such as dandelions and clover, so be sure that these plants do not make up a large part of your alpaca’s grazing. It’s also a good idea to have your soil tested to make sure that it does not have high lead content.
Excessive amounts of rich grain can result in grain overload or grain poisoning (acidosis). This is why alpacas and llamas diets should always consist mostly of fresh grazing, roughage and hay. Never feed an alpaca sweet feed.
In addition to toxic foods, be aware that you must make certain that there are no little bits and bobs such as staples, screws, nails and other loose odds and ends lying around for your alpaca to nibble on and swallow.
This can result in a condition known as “hardware disease” which can naturally cause intestinal damage.
Herbicides, pesticides and poisons intended for rats and mice are naturally dangerous for alpacas. Whenever possible, feed naturally, organically grown feed and hay. Store all of your foodstuffs carefully to avoid encouraging rodents. Deal with rodents naturally (e.g. get a cat) rather than having poisons around your barn.
Frequently Asked Questions About Feeding Alpacas
Alpacas’ natural feeding habits include both grazing and browsing, so a combination of grassland and woodland is ideal. Additionally, much like goats, alpacas like to eat wild plants and brambles, so if you have pastureland that needs clearing, your alpacas can help you out!
Alpacas do best with a high fiber diet that is a bit lower in protein. For this reason, a good quality, long fiber grass hay is best. Legume hays (e. g. lespedeza, clover and alfalfa) that are very high protein are too rich to be fed in large quantities and are not really necessary.
Use hay racks or bags to prevent alpacas from rummaging through the hay to find the tastiest bits. Even with hay feeders, alpacas may still drop their less preferred morsels onto the floor. They can use this as bedding, and/or if you keep animals such as mini-donkeys with your alpacas, they may happily pick up the dropped hay.
For the most part, alpacas will be happy with high quality, free-feed grass hay; however, female alpacas who are soon to give birth should receive supplemental grain at a rate of one-percent of their body weight. After giving birth, nursing females should receive supplemental grain at a rate of two-percent of their body weight.
Be very careful when feeding salt and minerals. Read labels very closely because the inclusion of copper could be fatal to alpacas. Generally speaking, alpacas do better with a loose mineral mix that has been especially formulated for them. Place this mixture in a feeder that is off the ground and sheltered from rain.