Needs and Nutrition
Alpacas survive well on good quality grass, and from mid spring to late autumn if your grass quality is adequate they should not require supplemental feeding. Grass quality can be checked by most feed merchants and – in consultation with your vet – any necessary mineral supplements given.
During winter – or poor growing periods – you will need to supplement your alpaca’s diet. Good quality hay should always be available ad lib. Non-working males may well survive on this alone. Pregnant females, especially if lactating, will need at least 50% more nutrition so supplementary hard feed will be a necessity. There are various products specially designed for camelids (see Resources) which should only be given in the dosages recommended. You can additionally bolster your alpacas’ diet quite economically with beet pulp (pellets or ‘shreds’) which are readily available from any feed merchant. Caution: beet pulp MUST be hydrated (soaked in water for several hours) before being given to alpacas or bloat may result which can be fatal .
When introducing new feed do so gradually over a week or so to allow the digestive system to adapt.
Your alpacas must always have plenty of clean water: at least 2 litres per head per day and more if they are eating dry feed.
Alpacas need some form of shelter both from the worst of the winter but almost as importantly from the sun in mid summer. Groups of trees - even quite small groups - may suffice, or an outbuilding or shed. If you have no shelter you can buy field shelters fairly cheaply (see Resources), if planning permission is an issue there are 'mobile' shelters available.
Foot and teeth trimming
Is essential. ‘Toenails’ grow quickly on soft pasture – especially in wet weather. An alpaca can quickly become lame if its feet are not in good shape and a lame alpaca will graze poorly and lose condition quickly. The need for teeth trimming is quite individualistic: some need it often and others very rarely. If the teeth protrude beyond the palate then it will be difficult to graze and a loss of condition will result. Generally this can be left until shearing time when the alpaca is restrained and under the control of an professional shearer who will carry out necessary work. Fighting teeth need to be removed from mature males.
Alpacas, whilst hardy, are susceptible to many of the parasitic infections that affect sheep. Regular worming is essential: probably 2-3 times a year, and you should send faecal samples to the vet occasionally to ensure your regimen is affective. Diseases such as pulpy-kidney, blackleg, tetanus, and dysentery are possible and clostridial vaccination is recommended: usually biannually. There may also be local problems specific to your area, the most common example of which is liver fluke.
It is essential to discuss all worming, vaccination, and local problems with your vet who knows your situation best. Almost all problems can be controlled once an appropriate regimen is established and maintained.