General guidance on preparing and caring for your Alpacas
With careful advance planning it is possible to have a farm layout which will facilitate your feeding regime, and minimise time required for general handling and moving the alpacas around. As your herd grows, time spent planning in the early stages will pay huge dividends in time saved overall. A central area of shelters, storage and catch pens works well, with paddocks converging on this area..
It is important to have a supply of fresh water available for your alpacas.
Fencing and paddocks
Sheep fencing or close railing is adequate for alpacas. Have sufficient paddocks so that you can rotate the usage of them, to minimise pest build-up, and therefore minimise risk of disease. Check paddocks before putting alpacas in them, and remove any dangerous objects and poisonous plants such as ragwort. Fence off any poisonous hedging, such as laurel or privet.
Stocking rates vary throughout the country, dependent on rainfall, fertiliser etc., but can be anything from 4 – 10 per acre. Remember you will need to rest and rotate paddocks.
Prior to purchasing your alpacas, think about whether you would like to keep castrated male alpacas for fibre and/or as wonderful field pets, or if you would like to start breeding alpacas. Look at the colours available and decide on your preference. If you are already a hand-spinner, or would like to learn to spin, you may like to choose multicoloured alpacas – white along with another shade, so that you can blend your own shades. Multicolour fleece can be mixed with rose grey or silver grey fleece for bespoke machine processing of your own fleeces. Or you may prefer to sell your fleece direct to a processor, in which case solid colours or white are preferred. To attract the best returns on your investment, both from sales of fleeces and from sales of breeding stock, you will need to select high quality alpacas, with the highly desired uniform fineness, length and fleece weights required by the processors. These alpacas are also the ones which will win prizes in the Show Ring, which is a great way to build your future reputation as a serious breeder.
Choose alpacas which look good to your eye – straight legs and balanced body shape. The fleece should be even-textured over the whole blanket area, with guard hair showing only on the bib-front and a little on the neck, if at all.
Check that males for breeding have even-sized testicles of good texture, as breeding from males with unevenly sized testicles can result in sexual abnormalities in both male and female offspring. Females should be checked for normal appearance of the perineum, as hermaphrodites are known to occur in alpacas. A reputable breeder will already have checked these things before showing you any breeding stock. But don’t be afraid to ask.
Be sure to source your alpacas from a reputable breeder with a proven track record both with satisfied clients and in the Show ring, to be sure of the quality you are buying. You need to be confident in the advice you are given prior to selection, and sure that you will have sound advice and knowledgeable support as you embark on your alpaca journey.
You may like to buy young alpacas, to give yourself time to get to know and handle them, or you may decide to go ahead and buy in-calf females, or a breeding group. There are many ways to get started in alpacas, and whatever way you choose, providing you purchase sound alpacas based on really good advice from the outset, you should have the reward of having beautiful, intelligent, sensitive yet productive animals to enjoy for years to come.
At Bozedown all our alpacas are supplied with full handover reports printed from our herd management data which is constantly updated with cria dates of birth, injections, vaccinations, mating dates, ultrasound scan dates (only recorded when the fetus is physically seen on screen), etc.
In addition all breeding stock – stud males and pregnant females are supplied with veterinary health certificates, which can be used for insurance purpose.
Pregnant females are sold with live cria guarantee* (48 hours) or free return to Stud.
Stud Males are sold with fertility guarantee.
*Occasionally we may offer a female for sale without this guarantee, but this would be stated at the time. For example she may be an older female, or a female with a poor breeding record being offered at a very reasonable price as a companion female.
Alpacas should have an area of grazing, preferably arranged in at least 2 paddocks, so that the paddocks can be rotated and rested for at least 6 weeks. Ensure that the paddocks are free of noxious weeds such as ragwort. It is advisable to offer ad lib. hay, even in Summer.
In winter make sure that your alpacas have access to good quality hay or haylage, and give them a daily mineral supplement such as ‘Camelibra’. This product was developed specially for alpacas by GWF Nutrition, in consultation with Claire Whitehead, BVM&S, MS, MRCVS. Always condition score and weigh if possible every month to be sure your feeding regime is working. Pregnant females should be gaining weight. Keep records of all condition scoring and weighing.
If alpacas start to lose condition, we feed Alpha-Beet, which is high in protein, in addition to the hay or haylage and Camelibra. Alpha-Beet can be fed twice daily, or ad. lib., depending on the alpaca’s need or situation. When changing feeding regimes, make it a gradual change over several days.
Suggested clostridial vaccinations are as follows: Lambivac, Covexin 10, Heptavac-P Plus (includes Pasteurella), Ovivac or Ovivac-P . Your vet will advise on which of these is the best to use in your area, although they are not licenced for use with alpacas in the U.K. Heptavac gives protection against Lamb Dysentery, Struck, Pulpy Kidney, Braxy, Blackleg, Tetanus and Black Disease. Dose a cria at 2-3 days with Lamibvac, then again 2 – 3 weeks later, then give annual boosters of any of the other vaccines, as advised by your vet., starting at 6 months of age. Do not dose within 1 month before birthing; ideally dose females when they are ‘open’. Adult Alpacas need an annual booster to protect them against clostridial diseases.
If there is no sign of illness, it would still be wise to send fecal samples for testing in Spring and Autumn. There are many different parasites, along with different products for treating them. Certain parasite burdens can be borne by alpacas, but then flare up in times of stress. Other parasites can multiply quickly and require prompt treatment. You may need to worm more often if sheep or other animals are kept in the same field.
Your vet will advise which wormer and what dosage to use. For example, the alpaca dose for a white drench wormer such as Panacur, must be at 4x the sheep or cattle dose rate. It is paramount to use this dose in alpacas, as otherwise the worms will simply develop resistance in your herd to the wormer, making it useless to you.
Keep a regular watch on toe nails, which should be trimmed when necessary, so that they do not protrude beyond the end of the toe, with the foot lying comfortably flat, not twisted. It can be done easily with lamb foot-rot shears. Clear the dirt out so that you can see where the toe flesh is, then trim carefully, as sometimes the toe grows down the nail.
If the front teeth protrude in front of the upper palate, it may make grazing difficult for the alpaca, and so it will be necessary to trim the teeth back. Your vet can do this for you with clippers or dental wire. When we consider that alpacas may live 20 years or more, we really need to make sure the alpaca’s teeth will be functional for a long time. In adult males of about 4 years old the fighting teeth need to be trimmed back level with the gums to prevent the males doing damage to each other when sorting out the pecking order within the group.
How can we recognise when an alpaca is sick? Try and get to know your healthy alpaca by looking carefully at him at least once every day – that is the best way to be able to recognise when something is not right. An alpaca which looks under the weather is probably ill, as an alpaca tends only to look sick when it is really in need of help, so if in doubt, call your vet for advice.
Condition Scoring *
Once a month it is important to condition score all your alpacas, and record the results on a scale of 1-5 or 1-10, so that you have a reference point in case of sickness. The important thing is consistency. Feel a position about 8 inches along the spine from the neck, to see if your alpaca is in good condition. If the spine feels sharp, then the alpaca is underweight; the reason could be long teeth in need of trimming, or worming may be necessary; or perhaps just an extra ration of food may bring him back up to par. You may need to feed thin alpacas apart from the others. On the other hand, if you can’t feel the spine then the alpaca is overweight, and you will probably need to reduce his feed.
* You can learn about Condition scoring in our Beginners Day Course.