Alpaca Husbandry and care
The last twenty years has shown us how easy it is for anyone to keep alpacas. These wonderful animals have adapted very well to life in Britain and are now in the fields of many properties throughout the country. Alpacas are hardy animals whose forebears have spent thousands of years grazing on seasonally diverse pastures in very harsh weather conditions. Here at Inca Alpaca we have developed a husbandry regime that keeps our alpacas healthy, happy and in optimum condition. We can divide basic alpaca care and husbandry into eleven areas. These are:
- Fencing and Farm Layout
- Vaccinations, Vitamin Supplements and Worming
- Ear Tag and Microchip Insertion
- Halter Training
- Supplementary Feeding
- Condition Scoring
- Toenail Trimming and Castrations
Standard sheep fencing is all that is required for alpacas. Whether it is stock fencing with plain wire, four wooden rail fence or the most common fencing that is used for alpaca, seven-strand plain wire. The recommended height for alpaca fencing is 4 ft. Alpacas do not challenge fences or try to escape. This means that fences do not have to be heavy and ultra strong; however, they must be kept in good condition.
Alpacas are very intelligent and will adapt quickly to any movement regime. This helps in moving your alpacas around the farm efficiently and with minimal stress to both the alpaca and the owner. Alpacas winter out in most parts of England but field shelters can be useful for some groups of alpacas like females with cria at foot for example. Here at Inca Alpaca we can advise, plan and help in the design of any farm layout including:
– Water placement
– Paddock configuration
Click here and get in touch if you would like us to help plan your alpaca holding.
Vaccinations, Vitamin Supplements and Worming
Alpacas require a very similar vaccination and worming regime as sheep. The owner can easily carry out these practices and vets are seldom required. Full training for these practices is offered by Inca Alpaca at the point of purchase if the new owner is unsure.
Alpacas need a Clostridial vaccination and worming twice a year in the Spring and the Autumn. A Vitamin D injection is required every one to two months over the winter months. Vitamin D supplementation is required for proper growth in young stock and pregnant females. In their native land in the altiplano of Peru, Bolivia and Chile alpacas are exposed to very high levels of sunlight and therefore are able to produce enough Vitamin D of their own. Here in the UK sunlight is limited during the winter so supplements are essential. Most of these activities outlined above coincide during the year so gathering the herd in to carry out these tasks is minimal.
Click here to download our latest husbandry regime
The breeding season in the UK generally runs from April through to October. All the breeding at Inca Alpaca is supervised and recorded. Alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning that female alpacas do not have a breeding season and therefore can be bred at anytime of the year. This makes it great for the owner as they can plan when to have cria arriving on their farm.
Male alpacas generally become sexually mature at eighteen months to two years of age and females at one year. At one year females on our farm are mating and females who have given birth are mated 12 days later.
In the UK stud sires are very valuable and highly priced. Many owners who have females will generally purchase stud services from larger farms that have the quality males to breed from, rather than go to the expense of purchasing a male of their own. These stud services are either carried out on the property, so the owner of the female would take the female to the male for mating or the male would travel to the female. For more information on stud services click here
The gestation period for alpacas is eleven to eleven and a half months. Birthing usually occurs between the hours of 7am to 2pm. This is due to their native land where if the cria is born too early in the day the temperature is very low and the cria will not dry off before it freezes. Likewise if it were born too late in the afternoon the same would occur, as when the sun falls the temperature drops. The cria needs to be up, dry and feeding before nightfall.
Births are generally simple and straightforward with complications being very rare. The new cria needs a little intervention by the owner to disinfect the umbilical cord and maybe put a coat on if the weather is cold. Below is Inca Design having a normal birth occuring in four stages:
Weaning normally occurs at six months of age with some larger crias being taken away at five months. This involves taking the cria from the mother and putting it with others of a similar age or early pregnant females and wethers in a paddock hopefully where the mother and cria cannot see each other. At this point the mother has already begun weaning the cria herself. Weaning is carried out at this time due to the development of the foetus inside the mother. For the first six months the foetus stays very small indeed. It is only the last five to five and a half months where it grows to its birth weight. So it is important that at six months the cria is taken away and weaned to allow the mother to stay in good condition and put her energy into the foetus instead of milk production.
At Inca Alpaca we herd tag all of our stock for easy identification. It is not a requirement that all British Alpaca Society registered stock have ear tags inserted. However, it is a requirement that all UK registered alpacas have a microchip inserted. These are usually inserted under the left ear. We also tag our crias at birth using a small tag and then insert the larger tag and microchip when they are weaned. These are activities that do not require a vets assistance.
Halter training is great for many reasons. The main purpose of halter training is to allow for easy movement of your alpacas whether it is from a pen to the trailer or in the show ring or just for fun. We begin halter training at weaning. It is a simple exercise that can take anywhere from two to five or six short five minute lessons. It is a great way to interact with your alpacas and to get them used to you.
All alpacas need to be shorn once a year in the UK. In Peru alpacas are generally shorn every two years. The time for shearing in Britain is between May and August. Owners can learn to shear themselves as there are courses available or many owners prefer to hire the services of a shearer to come to their property. Shearing is a good time to carry out other husbandry practices such as injections and to assess the quality of the fleece coming off your alpacas. Shearing is carried out with the alpaca restrained on the ground and usually takes 6 to 10 minutes.
Please click here and get in touch if you would like us to put you in touch with a commercial alpaca shearer.
Alpacas require access to roughage all year round. It is advisable to give ad lib hay all throughout the year. This may not be necessary in late summer and autumn as the pasture tends to dry out a little providing the roughage alpacas need. Pregnant females in their last trimester and lactating females may require supplementary feeding with lucerne or alfalfa to maintain their condition when grass is in short supply. At Inca Alpaca we carry out a soil and pasture analysis and then add to the soil any trace element or mineral that is lacking. Blood is then taken in Spring to determine correct blood chemistry. We prefer to feed a forage-based feed rather than grain and simple sugar based ones as their digestive system is designed to break down and digest more complex compounds. In addition we also feed alpaca pellets made by Riverside Feeds.
Download notes on Nutrition
Alpacas are wonderful animals for hiding their body condition underneath all of their fibre. Alpacas can put on weight very quickly, but the down side to this trait is that they can lose weight even quicker when they are sick. It is very important to condition score all of your alpacas every week to fortnight and check to see if they are still in ideal condition. Some farms may like to take this further and use scales in addition to condition scoring. Correct and consistent condition scoring will alert the owner when there is a problem before it gets too serious. It is also a great way of getting your alpacas used to you touching them and making them quieter to handle. Here at Inca Alpaca we also weigh all of our crias every week up to the age of weaning at six months.
Download notes on Condition Scoring
Toenail Trimming and Castrations
Along with routine injections, worming and vitamin supplements, the final husbandry task that is needed is toenail trimming. Unlike sheep, alpaca toenail clipping takes a third of the time and is very easy and straightforward. Clippers can be purchased from any agricultural supplier for under £10 and with a helper to hold the alpaca around the neck trimming is simple. Again toenail clipping and all other aspects of alpaca husbandry can and will be taught to a potential purchaser or interested person.
Castrations or wethering is a procedure that happens between 12 and 24 months of age and must be carried out by a veterinarian. Again this is a simple and well-practiced procedure that is required to remove males from the industry that do not meet the stringent standards we set. Castration also helps males settle as they get older and two wethers are less likely to fight than two entire males.
Download notes on Toenail Trimming