Alpacas are easy to look after but a happy alpaca needs pasture, clean water, access to a field shelter, hay and just as importantly, other alpacas.
Grazing pasture is the mainstay of the alpaca diet, with hay to aid digestion. A stocking rate of 4-5 alpacas per acre is a good benchmark. In its natural Andean environment the alpaca would absorb much greater quantities of Vitamin D and minerals than it is possible to get here in the UK, therefore a winter vitamin and mineral supplement is also recommended; especially for cria and any lactating or pregnant females.
Alpacas are generally healthy and resistant to disease. They do however need to be vaccinated against clostridial diseases bi-annually, have their toenails trimmed and be treated for worms if necessary. All of these are easily manageable on the farm. Shearing is done every spring by a visiting professional shearer. Good pasture management will help reduce the risk of worms and remove the possibility of poisonous plants. However do remember alpacas have very long necks to reach the tasty looking morsels on the other side of the fence, so be vigilant.
The most effective way to look after your alpacas is to get to know them so that you will notice any behaviour that is out of the norm. Alpacas are ruminants and spend most of their day browsing, grazing and chewing the cud. They will also stay within the herd group as this would be their best means of defence in the wild. If you see an alpaca persistently by itself, sitting down a lot and not grazing it is worth checking out. Alpacas are not the type to hide under the duvet at the first sign of a cough, they are the ones that pass out at their desk when really they should have gone to the Doctor days before – this goes back to their instinctual behaviour patterns of survival; to keep up with the herd at all costs and not show weakness. So once you know them, if you think they are poorly they probably are: if in doubt call the vet.
Snacks are a good way to ingratiate yourself into the herd and keep an eye on things; from your point of view they allow you close contact with your furry beasts when they rush over to find out if its apples or carrots today and from a health point of view if fat Liz (no offense Liz) who is always the first in the queue is lagging behind, you will notice and wonder over and see why.
Snacks also let your alpacas become more confident around you, which makes life easier for everyone when you do have to catch them for whatever reason. Alpacas are inquisitive but wary and if unsure of something will run away; however they are also terribly nosey, and if they trust you will come and check out what your doing; who you are with; and what you are wearing. Alpacas are intelligent creatures and building up trust with your alpacas leads to a very rewarding relationship which is well worth the effort.
An alpaca will not attempt to break out of fencing unless threatened, so basic stock fencing is fine. The main reason for the fence is to keep them safe by keeping predators out. But……..although they won’t plan a break out they will delight in opportunistic exploring if the gate is left open.
When designing your enclosure it is essential to plan a small area to catch them in. If you want to catch them in the main field put your running shoes on; they will simply skip past you, change down a gear and zoom off laughing; all very sweet for the first five minutes. Therefore organise a small catch pen area that they are used to going into; snacks again come in handy at this point.