Morro Bay, California
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General Alpaca Care:
Alpacas are easy to keep. First they eat a grassy hay, not alfalfa. Once a day they also get a pellet supplement which has the other supplements they require. You can keep free range minerals out at all times that they help themselves to when they wish. I feed orchard grass hay, King Alpaca/Llama pellets from Atascadero Hay and Feed and free choice minerals from Stillwater Minerals.
The alpacas will need their nails trimmed once in a while and some require their teeth trimmed which should be done by your vet. The animals are sheared once a year. There are professional shearers experienced with alpacas or you can learn to do this yourself with manual shearing scissors or powered shears.
Breeding and birthing is not a complicated affair and gestation for an alpaca is approximately 11 months. Birthing, as a general rule, requires no intervention by you.
The animals should be dewormed twice a year with Panacur paste or an Ivomec injection and once a year they should get a CDT vaccination.
In the US, the alpaca’s number one predator is the domestic dog. Coyotes and mountain lions can also be a problem. Good fencing, a guard llama and/or a livestock guard dog (LGD) are recommended. Alpaca’s only defenses are spitting, kicking, flight and gathering in a circle for herd protection. Due to eye and face injuries, barbed wire is not acceptable for alpaca enclosures.
Alpacas are herd animals and should not be kept alone. Two or more alpacas are critical for the health and welfare of the animals.
The alpacas will establish specific “poop piles’ within their enclosures. A new alpaca owner can determine where these will be by placing fresh dung from the seller in a designated area(s) in the pasture. This way the poop piles can be kept away from feed and watering areas and limited to easy access clean up areas.
Alpacas seem to enjoy cooler temperatures. Extreme heat can cause severe stress, weaken or even kill an alpaca. Although my farm is located in the cooler ocean climate, I still “sprinkler train” all of my animals. This way, if they move to an inland area or hotter country, they will know to go to the hose or sprinkler to cool off their bellies and undersides. In the North County some alpaca farmers have installed misters on their fences and fans in their barns for the hot summer days. Days with temperatures of 90 degrees and above should be monitored. Shade is critical and should be available at all times.
Alpacas are like cats, some are very affectionate but most are somewhat aloof. They prefer to come to you on their terms but, like cats, they are extremely curious and so easily coaxed. I use Marty McGee training methods which is similar to the horse whisperer techniques. I give the animal time (and reason) to trust me and never grab at them or chase them down to catch them. Handling the cria (babies) as much as possible also helps to tame them. Young children that have respect for animals and are calm and consistent with their handling do great with the alpacas. But, just like cats, if the alpaca finds a person to be inconsistent, grabbing at them or abusive in any way, they will avoid that person to no end. So, I like to answer that common question of: “Are they good with children?” with “Are the children good with them?”