Alpacas are indigenous to the South American countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia and have been farmed for their highly prized fleece for centuries by the ancient Inca people and their ancestors in the high altiplano region of the Andes.
The Alpaca (latin name Vicugna Pacos) is a close relative of the Llama, Guanaco and Vicuna all of which are found in South America.
Alpacas can live for up to 25 years and stand about 39ins at the withers. An adult Alpaca may weigh approximately 100kgs.
Llamas are almost twice the size of an Alpaca and whereas the Alpaca is primarily a fleece producer the Llama is used as a pack animal.
Alpacas are hardy but highly intelligent animals who are a pleasure to experience but should best be kept in a minimum herd of at least three animals.
Alpacas are now kept in many countries for fleece production and the largest herds outside of South America are to be found in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The USA and of course the United Kingdom. Herd numbers in the UK are approaching 13,000 animals.
Alpacas are herbivores...they eat and digest vegetation. They are also ruminants so they also chew the cud. Primarily they live on pasture of grass and good quality hay fed ad lib.
Alpacas may also browse from the Hederows and particuarly like the sweet new shoots of Hawthorn in springtime.
It is essential not to allow them access to plants that are toxic, for instance rhododendrons, azaleas, holly etc. It is best to fence such areas off so as to be out of reach with their long necks!
Always be vigilant in ensuring that no ragwort exists in the pasture.
Fresh clean water is necessary at all times.
Alpacas tend to do particularly well on meadow grass and often like the wild flower mixes that are sometimes prepared by seed merchants for grazing purposes.
We also feed a mineral supplement called Camelibra produced by Gro-well Feeds in Melksham, Wiltshire. This supplement amongst other things, gives the extra copper and selenium etc. that is more freely available in the Andes and occasionally may be lacking here.
Alpacas tend to be grazed at the ratio of about 5 to the acre, but you will need to allow for rotation of pasture to keep any parasites at bay.
It is best to graze the pasture for 6 weeks and then rest for 6 weeks. Pregnant and lactating females will need 50% more grazing than a non pregnant animal.
You will need to allow some space for a field shelter to give animals protection from the harshest weather and driving rain although invariably the Alpacas prefer to be out in the field whatever the weather and despite the available shelter. We have a power point in the field shelter for shearing and other tasks.
The Field Shelter is a much needed necessity when it comes to animal husbandry and shearing time.
Alpacas generally do not try and jump fences but it is essential for the land to be well fenced with good taut stock fencing to a height no less than 4 ft.
Barbed wire and electric fencing is unsuitable for Alpacas.
Alpacas are capable of spitting as a defence mechanism but tend only to do so if threatened and stressed. Spitting between alpacas is usually the setting out of their pecking order and a signal to amorous males that they are already pregnant and that they should back away.
Alpacas are farmed for their wonderful and lustrous fleeces, are kept as pets and in some areas are also used as guard animals as there is some evidence that both llamas and Alpacas tend to ward off foxes from sheep herds.
Most alpacas make good pets and with kind considerate handling can easily be coached to eat out of the hand and also may be halter trained. It is important to remember though that they are not Dogs or cats and don't like being cuddled too much!
Alpacas are however, naturally curious and if you give the animals time to get to know you, they will give many opportunities for hours of endless enjoyment.
Alpacas are housed often with other livestock. In many areas they are run with sheep and goats as guard animals and tolerate chickens, ducks and Geese very well.
Dogs will be tolerated by the Alpacas when they know them well as in the case of owners pets, but large and/or aggressive dogs are not advisable.
Cat populations and especially Kittens should be monitored and kept free of worms and infestations as toxoplasmosis may be a problem for the breeding herd.
When alpacas are kept with other stock it is necessary to be vigilant for passing of parasites between species and essential that these are regularly monitored.