Compared to many farm animals, Alpacas are very easy to care for. Typical day-to-day care depends on the season as well as the facility. Ideally, alpacas would have adequate grazing area so that for six months out of year they would not need hay or grain. As many as six alpaca can be sustained on an acre of good quality pasture. As we are still developing our pasture areas, we have needed to provided hay year round. Alpacas need to eat 1.8% of their body weight in dry matter per day. For the average 150 lb alpaca, that is about 2.7 lbs per day. If the feed is hay, the average alpaca will eat one 70 lb square bale in about a month. For comparison, a horse eats that much in just a couple days. If the feed is grass (assuming 30% dry matter), the average alpaca needs about 9 lbs per day.
Unlike most farm animals, alpacas tend to use a single communal manure pile both inside and outside the barn. The manure pile in our barn is cleaned out on a daily basis. We use pelleted bedding indoors to help contain urine. The piles outside the barn are raked on a daily basis and then removed weekly. Because alpacas have three stomachs, the pure manure can be immediately used on a garden. The manure mixed with bedding is put on our compost pile. The pure manure is either put on our gardens or used to make bagged fertilizer which we offer for sale.
Besides daily chores, alpacas need to have their toenails trimmed regularly – approximately every two months. There are also seasonal and yearly vaccinations necessary.
In general alpacas do not need a fancy barn. They only really need basic shelter from extreme elements and prefer the freedom of being allowed access to open space. Three-sided run-in sheds in a field are often used. The size of the shelter does matter – it is recommended that each alpaca have eight square feet. For a herd of ten alpacas, that would translate to a 8’x10′ shelter. In order to do herd health maintenance, it is best to have a clean dry “catch” area within the shelter. We use easily moveable corral panels which allow each alpaca to be temporarily separated from the herd in order to trim toenails, give vaccinations etc. Also, when cria are being born, it is necessary to be able to separate the rest of the herd from the immediate vicinity to minimize the excitement and allow the new mother the quiet time to bond with the cria.
Michigan enjoys a wide range of weather. Daily high temperatures can range from 0 to 100 deg F. Of course, as long as the alpacas have adequate shelter from the wind that might cause frost bite, alpacas love the cold weather. It is the hot humid weather of the summer months that is a concern. Even though they have been shorn (which typically occurs in May), alpacas have a hard time staying cool in the summer. Here is where the shelter is most useful – for shade and for access to fans. Another thing we have found helpful is sprinklers. Alpacas love to have their legs, chests and bellies sprayed with a hose. To efficiently cool off the herd, we have found a small fixed spray sprinkler is best. It should spray upward in a fan pattern and should not have any moving parts.
Since alpacas do not generally challenge fencing, the philosophy is to build it not so much to keep the alpacas in, but to keep predators out. In our case, it is coyotes and stray dogs. Also, if you happen to have your males in the general vicinity of your females (like we temporarily do), the fencing should be constructed to keep the males from making unauthorized liaisons.
Our property had been let to grow up into a wooded tangle. After clearing an acre, we designed a fencing layout that would allow us to connect the barnyard to a corridor that would access three 3/8 acre areas allowing for grazing rotation. Ben spent a goodly portion of the spring months of 2011 and 2012 building fence – he has A Word about Alpaca Fencing.