Husbandry: Caring for Alpacas
Among the many things that makes the raising and breeding of alpacas so wonderful is the ease of maintaining them, especially when compared to other livestock of equivalent size. For instance, one person can easily do the required farm labor for a herd of 20 alpacas in just a couple of hours a day. Most owners find that the vast majority of the "work time" on their farm or ranch is more often than not just them gazing at their alpacas anyway - mesmerized by their camelid friends - not doing actual farm chores. The alpacas are just too hard to resist.
Daily maintenance involves giving the alpacas fresh water, making sure they have ample hay, feeding some grain if needed, and the easy cleanup of some dung. (Alpacas make communal dung piles that are easily maintained in minutes a day).
Long term, the alpacas require their nails to be trimmed every 4 to 6 weeks as well as some regular vaccinations. Here in New England we also follow a strict deworming program throughout the warm months of the year. This is administered either through a subcutaneous injection, or orally with a paste. People either administer their own shots or, if they don't feel comfortable, hire a veterinarian to come and do it for them.
The infrastructure needed to keep alpacas is fairly simple and can be built inexpensively. For shelter alpacas should have, at a minimum, a three-sided shed facing away from the prevailing wind with the ability to close it up (a tarp hung over the entrance would be fine) during the truly nasty weather that cold winters can produce. Alpacas also appreciate a nice layer of bedding (hay or straw) when things get wet and chilly. This is particularly important to new crias who don't have as much fiber and might have more trouble staying warm.
Fencing for alpacas really has more to do with protecting the animals from outside intruders (domestic dogs pose the greatest threat) than it does keeping the herd confined. Alpacas will respect fencing as simple as two strands of electric "hot tape". Unfortunately, predators seem to need greater discouragement. The good news is that like the shelter above, fencing can be done at a very reasonable cost. Here at Cas-Cad-Nac Farm the vast majority of our perimeter fencing is what is called New Zealand style electric fencing. It consists of six strands of high-tensile electrified wire with the top wire being at approximately 5' of height. We run enough voltage through the fence so that it is extremely unpleasant for anything unfortunate enough to come into contact with it (including the farm owners!), yet not so much that it does any actual physical harm. Properly maintained (routine checks of the fence line's integrity and tightness) this type of fencing will serve to protect the alpacas from most anything with teeth.
There certainly are many other types of fencing, some involving an electric component and others not, though in the case of the latter, it is generally wise to also use some sort of guard animal (llamas, livestock guardian dogs, or donkeys) to add further protection for the alpacas.
Alpacas are very light consumers, eating the weekly equivalent of just 25 pounds of hay. This means that it takes very little acreage to support a sizable herd. Depending upon the quality of pasture, 1 acre can support anywhere from 5 to 8 animals. The layout of interior fencing is therefore best set up in a manner that will take advantage of this and allow for rotational grazing practices. This is accomplished by creating several different subdivisions, or paddocks, within a given pasture. This provides for the best quality forage at any given time as well as giving pasture a chance to recover after heavy grazing.
The fencing for the interior paddocks can be built using temporary electric rope or hot tape that will allow for changes in configuration as dictated by the growing season and the grazing habits of the herd. Done properly, this should allow for a grazing season (in New England) that will last go from May until either October or November. The goal at the end of the season is to not have over-grazed the pastures so that they may spring back to life the following year without having to plant new seed!