Care of Alpacas
Alpaca husbandry is fairly simple but vitally important to keep on top of if you want your animals to be healthy and look their best. Garyeannna Alpacas runs a [Basic Husbandry] course throughout the year to give new and prospective owners the chance to learn how to trim nails, care of the teeth and jaw, condition scoring, vaccinations, worming and sheering. However, the information below will give you an indication of what's required.
Land and fencing
First of all, the land should be free of poisonous weeds, shrubs and rubbish and have plenty of standard feed and water troughs. Alpacas need shelter from bad storms, very hot sun and somewhere for newly born cria to stay during the first hours of their life, and ideally it should have metal hay managers inside. Alpacas won't challenge fences or try to escape (although they will zoom through an open gate if they get the chance!), so 4ft standard sheep fencing or wooden rail fencing in good condition is suitable. Never use barbed wire.
Vaccinations, vitamin supplements and worming
Vaccination and worming routines are needed to keep alpacas in good condition. Give your alpacas twice -yearly Clostridial vaccinations and worming using a pour on formula in the spring and an oral or injectable one in the autumn. Alpacas also need Vitamin D injections because of the limited sunlight available during the UK winter.
Alpacas are induced ovulators so they can breed at any time of the year. However, most breeders choose to follow a breeding season between April through to October because of more reasonable weather conditions. Females are sexually mature at 12 months and males at 24.
Keeping your own stud is expensive and can lead to aggression problems if not regularly mated, so it's probably better to use stud services instead. Garyeannna Alpacas offers full stud services and runs a course on [Selective Breeding] to help you decide which females to breed from and which studs they should be mated to.
Alpacas are very obliging creatures when it comes to giving birth, choosing to do it between 7am and 2pm. In their native lands if a cria is born too early or late in the day when the temperature is very low, the cria will not be up, dry and feeding before it freezes. Birth complications are very rare and alpacas like to be left alone to get on with it. For more information on birthing, Garyeannna Alpacas runs a course called [All about Birthing] for existing and prospective owners who need to know what's involved.
Weaning simply involves putting a cria into a paddock with others of a similar age or early pregnant females and wethers so it cannot see or reach its mother. If you are breeding alpacas, weaning must take place at six months of age (or at five months if the cria is quite large). This is to ensure the mother stays in good condition if she is pregnant and can put her energy into building up the foetus during the last five to five and a half months instead of milk production.
Like cows, alpacas are modified ruminates that chew the cud and are extremely efficient grazers. However, they do need roughage throughout the year in the form of hay and pregnant females in the last trimester may need lucerne or alfalfa if grass is in short supply. Alpacas may require additional fee supplements in the form of muesli or chaff, which contains a number of vitamins and minerals not available on UK grazing lands, and during very cold weather may appreciate a supplementary feed of cut up carrots, apples and soaked sugar beet.
Alpacas can hide illnesses very well and will try and stay with the pack until sickness forcibly prevents them from doing so. If you find one of your alpacas that is not imminently due to give birth looking off-colour, behaving strangely or unable to keep up with the herd you will need to act quickly to find out what's wrong, and possibly call a vet. Condition scoring performed on a fortnightly basis can help anticipate problems before they happen because you have to physically feel through the fibre over the animal's backbone near the rear ribs to see if it has lost weight. If you're not sure what to do or look for, our [Basic Husbandry] course can teach you.
Toe-nail Trimming and Castrations
Toenail trimming is extremely easy and needs to be done three times a year. Castrations or wethering is also simple procedure for males between 12 and 24 months of age, but it does need to be performed by a vet. If the animal is not to be used for breeding, you will find this is the best course of action to prevent fighting that could cause injuries
Shearing takes place in the UK between May and August and it's a skill that takes time to learn. It's far better to hire an experienced shearer to come to your property and do it for you. The alpaca is usually restrained on the ground to stop it thrashing around and sheared in around 10 minutes. Toenail clipping and vaccinations can also be done at the same time, but it's better to allow a vet to perform tooth grinding to ensure a smoother finish. Huacaya alpacas are shorn once a year while Suri's every two years.