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The Basics

  • Llamas and alpacas are members of the camel family and come from South America.
  • An alpaca will weigh about 70kg and be 90cm at the withers.
  • A llama is heavier, averaging 170kg and be 110cm at the withers.
  • Llamas have inwardly curving ears whereas the alpaca's are straight.
  • Male alpacas are called machos, females are called hembra and the babies are called cria.
  • There are two types of alpaca, the teddy bear-like huacaya, and the suri which has a dreadlock-style of fleece.
  • The lifespan of an alpaca is at least 20 years.
  • Alpacas produce fibre that is very soft, warm and strong. It contains very little lanolin.
  • Sixteen fibre colours are recognised in New Zealand, ranging from white through to many fawn and brown shades to black, plus six grey shades.
  • Alpacas are environmentally friendly. They have padded feet (not hooves) which allow them to graze paddocks without damaging them.
  • Pregnancy averages eleven and a half months and a single cria is born weighing around 8kg.
  • After birth, the cria will be standing and suckling inside two hours.
  • Alpacas are intelligent, gentle and social animals. They must live in a group of at least two.
  • Alpacas use a wide variety of sounds and body language to communicate information to each other.
  • Four to five alpacas can be raised per acre of land (0.7 stock units each).

 The Longer Read

Alpaca Origins What makes an alpaca Alpaca Types
Alpaca Fibre Reproduction Alpaca Behaviour
Nutrition Paddocks and fencing Health
Illness Alpaca Welfare References
Other interesting alpaca related articles

Alpaca Origins

The alpaca is a member of the camelid family (Camelidae). A rabbit-sized ancestor to this family (Protylopus) first appeared in the subtropical forests of North America during the Eocene Period (56 to 33.9 million years ago). By 35 million years ago, a goat-sized intermediate form (Poebrotherium) had evolved which then diversified into more than 20 genera [1]. At least one genus, including Hemiauchenia, spread southwards to reach South America (during the Great American Biotic Interchange) whilst others travelled across the Bering Strait to reach Eurasia. As a result, the guanaco (Lama guanicoe) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) are found in South America whereas the three species of camel (Dromedary, Bactrian and wild Bactrian) are now found in Africa and Asia. Although larger camelids are associated with having humps, this adaptation evolved only in Asia as a response to desert environments [12]. The North American camel species were likely wiped out at the time humans migrated from Asia.
Due to interbreeding between the the guanaco and vicuña and later decimation of their numbers by the Spanish conquistadores, it was believed that both the llama and alpaca were domesticated forms of the guanaco. However, more recent genetic analysis [11] has demonstrated that the alpaca (Lama pacos) is derived from the vicuña.
Although distributed over much of South America, 90% of the alpaca population is found in Peru at altitudes between 3000 and 4500 metres where temperatures can vary between -20° and 30°C. South American populations are estimated to be upwards of 350,000 vicuña and 3.5 million alpacas.

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What makes an alpaca?

In New Zealand, it is an animal that conforms to the breed standard adopted by the Alpaca Association of New Zealand (AANZ). This standard provides a blueprint for an alpaca in terms of conformation, fleece characteristics, movement and temperament. It exists to protect the species from changes introduced by breeders based on their individual preferences and exclude genetically unsound animals from the breeding pool. Although there is no global breed standard for alpacas, many countries have their own (including New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA (suri only), whilst others have yet to establish one.
Animals judged to meet the breed standard are eligible for registration in the pedigree database. The AANZ owns a pedigree register which is hosted at the Agricultural Business Research Institute (ABRI). This database holds comprehensive information on all registered animals along with the breeder and current owner. It is freely available for public searches but full financial membership of the Association is required to carry out transactions.
A more recent addition to the data set has been DNA certification. Whilst male alpacas are required to have their DNA submitted and recorded as part of the stud certification process, this has been extended to females. The benefit of this process is certainty of any genetic lineage and thus the integrity of the database. All DNA tested alpacas have a 'Parent Verified' symbol displayed alongside their registry entry.

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Alpaca Types

There are two varieties of alpaca, huacaya and suri. Huacaya alpacas make up over 90% of the global population and are by far the most recognisable type. Their hair grows perpendicular to the body to produce the rounded 'teddy bear' appearance. Suri alpacas have smoother, finer fibres that fall parallel to the body in long well-defined locks.
Although the complete DNA sequence of the alpaca genome is now known and chromosome mapping [10] for gene locations is underway, the genetic difference between the suri and huacaya phenotypes has not yet been determined. Using data from controlled matings of suri and huacaya alpacas, a genetic model has been proposed [13] in which the interaction of two unknown but linked genes control the progeny type.

Te Korito Vincent
Suri alpaca - Te Korito Vincent
Te Korito
Huacaya alpaca - Te Korito Poppy
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Alpaca Fibre

Alpacas are mainly farmed for their superior fibre for which there is a significant worldwide demand. Huacaya fibre is used for high quality knitted and woven products. Suri fibre has a silky sheen with great visual appeal and has found markets in high end fabrics. Both are essentially free of lanolin and harvested by shearing the animals once per year. The fibre is softer than sheep's wool, hypoallergenic (even for babies) due to smaller and less pronounced fibre scales and has diameters better than most cross-bred wool, similar to merino. The alpaca is adapted to life at high altitude so it is unsurprising that the fibre contains air-filled hollows, improving its thermal insulation properties.
Alpaca fibre can be easily mixed with other natural fibres such as merino, cashmere, mohair, silk and angora to create blends with unique characteristics and adding to market value. As these fibres are all made from keratin protein, they readily take up natural and synthetic dyes. White, light fawn and light grey are the colours most easily dyed.
Peru alone produces 80% of global alpaca fibre at 6,000 tonnes per year (2015). However, alpaca numbers are growing rapidly in other countries (notably China) though it will be many years until there is any significant change to fibre market dynamics.
A system of sixteen fibre colours is recognised by the New Zealand Alpaca Association. Ten range from white through a range of fawn and brown shades through to true black. In addition, there are six grey and rose-grey shades. Other countries have very different colour classification systems.
Reviews of the registered New Zealand huacaya alpaca populations in 2012 [2] and 2015 [19] by the NZ Alpaca Association showed a steady growth in numbers over the three years. Whilst the proportion of white and light fawn fleeced animals (commercially preferred) remained static, the proportion of mid/dark fawns and brown shades had decreased. The difference was made up by significant growth in the grey varieties, presumably a response to customer demand.

New Zealand Alpaca Population 2012 2015
Registered animals 17,571 19,461
Fleece Colour (%) (%)
White 30 29
Light fawn 14 14
Mid/dark fawns 17 11
Brown shades 20 16
Black 14 16
Grey shades 5 14

A study [8] into the differences between suri and huacaya fibres showed that huacaya fibre has an ortho and para bicortical cell structure whereas suri fibres consist mostly of paracortical cells. Essentially, the presence of ortho cortical cells causes the fibre to curl and crimp, a desirable trait for breeding.
The range of alpaca fibre colours and the genetic control have yet to be fully explained. Two earlier theories [15], [16] identified two specific genes as responsible. Later work [17] concluded that when these models were validated against Australian alpaca registry data, they did not provide a complete picture. Inaccuracies in breeding records and the failure to recognise fleece patterned areas or skin pigmentation as relevant likely clouded the issue. Recently, an alpaca genetic study was performed [14] into three pigment genes (MC1R, ASIP and Tyrp1), identified as determinants for black, brown and red/yellow pigments in other mammals. The work identified many variants (polymorphisms) of these genes of which six were linked to fibre colour variation, though none from Tyrp1. The absence of this gene being involved in alpaca fibre colour was supported by pigment analysis of fibre samples.

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In the wild, female alpacas may undergo puberty at around six months though matings frequently fail [7]. It is common practice in New Zealand to start mating females at around 2 years old when there is physical maturity and the female may breed until about 15 years old.
Although male alpacas reach reproductive age at about 18 months, they should not be allowed to mate until at least 2½ years of age. Earlier matings may result in damage to the penis if the prepuce has not detached from it, a process that is not complete in 100% of males until 3 years old [24]. Such damage may result in associating mating with pain and prevent a successful stud career. Moreover, the testes do not physically mature until 3 years of age.
Camelid species do not have a breeding season but are induced ovulators. Previously, it was believed that the act of mating resulted in the dam ovulating and although this may contribute, it is now known that a stimulating protein factor (known from unrelated studies as ß-nerve growth factor) is deposited with the sperm into the uterus [3]. Ovulation occurs within 48 hours. For mating, a receptive female will kush (sit) for the male to mount her which he does whilst making a distinctive orgeling sound, believed to be another contributing factor to the induction of ovulation. After about a week, ovulation will have caused an increase in progesterone levels and changes in the alpaca's behaviour. If fertilisation was achieved, the female will repel subsequent attempts to mate - a behaviour known as 'spitting-off'. This is a slight misnomer as although some will spit, others may run away, scream, kick out or even try to jump out of the pen to escape the male. Spitting-off should be done after about two weeks post-mating and confirmed at four weeks. If pregnancy did not take, she will sit ready to be mated again. Spit-offs can be repeated as needed to confirm continued pregnancy. Pregnancy can also be confirmed after 60 days by ultrasound scanning when the pregnant uterus can be seen. However, this method carries a risk of false negative results.
Gestation averages 355 days from the conception date with a few not unpacked (born) for 380+ days. Crias unpacked early may be immature, indicated by unerupted front incisors, drooped eartips, showing tendon laxity and being very slow to stand after birth. Depending on their degree of prematurity, these crias will require assistance. This can range from help in standing and introduction to the dam's teats through to needing to be sheltered with the dam. Immediate veterinary support is vital for those weighing less than 5kg.
The majority of crias are born in the warmest hours between 11 am and 4 pm. If the weather conditions are poor or likely to deteriorate, the dam can defer labour. Maternal instinct is to give her cria the best chance of survival as it must dry, stand and feed quickly.

The birthing process can be broken into three stages:
Stage 1. The start of contractions. The dam will become restless and usually move away from the herd. She will stop grazing, make frequent visits to the communal midden and may alternate standing and sitting in an effort to become comfortable. The duration of this stage varies but finishes when contractions reach one each two minutes.
Stage 2. Birthing of the cria. Rupture of the fluid (chorioallantoic) sac starts this phase and is completed by the expulsion of the cria. The process normally lasts between 5 and 30 minutes but can take significantly longer for a dam's first cria or she if is overweight. Assistance is not usually required, particularly with older females who have unpacked many times. Almost all crias are unpacked head-first, facing downwards, with the majority of dams standing. As contractions increase, the head appears closely followed by one forelimb, the second appearing some minutes later. Strong contractions occur to pass the cria's shoulders and chest with the remainder of the cria passed shortly after, with the help of gravity. The umbilical cord detaches soon after unpacking.
Stage 3. Expulsion of the placenta. This normally occurs within 20 minutes of the cria unpacking but can take up to one hour. If it has not passed within 8 hours, veterinary assistance will be needed.

With the cria on the ground, the dam and cria should be allowed to bond and all of the herd members will examine the new addition. The exception to this is the quick removal the epidermal membrane covering the cria's neck and thorax and disinfection of the umbilical cord stub using alcoholic iodine or chlorhexidine solution. One of these antiseptics should be part of a birthing kit.
This kit should comprise:
➛ Electronic thermometer,
➛ A tube of water-based lubricant,
➛ A cria sling (belly sling) and weighing scale (suitcase types are suitable),
➛ Disinfection spray as described above,
➛ Clean towels or paper towels.

Birth weight should be taken (average weight = 8kg) and this should be checked on a regular basis to confirm a normal weight gain pattern. A slight weight loss over the first couple of days is normal.
All newborn crias will pass through a period of post-birth recovery and move to a cush position before attempting to stand. Once standing, they will instinctively look to suckle from the dam. The birth to suckling sequence can be achieved in under a hour and most will be there in under two hours. Zaria suckling from Te Korito Poppy A few crias will need help as they may attempt to suckle from the wrong dam or even head for a dark area in a stable. New mothers should be checked to ensure milk flow as waxy plugs block the nipples. It is vital that the cria consumes the colostrum as antibodies are unable to pass across the alpaca placenta. Other compounds contained in the colostrum provide gut protection from pathogenic bacteria. A cria should consume 10-20% of its body weight of colostrum within the first 24 hours though antibody absorbtion is greatest in the first 12 hours.
Tiny Tim, the world's smallest known surviving alpaca twin A single cria is almost always unpacked. Twin births are fairly rare and due to low birth weights, one or both crias may not survive. However, there have been recent cases in New Zealand of both thriving. Crias born at the Nevalea stud, Lucy and Lucas, [6] weighed 3.9 kg at birth and developed to normal adult weights. At the Gilead stud [9] the crias were born weighing 5.5kg (which developed normally) and 2.8kg (Timmy, pictured) which only grew to the size of a four month old.
In nature, the dam will wean the cria after some 6 months which coincides with an increase in growth rate of the foetus she is carrying. On New Zealand farms, weaning is usually done at six months or 25kg body weight.

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Alpaca Behaviour

Alpacas are innately calm animals, happy to mill around people and are child safe. Although their instinct is not to be touched, patience and training can overcome this. There is a hierarchy in both male and female herds with a lead animal in each case, generally the oldest. The 'pecking order' is usually easy to work out.
Alpacas are vocal and make a surprising range of sounds. Most commonly heard is a humming sound which lets other alpacas know they are content. Mothers and cria will hum frequently to each other during the first week after birth as part of the bonding process and in some cases this may persist long after. Clucking may indicate friendly or submissive behaviour. Danger is indicated by a loud warbling sound, most often this is triggered by the sight of a dog but cats can also be the cause. Both sexes can scream when fighting but only the males produce a sound known as orgeling during the mating process. Each sound may be accompanied by elements of body language, such as raised or lowered tail, ears forward or down, or particular body postures. The combinations of sounds and body language elements make for effective transfer of information between the animals.
Alpacas do not spit in the usual sense (like llamas) but splutter air and saliva. It is mostly reserved for other alpacas during disputes or asserting authority but occasionally a person can be caught in the 'cross-fire'. When severely angered, an alpaca can regurgitate its rumen contents (a pungent acidic slurry of grass) and project it forcefully at their target. Happily, this is unusual.

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Alpacas evolved to eat and digest the native grasses found at high altitude in the Andes which for most of the year are of low nutritional value. A number of unique adaptations have allowed the alpaca to thrive under these conditions. Notable amongst these is having a three-chambered rumen containing a specific bacterial flora. Waste nitrogen contained in urea is extracted from the bloodstream back into the stomach which enables increased growth rates of the bacteria. The eaten plant materials and bacteria are subsequently digested thus enabling the alpaca to extract the maximum possible protein for growth and repair. On New Zealand paddocks with lush rye grass, there is however a risk of animals putting on too much weight - see condition scoring below. Alpacas require 1.8 - 2.0% (dry weight) of their body mass per day of feed, making them more efficient consumers than sheep. Supplementary feeding is not required except as an option during the facial eczema season or putting weight back onto a thinner animal.

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Fencing and Paddocks.

Fencing for alpacas serves more to keep predators such as dogs out and alpaca groupings apart rather than keep alpacas in. Alpacas rarely challenge fences but intact males may rear up onto one when in close proximity of females and crias may try to go through a fence when they are first weaned from their mothers.
Most New Zealand fencing types are suitable, from standard 8-wire sheep fencing to post and batten, are all very acceptable. Barbed wire should not be used as it causes injuries and can get caught up in the fleece. Thick fleeces are a good insulation layer and make electric fencing largely ineffective. Moreover, electric wires can be a danger, particularly to crias as they can become entangled. The recommended height for alpaca fencing is 1.2 metres.
Alpacas are intelligent and can be moved between paddocks with little effort or stress. Opening a gate is frequently enough to indicate that they should pass through and they can be readily trained to come to you on clapping or calling out, even when at a distance.
Ryegrass is by far the commonest grass found on New Zealand farms and is suitable for many herbivore species. However, as browsers and not grazers, alpacas prefer variety in the plants to be eaten. A number of seed suppliers (for examples, Specseed and Wesco) have formulated seed mixtures more suited to alpacas which include bromes, fescues, lucerne, cocksfoot, clover, plantain and others. Adding to the unsuitability of ryegrass is the issue of the Argentinian weevil which feeds on the roots of the grass causing plant death. Seed suppliers have solved this problem by the introduction of an endophyte fungus which produces alkaloids toxic to the insects. Unfortunately, these chemicals are also toxic to alpacas and result in ryegrass staggers (see the section below).
Alpacas will graze a wide variety of plants but a surprising number found growing in New Zealand paddocks and gardens are poisonous to most livestock and must be removed if within reach. The list of toxic plants is extensive but perhaps the most likely encountered are foxglove, hemlock, woody nightshade, Jerusalem cherry, Rhododendron and Azalea, Ragwort and Box hedging.

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Alpaca health.

Good husbandry practices are essential to supporting the good health of alpacas. Most can be performed by the owner.
Please note that the information given here is for guidance only. An alpaca owner will know the normal behaviours of their animals and should an animal behave abnormally, veterinary consultation is strongly recommended.

For cria:

  • Immunisation. A vaccination programme should be started before the immunity provided by the dam's colostrum antibodies fades. A series of injections are needed to protect the cria from life-threatening diseases caused by Clostridia; these are Pulpy Kidney, Malignant Oedema, Tetanus, Black Disease and Blackleg. Vaccines against these diseases such as Multine 5-in-1 are available from veterinary practices without prescription. The selenised versions of these vaccines should not be used. An injection schedule and dosage volumes should be discussed with your vet or alpaca breeder.
  • Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal mineralization of bone. Growing animals will therefore have greater vitamin D requirements than adults. Alpacas have higher vitamin D requirements compared to other ruminants which may be a reflection of their adaptation to very high UV exposure in their native environment - UV exposure is required for activation of vitamin D in the skin. As most alpaca are now farmed at low altitude and the dam's milk has only low concentrations of vitamin D, supplementation is required. The cria should be injected with vitamin D by subcutaneous injection at defined intervals. The oil-based vitamin A, D and E supplement Hideject is suitable. It is particularly important that the timing and doses to be given are discussed with your vet or alpaca breeder as excess vitamin D can be toxic.
  • Worming. At Te Korito, it is done at 3 months and at weaning.

For adults:

Most of the annual actions can be done at shearing time as the alpaca is already restrained.
  • Annual injections.
    The following are usually given:
    - A 5-in-1 vaccine against clostridial diseases
    - Vitamin D supplementation, particularly if the animal is under three years old or darkly fleeced.
    - Worming. The frequency of worming has been the subject of much discussion. Alpacas normally have a low worm burden because a communal dung site (midden) is used and they are instinctively reluctant to feed around it. Worms and worm larvae are therefore less likely to be eaten. Consistent removal of the middens and cross grazing with other livestock, particularly horses, is effective in controlling worm numbers in paddocks as they will graze over the middens. Horses are not susceptible to the worms carried by alpaca and vica versa. There has been an increase in the resistance to drugs used for drenching so some owners prefer to drench only if worms are shown to be present by egg counting in dung samples. Discussion with your vet will help with your decision.
  • Toe nails.
    Some alpacas, notably with black nails, will seldom need them trimming. Most will though and it prevents the nails twisting and deforming the toes. When they become long, trimming using straight-bladed clippers should be done. On the shearing table, the nail is simply trimmed level with the pad base. With the alpaca standing, one person holds the alpaca's head whilst another will lift the foot whilst facing backwards and trims the nail. Inspection of the nails by lifting the feet should be carried out several times a year as occasionally a nail may curve over and press into the pad.
  • Teeth trimming
    Alpacas have 30 to 32 adult teeth which will have all erupted by about six years of age. At the front of the mouth are six lower incisors which make contact with an upper dental pad, an arrangement that enables the alpaca to grip and tear off plant matter. At the back of the mouth on each side, top and bottom jaws, are two premolar and three molar teeth for grinding the food down. Between these sets are the fighting teeth comprised of a third incisor each side at the top plus upper and lower canine teeth. In males, when fully erupted at around five years, these teeth curve backward, are razor sharp and designed to lacerate an opponent during a fight. They can measure 2.5 cm in length and inflict serious injuries to the head, legs and testicles of an opponent. Trimming of the fighting teeth is most commonly performed on aggressive males. Females also have fighting teeth but they often barely protrude from the gumline and their presence is seldom an issue due to their more sedate behaviour.
    All alpaca teeth grow continuously and are ground down by grazing and food grinding action. They are deciduous and will be replaced by permanent teeth, starting with the molars from six months and the incisors at around two years old. The incisors need to correctly align with the dental pallate to ensure efficient grazing. Should there be poor alignment, the teeth will miss the pallate and over-grow due to lack of wear. In this case, they should be trimmed to prevent difficulty in feeding and snapping of the teeth. There are several methods for this. Apart from a specialised electric cutting wheel (based on an angle grinder), all will need veterinary involvement as sedation of the alpaca will be needed. Teeth should be checked twice a year as growth rates do vary among alpacas.
  • Condition and condition scoring
    Most alpaca owners will not have a livestock scale to weigh animals so body scoring should be done on a regular basis. Data should be collated and records kept to manage herd health and identify a possible health issue. Methods for doing this can be found in this Welfare code and in this fact sheet. On a five point scale, the ideal body condition is scored at 3.0. Condition scores of under 2.0 or above 4.0 represent extremely thin or fat animals respectively. Most alpacas (except in late pregnancy or lactation) should maintain a body condition score between 2.5 and 3.25.
  • Shearing
    In New Zealand, alpacas are usually shorn in late spring or early summer to avoid them being heat stressed during the warmer months. It is done either by laying them on a specialised shearing table or on the ground. In both cases, the legs are restrained by straps forwards and backwards to keep the animal still. For shearing, an assistant usually holds the head and assists by manoevering the alpaca in a manner that allows effective shearing with the minimum of stress to it. Electric clippers are mostly used although with alternative combs to those used for sheep. A skilled shearer will take under 15 minutes per animal and be able to remove the fleece blanket in one piece. There should be a minimum of second cuts and the second-grade fibre from the neck, legs and underside separated off into a different bag. During the process, owners may take fibre samples from the mid-side of each animal for analysis. The samples may be sent to a testing laboratory such as the New Zealand Wool Testing Authority or SGS New Zealand. There are a number of analytical methods available for these tests but all provide measures of:

    • Mean fibre diameter, given in microns (micrometres, 1 mm = 1000 μm). Sometimes a graph of the fibre distribution is also provided,
    • Standard deviation (SD) of the mean: essentially, 68% of the fibre diameters will be within the mean ± 1 SD, 95% of the diameters will be within the mean ± 2 SD,
    • Coefficient of variation of fibre diameters (CV or CVD): is a measure of the variation in fibre diameters relative to the mean fibre diameter. A higher CV shows greater variation in the fleece sample. It is calculated from the following:
      %CV = (standard deviation ÷ average fibre diameter) x 100
    • Percent of fibres >30μm,
    • Comfort factor: calculated as 100 - percentage of fibres >30μm.
      Testing of other fibre parameters may also be available, for example, staple length, curvature and curvature SD.
    Different measurement methods will likely give slightly different results so staying with one analytical laboratory will make year-to-year comparisons valid. The data obtained will help in breeding decisions
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Alpacas generally maintain good health but as they are stoic, they will try to hide any illness. Knowing your animals makes abnormal behaviour due to illness or injury far easier to identify. Sudden and rapid weight loss is often indicative of health issues so condition scoring or weighing your alpacas on a regular basis is valuable. Moreover, visual clues such as lack energy, spending more time recumbent and reluctance to stand can indicate illness.
Notable in the treatment of alpaca illness is that very few drugs are approved for use in camelids by any national medicines regulatory body. Although a range of safe and effective drugs has now been established for use in alpacas, they are "off label", that is, not specifically tested on them. Vets tend to approximate alpaca dosage rates based on those for sheep.
Following are some of the commoner and relevant conditions affecting alpacas. Veterinary assistance must be obtained if an alpaca owner cannot quickly resolve any illness.

  • Dermatophilus
    This skin condition is familiar to many livestock owners where it is known by many names: 'cutaneous streptothrichosis' (cattle, goats, and horses), 'rain-scald', ‘mud rash’ or 'mud fever' (horses), 'lumpy wool' (sheep), 'strawberry foot rot' (sheep and cattle) and is a causative factor in 'pastern dermatitis' (horses). It is caused by the bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis and can result in severe skin infections indicated by the formation of crusty scabs containing the microorganism. In alpacas, these lesions are most common on the back and wet, clumped wool may be found that is removable in clumps. The underlying skin is often reddened and weeping.
    The bacterium exists in two forms: filamentous and motile zoospores. The zoospore is resistant to heat and being dried out and as it is the dormant phase, it can survive in infected scabs for months. Transmission between animals is known to occur by direct contact but contaminated environments may also be an indirect means.
    Veterinary consultation is essential as the treatment will include antibiotics - fortunately the bacterium is sensitive a wide range. Povidone iodine shampoos or chlorhexidine solutions are also is useful in clearing up the disease.
  • Facial Eczema (Pithomycotoxicosis).

    Unfortunately there are many livestock owners in New Zealand who have experienced this serious disease as it affects sheep, cattle, red deer, goats and especially camelids. It is caused by a toxin contained in the spores of the fungus Pithomyces chartarum. Although known worldwide, facial eczema is especially common in New Zealand due to the high percentage of toxin producing P. chartarum strains as compared to other countries. Alpacas are more sensitive than sheep to this disease, likely due of a lack of selection pressure in their native environment.
    After several days of warm humid weather with night time temperatures of over 13°C, the fungus begins growing on the decaying litter at the bottom of the grass sward [22]. On ingestion, the fungal spores release the mycotoxin sporidesmin into the gastrointestinal tract which causes severe liver and bile duct damage. Obstruction of the bile duct may occur which restricts excretion of bile pigments. This results in jaundice and an inability to excrete phylloerythrin, leading to photosensitization of the skin [4]. Consequently, there is severe skin irritation which the animal tries to relieve by persistent rubbing of its head against objects (e.g. fences, trees etc.) which causes peeling of the skin. There is also restlessness, frequent urination, shaking, drooping and reddened ears, swollen eyes and seeking of shade to avoid sunlight. Veterinary assistance is essential in assessing these animals. An initial diagnosis is made based on these symptoms and behaviours but confirmation requires blood testing for γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT) levels.
    Sporidesmin often causes permanent liver damage so support care is needed for any affected alpaca. They should be kept in the darkest area available and receive pain relief, vitamins for liver support and low protein feeds until there is clear recovery. It is notable however that if symptoms are noted then damage to the liver of the animal has already occurred. Moreover, the consumption of spores causes potentiation and subsequent ingestion of small quantities of spores can lead to severe outbreaks.

    Prevention of facial eczema:
    1. Spore counts. There are many commercial and local veterinary services available for determining spore counts in samples taken from paddocks. This method describes the process for taking samples. Samples may be taken to a veterinary practice or farm supply business for sending away to the testing laboratory. Local area spore counts may also be available there. Aggregated counts for areas nationwide are available by e-mail from Gribbles Veterinary during the eczema season. The graphs shown in the reports indicate when the spore counts are climbing and therefore when zinc oxide dosing (see below) must start. Counts in excess of 20,000 spores/g sample are regarded as hazardous to all stock.
    2. Spraying paddocks with fungicides - ideally, this should be done before the start of the season as the fungicide kills only the vegetative fungus cells, not the spores. Thiabendazole sprays have been shown as effective in controlling sporulation throughout the facial eczema season [21]. Alpacas may graze the sprayed paddock after a number of days as specified in the product description. The treatment provides a level of protection for around 5 - 6 weeks, unless there is significant rainfall. Reapplication will be necessary if spore counts are still elevated.
    3. Grazing to low level - this must be avoided. Paddocks with minimal remaining grass should be closed off until good regrowth has occurred. Heavy rain helps by washing spores into the ground.
    4. Alternative feedstuffs - these should be freely available during the danger periods, particularly good quality hay, which reduces the reliance on free grazing.
    5. Dosing with zinc. Zinc supplementation is used as an effective prophylaxis against sporidesmin toxicity. Evidence indicates that the toxic effect of sporidesmin is due to its ability to generate the highly reactive superoxide radical. Zinc ions appear to interact with the sporodesmin and prevent superoxide radicals being produced.
      The incorporation of zinc oxide into alpaca nuts is the only practical way of getting an alpaca to consistently consume adequate zinc. These are widely available from farm stores during the facial eczema season. Putting any zinc salt into the drinking water is ineffective due to the low volume of water drunk per day and the bitter taste of the zinc.
      In New Zealand, the facial eczema season usually starts in early January. Given that it takes about two weeks for the blood zinc levels to rise to a protective state, gradual introduction of the zinc-containing nuts (initially with normal alpaca nuts) should begin at New Year. Supplementation with 2g of elemental zinc per 100 kg live weight per day is recommended. Excessive consumption of zinc for extended periods of time in other ruminant species is known to lead to mild pancreatitis and copper deficiency. In sheep and cattle the recommended maximum continuous zinc supplementation period is 100 days. However, there are no studies with alpacas into the maximum dosing period so the same recommendation is followed. The onset and severity of the facial eczema seasons vary so having grass samples tested and keeping a close watch on spore counts is essential. In particularly bad years, extended dosing and feed supplementation may be needed - mild but reversible pancreatitis is a far lower risk to take compared with having a dead animal through liver failure.
  • Ryegrass staggers.
    This is a condition caused by the endophyte fungus Epichloë festucae (var. lolii) which is found in the leaf sheath of perennial ryegrass pastures. The endophyte is a deliberate addition to the ryegrass seeds to deter insects, particularly the Argentine Stem Weevil, and increase grass growth rates. The condition is particularly common in New Zealand, possibly to the combination of endophyte-infected ryegrass and the practice of monoculture. This fungus produces several mycotoxins including lolitrem-B, peramine and ergovaline, which when ingested cause neurological symptoms [5]. The disease usually occurs in mid/late summer and autumn or after a drought when new grass is growing quickly. This condition mainly affects animals under 2 years of age but only some are affected and may be permanently so.
    In its mildest form, there are slight head tremors or head wobbling but the animal will often appear normal until it becomes excited or agitated. If left untreated, the condition progresses to head shaking, showing a high stepping gait and a stiffness that can lead to poorly coordinated walking (ataxia). Later there may be complete loss of limb control and the animal will be prone to falling over. Once removed from the pasture, most animals will recover with no apparent residual effects. To achieve this, the patient should be stabled with another alpaca and provided with alternative feedstuffs such as hay, chaff and kibble. The recovery time is between one and three weeks. Veterinary treatment may include an injection with vitamin B1 to eliminate the possibility of polioencephalomacia (thiamine deficiency), which exhibits similar symptoms.
  • Barber’s pole worm (BPW)
    The parasitic nematode worm (Haemonchus contortus) infects the C3/abomasum stomach compartment where it attaches and sucks blood from the lining. The female BPW produces thousands of eggs every day which are expelled in the alpaca’s faeces onto the paddock where they hatch, develop into larvae and are ingested during grazing. They then pass into the stomach of the new animal and attach to the stomach wall, thus the life cycle is complete. Infections are serious as large numbers of worms may be present in the abomasum ingesting the blood of the host animal and causing severe anaemia, weakness and ultimately, death.
    Symptoms include very pale pink or white mucous membranes of the eye and mouth (gums) - these should be a strong pink colour. Animals are likely to have diarrhoea, show a loss of condition and be lethargic or collapsed due to the anaemia. Treatment involves immediate drenching of the animal or an injectable wormer.
    It should be noted that Haemonchus eggs can survive for long periods on the pasture during dry weather. If the alpaca dung is not removed, large numbers of eggs can build up. Warm wet weather (especially in March and April) will cause the eggs to hatch and allow infection or reinfection of an alpaca.
  • Fly strike (Myiasis).
    In New Zealand, fly strike is well known as a serious condition in sheep, more commonly seen in regions with summer rainfall. Occasionally it can afflict alpacas when the fleece is short, if there is a skin lesion or the animal has rolled in faeces. An inspection of the animal for cuts is recommended after shearing although skin cuts and abrasions do occur due to vigorous rolling.
    Several species of blowfly may lay eggs around the wound or faeces and on hatching (12-24 hours), the maggots start to degrade and liquefy the underlying tissues. Toxins released by the decomposing tissues and ammonia secreted by the maggots are absorbed into the animal’s bloodstream causing systemic illness, possibly leading to death. Once flystrike has started, the smell of decomposition attracts further flies to the infection site. Regular inspection of the herd will identify abnormal numbers of flies around any animal.
    Immediate veterinary treatment is essential as appropriate insecticides and antibiotics will be required.
  • Mites.
    Alpacas can be infected by mites with three species causing specific skin conditions, Sarcoptes, Chorioptes and Psoroptes. The mange mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) is likely the most serious of these parasites and causes sarcoptic mange, otherwise known as scabies. The mite burrows into the skin of the less hair covered areas such as the legs, ears and belly and these develop bald spots, show flaking and crusting. The skin may become thickened as the disease develops and the alpaca shows intense itching (pruritus). Scabies may be a significant zoonotic risk [20], i.e. it can spread to other animal species including humans.
    Chorioptes mites live their entire three week life cycle on the surface of the skin where they feed on dead cells. When caused by C. bovis, they are found particularly on the legs, feet and tail with symptoms of mild pruritus, alopecia and scaling of the feet and tail base resulting. Species identification is based on morphology (shape). Insecticidal sprays (eg. fipronil) are used in alpacas for eliminating Chorioptic mites as on contact it kills them within two hours and the treatment lasts up to one month.
    Psoroptes mites can infect alpacas causing crusting weeping lesions but these are more confined to the ears. The animal exhibits head shaking and scratching. The Psoroptes mite affecting alpacas may be the same species that causes sheep scab.
    In all cases, skin scrapings are taken from the affected areas and examined under the microscope. The morphology of any mites seen is used to diagnose the condition. Treatment of these mite conditions is by veterinary prescribed insecticides and it should be noted that all animals in the herd may need examination and treatment to prevent reinfection.
  • Tuberculosis (Tb).
    Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. It affects a wide range of animals in New Zealand but cattle and deer are most at risk of contracting the disease. The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is the main wildlife vector (carrier) of bovine Tb in New Zealand. The usual route of infection is through the inhalation of droplets expelled from the lungs an infected vector.
    The TBfree programme (through OSPRI) aims to eradicate bovine Tb from New Zealand through targetted control. As part of the process, the country is divided into Tb control areas with each having specific testing frequency and movement control measures, depending on the risk of Tb transmission from an infected vector. As it is now established that camelids are susceptible (if resistant) to this disease, the Alpaca Association of New Zealand (AANZ) has set up a procedure for testing and reporting of camelid herd Tb status. The scheme is voluntary but all owners are strongly recommended to take part. Moreover, it is a condition of attendance at A&P shows that alpacas are tested and have valid certificates. All herd members over 6 months old must be tested to gain a “Whole Herd” status.
    The single tuberculin test (STT) is approved for use as a primary Tb test for alpacas. An accredited vet will be needed to apply the test to an area of skin either at the neck site (about level with the animal’s back) or behind the foreleg. The neck site is the AANZ preferred and recommended site. Examination of the test site is made two or three days later for any skin reaction.
    A detailed Tb reference card can be downloaded from the AANZ archive.
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Alpaca Welfare.

Changes to the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act in May 2015 gave the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) the ability to make regulations under the Act. As a result, MPI can better enforce the Act by mandating clear rules to protect animal welfare.
The 2018 MPI code of welfare for llamas and alpacas can be downloaded in this pdf file.

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Most of the literature below can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted link. Some of the links will access the appropriate web page from which the article can be downloaded but others will immediately start downloading the full reference.

1. Rybczynski, N., Gosse, J.C., Harington, C.R., Wogelius, R.A., Hidy, A.J. and Buckley, M. (2013). Mid-Pliocene warm-period deposits in the High Arctic yield insight into camel evolution. Nature Comm. (4), Article no. 1550.

2. Registry Working Group (2012). How many Alpaca are there in NZ? New Zealand Alpaca, August, 36-37

3. Kershaw-Young, C.M., Druart, X., Vaughan , J. and Maxwell, W. M. C. (2012). β-Nerve growth factor is a major component of alpaca seminal plasma and induces ovulation in female. Reproduction, Fertility and Development, 24, 1093–1097

4. Boyd, E. (2016). Management of Facial Eczema. M.Vet. Stud., Massey University.

5. Philippe, G. (2016). Lolitrem B and Indole Diterpene Alkaloids Produced by Endophytic Fungi of the Genus Epichloë and Their Toxic Effects in Livestock. Toxins (Basel), 8(2): 47. DOI:

6. Ferguson, F. (2018). Nevalea Alpaca farm welcomes rare twins. Stuff Online, 20th February.

7. Cebra, C., Anderson, D.E., Tibary, A., Van Saun, R.J. and Johnson, L.W. (2014). Llama and Alpaca Care, Ch.16. 1st Ed., Elsevier.

8. Shim, S. (2003). Analytical Techniques for Differentiating Huacaya and Suri Alpaca Fibers. Ph.D. Thesis. Ohio State University.

9. Rogers, M. and Goffin, H. (2009). Timmy - the tiny twin's story. New Zealand Alpaca, Autumn, pp. 36-39.

10. Avila, F., Baily, M. P., Perelman, P., Das, P. J., Pontius, J., Chowdhary, R., Owens, E., Johnson, W. E., Merriwether, D. A. and Raudsepp, T. (2014). A comprehensive whole-genome integrated cytogenetic map for the alpaca (Lama pacos). Cytogenet .Genome Res., 144(3): 196-207.

11. Kadwell, M., Fernandez, M., Stanley, H. F., Baldi, R., Wheeler, J. C., Rosadio, R. and Bruford, M. W. (2001). Genetic analysis reveals the wild ancestors of the llama and the alpaca. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B. 268: 2575-2584. DOI:

12. Wu, H. et al., (2014). Camelid genomes reveal evolution and adaptation to desert environments. Nat. Commun. 5:5188. DOI:

13. Presciuttini, S., Valbonesi, A., Apaza, N., Antonini, M., Huanca, T. and Renieri, C. (2010). Fleece variation in alpaca (Vicugna pacos): a two-locus model for the Suri/Huacaya phenotype. BMC Genetics, 11: 70-77

14. Feeley, N.L. (2015). Inheritance of Fibre colour in Alpacas: Identifying the Genes Involved. Ph.D. Thesis, Curtin University, Australia.

15. Sponenberg, P., Ito, S., Wakamatsu, K. and Eng, L. A. (1988). Pigment types in sheep, goats and llamas. Pigment Cell Research, 1: 414-418.

16. Hart, K. (2001). ‘The dominant white allele is the top dominant allele in the Agouti series.’ (University of Western Australia: Perth).

17. Paul, E. (2006). Alpaca colour review 2006. In ‘Australian Alpaca Association National Conference, Adelaide’. pp. 144–147.

18. Di Menna, M. E. , Smith, B. L. and Miles, C. O. (2009). A history of facial eczema (pithomycotoxicosis) research. N.Z. J. Ag. Res., 52(4): 345-376. DOI: 10.1080/00288230909510519.

19. Registry Working Group. (2015). The State of the National Registered Herd. New Zealand Alpaca, April, 4-7.

20. Foster, A., Jackson, A. and D´Alteiro, G.L. (2007). Skin diseases of South American camelids. Practice, 29: 216–223.

21. Sinclair, D.P. and Howe, M.W. (1967). Effect of thiabendazole on Pithomyces chartarum (Berk. & Curt.) M. B. Ellis. N.Z. J. Ag. Res., 11(1): 59-62. DOI:

22. Mitchell, K. J., Thomas, R. G. and Clarke, R. T. J. (1961). Factors influencing the growth of Pithomyces chartarum in pasture. N.Z. J. Ag. Res., 4(5-6): 566-577. DOI: 10.1080/00288233.1961.10431614

23. Bornstein, S. and de Verdier, K. (2010). Some important Ectoparasites of Alpaca (Vicugna pacos) and Llama (Lama glama). J. Camelid Sci., 3: 49-61.

24. Cebra, C., Anderson, D.E., Tibary, A., Van Saun, R.J. and Johnson, L.W. (2014). Llama and Alpaca Care, Ch.15. 1st Ed., Elsevier.

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Other interesting reading

1. Adams, G.P., Ratto, M.H., Silva, M.E. and Carrasco, R.A. (2016). Ovulation-­inducing factor (OIF/NGF) in seminal plasma: ­a review and update. Reprod. Dom. Anim., 51 (Suppl. 2): 4–17.

2. Vap, L. and Bohn, A.A. (2015). Hematology of Camelids. Vet. Clin. Exot. Anim., 18: 41–49.

3. Montes, M., Quicaño, I., Quispe, R., Quispe, E and Alfonso, L. (2008). Quality characteristics of Huacaya alpaca fibre produced in the Peruvian Andean Plateau region of Huancavelica. Span. J. Ag. Res., 6(1): 33-38.

4. Jackling, F.C., Johnson, W.E. and Appleton, B.R. (2014). The Genetic Inheritance of the Blue-eyed White Phenotype in Alpacas (Vicugna pacos). J. Hered., 105(6): 941–951

5. Pérez-Cabal, M. A., Cervantes, I., Morante, R., Burgos, A., Goyache, F. and Gutiérrez, J. P. (2010). Analysis of the existence of major genes affecting alpaca fiber traits. J. Anim. Sci., 88(12): 3783–3788

6. Cecchi, T., Valbonesi, A., Passamonti, P., Gonzales, M., Antonini, M. and Renieri, C. (2011) Quantitative variation of melanins in alpaca (Lama pacos L.), It. J. Anim. Sci., 10:3, DOI: 10.4081/ijas.2011.e30

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