Paddocks, Fencing, Shelter and Water

For your reference, a pdf file of this complete page (correct at 29/11/2022) can be downloaded. This web page is regularly updated so do return for the latest pdf version.

Alpaca essentials

The basic requirements for keeping alpacas are not complicated and only slightly differ from other stock. The following are your main considerations:

Fencing and Paddocks.

In New Zealand, fencing for alpacas serves more to keep predators such as dogs out and alpaca groupings apart rather than retain alpacas. 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 dams.
Most New Zealand fencing types are suitable for alpacas, from standard eight wire sheep fencing to post and paling, are all very acceptable as long as they meet the minimum recommended height of 1.2 metres. It is acknowledged that other countries have far more significant predators and such fencing would be totally inadequate. Barbed wire must not be used as it will cause injuries and can get caught up in the fleece. It is best replaced by plain wire if found. Thick fleeces are a good insulation layer and make electric fencing largely ineffective. Moreover, electric wires and tapes can be dangerous to alpacas and particularly to crias as their natural curiosity can lead them to become entangled. Tape becoming wrapped around the neck can easily result in a fatality.
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.

For pasture, ryegrass is by far the commonest grass grown on New Zealand farms. It is suitable for many herbivore species but since alpacas are browsers and not grazers, they 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. These mixtures do have to be resown every few years as ryegrass will reappear in the paddocks and eventually take over. One important issue with ryegrass is the Argentinian weevil which feeds on the roots of the grass eventually causing plant death. Seed suppliers have solved this problem by the introduction of an endophyte fungus which produces alkaloids that are toxic to the insects. Unfortunately, these chemicals are also toxic to alpacas and can result in ryegrass staggers (more detail is given in this section).

Alpacas will safely browse many plants, bushes and tree foliage but care must be taken to prevent access to poisonous species. This applies not only to what is growing and overhanging into the paddock but given their neck reach, what is accessible one metre outside the fence line. Moreover, alpacas have frequently been seen standing on their hind legs to reach lower branches. Discussion on this subject is given in the toxic plants page.

Shelter and Shelters.

Alpacas are now kept in many countries around the world and in diverse climatic conditions. In spite of being cold-adapted animals they are able to thrive in wide ranging temperatures. However, higher temperatures can cause them to become stressed so shelter from the direct sun is very important. Shade trees are a common option and animals can be frequently seen sitting under them during the hottest hours. Some owners provide a shallow pond or other water they can sit in but this does not benefit the fleece. Some alpacas that particularly enjoy water have even been known to sit in cattle drinking troughs.
Whilst alpacas will usually sit in the paddock during showers and light rain, no animal enjoys the impact of heavy raindrops or hail and will seek shelter. Again, trees are a common solution (only really effective when they are in leaf) but many owners have provided constructed shelters or run-in buildings for their alpacas. There are many possible designs for these though herd size, local climatic, ground and economic factors will mean that some are more suitable than others for owners. At their simplest, 'bus stop shelter' types with the back to the prevailing wind will serve to give cover though the more elaborate types resemble barns and also may incorporate stalls, a feeding area and hay storage (above or in a partition). For the latter type, an electricity supply is invaluable, especially during the winter months and for vet visits out of daylight hours. Apart from being able to light up the barn, outlets provide power for shearing and water pumps, amongst many other things.
Some owners do not have designated shelters, stating that their herd only use them as a toilet or rolling area. However, if the herd is shown from day one that food is provided or found at the shelter, this is less common, especially if non-slip matting is laid on the ground. Either way, the alpacas have an option during poor weather.

Examination/Mating pens.

Ideally, alpaca owners should have a pen, perhaps attached to or beside the shelter, in which one or more animals can be held. An area with sides of 3 to 4 metres is appropriate and have a top rail or board at least 1.2 metres high. Whatever the design, it should not allow legs to become stuck between the rails or boards. Gates on opposite sides of the pen are useful to allow animals out an alternative way. At minimum, it can be used for veterinary examination of an animal but will also be a suitable area for managed matings and the subsequent spitting off tests.


Water should always be freely available to your alpacas and obviously, it must be from a clean source. Given that alpacas do not drink large quantities of water, concrete cattle or horse troughs are unsuitable as they will become dirty and stagnant, especially during the summer. Notable is that any shallow trough or tank located on the ground is likely to be climbed into or splashed about by alpaca feet during hot weather or even, seemingly, just for amusement. One solution for this are smaller volume fence mounted types. These can be easily plumbed with a garden hose connection to a tap so are self-refilling and fresh water is always added. Whichever type of container is used, it must be cleaned regularly otherwise dirt will accumulate and during summer months, slime and algae will grow on internal surfaces and eventually turn the water green. Some of these algae can be harmful.

Halters and Leads.

Suitably sized halters and leads are needed for the animals you have. These are widely available (eg. Halters Plus and Alpaca Dynamics) in various designs, colours and qualities.

Other equipment.

Items recommended for unpacking crias are given on the reproduction page. Only a few other items are actually necessary:
  • Toenail clippers. Although shearers will usually cut toenails whilst the alpaca is on the shearing table, this is an annual event. As discussed in the maintenance section, alpacas with white toenails will need them trimming more frequently. Widely used are straight-bladed clippers which although intended for sheep hooves, are sturdy and easily sharp enough to cut alpaca nails. It is advisable to blunt the tips of the blades with a file or on a grinding wheel before use otherwise the sharp tips may cause an injury due to an unexpected movement.
  • For feeding. Where there is a solid fence line, lengths of plastic guttering with the end caps glued in can be screw attached back-to-front. This is an especially useful method if you have larger numbers. For only a few alpacas, an alternative is wide-based shallow plastic bowls - these are cheap and available at all hardware stores. The only down-side of bowls is that some alpacas routinely pick them up and throw them.
  • Dung collection. The removal of dung from paddocks is essential for controlling worm numbers and preventing nitrate accumulation in the soil and grass. At its simplest, this can be done using a pan and rake but even with the best efforts this method will leave a quantity behind, especially so in longer grass and weeds. The most effective method is inevitably the most expensive but essential for those owners of significant herd numbers. The Paddock Vac and Paddock Cleaner use vacuum created by a small petrol engine to suck the dung up through a wide pipe and into the collection chamber. These machines are easily towed behind a lawn tractor or quad bike and are very effective even in long grass or in the wet. As the alpaca digestive system kills most seeds, the collected poo is a superb and easily distributed fertiliser in its own right but can also be added to compost piles or bagged and sold 'as-is'.

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