For your reference, a pdf file of this complete page (correct at 04/01/2021) can be downloaded here. This webpage is regularly updated so do return for the latest pdf version.
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 for alpacas, from standard 8-wire sheep fencing to post and paling, are all very acceptable as long as they meet the recommended height of 1.2 metres. Barbed wire must 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 and tapes can be a danger, particularly to crias as they can become entangled. 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 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 (see this section).
Alpacas will safely graze many plant types but care must be taken to prevent access to poisonous species. Greater detail on this is provided in the section on toxic plants.
Alpacas are now being kept in many countries around the world and in diverse climatic conditions. As they are cold-adapted animals, 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 commonly seen sitting under them during the 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 enjoy sitting in water have even been known to sit in cattle drinking troughs.
Whilst alpacas will frequently sit in the paddock during showers and light rain, no animal enjoys the impact of heavy raindrops and will seek shelter. Again, trees are a common solution (if they are in leaf) but many owners have provided constructed shelters or barns for their alpacas. There are many possible designs for these though local climatic, ground and economic factors will mean that some are more suitable than others. A number of owners have commented that their herd use the shelter only as a toilet. However, if the herd is taught that food is provided or found at the shelter, this is less common. Either way, the alpacas have an option during bad weather.
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 is having a three-chambered rumen containing specific bacteria which are able to break down the fibrous grasses into sugars. Additionally, waste nitrogen (as urea) is extracted from the bloodstream back into the stomach which enables increased growth rates of the bacteria. The plant material and bacteria are subsequently digested thus enabling the alpaca to extract the maximum possible protein from the material eaten. These adaptations are critical in their native environment but on New Zealand paddocks with lush rye grass, there is 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. Everyday access to good grazing is a given. Supplementary feeding is not usually required except during the facial eczema season or for putting weight back onto a thinner animal. For this, Lucerne mix and meadow chaffs are suitable and alpaca kibble can be mixed in with the chaff to the recommended amount if needed. Alpacas are very keen on kibble (pellets) but care should be taken as:
They have a high calorific value and feeding to animals not needing them can lead to excess weight gain.
They should only be fed mixed in with chaff due to the risk of 'choke' - large numbers of pellets being eaten and forming a plug in the oesophagus. They can be fed alone in small quantities or used as rewards during training.
Good quality meadow hay should always be available from a crib or feed box and all alpacas will occasionally browse this. Supplementary feeding is not usually required except (perhaps) during the facial eczema season or for putting weight back onto a thinner animal. For this, Lucerne mix and meadow chaffs are suitable. Alpaca kibble can be mixed in with the chaff to the recommended amount if needed.
Good husbandry practices are essential to support the good health of alpacas and most of these can be performed by the owner. Please note that the information given here is for guidance only. An alpaca owner must know the normal behaviour of each of their animals and should one behave abnormally, veterinary consultation is strongly recommended.
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 calcium and phosphate serum concentrations which enables normal mineralisation of bone. Growing animals therefore have greater vitamin D requirements than adults. Alpacas have higher vitamin D requirements compared to other ruminants likely due to adaptation to the very high UV exposure in their high altitude native environment - just as in humans, UV exposure to the skin is required for activation of vitamin D. 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 dosage to be given are discussed with your vet or alpaca breeder as an excess of vitamins A and D can be toxic.
Worming. At Te Korito Alpacas, it is done at 3 months and at weaning.
Most of the annual husbandry activities 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. However, stocking rates on alpaca farms are invariably far higher than in their native environment so middens can become widely distributed, particularly with the females. Consistent and effective removal of the middens is essential. Cross grazing of the paddocks with other livestock, especially horses, is effective in controlling worm numbers as horses will graze over the middens and are not susceptible to the worms carried by alpaca and vice versa making this cross-grazing method valuable. Unfortunately, some alpaca dung will inevitably be missed and the worm eggs are remarkably resistant to being dried out. There are currently no realistic means of killing worm eggs in the paddocks. Moreover, there is increasing resistance to drugs used for drenching so some owners now prefer to drench only if worms are shown to be present in dung samples. This requires collecting fresh faecal samples from each animal and submitting these for egg counting. Discussion with your vet on the timing, choice of worming drug and dosage rates will help here.
Toe nails. Some alpacas, notably with black nails, will seldom need them trimming. Most will though and it prevents the nails from twisting and deforming the toes. When they become too long they should be trimmed back using straight-bladed clippers. 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, facing backwards, will lift the foot and trim 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.
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 may be needed and is most commonly performed on the more aggressive males. Females also have fighting teeth but they often barely protrude from the gum line 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. The teeth are deciduous. The first set is replaced by permanent teeth starting with the molars at six months and the incisors at around two years old. The incisors need to correctly align with the dental palate 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 need veterinary involvement as sedation of the alpaca will be needed. Teeth should be checked twice a year as growth rates do vary amongst alpacas.
Condition and condition scoring
Most alpaca owners will not own a livestock scale to weigh animals so body scoring should be done on a regular basis. Data should be collated and records kept managing herd health and identify a possible health issue. Methods for doing this can be found in this Welfare code from the New Zealand government and 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. As alpacas lack flexibility in their spines, they cannot be shorn in the same way as sheep. Therefore two methods of shearing are used:
With the animal standing - although perhaps less stressful for the alpaca, there is a significant risk of cutting the animal with the shears. Unless the alpaca is extremely calm, this method is not recommended.
Laying them on a specialised shearing table or on the ground with the legs restrained by straps/ropes forwards and backwards to help keep the animal still. A further rope may be tied around the neck to prevent the alpaca from raising its head and injuring itself.
During shearing, an assistant will manouever the alpaca in a manner that allows effective shearing with the minimum of stress to it. Electric clippers are mostly used although with different 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 and this is placed into a labelled paper sack. Second-grade fibre from the neck, legs and underside is separated off into a different bag. There should be a minimum of second cuts when shearing. Frequently, owners and helpers will be performing injections, clipping toenails, collecting fleece, taking fibre samples, etc, during the shearing which minimises the time the alpaca stays restrained.
Shearing is a stressful experience for alpacas and they behave in a variety of ways. Although some may appear relaxed, others display fright by urinating whilst on the shearing table or showing their anger by targetted spitting at the shearer and assistants. Being well organised for shearing will minimise the time spent restrained and the stress to your alpacas.
As the blanket is being removed, owners can take a fibre sample 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 using just one analytical laboratory will make year-to-year comparisons valid. The data obtained will help in making breeding decisions
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.