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.
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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 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.
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 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.
Shelter and Shelters.
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. Sitting under shade trees is a common option during the the hottest hours. Owners may have a pond on their property or can provide water they can sit in. Some alpacas enjoy sitting in water have been known to step into cattle drinking troughs.
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Whilst alpacas will frequently sit in the rain, no animal enjoys the impact of heavy rain and will seek shelter. Again, trees are the usual solution but many owners provide constructed shelters for their alpacas. There are many possible designs though local climatic or ground conditions 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 are taught that the shelter is where food is to be found, 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 amongst these is having a three-chambered rumen containing a specific bacterial flora which is able to break down the fibrous grasses into sugars. Waste nitrogen (as 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.
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The feeding of good quality hay from a crib is normal and 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. Alpaca kibble can be mixed in with the chaff to the recommended amount if needed. These pellets should not be fed alone except in small quantity due to the risk of choke. Occasional pellets are very useful in training.
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.
- 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 likely due to adaptation to the very high UV exposure in their high altitude 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.
Most of the annual actions can be done at shearing time as the alpaca is already restrained.
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- 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 making this cross-grazing method valuable. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in resistance to drugs used for drenching so some owners prefer to drench only if worms are shown to be present in dung samples. This requires egg counting in freshly collected faecal samples and discussion with your vet will help here.
- 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 they should be trimmed 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.
- 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 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. They are deciduous and first teeth are replaced by permanent ones, starting with the molars from 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 will 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 have 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 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.
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 manouevering 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 can 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:
Different measurement methods will likely give slightly different results using just one analytical laboratory will make year-to-year comparisons valid. The data obtained will help in breeding decisions
- 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.
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.
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The 2018 MPI code of welfare for llamas and alpacas can be downloaded in this pdf file.
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