Alpaca Herd Management & Care

Here we will briefly discuss the anatomy of the alpaca, conformation, fleece, male and female breeding, and the baby alpaca. We will also touch on daily maintenance, routine procedures and annual engagements.

The Essentials
Alpacas, like animals and humans, need the basics for survival – food, water and shelter. They must have all of these available at all times. Shelter, water containers, and feed containers have be discussed previously. Now, what do you put in these containers?

Alpaca food and nutrition
Alpacas are quasi-ruminants with three stomachs. They chew just enough to mix their feed with saliva to form a bolus to be swallowed. While resting, the alpaca will bring up a bolus and chew it, then it is swallowed again. It takes about a third of daylight hours for an alpaca to graze enough food.
When we feed alpacas we are actually feeding the bugs in their stomach, which in turn process the food to feed the alpaca. There are hundreds of species of bacteria and protozoa in the alpaca digestive system.

As a rule of thumb, the greener the pasture, the greater it is in protein – unless it is an artificial fertilizer-driven nitrogen flush.

Alpacas normally require an 8% crude protein diet. The situation changes when the dam gets to the latter stages of pregnancy, and also in the first weeks of lactation. At that time a crude protein intake of 12% – 15% is required. This requires the best paddocks, and/or supplementation.

Protein requirement is in direct relationship to the need for energy. Energy is sourced from carbohydrates (including sugars), starches, hemi cellulose, and cellulose, through volatile fatty acids from carbohydrate and protein fermentation.

Alpacas have a lower energy requirement than other ruminants due to the extra length of time food stays in their gut (48 – 54 hours vs cow at 24 hrs).

They have a more efficient digestive system and are able to extract more energy from the fiber part of their diet. Most ruminants get energy from cell contents, and generally not from cell walls (hemi cellulose, cellulose and lignin). However alpacas can get some energy from hemi cellulose and cellulose and hence are more efficient digesters of all food.

The alpaca’s energy requirement depends on environmental conditions (cold or heat stress requires more energy), activity levels, and animal insulation (hide thickness, length of coat, coat condition — wet, dry, muddy etc).
There are many discussions on vaccinations and vitamins. Everyone has their theory and best practices. Like anything else, educate yourself on current industry standards and manage your herd to your comfort level. We here at NRMA try to have a balance for a harmonious ranch.

We administer CD/T annually to our herd. New born crias get a CD/T at 3 weeks, 3 months, then annually. New born crias also get Vitamin A, D, E, B12, Vitamin E & Selenium and EColi orally within 18 hours of birth.

A, D and E are all required.
A and E will normally be supplied through green feed.
Extra E may be needed in young cria being fed hard feed or hay.
B1 (Thiamine) and B12 should be supplemented at times of stress and fermentation disorders.
D supplementation may be required – see our article on Vitamin D

Vitamin E & Selenium
Injectable vitamin E and selenium is commonly given to newborn crias in areas of the country known to be deficient in selenium. The most common product used is Bo-Se® (1 mg/ml). A common dose is 1 mg given subcutaneously for alpaca crias and 2 mg for llama crias. Proper supplementation of the dam during gestation can aid in preventing deficiencies in the developing fetus.

Vitamin A & D
Vitamin D deficiency in neonates can lead to a metabolic condition known as hypophosphatemic rickets. The condition is most commonly seen in darker pigmented crias during the winter in more northern states. Injectable and oral supplements are available. The injectable form is often in combination with vitamin A and requires less frequent dosing than the oral product. A common dose is 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D/pound of body weight given subcutaneously. One dose will last approximately 60-90days. The oral product is typically dosed at 30,000 IU of vitamin D every 2 weeks.

Supplement the soil, and the feed, rather than supplementing the animal directly by needle or direct dosing.

The soil provides the minerals to the pasture plants and grasses, which provides the minerals to the alpaca. The key is in the balance of minerals in proportion, not just the absolute values, as minerals interact and suppress. Your alpaca can get these minerals from its grass and hay, or from supplements.

Start with fresh, clean, high quality water that is always available. Keep your troughs clean. If you would not drink out of your troughs, or drink the water in there, then neither should the alpacas !

Alpacas need drinking water and they get water from moisture in their feed, and water produced by oxidative processes associated with energy metabolism. Lush pasture provides a lot of water, whereas dry feed has little water and alpacas on dry food require more water intake.

Alpacas lose water through urine, milk, perspiration, and evaporation. If an alpaca produces more of these fluids, they need more water. Sufficient water is critical to milk production in the dam.

Alpaca Daily Feed Requirement
Alpacas will eat roughly 1.5% of their bodyweight per day.  They should have free choice feed at all times unless they begin to get overweight. Estimations indicate they will eat 1/3 to ½ ton of hay per alpaca per year

There are many controversial discussions on vaccinations and vitamins. Everyone has their theory and best practices. Like anything else, educate yourself on current industry standards and manage your herd to your comfort level. We here at NRMA try to have a balance for a harmonious ranch.

We administer CD/T annually to our herd. New born crias get a CD/T at 3 weeks, 3 months, then annually. New born crias also get Vitamin A, D, E, B12, Vitamin E & Selenium and EColi orally within 18 hours of birth.

Vaccinations commonly used in alpacas

Clostridium perfringens type C, D, and C. tetani. C. perfringens has been implicated in diarrhea and sudden deaths in crias and occasionally adults. All animals are at risk for tetanus following infection primarily through wounds, castrations, etc.

One common vaccination schedule is vaccination of adults yearly; pregnant females 4-6 weeks prior to parturition; crias at 3-4 months old and again 4 weeks later then yearly thereafter. Other protocols are also used and can be tailored to suit individual farm situations.

Clostridium perfringens Type A Toxoid
Recently developed vaccine for use in cattle.Evaluated at WSU VTH on alpacas

1. No vaccine site reactions were seen.
2. This product was NOT evaluated on pregnant animals.
3. Titers were measured and results indicated an immune response occurred but the degree of protection provided is unknown at this time.
Other Clostridial Vaccines

“7 way” and “8 way” clostridial vaccines available. The number refers to the number of diseases the vaccine prevents. Vaccinates against a broad spectrum of clostridial bacteria.

Some contain tetanus. Vaccine site reactions have been reported with some products.

West Nile Virus
Alpacas are considered at low risk of developing clinical signs after infection with this virus. However the most common signs of infection are neurological, usually progressing to death of the animal even with intensive medical treatments.Only consider use in areas with known West Nile virus. Adverse reactions to the vaccine have ranged from mild injection site reactions to anaphylaxis. Try to avoid vaccinating bred females within 60 days of breeding or 30 days of parturition.

There are two vaccine products that have been used in alpacas:

1. Ft. Dodge West Nile-Innovator® – Research showed 3 doses, 3 weeks apart, generated the highest titer response. Challenge studies evaluating vaccine protection in alpacas have not been performed.
2. Merial Recombitek Equine WNV vaccine® – No published research but the product has been evaluated on alpacas.

Consider in areas where the disease is endemic. You may need to revaccinate up to 3-4 times a year. Clinical signs vary from fever & anorexia, kidney & liver damage, & abortions.

There are many serovars or types of Leptospira. Vaccines only include the more common serovars found in cattle so protection may be incomplete. Prevention can be increased by limiting rodent and wildlife contact and vaccinating dogs that may have contact with the herd.

Rabies has been reported in alpacas. There are currently no licensed vaccines for use in alpacas. Vaccinations can only be performed by veterinarians.

Consider yearly vaccinations in endemic areas which can be given as early as 3-6 months of age. Proof of vaccination may not be sufficient if an animal is exposed leading to quarantine or euthanasia.

Equine Herpes Virus 1
This disease has been infrequently reported in alpacas. Infected animals exhibit neurological signs or blindness. Consider vaccination if alpacas are kept in close proximity with horses or other equines. If needed, use the killed vaccine product and vaccinate every 12 weeks.

Bovine viral diarrhea virus vaccines are available as products labeled for use in cattle. Currently we do not recommend use due to difficulties with current diagnostic techniques.
Parasite Control

What is parasite control and what does it entail?

Parasite control is based on maintaining parasite populations below which clinical signs are observed. It does not involve the complete elimination of all parasites from a herd for several reasons. A low level of parasites develops immunity in the animals, decreases drug resistance, saves money for the owner, and finally because complete elimination is impossible.

How do parasites cause immunity?

An animal exposed to parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc. develops specialized cells that are used to fight infections from these foreign organisms. Some produce life long immunity after a single exposure while others produce immunity for as little as several months. Low level repeated exposure to a foreign organism can stimulate the immune system to continue producing the specialized cells and thereby reduces the severity of infections in the future.

Why is drug resistance important?

Drug resistance to anthelmintics (anti-parasite drugs) is becoming more common. Unfortunately these drugs are unable to completely eliminate an entire population of parasites. The few that remain are resistant to the drug and with time reproduce, creating a new population that is also resistant. Anthelmintic resistance is very common in sheep and goats and increasing in alpacas and llamas. Resistance is encouraged with indiscriminate use of anthelmintics, shipping animals, open herds, and inadequate biosecurity. Anthelmintics should complement but not replace good management and sanitation practices.

How can management and sanitation reduce the need for anthelmintics?

Management strategies include using feed bunkers and eliminating standing water and wet areas around waterers to reduce the favorable environment most parasites need to become infective. Frequent cleanup of the dung pile and pasture rotation reduces the parasite load and possible chances of exposure. Quarantine pens for all incoming animals helps reduce exposure of the existing herd to new parasite species as well as other diseases. Incoming animals are stressed from transportation, new surroundings, and removal from existing herdmates. The stress can cause a mild immunosuppression causing an increase shedding of parasites or other organisms.

We suggest that every 2 months a random sample of fecals from the herd be evaluated to assess parasite control. Concentrate on 3 general groups: crias in the first 3-4 months of life, yearlings, and adults. A sampling of 3-5 animals or 10% of the group should be adequate.

What types of deworming programs are available?

Deworming can be performed on a seasonal basis and/or as needed. Which you use will vary by your geographical location, open or closed herd, pasture – dry or irrigated, travel, stocking density, etc. Periodic fecal sampling (as described above) including fecal egg counts will provide information as to types and numbers of parasites present. You should review your particular situation with your veterinarian and in combination with fecal egg counts determine the best deworming program for your situation.

A general program for the inland Great Pacific Northwest would include twice a year treatments of all animals over 2-3 months. In the fall after a killing frost, animals would be treated with an ivermectin-type product for intestinal worms, external parasites, and nose bots. Animals should be treated in the spring prior to majority of births with a fenbendazole-type product. The periodic fecal exams would determine if additional dewormings would be needed.