Alpacas are very adaptable creatures to many different environments. In the United States, they can be found in every state. Alpacas basics needs, like most animals, are food, water, and shelter. Here will discuss some things to consider when starting a new farm or making improvements to an existing one. Many of these basics suit well for us in Montana. Modifications can always be made based on region.
When considering fencing option its important to think of protecting your alpacas from predators. We are more worried about something coming into our pasture rather than the alpacas getting out. Most problems occur from local dogs especially when they are in a pack. In some areas, coyotes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions are a major concern with predation.
Unlike horses and other livestock, Alpacas usually do not challenge fences. Fencing should always be designed to keep away predators, prevent alpacas from grazing in areas where poisonous plants may be present, and to keep males and females separate.
Predators are the biggest concern when designing fencing. In most areas, 2” x 4” no-climb fencing is sufficient. This type of fence keeps the alpacas from getting their heads stuck between the fence boards. Posts should be spaced 10 feet apart with three fence clips on the welded wire. Cedar posts are a great choice because they last longer than normal wooden posts.
We recommend at least commercial field fencing 48” tall. This fencing has approximately 4” squares vertically and horizontally. We also use a hot wire 6” above the fencing surrounding the parameter. The fence posts are treated 4” diameter x 8’ long driver posts with T-Posts between corners and braces.
Alpaca Gates and Locks
Gates are important because they allow the alpacas to be smoothly transferred from one pen to the other. Making the gates swing from both sides allows easy access, especially in catch pens.
We recommend wire filled mesh gates for the parameter. Again, making sure a dog cannot get through the gate. Internally, we use regular tubed gates with smaller opening at the bottom. When installing gates, consider putting them close to the ground. Alpacas, especially the young, small ones, are great at wiggling under gates.
Gate locks are very important for security and need to be easy to get through. Always always make sure to close and lock gates behind you. To make things easier and convenient, we choose the Kiwi locks. They are a heavy lock that once its dropped through slot, it will autolock.
Barn and Shelters
One of the first areas to think about when starting an alpaca farm is what type of shelter is needed. If your property already has a barn, you will need to determine if the barn will work for your plan. If no barn is available, then a new structure will need to be built to house the alpacas.
First and foremost, your alpacas will need a structure to protect them from the elements in both cold and warm seasons. In the summer, alpacas need a place that is shaded from the sun so they can stay cool. In the winter, they need a place that will shelter them from the wind, especially for moms and crias. We prefer to close all the alpacas into the barn at night for predator. During the winter, its nice because we can shut all doors reducing wind and chill.
The structure should be sturdy to protect them from the harsh weather and be properly designed to meet their needs. Shelters are also helpful when providing medical treatments such as vaccines or tending to sick alpacas.
While the barn does not need to be very large, space for catch pens should be included in the layout. These pens can be used for clipping toenails and administering vaccines. They can also be used to hold alpacas for vet calls, as well as for monitoring sick alpacas and newborn cria. When you need to catch an alpaca, its best to move a group of alpacas together going from a larger space to a smaller. Flexibility in moving corral panels is a most. Fixed retaining walls can be a nightmare for efficient herd management.
If the barn is large enough, create an area to store extra hay and supplies. This allows the hay to stay dry and protects it from weather and other animals. A small tack area can store feed and other supplies such as halters and leads that are used on a regular basis.
Alpacas can be fed with individual dishes or in groups out of larger feed bunks. This is usually determined by herd size and available space. Many types of feed pans and bunks are available. Choose something that you and your alpacas both like and is easy for you to feed with. Pans/bunks can be rubber, plastic, wood, or metal. They can be purchased or built just for yourself. Individual dishes minimize spitting between alpacas during feeding and allow more individual control of feed intake. Feeding up off the ground is recommended to help to minimize the transmission of parasites.
Water Buckets and Troughs
Alpacas need water and it must be in some type of container. Any container for water should be easily cleaned and be a size which allows the water to be completely changed each day (or more often). Rubber or plastic buckets are mobile, durable and easily cleaned and changed. There are automatic waterers and waterers with heaters to prevent ice formation available. They are less mobile and daily maintenance can be made easier, especially for larger herds, but do not forget to check them every single day to be sure they are functioning properly. An automatic waterer that is not working for days can be a disaster. When considering placement of water troughs and if new installation is required, we highly recommend a hydrant at every trough with an electrical outlet nearby for water heaters.
There are a wide variety of hay feeders. There are bags with a single opening, nets that hang, large buckets on the ground, racks mounted on the walls, feeders which allow approach from both sides and anything else that an alpaca owner has come up with. Feeding hay from a lower position minimizes the hay dropped into the wool and keeps their fleeces cleaner. We have found the metal mesh garden wagons to be an ideal feeder solution. Not only are they easily moved, but they are sized almost perfectly for a full bale of hay. We DO NOT recommend hanging bags with small openings. These can be problematic with alpacas getting their heads stuck, panicking, and eventually choking to death. This is especially critical in a trailer.
Like any ruminant, alpacas have a requirement for minerals and crave them regularly. Some type of rust proof container for loose minerals is necessary to keep available at all times. A feed dish can be used or specific containers can be made or bought. A container which won’t tip or spill is the best choice for holding minerals.
Alpacas are herd animals with padded feet and they are also grazers. Their padded feet do not tear up the ground like other domestic livestock. As grazers, they eat grass down to its base then move on. Unlike horses or cattle that will pull up roots and all. It is suggested to have 5-8 alpacas per acre. Pastures should be divided up to accommodate separated females and males and proper rotation for healthy grass.
We like to have 2 separate pastures for the mothers and crias and later for weanlings. We also like two pastures for males. Intact males will prove dominance causing some fighting. Having separate pastures helps their anxiety.
Pastures should be clear of poisonous and toxic weeds. Orchard or Coastal Bermuda grass is the best while alfalfa is too high in protein.
The removal of manure from dung piles in the barn is much easier with the help of a wheelbarrow or some type of mobile cart. It can be useful for moving many other items around the farm including tools, hay, grain, fans, packs or anything else you can imagine. The two wheeled carts are a easier to park and tote things around than a standard wheelbarrow.
Alpaca pellets are difficult to collect and scoop up without the help of a rake. Otherwise you will just chase pellets around the barn. It is also useful for leaves and leftover hay that the alpacas did not eat. It should be stored in an area outside the alpaca areas.
A flat shovel can be very useful for manure removal, especially when used with the rake. It should be stored in an area outside the alpaca areas. They are curious animals and will get into anything you leave lying around.
It is important to track the weight of your alpacas so they do not get too fat or too thin. It is critical to observe weight gain or loss in crias during the neonatal period. These scales are generally too large to accurately weigh crias. A smaller hanging scale works as long as it is able to distinguish between differences of 1/4 to 1/2 pound. Good monitoring can be the difference between life and death for crias, so a good scale is essential.
Halters and Leads
A variety of halter sizes are important for younger and older alpacas. Each halter should have its own lead. We recommend the Zephyr halter and leads.
Every few months toenails will need to be trimmed. We have found the lighter colored alpacas grow faster than darker animals.
Alpaca Blankets or Coats
Alpaca blankets are very similar to dog coats. Small cria coats are important during birthing season for inclimate weather. We here in Montana have several coats in a variety of sizes for our harsh winters.
Training Wands and Ropes
Wands are used to extend the arms when herding alpacas. This can be anything from PVC pipe, a walking stick, horse training wand, or simple rope tied to a fence post to act as a fence line. Keep it about alpaca shoulder high and when they approach the line give it a shake. The movement from the line will keep the alpacas from trying to cross.