top of page

Husbandry

Alpacas are definitely low maintenance animals. If you live it the sub-tropics (like here in Gympie) then there are a couple of 
extra things that need to be done to keep the alpacas healthy... but generally, they require very little maintenance.  

The following pages include information on toenails, injections, mating and birthing. 

  • Are they related to Llamas?
    Yes. Alpacas are South American Camelids. There are 4 species in this group of animals, and they are Llamas, Alpacas, Guanaco and Vicuna. The guanaco and vicuna are wild animals, while the Llama and Alpaca have been domesticated. The Llama and Guanaco are larger animals, the Alpaca and Vicuna are smaller. Generally speaking, Llamas are used as pack animals, and alpacas are fleece producers. Llamas and Alpacas have been known to interbreed, and produce reproductive offspring.
  • Do they spit?
    Yes. But they don’t usually spit at people. Spitting is part of the alpacas defence mechanisms. They spit at each other during an argument, particularly when food is present. The females will spit at a male to discourage amorous advances. And on rare occasions, if you have challenged them, or frightened them (or grabbed their young) you may find yourself covered in the green goo of their spit. And it really really stinks!!! They often fire a warning shot - an air spit - but if they're serious, they aim very clearly for your face and spit up regurgitated food... it is worse than manure! It usually takes several washes to get it off your hands, face, out of your hair etc... best you avoid it! :-)
  • Do they bite or kick?
    Rarely. They will sometimes lash out with a back foot if they feel threatened, but as their feet are composed of soft toes with a toenail (not hooves), the impact is not that significant, though it may bruise. They will sometimes bite each other during an argument or as a dominating activity, but it is very rare for an alpaca to bite a human.
  • How many can I keep on my property?
    This will depend on the size of the property, the quantity and quality of feed on the property, and how much supplementary feed you are willing to give them. The general rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 alpacas per DSE (dry sheep equivalent). If you have good rainfall and quality pasture available all year, then you could potentially run 10 per acre, but this would be rare. Most people stock between 2 and 5 per acre.
  • Can I have just one as a pet?
    NO. DEFINITELY NOT. Alpacas are herd animals, and if kept alone they will fret and can become ill or start behaving badly. You should always have at least 2 alpacas, and 4 or 5 is closer to a herd. Even if the alpaca is being kept as a guardian for other livestock, they work better when there are 2 of them.
  • How long do they live?
    The average lifespan of an alpaca is 15-20 years, but some have lived to around 24.
  • Can I keep them with my other livestock?
    Yes. Alpacas are happy to co-habit with cattle, goats, horses, sheep etc. But be aware that a kick from a larger animal could inflict serious injury to an alpaca. I run miniature horses with the alpacas, but the alpacas have quickly learnt not to get too close to them when they play or are near food. I don't like to leave the younger alpacas with the horses for fear they'll get hurt. If you keep your alpacas with sheep or goats, you will need to be more vigilant with your drenching as goats and sheep are more prone to worms than alpacas.
  • Do they really help protect other livestock?
    Alpacas can be used to protect a flock of sheep. They will bond with the flock, and act like shepherds in protecting the young. Many farmers have discovered that alpacas will increase their lambing rates by keeping the foxes away from the newborn lambs. Any livestock is vulnerable to attack by wild dogs (or even domestic pets on a killing spree). So don't expect your alpacas to keep your sheep safe from wild dogs. A single dingo will be chased off by an alpaca, but once you get a couple of dogs involved, they will corner and kill any vulnerable livestock including alpacas. We recommend using dog proof fencing. Alpacas have been used to protect sheep, goats, chickens... just remember that they are not miracle workers, you need to give them time to bond with the flock, and you still need to look after them
  • What’s the difference between the 2 types?
    There are 2 different types of alpacas. They are differentiated by their fleece type. Underneath they are the same animal... The huacaya (wha-ky-ah) is the most common alpaca, and has a fleece rather like a merino sheep. The suri (soo-ree) alpaca makes up around 10% of alpacas worldwide. The suri has a fleece more like an angora goat - long twists of slippery fibre • The huacaya has a fleece rather like a merino sheep with deep crimp (think crinkle cut chips) and the fleece grows out rather afro style from their body. 90% of alpacas worldwide are huacaya. • The suri has a fleece more like an angora goat with ringlets or pencils of fleece (think dreadlocks) falling like a curtain with a distinct part on their spine. 10% of alpacas worldwide are suri. Huacaya alpacas have always been available in a variety of beautiful natural colours from white, through cream, fawns, browns, greys and black. Look for huacayas that have a soft handling fleece, fine micron, and a clearly defined crimp. The coloured suri is a fairly new addition to the worldwide alpaca herd. Historically, suri alpacas were white. The south Americans selectively bred white suri, and culled the coloured suri, so that eventually, coloured suri were not produced. In Australia, a cross breeding program was undertaken, where the gorgeous coloured huacaya females were mated to white suri males. Coloured suri offspring were produced. Some suri alpacas will produce huacaya offspring, these are known as being “heterozygous to the suri gene”. Where a suri has been proven to only produce suri offspring, they are known as being “homozygous to the suri gene”. When purchasing a suri alpaca, it is important to research their pedigree, and know how many generations of suri the animal has, and whether the parents and grandparents were homozygous or not. This usually affects the price of the animal. You’ll sometimes see terminology like F1 or first cross, BC1 or backcross, or perhaps “2nd generation suri” and these refer to suri crossbreeding. An F1 suri has one suri parent and one huacaya parent. A backcross is one generation more suri and has 2 suri parents, though at least one of those parents was an F1. There is much debate about this terminology, so do your research! There is nothing wrong with buying cross bred suris. They are healthy and suitable to breed from. They are registered as suri based purely on their fleece. The cross bred suri is generally cheaper, but it is not always lesser in quality. Many first or second generation suris have excellent fleeces. In fact, some have better fleeces than the “pure” suris out there... so do your research. The only disadvantage of cross bred suris, is that their offspring will also fetch a lower price, and most of the males you breed are not suitable to be kept as herdsires (due to the likelihood of being heterozygous and producing Huacaya offspring). This is something that you must give serious consideration to when choosing what your goals are. I often recommend starting with cheaper crossbred suris to “learn the ropes”, and breed to quality males so you improve the fleece with each generation.
  • What do they eat?
    Alpacas are mostly grazers, so the majority of their diet is grass. They enjoy a variety of grasses, and the native grasses of Australia are excellent fodder. Alpacas will eat some woody plants and the leaves from trees, but unlike goats, they will not climb or ringbark trees. Alpacas are quite selective in what they choose to eat... they are quite fond of roses and fruit trees, so best that you keep them out of your garden! When grass is scarce, it is important to offer them supplementary feed. Grassy hay, lucerne hay and “muesli” mixes (made up of chaff and grain) are all good feed. As alpacas are ruminants, it is very important to introduce new feed slowly. So offer small quantities over a couple of weeks until the gut flora in their rumen has adjusted to new food. You can make your alpaca quite ill if you feed them too much grain too quickly. If you stick to a rule of approx 20% grain to 80% fibre (hay and chaff), then you should be fairly safe. Alpacas will eat most grains, and pelletised grain (pony pellets and alpaca pellets) are an easy option.
  • What plants are dangerous for alpacas?
    There are several plants that are known to be extremely toxic to alpacas and these include (but not limited to): Lantana, Azalea & Rhododendron, Bracken Fern, Osteospermum (African Daisy), Avocado, some stone fruit varieties. Some plants will be toxic only if eaten in large quantities, others will require very little to make the alpaca extremely sick. You can Google most plants to see if they are known to be toxic, or talk to your local vet. But if in doubt, dig it out!
  • What supplemntary food, vitamins, minerals do they need?"
    Alpacas are very good at obtaining their nutritional requirements from native pastures and browsing the leaves from shrubs etc. However, in Australia our soils are very low in minerals and so some supplements may be required in your area. As a guide, keep the grain content in your alpaca feed to around 20%. Don't introduce new feed to them in large quantities, but rather little by little to allow the rumen to adjust to the new food to digest. In the winter months when there is less feed on the ground (this would vary by location), I sometimes add copra and lupins to a chaff/graim mix. I sometimes add sunflower seeds, sometimes add molasses, and vary the grains. Vitamins & Minerals. Alpacas come from the high plains in Peru, which are thousands of feet above sea level. Mt Kosciuszko is lower than the alpacas normal feeding grounds. With this in mind, it is believed that alpacas need more vitamin D than they can get on our lower lying lands here in Australia. Many breeders inject vitamin D or a mix of A, D and E on a regular basis. Mine all get ADE once per year, and the darker alpacas will get a second dose. It is possible to purchase Vitamin D3, but this is very potent, so do your research before using this. It is also important to understand the role of phosphorus. Stress depletes the body of phosphorus. Lack of both phosphorus and VitD (and calcium) will cause rickets which show up as lethargy, hunched back, look like they’re walking on eggshells. Sometimes a phosphorus injection will very quickly reverse these symptoms. Rickets and anaemia are also related, though most scientists are unsure how. But sometimes anaemia may be treated with phosphorus and Vit D. When an alpaca becomes ill, it is good to have injectable vitamins on hand. B group vitamins for general well being, vitamin C for faster healing, a product called VAM has a good combination of vitamins and minerals. Selenium is another mineral that many areas of Australia are deficient in, and therefore selenium supplementation may be required. Selenium is essential for muscles and for reproduction health. Zinc, Magnesium and Copper. Again, many parts of Australia are deficient in these minerals, so therefore some supplementation may be required. Zinc deficiency often shows up as dermatitis, copper deficiency will cause dull fleeces. Seaweed meal is a good mineral supplement, and there are various mineral supplements on the market... just be careful to not have too much salt, no urea and not too much copper. South American Camelids are the only creatures known to be able to recycle their own urea. This means that they can convert dry stubble into feed which makes them very hardy. Because of this, it is essential you do not add any urea to their diet.
  • Do they really do their “business” in one place?
    Alpacas use a communal toilet, so their manure is not scattered around the paddock but rather deposited in several discreet "poo piles" around the paddock. They defecate and urinate on these poo piles. Because they urinate in the same place, the manure is high in urea, so makes fantastic fertiliser for your garden! Roses, Vegetables, Fruit Trees and even the lawn will absolutely love it! Most breeders will collect the manure at least once a week to help manage their pasture and also reduce the worm infestation in their paddocks (yes alpacas do get worms).

The information contained in these pages is general advice only.

We recommend that you seek specific veterinary advice for your circumstances.  Samsuri Alpacas does not guarantee the accuracy of this information nor be held accountable for your interpretation or use of the advice contained herein. 

bottom of page