HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT RAISING ALPACAS in your own pastures? If you like animals, especially furry ones, or are crafty (knit/crochet/spin/weave) the thought has probably crossed your mind. Sometimes that thought stays there for months or even years, and you might have questions like “How much do alpacas eat?” or “Are alpacas hard to take care of?” Or “Who would shear them for me?” “Would they get too hot in the summer (or cold in the winter)?”
What to expect when raising alpacas
Well, raising alpacas is very easy. You shouldn’t let it intimidate you in the slightest. For starters, they all poop in one (or maybe two) spots in the pasture. Makes cleanup a breeze. They are very curious and notice anything out of the normal “routine.” If you feed them first thing in the morning, there they’ll be. They hum and pester you until they get fed. But they tend to be a little skittish if you try to pet their heads. Dogs like you to pet their heads, cats like to have their necks scratched. But alpacas like to explore YOU – not the other way around. You’ll get farther faster if you just put your nose up the fence and talk to them (without any touching at all). Sometimes you can bond better with a new baby (if mom will let you) and then they’ll be a friend for life. They will follow you around and sniff your hair and even pull things out of your pockets. They are so cute. (Can you tell we like them?)
What do alpacas eat?
Alpacas don’t eat a lot of feed. If you have good grass for them to graze on, you would really only have to supplement them in the winter with hay. Depending on where you live, you would have to check on the right kinds of grass. In Oklahoma we grow Bermuda grass, and they love it. In Virginia we feed them orchard grass. Alpacas need fresh water every day, though. (And in summers they get a bang out of running through the sprinklers!)
Routine Maintenance for Alpacas
Probably the two things you’ll want to keep an eye on are keeping their toenails trimmed. This skill takes 15 minutes to learn, if that. They may need annual vaccinations (rabies and perhaps West Nile). But that is what you track for your household pets. And they need to be wormed for whatever parasites might live in your particular area. We try to keep worming to a minimum and so do our own fecal tests on a monthly basis; if there are parasites in any of our pastures, we worm. Otherwise, we don’t bother. When we have them in the barn to worm, we weigh them and make sure they look healthy. Once in a while we have had a toothache among the group, but that has been rare. No – there are no alpaca dentists. Your vet can help you assess special needs such as this. Problems are not the rule, however. But the more you know, the more you want to know. Raising alpacas is addicting!
Alpacas are shorn once a year. We do ours in late April or early May. You definitely want them cool for summer months or all that fiber will be way too hot. You can combine your alpacas with others if you have farms nearby, and it only costs $25 a head usually. That will give you anywhere from 3-8 pounds of fiber to clean, card and spin (if you’re so inclined) or you can sell it to a local or regional co-op.
Raising Alpacas - Fun for the Family
Raising alpacas is fun and interesting. Kids love them – and alpacas love kids! You can start with geldings or jump in with both feet and breed babies of your own. But there is no other animal like them! Forget llamas (messy and spitty). Alpacas will bring the fun of farming into your backyard. No milking, no fussing. Just gentle humming. Bring it on!