All About Raising Alpacas
(Page 2 of 5)
One reason folks like alpacas is their ease of care. The animals respect fences, can be easily halter-trained, and don’t require much work.
Generally, a single acre of good pasture can support five to eight animals. The pasture can be fenced with 4-foot-high woven wire (sheep fencing), although 5-foot-high fences are used sometimes for the males or in areas with large predators.
Alpacas need shelter but are winter hardy. Even in Alaska and the Yukon, alpacas are kept in uninsulated, unheated barns. In hot areas, however, it is important to avoid heat stress.
When not on pasture, alpacas require hay, preferring leafy second-cut hay. Fifteen alpacas eat about as much hay as one horse. The actual number of bales required depends on the length of the winter, the reproductive state of the animals — growing, lactating and pregnant animals need more than geldings — and the quality of the hay.
Females in late gestation and early lactation usually need grain, as do growing young. Alpaca supplements are available at farm stores across the continent. The herd is usually given free access to a mix of minerals and salt.
Males are often bred once they are 2 years old, females at 1 1/2 to 2 years. Alpaca females don’t go into heat. Instead, the act of mating usually stimulates ovulation.
After a 345-day (11-month) gestation, females give birth to one offspring, called a cria. Birthing is usually simple. Alpacas almost always have their young in the middle of the day (making sheep farmers green with envy). Another advantage is that alpacas can postpone going into labor for up to two weeks if they sense a storm coming.
Newborns usually weigh 14 to 20 pounds. Adult females can be bred again within a couple of weeks after giving birth. If the mother dies or doesn’t have enough milk, the cria needs to be bottle-fed colostrum within the first 24 hours of life. Frozen alpaca colostrum is available at some veterinarian offices and is shared among alpaca owners. Goat colostrum is an acceptable substitute.
Some owners wean the crias at 6 months of age. As with most livestock, weaning is stressful for all involved (including the farmer). Many alpaca owners allow for natural weaning, which often happens when crias are around 9 months old.
Alpacas are shorn once a year. Some shearers specialize in alpacas, and sheep shearers won’t necessarily do the job. Many owners learn to shear alpacas — which is considered easier than shearing sheep or angora goats.
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