Alpaca Health and Husbandry

Owning alpacas can be a very rewarding experience in so many ways. They are peaceful critters with antics that relieve human stress levels in today's fast moving society. They provide a wealth of options and adapt well to small acreages and different environments. Like humans and other animals they require care to stay healthy. Nutrition is number one along with attention to disease and parasite control.

Many opinions concerning alpaca nutrition is verbalized by alpaca owners, feed companies, and veterinarians. Alpacas can exist on many different types of foods just like humans but like in humans nutrition can be a silent killer. Alpaca nutrition is mainly education. The nutrients utilized daily for the particular alpacas use and environment must be replaced. The forms of replacement must come from water, forage, and vitamin mineral or alpaca feed supplements to supply any deficiencies that are not supplied by the grass or hay which should make up near 80% of the alpaca’s daily diet.

Alpaca owners should test the forage and water. Water that is safe for human consumption is safe for alpacas. Excessive iron or sulfur affects taste and consumption as well as causes mineral tie-ups that affect the skin and health. Alpacas do not appreciate frozen water in the winter or hot water in the summer. Since the grass and hay constitute about 80% of the daily diet, it should be tested as well. Most grass forages work well for alpacas but grasses that adapt to the owners region of the country survive best. Established alpaca owners, agricultural agents, and state universities often can provide reliable information. Alpacas often do well on forages that are 11-13% protein; 58-60% TDN; have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of 2 to 1 or less; have less than 2.5% potassium and less than 600ppm of iron in the analysis and have a RFV (relative food value) of 95 to 105. New owners should realize that many lush forages are 18 to 25% protein and can cause obesity if allowed free choice.

Owners must realize that males require near 25% less total intake for maintenance than females; late gestating females (last 4 months) require 25% above maintenance and females in lactation require 50 % above maintenance. Growing alpacas as well as alpacas over 10 years of age can require 25% total intake above maintenance to thrive. Many owners provide a base of about 2.5 pounds of hay per day and 0.50 pounds of alpaca supplement per 100 pounds of body weight for maintenance levels to maximize alpaca health. All alpacas should be weighed or body scored every 60 days to evaluate if they are becoming too thin or too obese which can cause health issues.

To establish and maintain good alpaca health and prior to purchasing alpacas it is advantageous to contact a local veterinarian familiar with diseases and parasites prevalent in other species within a 10-15 mile radius of your farm or ranch. A veterinarian good with other species will handle alpacas well and enjoy working with them. Veterinarian attitude and willingness, as well as client attitude and expectation, will often determine alpaca veterinary care. An emergency situation is not a good time to meet your vet for the first time. Better yet, try to enlist the services of a vet who provides health care to at least two or three other camelid farms. We all have to learn, but a willing veterinarian with a few years of experience has the common knowledge and education to care for 98% of the veterinary health concerns that your animals will face. There is no vaccination or parasite control program that is universal. Every locale has different issues and owners purchasing alpacas from other regions of the country should make their vet aware so that certain parasites or diseases are not imported to your premises.

Alpaca owners can acquire much knowledge by visiting numerous farms, attending seminars and reading alpaca literature that contains various opinions concerning alpaca husbandry practices. They can then apply what is most applicable to maintain their alpaca’s health. An established goal or direction is a necessity.

Contributor: Norm Evans

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