7 Things You NEED to Get Started with Alpacas

If you ask 3 alpaca farmers the same question, you’ll end up with 5 different answers. The truth is, everyone has their own way of dealing with things, and a lot of different strategies work for different people. So while I’ll list these 7 things, there’s bound to be a lot of alpaca farmers out there who will feel differently. Anyway, let’s get to it!

  1. Land & Fencing – The first thing you’ll need is land; if you don’t have enough land to keep your alpacas moving around and happy, your alpacas will not do well. Then you’ll want to make sure you fence them in. The fence is more for keeping other animals out than it is for keeping them in. Alpacas don’t normally challenge fences, so a 3-rail fence that’s 4′ high should work. If you’re in an area with lots of predators, run some 2″x4″ welded wire along the bottom 2 rails to make sure nothing sneaks in under it.
  2. Breed, Gender, Number – There are two types of alpacas: suri and huacaya. Suris have long, stranded fiber that end up looking sort of like dreadlocks, while huacayas have shorter, fluffier fiber. The other important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll have to keep boys separate from girls. The boys will continually try to breed the ladies and will end up hurting them. In general, you can have anywhere from 2 – 8 alpacas per acre, but it’s all dependent on how much grass you have, and how nice it is. If you’re in an area with great grass and it’s warm year-round, you can have closer to 8. If you need to supplement with hay, you should aim towards 2.
  3. Shelter – Alpacas are hearty animals from the mountains in South America, so they can tolerate some pretty low temperatures. The most important thing when it comes to shelter is giving them some relief from the wind. They should have their long winter coat in the winter (duh), then a shearing in the spring will leave them with a shorter fiber length to allow them to be nice and cool.
  4. Food, Hay, Water – Next on the list is food. There’s lots of different kinds of alpaca food you can get. We feed our alpacas Nutrena Alpaca/Llama maintenance, and supplement with some calf-manna pellets. They only get a handful or so of the feed, and they get as much of the 2nd cut orchard grass hay they can eat. They can eat some alfalfa as a treat, but only as a treat. Other than that, if they have access to clean water and grass, they’ll be happy.
  5. POOP! – Alpacas poop… a lot. The good thing is, alpacas will generally pick 2 or 3 spots they like the best and they’ll go there most of the time. Dung piles are where lots of nasty viruses and bacteria grow, so you’ll want to make sure you clean these up often. Alpaca manure is cold manure, which means you can put it right in your gardens for some excellent fertilizer! I’ll bet your neighbors will even ask you for some!
  6. Shearing, Teeth, Toes – Alpacas need to be shorn every year in the Spring so that they don’t get too hot over the summer. If you’re not an experienced shearer, I would suggest letting the pro’s handle it as shearing is NOT an easy job. Professional shearers will be able to get the most fiber off the animal while keeping the trauma to a minimum, and working fast. They should also take a look at their teeth and see if they’re too long. If their bottom teeth get too long, it can impede their ability to eat properly. Same with their toes. If they get too long, they’ll have trouble walking. Most experienced shearers should be able to take care of all of these with no issue.
  7. Medication – There’s a lot that we could go into here, but the most important thing is Ivermectin. This is a shot that is given to them once a month (once every 28 days is easier to keep track of) and it is a preventative for meningeal worm, which is a deadly worm for alpacas. This is very important for their long-term health.