Animal husbandry' is defined as the science of breeding, feeding, and tending to animals. Below we explain the main areas of husbandry you can expect to carry out as an alpaca owner. This is not an exhaustive list and may vary for your herd. We recommend that you identify and register with a large animal vet near you (ideally with experience in treating alpacas or other camelids) and arrange a farm visit, so you can create and implement a tailored health care plan for your herd.
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General Alpaca Health
Your alpacas will need to be checked at least twice a day to make sure they are well and have access to fresh water, appropriate feed and shelter.
Adult body temperature: 37.5 - 38.5°C
Cria body temperature: 37.75 - 39°C
It is vitally important to give your alpacas a regular close-up health check. This allows you to track their growth and health as they experience different seasons and life stages. Body scoring can be used to assess the condition of your alpacas – a scale of 1-5 is usually used, with 1 indicating underweight and 5 indicating obesity. 2.5-3 is the ideal score for an adult female alpaca. Check out this helpful video from Camelid Veterinary Services on how to body score your alpacas.
Try to ensure that the same person carries out body scoring of alpacas every time. This is because each person’s perception will be slightly different, which could lead to different, and possibly inaccurate, results. It goes without saying that you should always keep a note of your body scoring, preferably in a digital format. This will allow you to make comparisons in alpacas’ weight gain/loss if necessary.
See our page on alpaca Nutrition.
Although alpacas obtain most of what they need from their diets, alpacas don’t always get enough UV exposure as they live in lower elevation levels with shorter day lengths than they would in their native South America. Vitamin D is vital for growing alpacas and those with darker skin or heavy fleeces (which may block UV light).
We administer A/D3/E-Vitamin paste monthly during October to March; however, this can also be injected if you prefer (please consult your vet). Mineral/vitamin blocks and buckets are not recommended as alpacas do not use their tongues whilst eating and they do not readily lick themselves or anything else (including mineral blocks/buckets).
There are no medications currently licensed in the UK for alpacas, so it is always best to consult your vet for advice on which medications to use and the dosage details. Alpacas do not require many treatments, but you do need to keep up with the following routine treatments…
Clostridial diseases such as Lamb Dysentery, Struck, Pulpy Kidney, Braxy, Blackleg, Tetanus and Black Disease can all be prevented with clostridial vaccinations. Suggested vaccinations are as follows: Lambivac, Covexin 10, Heptavac-P Plus (includes Pasteurella), Ovivac and Ovivac-P. Your vet will be able to advise on which of these is most suitable for your herd.
Administer Lambivac to cria at 2-3 days old, and then again 2-3 weeks later. After this, they can then receive their annual boosters with the rest of the herd each year (late autumn time or bi-annually in April and October). Important: Do not vaccinate females within 1 month before giving birth.
Regular faecal sample testing can be carried out by your vet to help advise on preventing the unnecessary overuse of wormers, or to highlight worm burdens where treatment may be necessary. Some alpaca breeders, such as Amazing Alpacas, now offer this service in-house.
If treatment is needed, inject the alpaca with the wormer (such as Dectomax or Cydectin) at the dose appropriate to the body weight (your vet will be able to advise on this). Alternatively, drenches such as Panacur or Fasinex are available for those who do not wish to inject their alpacas.
Toenail trimming should be carried out 3-4 times per year. We recommend having one person to hold the alpaca and a second person to trim the toenails. Completing foot trimming from an early age will help the alpaca to become more comfortable with having its feet picked up, which makes the process easier and less stressful for everybody involved! If you have never trimmed alpaca toenails before, it is well worth contacting other experienced alpaca keepers to discover how this is carried out.
Alpacas with white toenails may need their feet trimming more often as they grow faster.
Keep some Iodine or other wound spray to hand in case you trim the nail too low and cause any bleeding.
Practice picking your alpacas’ feet up whenever you complete any health checks or treatments – this will get them used to having their feet held.
Alpacas need to be shorn every year to help them keep cool. Shearing is best done in the springtime by an experienced alpaca shearer. Hiring an alpaca shearer will ensure your herd are looked after correctly – alpacas are restrained and shorn very differently to sheep.
The shearer will lay the alpaca down on its side and restrain their feet to a solid object. A weight may be placed over the alpaca’s neck to prevent it from moving around too much (or spitting at the shearer!). They will shear one side and then turn the alpaca over to shear the other. Some fleece will be left around the tail and the eyes to protect against insects and the harsh outdoor weather. It may look unkind; but we promise that this is the safest and most effective method for alpaca shearing.
Contact your shearer well in advance as they get booked up very fast.
Consider when is best for your alpacas to be shorn. Heavily pregnant alpacas should be shorn after giving birth to avoid unnecessary stress or injury – you should avoid shearing within 60 dates of their due date or 60 days after becoming pregnant.
Have plenty of bags ready to store the fleece!
Alpacas’ teeth are located in the lower jaw at the front of the mouth, which bite onto a hard palate in the upper jaw. They also have grinding teeth at the back of the mouth. As they grow, both male and female alpacas develop fighting teeth – these need to be trimmed in males in order to prevent causing injury when fighting. Usually, alpaca shearers will complete teeth trimming for you using a specialised grinder.
Alpacas can pick up skin parasites, causing excessive itching, dry skin and even loss of condition. Some worming medications also cover mites (such as Premadex), allowing both to be done together – your vet will be able to advise on this.
Once treated for mites, mild cases should not need any further care. However, more severe reactions can be treated with an Iodine bathing solution in the warmer months, or an application of cattle teat cream to help repair and sooth the skin.
Regularly muck out the entire shelter and wash walls and floors with disinfectant. This will prevent the build-up of parasites.
Don’t just treat the affected alpaca(s) – treat the whole group to avoid re-infestation.
Quarantine new alpacas in groups to avoid any cross-contamination.
Mating, Pregnancy & Birth
If you are considering breeding your own alpacas take a look at our Mating, Pregnancy & Birth page for more details.
As part of your annual herd health plan and ongoing husbandry, it is really important to keep an accurate record of your herd's births, movements, vaccinations etc., either via your own system or on a purchasable herd management system (such as Herd Master).
Disclaimer: We are not veterinary experts, so please consult your vet when considering appropriate treatment for your herd.
If you are interested in keeping alpacas, we recommend visiting a few alpaca keepers (covid-19 restrictions permitting) in order to discover first-hand how herds are managed and cared for. We offer valuable guidance and support to individuals considering keeping alpacas; just contact us for further information.