Updated: Feb 17
Originating from the mountains of Peru in Southern America, alpacas are used to eating at over 4000m above sea level, where vegetation is often sparse and poor. Over time, alpacas’ digestive systems have adapted and become extremely efficient at absorbing nutrition – therefore, alpacas do not need much supplementation apart from good quality grass and ad-lib hay all year round (which provides the roughage they need).
Below are some tips on managing your alpacas’ nutrition, ensuring they stay fit and healthy…
Alpaca Eating Habits
The basic facts about your alpacas’ feeding habits:
They eat for up to 6 hours per day
They ruminate for 8-9 hours per day
They rest for 7-8 hours per day
They urinate / defecate / interact for 3 hours per day
The recommended stock density is 5-6 alpacas per acre. If your grass quality is very high, then this density can be increased slightly. Ideally, the paddock should be split into two halves so that one half can be rested. Rotation should then occur every 6-8 weeks to help reduce parasite burden, particularly worms, and ensure that the grass has time to rest and recuperate.
It is vitally important to check your pasture regularly for poisonous plants such as Foxgloves, Rhododendrons, Ferns, Rye Grass, Rushes, Daffodils, Privets, Rapes, Ragworts, Laburnums, Hemlocks, Marsh Mallows and more. Check out this helpful document from the BAS for an extensive list on what to look out for.
Soils found within the UK are often lacking in certain minerals and elements; pastures and soils can be easily analysed to assess any areas of deficiency.
Quality of Grazing: Alpacas vs. Sheep
Here are 5 reasons why alpacas are much better than sheep at surviving on poor grazing:
Food takes longer to pass through an alpaca’s digestive system. This means that there is a larger window of time for microbes to attack and break down the structural carbohydrates within food.
Liquid passage time is much faster in alpacas. This ensures that microbial proteins, vitamins and soluble minerals are constantly removed, increasing the ability for food breakdown.
Alpacas produce more saliva than sheep, which also aids in the breakdown of food.
Alpacas can expel their energy and proteins from poor quality feed much more efficiently than sheep.
Alpacas recycle urea by reducing excretion through the kidneys, allowing for a much more efficient balance of nitrogen.
Roughage in the form of hay should be available 24/7. Alpacas require just 20% fibre and 10-12% protein in their diets, which can usually be obtained from just grazing and hay.
However, supplementary feed may be required during the following times/conditions:
During seasons when pasture is limited
If alpacas are in a compromised physiological state i.e. during pregnancy, lactation or growth
If alpacas have a poor body condition score i.e. rescue alpacas, illness, old age etc.
If providing supplementary feed, allow enough trough space during feeding times to avoid any competition. Dominant alpacas will eat more than shy feeders if there is not enough space for all.
Vitamin D Supplements
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).
Fostings Alpacas’ Feeding Preferences
Here at Fostings Farm, our herd of friendly alpacas contain breeding females, retired dams/weanlings and male studs. Our alpacas all require different volumes of food, depending upon their health and the quality of pasture (the snow here in mid Wales can often affect the availability of grass!).
We always provide our alpacas with sufficient grazing and ad-lib hay, whilst continuously managing and rotating the pastures every 8 weeks. When supplementary feed is required, we use Billington’s specialist Camelid Coarse mixed with Camelibra NG-2 (or Hembra & Cria for the lactating dams and young cria) at the rates recommended for each individual’s needs. We also supplement our alpacas with a Vitamin Paste throughout September-March.
Disclaimer: We are not veterinary experts, so please consult your vet when considering appropriate feeds for your herd.