There has been a tremendous amount of interest in alpacas over the past thirty years. Dr. Matt Townsend DVM, of Hometown Veterinary Care has been raising alpacas for over 10 years. In fact he has 25 alpacas running around his pasture.
Dr. Matt has been attracted to alpacas and llamas since first seeing them in veterinary school 25 years ago. He says, “getting to know them and letting them sniff your face while sitting in a field is very relaxing. Once you have run with a cria (baby alpaca) you will always be drawn to them.”
Alpacas first came to the United States sometime in 1983 to 1984. Alpacas are native to Bolivia, Peru and Chile, and are part of the camel family. They are found primarily in the region of the Andes mountains and adapted to the mountain’s limited pasture by becoming the efficient grazers they are today.
There are two types of alpacas — Huacaya and Suri. Ninety percent of alpacas are Huacaya, and the remainder are Suri. The fleece from a Huacaya is wooly, while the fleece on Suri alpacas looks like pencil-thin dreadlocks.
Alpacas live for about 15-20 years, and typically weigh 125-175 pounds. The Huacaya alpacas produce wool that is five times warmer than sheep’s wool, and seven times stronger.
What Do Alpacas Want?
Not much, really: food, water, a roof over their head, and regular but minimal medical care. They require little pasture, in fact they eat only two quarts of pasture per day, which is less than goats and sheep. Depending on your geography and pasture management you can raise 5-10 alpacas per acre. Adding orchard grass, hay and pelleted grain, as well as a mineral mix will supplement their diet.
Fresh water is always important, and be sure to notice if your alpacas’ water is iced over when it gets below freezing. Some folks use automatic heated waterers to insure their animals always have fresh water.
Shelter for your alpacas can be a simple three-sided structure. An old barn, which we have plenty of in Maine, are also perfect for your alpacas. Keep in mind genders need to be kept separate, so you’ll need two sheds, one for females and one for males (studs and geldings). Or, section off your barn to keep the genders separate.
Alpacas can handle cold weather because they come from a cold and windy climate. But, they need shelter from the sun. The real issue is heat and humidity. Fans, misting systems, or spraying them down with water, will get them through the hot stretches.
Fencing is also necessary. It will keep them from straying and will keep out predators. You may consider a guardian dog to keep an eye on your herd.
And, alpacas are easy to clean up after because they share a common manure pile.
Here in Maine, we have a number of veterinarians who know and understand alpacas, including our own Dr. Matt Townsend.
Intestinal parasites or “worms” and meningeal worm are a concern for alpacas in Maine. There are a number of control strategies that should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Also, you will want to have pregnant females checked by your vet before birth to be sure they are healthy. Most alpaca births are fairly easy but troublesome ones can be managed with the help of a veterinarian.
Signs your alpaca is unwell:
- walking strangely
- holding head
- low standing or hunched
- excessive rolling
- laying on their side
- being by themselves most of the time/ignoring the herd
- unable to cush (where an alpaca folds its legs under its body to rest or keep warm)
- not eating or grazing the grass
- shallow breathing
- frequently shaking their head
Should you see any of these signs please call your vet to get immediate medical attention.
Alpacas can be bred any time of year because they are induced ovulators. Gestation is about 11 ½ months and the baby alpaca, or cria, can weigh between 15 to 20 pounds. You will want to be there at birth and be sure the mother and cria are healthy. Watch them closely during the first week. Be sure nursing is successful. Should the mother refuse to nurse you can milk the cria from a bottle. Goat, cow, or llama milk will do the trick.
Alpacas hum to communicate. Each mother and cria have a unique family hum. One hum is for nursing, another asks where mom is, or where is the cria? Females with young cria should be separated from the herd, but not entirely, as it may cause more stress than may be necessary.
Ask Dr. Matt about raising alpacas. It can be fun and rewarding. They are a beautiful animal and perfectly suited for Maine. If you are interested in raising alpacas, here are some reference sites we sourced for this article: