We can advise you about ongoing alpaca care for animals you purchase from us, but ensuring you gather the knowledge to care for your alpacas and creating the right physical set up at home is essential. While alpacas are hardy animals it is also wise to source a good local vet with some experience of them.
If you are new to alpacas you would ideally go on at least one good course about their care and husbandry before getting them yourself. There are lots of good courses around and alpacas do need specific care that is different from other livestock.
As well as courses there are some excellent resources such as the ones listed below, but these groups are there for support and specific advice to supplement your own knowledge and most importantly your vet’s advice. Learn the basics on a course!
– The British Alpaca Society (BAS).
– Facebook groups such as Alpaca chat uk, have a huge range of discussion: https://www.facebook.com/groups/231049453769063/
– Local Alpaca Facebook groups, ours is North and Mid Wales Alpaca Group, https://www.facebook.com/groups/1377718178949607/
We suggest you handle as many alpacas as you can. The more alpacas you handle and inspect the quicker you will learn and become more comfortable and confident. You can check to see if there is any way you can get involved with local alpaca farms and on-farm activities such as husbandry or shearing. We volunteered on some of the courses where they are looking for volunteer handlers and learned a huge amount just handling alpacas all day, holding them for the course participants and listening to the teaching.
Weather and shelter
We keep our alpaca in mid wales, and they seem very happy despite the cold and wet. They generally won’t come into their shelter unless it is a hot day, or if it is particularly stormy. Through the winter we put waterproof coats on very old or ill animals and very young cria if it is raining excessively and cold, as these animal will choose to stay with the herd outside and endure colder, wetter weather than we as owners are comfortable with.
Preparing your farm or holding
It is really helpful to think carefully about how to set up a space for your alpacas. There are a lot of things that you can do to make life easier for you and better for your animals. Here are some examples you can try, depending on your space and means:
- Ensure every field has an adequate shelter out of the wind and weather, with hay and water available.
- Give three feet of space at least between feeding buckets/troughs to limit pushy animals eating more than their fair share.
- Ensure there is sufficient space separating males and females, ideally keeping them out of sight of each other.
- Create runs (narrow fenced paths) to push the animals to more distant paddocks, as it can be more difficult herding your animals once they are in open pasture.
- A central handling area with hardstanding, or a larger indoor space where animals are fed and husbandry jobs are done can be invaluable. In our case we perform most handling tasks in a large barn, which the females have access to throughout the day from the adjoining fields. This is an excellent place to make hay available while keeping it dry.
- Within your handling area, it is helpful to have a number of permanent pens set up. Mobile hurdles (movable fencing) is ideal, as it can be left until you want to reorganise the area. Pens are useful for selective feeding, allowing you to ensure that animals requiring more feed than others are undisturbed. They are also useful for handling, health-checks, and medicating etc.
- Additional elements can be added to your handling area. For example, we have a chute set up so we can do more regular toenail trimming without needing to pick up an animal’s feet unless we feel it is necessary, which is much easier on the handler’s back.
- A separate weighing area is very useful too, as monitoring animals weight (particularly baby cria) can alert you to issues early.
- Many alpaca keepers recommend that a smaller shelter is not appropriate to perform any handling tasks that may leave your animals with negative associations of the space. That may be the case, but we find that in a larger indoor space, the animals become familiar with treatment and we are more likely to spot and deal with issues. Familiarity with the space, with handlers and with equipment, all helps reduce the stress of the alpacas when they are being handled, leading to better behaviour while you work with them.
- If you are in a wetter part of the country, ensure gateways and high traffic areas do not get waterlogged and muddy, using concrete, stone, and matting, or even wood chip or carpet to keep access easy.
- If you intend to own three or four alpacas, you will get by owning a ride-on mower. With more land and more animals you will probably find that a quad bike and topper (flail mower), plus a quad trailer, are a minimum requirement. While it is tempting to buy larger machinery, you may not need to at all. It can be expensive to purchase and store under cover, and second hand machinery can be expensive to maintain. With some thought and experimentation, you may be able to avoid those costs – for example by making arrangements with neighbours, or finding contractors with a range of machines who can do the job efficiently. Machinery hire is also surprisingly cheap, and given the seasonality of most tasks, you can achieve what you need to without housing multiple machines in precious barn space or out in the weather.
Basic management, husbandry and birthing courses are all very useful in preparing you to handle your animals. We particularly recommend attending a Camelid Dynamics course, which we found incredibly effective at promoting a mindset sympathetic to our alpacas’ needs.
Camelid Dynamics seeks to avoid manhandling alpacas, and is more sensitive to their unique habits and behaviours than the handling techniques brought over from sheep and other livestock farming. We found that, despite our new herd having gotten unused to handling, they quickly became more receptive to our presence, and to the work we did with them when we started using our newly learned CD techniques. The course helped provide us with insight into promoting a happy and more harmonious relationship with our animals, and the results we are having with our cria who’ve been handled using it since birth are very rewarding.
Getting to know your animals well allows you to spot developing health issues quickly. Seek the advice and help of a good local vet, preferably one familiar with camelids, for routine and emergency treatments. Alpaca are prey animals and hide their symptoms very well, so it is important to be vigilant and if in doubt – call the vet!
Some indicators of sickness are:
- Lying down more than usual, or generally being less active,
- Not eating,
- Humming more than normal,
- Staying away from the herd,
- Diarrhoea or constipation,
- Weight loss,
- Pale eye membranes,
- Choking or coughing,
- Excessive drooling (though make sure they have not just had a spitting contest),
Our monitoring regime for normal animals is to:
- Check them visually twice a day at feeding. When cria are young, weighing them daily can quickly tell you if they aren’t getting enough milk from their mum.
- To body score them monthly, ideally also checking along the jaw for abscesses, check eye membrane colour (as an indicator of anaemia caused by parasite issues), checking armpits, legs, ears and stomachs for signs of mites, and weighing any animal that gives concern.
- Every 3 months we clip toenails, perform a faecal test, and weigh our animals. Parasite medications such as oral medication, injections or rub-on treatments are given when indicated by the faecal tests or mite tests.
- And yearly we shear and provide clostridial vaccinations. (The clostridial diseases that you may have heard of are: tetanus, botulism, pulpy kidney and blackleg). Once they have had their initial primary and secondary dose, adults need an annual booster. Ask your vet about vaccinating, as there are different options available and different protocols for adults and cria.
If I am concerned about any animal, I will immediately, body score the animal with my fingers by checking how much fat lies over the spine along their back, I will usually weigh the animal, take their temperature, and check all over for anything unusual, faecal check and (check the FAMACHA) and strongly consider calling the vet if I remain concerned.
When checking weight:
Body scoring is the easiest and most important health monitoring tool you can use. It is vital to get your hands on the animal as the length and density of the fleece makes a visual assessment of their weight almost impossible.
Body scoring is either done out of 5 or 10. We use a 10 scale (helpful when you’re indecisive!). You want to aim for a ‘5.5’ to a ‘6’ for females at all stages of pregnancy and ‘6’ to a ‘7’ for males at the start of the breeding season. The males are likely to lose the weight over this period.
– A score of 1 would be a very narrow triangle where the spine feels like a knife-edge and ribs are very prominent.
– A score of 5 would be a straight line from teh top of the spine to the rib – your hand would lay flat and it feels almost like an equilateral triangle, there is no rounding or concavity.
– A score of 10 would be a very rounded back, almost flat and you cannot feel the ribs at all. You would also find padding either side of the anus and in the upper leg and chest area.
Body scoring is very subjective, and you’ll often find your scale is different to other peoples, so it can be helpful asking more experienced alpaca owners what they’d score an animal, when you have an opportunity to put hands on them. When body scoring your herd, you can stay more consistent by having one person take all the scores.
To body score, feel along the spine for how much muscle/fat is supporting the spine and then also feel for how much fat is covering the back of the ribcage. Older animals may score lower on the backbone but higher on the ribcage. Suris score higher than Huacayas along their backbone as they store more fat there to retain warmth due to their different coat type.
When checking temperature:
(You can do this via a thermometer just inside the anus, while someone holds the animal for you):
- Body temperature should be 37.5 to 38.5 degrees Celsius for an adult
- And 37.75 to 39 degrees Celsius for a cria
In the UK, the majority of feed for Alpaca comes from grass, with some from browsing trees and hedges, and some from hay. A pasture with mixed grasses is good and there is good information and grass seed available specifically for Alpacas.
Due to the lower levels, of vitamins in the grass in the UK compared to their native homeland, most people will give their Alpacas a supplement-rich feed all year round. We feed Camelibra, which has high doses of vitamins and minerals, so that the amount you need to feed each animal is minimal.
We feed twice a day, which helps the alpacas get used to a routine of coming into the barn, which allows us properly check them over regularly. Obesity is a problem with many Alpaca in the UK, and alpaca obesity has a number of health and fertility issues associated with it, so the less food you need to supplement with the better.
We add other feed to the vitamin supplement feed in winter for thinner animals, for females in their last trimester, and for lactating females. We find soaked sugar beet (without molasses) is a good addition, mixed with dry grass like Easigrass (not lawn clippings), a small amount of micronised peas or possibly a mixed feed such as banana mix.
If you provide additional feed such as these with your nutritional supplement, you need to watch out for a doubling up on vitamins and minerals. Too much grain is also not considered healthy for ruminants.
It is recommended that alpacas have access to hay at all times as this assists with their digestion and moderates the highly nutrition grass we have here in the UK.
You should always ensure clean water is available at all times in field and shelter.
Vitamin and mineral deficiency is a very common issue with alpacas and it is very important that it is monitored properly. If you use a good quality alpaca specific feed at the right quantities they should get most of the vitamins they need. But in the winter months it is recommended to give regular doses of vitamin A,D and E, in paste or injection form. This combats the lack of sunlight alpacas get in the UK compared to their high mountain homeland of Peru, Chile and Bolivia.
There are other drenches or supplements that you can keep on hand in case they are necessary, such as Fast Track for very young cria or for other emergencies.
Poisons to be aware of
It is important that you are aware of plants and trees that are toxic to alpacas. The most common culprits of severe and possibly deadly toxicity seem to be the rhododendron family, yew, laburnum, hemlock and foxgloves (they tend to leave these, but generally not worth risking). Oak leaves and acorns are often sited as risks to alpacas, particularly young alpacas. While we have taken steps to moderate the temptation of low hanging oak branches, we have not found the presence of oak trees to be a problem so far. The risk maybe greater if you have small pastures and a common sense approach to field rotation in the autumn may help mitigate any risk.
There are others poisons so please do your research on this and check your grazing areas carefully. We always have activated charcoal powder (administered as a liquid using a drencher) on standby, just in case, which can limit the effects of ingested poisons. We have not needed it yet for the alpacas, but may have saved a couple of our young goats lives with it.
If you do suspect poisoning call your vet immediately. But you can suggest to them that you administer the charcoal while you await their arrival if they think that would be helpful. One of the most varied risks when it comes to poisoning is your garden, and it can be hard to identify or check everything in it. It is better to ensure it is well fenced-off and out of your alpacas’ reach. A gate will inevitably be left open one day, so having two between pasture and garden may make life easier.
Toenails should be trimmed when necessary, so that they do not protrude beyond the end of the toe, with the foot lying comfortably flat, not twisted. It can be done easily with lamb foot-rot shears.
Start by clearing out the dirt under the nail so that you can see where the toe flesh is, then trim carefully, as sometimes the toe grows down the nail. We actually do ours with their feet on the ground on a metal chute floor, you don’t get quite such a neat cut as when you lift their feet up. But because it is an easier and more pleasant experience for us (and as far as we can tell, our alpacas), we are able to do it more often.
Alpacas need to be sheared – every year for Huacayas and at least every second year for Suris. This is best done in early summer by one of the alpaca shearers who travel around the country each year and rates are quite reasonable, though the value of the fleece varies hugely depending on its quality and unless you have young animals you may find the cost of shearing exceeds the value of the fibre. You can find some indicative pricing here:
You might decide to learn to shear yourself, either by learning a bit from your shearer over the years, by attending a course, or by volunteering to help a local alpaca farm if they’ve indicated they would like the help. Sheep shearing is somewhat similar. But as alpacas are larger and can endanger their handlers by kicking or flailing their long necks during shearing, alpacas are tied by their feet and sheared on the ground, being rolled over to shear each side. Some animals (and owners!) find this quite traumatic, though as it is a necessary part of keeping your animals happy in the hot weather there may be little you can do but ensure you have a competent shearer, and have prepared the space so it is free and clear of obstacles. You’ll find that your alpacas will calm almost immediately afterwards, and in the heat, will be much happier.
Alpacas only have teeth in their lower jaw at the front of their mouths, which bite onto a hard palate in the upper jaw. Trimming/ grinding teeth to allow a good bite (important for your alpaca’s grazing), can usually be done at shearing time. Check your shearer is confident trimming them, especially if you are aware that some of your animals suffer bad teeth.
Male alpacas develop fighting teeth as they mature, which should be blunted regularly to stop injury to each other. If you notice any problems with teeth do consult your vet or livestock dental specialist as it can rapidly lead to severe health issues.
While your alpaca is restrained it can be a good opportunity to perform treatments. It can be a good opportunity to combat chorioptes skin mites with a rub on oil application. You may only discover that some animals have developed a mite problem once their fleece is gone.
It is important to keep records of bloodline, body score/weight, vaccination and wormer schedules and mating timings. You’ll find you need to refer back when making a decision about what to do or when to do it.
There are a number of commercial herd management systems available if you need one, such as HerdMASTER and AlpacaEase but keeping paper or computer records works fine when you have a small number of animals.
Uk camels vet services
Fleece prices and information
Alpaca Chat UK facebook group
North and Mid Wales Alpaca Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/1377718178949607/