How To Raise Alpacas: A Beginner’s Guide to Owning & Farming

Alpacas come in many colors

There are many reasons to raise alpacas. They make great pets, are wonderful with kids, and can turn a nice profit on the farm. Plus, they are gentle on the landscape and easy to raise. 

But, there are a few things you should know before getting your first alpacas. 

First, decide your purpose for keeping alpacas. Are they going to be primarily pets or are you hoping to make an income off of them? The answers to these questions will determine the gender, quality, and breeding of your future alpacas. 

Set Up For Alpacas: What Alpacas Need 

Alpacas need very little to be happy and healthy. They need a small amount of food, minimal shelter, annual shearing, and constant access to water. 

How much do alpacas eat? Alpacas eat very little food compared to other animals. 8-10 alpacas will eat about as much as a single horse. A 60 lbs bale of hay will last 10 alpacas for 2 days if that is their main source of food. It will last longer if the alpacas have additional grazing available. 

Alpacas prefer the second cut of hay that’s leafier. 

How many alpacas can graze on an acre of land? 5-8 alpacas can comfortably graze on an acre of land. If the land is more barren, then you will need to reduce the number of alpacas on the land. 

If you have more fertile land, you will be able to easily graze more alpacas. A conservative rule is to average 5 alpacas on each acre of land if you aren’t sure.

Shelter: Alpacas also need shelter from harsh elements. In moderate climates without harsh winters, alpacas will mostly need protection from wind. In nature, alpacas love to have a grove of trees to gather in for protection. 

A 3 sided shelter is usually more than enough for their shelter needs. Even in snowy winters and monsoon falls, a 3-sided shelter will provide a place to get out of the rain and snow and keep alpacas happy and healthy. 

Alpacas don’t need insulated or heated shelters, even in Alaska. 

Alpacas do well in cold weather (1)

What climate is best for alpacas? Alpacas are very adaptable to nearly any climate, but they may need a little extra care in extreme weather. Both extreme heat and cold can cause concern for alpacas, although alpacas do better in cold weather than in hot weather.  

Alpacas were bred in the highlands of Peru and South America so they can handle freezing temperatures. They have adapted to thrive in the cold without a struggle. 

But, they do struggle in the heat. So, you will need to shear them at the beginning of every summer to help cool them down during the heat of the summer. If you live in a hotter or southern location, you will need to make sure they have a shady place to cool down. 

Water: Alpacas need constant access to water. This is true in both the summer and the cold of winter. Dehydration will cause rapid health issues and possible death in your alpaca heard quickly. Do not neglect to provide water to your alpacas. 

  • 5-8 alpacas per acre of grazing 
  • 1 bale of hay feeds 2 alpacas for 10 days 
  • 3-sided shelter from extreme elements 
  • Constant access to water

What Do Alpacas Eat? 

Alpacas eat almost anything green. They are gentle grazers, only eating the very tops of plants so they aren’t considered a good “mowing” animal. But that means that they are very gentle on the landscape and easy on vegetation. 

Alpacas love to eat grass, herbs, and leaves and shrubs. They love hay and alfalfa, clover, and other meadow plants. Their split upper lip allows them to nibble around thorns. Alpacas do better on worse pastures than any other farm animal. They are very efficient with their feeding and don’t need a lot of food to thrive. 

There are two breeds of alpacas (1)

What foods can’t alpacas eat? Alpacas do not do well on grain-based foods. Do not feed alpacas bread, horse or pig nuts, or basic grains of any kind. Grains can cause ulcers and severe health issues in alpacas (including death). 

  • Grasses 
  • Alfalfa and various forms of hay and clover
  • Meadow plants and leaves
  • Leaves off thorny plants 
  • Scrub brush and other poor pasture plants

Fencing For Alpacas 

Alpacas are one of the easiest animals to keep fenced in. They honor fence lines and won’t try to push against them or get out like other livestock does. 

But, alpacas aren’t that great at defending themselves. So the fencing options you choose should account for the types of local predators likely to prey on your alpacas. 

Be very careful about using barbed wire or electric fences to keep alpacas contained. Both are likely to cause injury to alpacas and aren’t necessary. If you need to use an electric fence to protect your alpacas from predators, add the electrical wire on the outside of your regular fencing and away from where your alpacas can reach them. 

There have been cases of alpacas reaching out of the fence and then getting their heads wrapped in the electrical wire and being shocked until they die. It’s totally unnecessary for this to happen and can be easily avoided. 

Alpacas are friendly and docile (1)

What types of fencing work for alpacas?

  • Sheep fencing
  • Deer fencing
  • Wire fencing

How Many Alpacas? 

Alpacas are herd animals. They need at least one other alpaca to be happy. A single alpaca will be extremely lonely and won’t be happy. Ideally, you should keep at least 3 alpacas. They are happiest with a herd of at least 3. 

This also helps to protect you if something happens to one of your alpacas so you have at least 2 minimum. 

Caring For Your Alpacas: What Do They Need? 

Alpacas have few maintenance needs during the year. They do need to be sheared annually because they don’t shed their wool like other animals. It will continue to grow and will become unbearably hot to them and lose its quality. 

Alpaca fiber is usually sold in three main batches. The blanket section comes from the backs of the alpacas and sells for the most amount of money. It’s the highest quality of fleece. The second section includes the neck and upper legs of the alpaca. Thirds include everything else; around the bum, the lower legs where the fiber is dirtier and matted more. 

How much wool does an alpaca produce? Alpacas produce between 5-10 pounds of fleece a year. A fully-grown alpaca will generally average 10 lbs of fleece in the early summer shearing. 

Toenail Clipping: Alpacas also need to have their nails clipped. On average alpacas will need their toenails clipped every 6 weeks. More active alpacas on rougher ground may need their nails clipped less often than that- every 2-3 months. Older alpacas that don’t move around as much may need their nails clipped every couple of weeks. 

Maintenance Needs of Alpacas:

  • Annual shearing 
  • Toenails clipped regularly 
  • Minimal vaccinations  

What Shots or Vaccinations Do Alpacas Need?

Alpacas don’t need a lot of vaccinations, nor do they have many worrisome health issues. Alpacas need to be dewormed and they should have a tetanus shot and boosters to protect them from tetanus. They should also have a Vitamin D shot in the winter in areas that don’t have a lot of sunlight during winter months. 

When using vaccinations do not use live vaccinations in alpacas. Currently there are no live vaccinations developed specifically for alpacas and they pose a danger when used. Recombinant vaccinations are generally considered safe for use in alpacas. 

Alpacas are profitable animals (1)

Deworming: Alpacas should be dewormed once to twice a year. Many alpaca owners, especially those raising alpacas for meat prefer to deworm their alpacas twice a year. Currently, there are no vaccinations specifically developed for use in camelid animals. 

Meningeal worms can be spread to alpacas through white-tailed deer, snails, and slugs. It causes the alpaca to have issues getting up. 

That means that most alpaca owners use dewormers made for use in sheep, cattle, or horses. The off-label use of these products means that their effectiveness varies. It’s a good idea to talk to other alpaca owners or your local vet and farm stores to get a good idea of which dewormers work best in your climate and for the worms common in your area. 

Tetanus Shot: Alpacas should get a tetanus shot when they are young. They can receive the tetanus shot as early as 2-3 days old. Baby alpacas, also called crias, should receive their first tetanus shot no later than 3-4 months old. After the first tetanus shot, crias should receive a second booster about 4 weeks later. 

As a general rule, alpacas should receive a tetanus booster annual to protect them. In addition, pregnant alpacas should get a tetanus shot 1-2 months prior to giving birth. 

Vitamin D Shots: In areas that have a long cloudy season, or minimal sunlight during the winter, alpacas may need a boost of Vitamin D during the winter. This boost can be given once a month during the winter months. 

Other potential vaccinations for alpacas: Alpacas can be immunized against West Nile, Leptospirosis, Rabies, Coronavirus, and other diseases. But, most of these illnesses don’t usually affect alpacas unless the ranch or area has had issues with these illnesses in other animals. 

What Health Issues Do Alpacas Face?

Alpacas are generally pretty hardy animals. They can get sick when exposed to a specific illness. The best way to protect alpacas from disease and illness is to practice good husbandry. Don’t keep alpacas in a small space that is dirty with poor food nutrition. Make sure there aren’t things laying around that can harm or hurt your alpacas. 

As long as alpacas have space to roam, plenty of food to eat, and clean water, they will generally do very well and live a long healthy life. 

How To Make Money On Alpacas

Alpacas provide a number of ways to make a profit. Because they don’t eat a lot, they are one of the lowest cost farm animals to raise. Alpacas are profitable through the sale of their fiber, crias, meat, and dung. 

Alpaca Fiber: Alpaca fiber is considered extremely high quality and is fastly growing in demand. Alpacas produce about 10 lbs of fleece each year. Bag it according to the quality and you can sell it for a premium. 

Many alpaca owners will use the wool from their alpacas to create additional products including yarn or clothing. Alpaca wool is stronger, warmer, and softer than a sheep’s wool at the same weight. 

Before shearing, make sure to groom the alpaca fleece first. Brush it and pick out any burs and twigs out so the wool is clean. Alpaca fiber doesn’t have lanolin like sheep’s wool so it doesn’t need the intense cleaning sheep’s wool needs. 

alpacas are profitable livestock (1)

Alpaca Cries: Baby alpacas are also a profitable enterprise. A female alpaca can become pregnant at about 1.5 years of age. Alpacas don’t go into heat like other animals. Instead, the act of mating causes the egg to drop and become fertilized. This makes it very easy to breed alpacas. Mothers can be bred within a couple of weeks of giving birth. 

Alpacas are pregnant for a little over 11 months a year. They can have a baby annually. Selling the babies often brings in a good profit. Crias sell for various amounts depending on their breeding, paperwork, quality of fleece, and other factors. 

Meat: Alpaca meat is also becoming more popular. Alpaca meat is low in fat and high in protein. It’s also low in cholesterol. 

Dung: The dung is also popular. It’s not considered a hot dung so it’s safe to put directly on plants. If you plan to use the alpaca dung in a garden setting, it should be composted first to eliminate potential parasites that could be consumed by people. Otherwise, flowers, pastures and other areas can handle the dung without additional prep work. 

Alpacas like to have communal “bathrooms’ ‘ so their dung is easy to gather and find. It will all be in one common spot. 

Benefits Of Owning Alpacas

There are a lot of benefits to owning alpaca in addition to the benefits already named. Let’s cover some, but not all of the benefits of alpacas. 

    • Alpacas are extremely mellow animals. They are great with kids and don’t pose a danger. They are friendly and easy-going. Plus they are easy to care for, which makes them a great pet for children. 
    • Alpacas are really easy on the land. They don’t have hooves so they don’t wear trails in the land or kill vegetation. Their feed are toes with a soft under portion and a hard toenail on the top. This makes them easier on pastures than hooved animals. 
    • Alpacas are extremely good mothers. They have almost trouble-free pregnancies. Plus giving birth is a breeze. Because they are adapted to Peru, they don’t birth during the night-time. They give birth in the early morning to early afternoon, which means you won’t spend all night birthing alpaca babies. Their usual time to birth is between 7 AM and 1 PM. This gives the babies time to dry off before the cool of night sets in. 
    • Alpacas come with a lot of great tax benefits in the USA. There are amazing tax benefits for full-fledged alpaca farmers, and even for casual alpaca owners, there are several deductions available.
    • Alpacas are easy to halter trains: Alpacas are super easy to lead by a halter. This makes them easy animals for kids to ride on and to use in fairs and other entertainment. Some alpaca owners even show their alpacas. 

Differences Between Alpacas and Llamas

Alpacas and llamas are sometimes confused as the same animal. They are related as they are both a part of the camelid family. There are some big differences between these cousins. 

Alpacas are half the size of llamas. While an alpaca reaches 100-150 pounds, a llama will reach 200-350 lbs. Plus, alpacas have small ears that look like a rabbit’s ears. Llamas have long ears that are shaped like a banana. 

Alpacas produce a lot more fiber than a llama even though they are smaller. That’s because alpacas have been bred for hundreds of years for their fine wool, while llamas were bred to be a pack animal. 

Llamas have a course outer wool and a finer under the fiber layer. Alpacas have more fine fleece and it is only one layer. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do alpacas spit? Alpacas do spit, but mostly at each other. They almost never spit intentionally at people, although people can get caught in the crossfire of an alpaca fight. Alpacas mostly spit to fight over food.  

What kinds of alpacas are there? There are two breeds of alpacas: the Suri and Huacaya. Most of the alpacas found in the United States are Huacaya. Huacaya has fuzzy wool and look like a toy animal. Suri alpacas grow long locks of fiber that can look like ringlets or dreadlocks! 

Huacaya Alpacas have longer fiber (1)
Huacaya Alpacas have longer fiber than Suri Alpacas

If I want to buy or sell alpaca products, where do I start? The Alpaca Owners Association maintains the broadest database of alpacas in the United States. They maintain a registry of alpacas and their lineage. They also maintain a list of alpaca manufacturers. Use it as a resource for finding outlets for your alpaca products, fleece, or to get useful tips and advice. 

How long do alpacas live? Alpacas live for 15-20 years. 

How much do alpacas cost? Alpacas cost as little as $100 for crias and as much as $1,000 per animal. It depends on the pedigree and quality of the animal. On average alpacas cost about $500 per alpaca. A nice breeding female can sell for as much as $10,000. Recently a very high-pedigree alpaca sold for over 700k! 

Are alpacas dangerous? Alpacas are not dangerous. They do not bite or kick. They do very little to defend themselves, which makes them susceptible to predators. Alpacas are very good with children but can get nervous around unfamiliar people. 

Resources:

Merck Vet’s Manual

Washington State University Extension

Colorado State University Extension

 

 

Annemaria Duran

Hi, I’m Annemaria Duran. I moved out to the country 6 years ago, mainly so I could have more land. I love all aspects of country living. First, we got chickens, then ducks. Now we have sheep, goats, and rabbits. I'm always learning and love sharing it!

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