majority of new alpaca breeders come to this industry with little
or no agricultural or livestock background.
Many will spend time researching and learning about the
animals, yet overlook the importance of preparing your pastures
and facilities for the task of caring for your alpacas.
Before You Leap”
you purchase that perfect piece of property for your future alpaca
farm, do your research. Does
the current zoning designation allow agricultural activities?
Does the neighborhood impose any mandatory restrictive
covenants that would prohibit your animals or conducting a
business from your future farm site?
Some arid western states impose restrictions on various
uses of well and spring water for agricultural uses.
Even if you can raise alpacas on a particular location, are
there any restrictions on how many you can have there?
Animal Density Units (ADU’s), usually expressed as a
maximum number of certain types of animals that can be raised on a
single acre, may be mandated by your county zoning department.
(For example, a county zoning plan may forbid having more
than 2 horses or 4 sheep per acre on your property.)
Many counties have specific limitations for horses, cows,
sheep, goats and perhaps
llamas, but will almost certainly have no specific guidelines for
alpacas. As a result, you may need to educate your county zoning
department about why this wonderful, low impact, earth-friendly
animal should not be compared to other livestock.
Some states or counties may also categorize alpacas as
“exotic animals,” rather than as “agricultural livestock,”
thereby raising the possibilities of additional legal restrictions
on your activities. Almost
none of the restrictions mentioned above are insurmountable, and
most are merely the result of people’s unfamiliarity with
problems can be resolved with a little education and a visit from
a well-trained, lovable yearling.
County Extension Offices
local county Cooperative Extension Agronomist can be an invaluable
tool in setting up your property.
They may be listed under “Cooperative Extension” in the
white pages of your phone book or under the County Government
listing of phone numbers. If
you find no listings in these locations, call your state Land
Grant University for the County Agent’s phone number, name and
counties are small and may be grouped together under the guidance
of one Extension Agent.
state Land Grant University (where the Cooperative Extension is
based) offers free or low cost publications that can assist you in
planning shelters, manure management, parasite control, local
trees/shrubs, beneficial herbs, etc.
Take advantage of these publications.
Your Cooperative Extension Agent/Agronomist can also assist
you with obtaining soil, hay, water, and pasture analysis.
He can also advise you about general soil conditions in
your locale, noxic and toxic plants in your area, and advise you
on the types of grasses that thrive in your area.
Cooperative Extension Programs also offer small acreage management
consultant training programs.
Typically, they are 40 hour training programs covering
topics such as warm and cool grasses, pasture rotation, manure
management, pesticide control, noxious and toxic weeds and wind
breaks. Once you are
trained, they will expect you to donate 40 hours of your time to
teach and consult with others.
Help yourself while you help others in the process.
Planning Your Pasture and Paddock Needs
will probably need more separate pastures areas and paddocks than
you think. For any pasture or paddock area that will receive heavy use,
try to plan your areas so that you can give the area at least a
month’s break sometime during the growing season in order to
allow the area to regenerate.
It’s much harder to regenerate an area once its been
overgrazed and the weeds have taken over.
how many paddock areas will you need?
and stud paddocks. Are
you going to field breed (therefore needing one pen for each stud)
or hand breed (with most or all your males kept together in one
large paddock when not breeding)?
alpacas should be weaned sometime between 4 and 7 months of age,
depending on the weight of the weanling (preferably at least 50
lbs.), the condition of their dam (a few dams may become
dangerously emaciated due to the nutritional load of a large
nursing cria), the weanling’s emotional readiness, and the
schedule of his or her weaning companions (misery loves company,
and it’s often a good idea to wean several animals at the same
time, even if that means delaying one animal’s weaning and
male pen. When
the young males are weaned, they can then be removed to a young
male paddock. Few
males become sexually mature before 18 months
of age, however there are recorded instances of males
successfully impregnating a female as early as 9 months of age.
This has almost always happened as a result of pasturing
young weanling males and females together.
Because an unplanned pregnancy for an undersized and
physically immature female weanling can present a number of
dangers, it is best to separate these males into their own pen.
term gestation pastures. The
largest group of animals on many farms is the females that have
been confirmed to be pregnant and who, together with their nursing
offspring, can now be removed from their breeding pens.
gestation “maternity ward.”
It is often a good idea to have a very safe pen close to
your house, where you can keep a close watch of any females that
are within 30 or 45 days of their projected due date.
At times, you can combine your late gestation, weaning and
underweight animals together in one paddock as their nutritional
demands and observational needs are similar.
and Layout for Each Pasture and Paddock Area
Remember that the purpose of fencing is more to keep other animals
of the pasture, than to keep your alpacas in
the pasture. By
nature, most alpacas (with the possible exception of the
love-starved herdsire and the newly separated weanling) are not
likely to challenge a fence.
So, your exterior fencing needs to be chosen based upon the
type of fencing necessary to keep your local predators or
parasitic host animals at bay.
Typically, however, except in areas with mountain lions or
areas with white-tail deer, a four or five-foot high wire fence
with relatively small mesh squares (small enough that young cria
cannot fit their heads through the squares) is quite adequate.
In addition, remember that your gates will also need to be
predator-proof. Most farm stores sell a “wire-filled” gate that has a
pre-installed wire mesh covering over the face of the gate’s
larger horizontal bars.
for the layout of your pastures and paddock areas, that will all
too often be dictated by the existing facilities on your farm or
the topography of the area. But,
remember that at some point in time, you will almost certainly be
alone at your farm and will need to move animals from one paddock
to another by yourself. You
will want to set up the layout of your fencing to accommodate this
task efficiently. That
generally means either having each paddock area empty into a
central location (like the spokes of a wheel), or having a narrow
“runway” that abuts and accesses each paddock area.
And, you will find it much easier to gather the animals in
a paddock if the paddock has a long, but narrow, shape rather than
a large square expanse around which your wily alpacas can run you
that same reason, each paddock area should have a conveniently
placed “catch pen” area, that is a very small (perhaps no more
than 16 feet square) inner pen into which the alpacas in the
paddock can be run, the “catch pen” can then be closed up, and
a single person can easily catch and restrain an alpaca.
Temporary catch pens can be set up with special, light
weight corral panels that are especially designed for use with
alpacas and llamas and which can be ordered through supply
catalogues. While the
flexibility that these panels affords the breeder is very handy,
they are expensive – approximately $50 per 9-foot panel. On the other end of the spectrum, commercial horse and
cattle panels work fine and are readily available both new and
used. Yet their
cumbersome weight makes them best for situations where they will
not need to be moved often. Another
option for constructing semi-permanent catch pens is to use
16-foot “combination” or “hog” panels that work great with
the green t-bars or posts for anchoring.
Combination panels cost less than $15 each, and their only
real drawback is that it is inconvenient to have to pull up the
t-bars should you need to move the catch pen.
Barns and Shelters
good rule of thumb is that most barns, other than the occasional
Northeastern dairy barn, are almost always 25 to 50 percent too
small. When building
a barn, make sure to plan ahead.
Will the barn house only animals and hay?
Will you have a separate vet room?
If you are going to store equipment in the barn, make sure
you position doorways to create a minimum of disruption when
moving equipment in and out of the barn.
If you can build a solid wall enclosing the area for
equipment storage this would be best, in order to reduce gasoline
and oil smells, and noise created by starting up machinery.
Plan on how you want to move animals in and out of the barn
and to switch to different paddock areas.
Do you want to use any of the barn for training, weighing,
vetting or herd management work? Plan adequate lighting to help you see more clearly when
working with the animals and assessing fiber, although it is
amazing how much natural light the translucent side and roof
panels can let into a barn even on overcast days!
are many different opinions in the industry on the best flooring
for barns and shelters, and in fact it appears that each substance
has its benefits and its drawbacks – otherwise some clear
preference among the various breeders should have emerged by now.
Some breeders prefer concrete
floors with drains that enable you to hose the entire area
down to clean. But,
scraping frozen manure (poopsicles?) off concrete is not a great
way to pass your winter, and concrete retains the cold worse than
any other substance. Would
you like to sit on cold concrete all night?
A 6-inch layer of graduated
rock and sand can provide excellent drainage. And, although
the use of sand is discouraged by the Alpaca Fiber Co-op, it has
not seemed to affect the ultimate quality of the fleece – it
simply needs to be blown from the fleeces prior to shearing and
tends to dull shearing blades much more quickly. Limefines,
residual limestone “shakes,” are great to use as it readily
absorbs urine and odors. Some
people caution that it can cause burns or bad skin reactions on
some alpacas stomachs, but we have used limefines mixed with sand
and dirt for years and have never experienced a problem.
In certain parts of the country, limefines can be hard to
find and are very expensive, but in other parts of the U.S., where
limestone is more plentiful, it is a very inexpensive product to
the Winter, to help provide warmth in our animals shelters, we use
straw and old hay for bedding.
This can create a nightmare for the first year fleeces, but
it typically works it way out well before shearing time if you
remove the bedding in March and shear in May. Wood shavings, however, seem to take a much longer time to work
their way out of the fleece and can be very unsightly.
The Three-Sided Shelter
are very hardy animals and their fiber provides great insulation
against cold temperatures and wind. In the vast majority of environmental conditions, enclosed
barns are not absolutely essential and are more for the comfort of
the humans working with the alpacas.
So, while barns are great, not every budget can afford one.
entirely adequate compromise is the modest three-sided shelter,
large enough and deep enough to accommodate the maximum number of
animals likely to be in that paddock area. A few hard-earned tips
will make your three-sided shelter that much more effective:
(1) Face the opening of the shelter on the side opposite
the prevailing winter winds.
(2) Most alpacas are skittish about going into the back of
a deep enclosure and are even more reluctant to step over another
alpaca seated in the doorway of a shelter. Therefore, position your rectangular shelters so that one of
the widest sides contains the door, which is wide enough so that
several alpacas can come and go at a time.
Otherwise, the first alpaca will position herself in a
narrow doorway, and all latecomers to the shelter will be forced
to settle down just outside the shelter door!
(3) It’s great to have a slanted roof on your shelters so that
water and snow cannot accumulate, but be sure to make the height
of the rear wall tall enough so that you don’t bump your head if
you walk to the rear of the shelter!
(4) In extremely cold weather, you can attach a large tarp
to the front in order to partially close off the door and thereby
reduce the heat loss out of the shelter.
With an ample amount of straw on the ground for bedding,
and by putting their hay tubs in the rear of the shelter to
encourage them to stay indoors, it’s amazing how toasty warm a
shelter with 10 alpacas can be even in severe winter weather.
While an enclosed barn with a separate room for vet work is the
best option, a corner of your garage can work great.
In any event, its very handy to have some dry, warm
location where you can work with the animals and house a sick one.
It’s preferable to have the vet room close to the house
in order to provide close observation for sick animals, especially
if you are up every several hours at night bottle feeding!
A floor drain is great and makes clean up significantly
easier. Likewise, the
walls should have a high gloss paint or bathroom stall lining for
easy clean up after spitting.
In addition to your normal vetting equipment and scales,
its nice to equip the vet room (or a nearby closet), with your
supplies, a small dorm size refrigerator for storing medicines and
a white board for hastily scribbled notes and weights. (You can
use shower stall lining from the hardware store in place of white
board and avoid the high price of office supply stores.)
Other Basic Equipment
Alpacas need a constant supply of fresh water, which can be
supplied by small buckets (the rubber ones do not freeze and crack
in the winter), or large stock tanks. While you might think that the larger containers will save
you labor, the opposite can be true.
Alpacas tend to dip their neck fiber in the water when they
drink (especially in the summertime), and their neck therefore
picks up more and more dirt.
Your stock tank quickly fills with cloudy, muddy water long
before the animals have drunk even a tenth of the water, and you
are left with the task of emptying that large amount of water
(what a waste!) and then cleaning and refilling the tank.
the winter, you can certainly get by with rubber buckets refilled
frequently before they freeze, but the alpacas benefit greatly
from having warm water to drink.
There are safe, heater coils or self-contained heated
buckets on the market that work quite well.
But, one of the greatest labor-saving and healthful
improvements for your alpacas is the installation of electric,
automatic waterers. One
tip: If you can
afford it, don’t skimp here.
The better waterers will be easy to clean (some come with a
stainless steel bowl that clips off for easy handling) and will
not overflow. The
less expensive models that work with a cutoff valve triggered by
what looks like a toilet float need to be installed absolutely
level, and preferably on a concrete pad, in order to avoid
better waterers will also be rust resistant.
The amount of time you can spend cleaning, sanding,
priming, painting, leveling, repairing and adjusting the less
expensive waterers can justify the greater front-end expense of
the better models.
Again, there are many different types of hay feeders in use
by breeders, from simple plastic tubs, to traditional sheep and
horse feeders, to elaborate designs that promise to cut down on
the alpaca’s natural inclination to pick through the hay, eat
the choice parts, and then drop the stems and stalks on the
system you try, stay away from the horse-height feeders that hold
a large amount of hay in a “V”-shaped rack suspended a few
feet above a lower tray. Invariably,
the animals will pull the hay from the rack and it will fall to
the tray below. Then,
as one alpaca eats from the lower tray, another will continue to
pull hay form the upper rack, sending a shower of hay dust and
bits down on the neck of the other alpaca.
By shearing time, the neck fiber will be a matted and
ruined. If you must
use these feeders, use only the bottom tray to hold hay.
and Minerals Feeders.
The best feeders we have found are also the least
expensive! Vinyl rain gutters or large PVC piping that has been sliced
into two open halves can be easily mounted on fences, shelters
(inside or out) and barns, thereby providing even the more
submissive alpacas in the herd with their own chance to “belly
up to the bar!” (See
the Chapter on Nutrition for a in-depth discussion of why “line
feeding” is preferable to “piles” of feed.)
Veterinary Scales. A
must for every serious breeder!
Alpacas are stoic animals that rarely show overt signs of
illness on the rare occasion when something is bothering them.
And their huge mass of dense fiber can easily hide an
anemic, even emaciated body.
Unfortunately, especially when used with new-born crias, a
bathroom scale or sling style scale is often not accurate enough
to confidently measure changes of a ½ pound or less.
A digital vet scale, on the other hand, weighs in .2 lbs.
substantial investment to be sure, but the early detection of one
sick alpaca or at-risk cria, and these scales have paid for
digital scales can be purchased for about $800; see the Resource
Appendix for some of the best deals on very good scales.
steel trash cans on a dolly or roller allow you to keep your grain
and pellets safe from mice (its amazing how easily mice can chew
right through a thick vinyl garbage can!) and lets you move full
and Hay Wheelbarrows. Always
use separate wheelbarrows for feeding and for manure collection in
order to better control the spread of parasites!
a wide base, large 2-wheel cart that can carry several bales of
hay at a time. For
manure collection, the heavy duty “Rubbermaid” type
wheelbarrows hold up much better than metal ones.
not an essential piece of equipment, but a gas powered manure
vacuum grinds manure like espresso grinds.
This is great to use when applying ‘paca droppings as
fertilizer as it assimilates more quickly into the soil.
Likewise, a ground driven, small manure spreader can also
be pulled by a riding lawn mower or small tractor.
Garden Mower. A
20-hp riding lawn mower not only can mow your lawn and small
pastures, but pulls most of the small equipment you might use for
the ranch: disker, fertilizer broadcaster, manure vacuum/grinder, manure
Tractors and PTO Attachments.
While not absolutely necessary for many small-scale alpaca
operations, there are times a small tractor with the right
attachments can save a lot of physical labor and a tremendous
amount of time – you may wish to go with a blade, bucket,
rototiller, post hole digger, etc.
Copyright 1999 – All “ABC”
Alpaca Buyers’ Clinic materials are protected by federal
copyrights held by The Fireweed Ranch, Ltd.
Any reproduction or commercial use of these materials
beyond the limited use license issued to the purchaser of the
“ABC” Alpaca Buyers’ Clinic Kit, without the express written
permission of the Ranch and/or the author, is strictly prohibited
by federal copyright law.
the Author: Teri Phipps and Dave Schieferstein of Fireweed Farms Alpacas have been an
integral part of the alpaca industry since 1993 and have been providing
education and assistance to new owners and breeders for almost that long.
The above article is excerpted from the textbook for their acclaimed seminar
series: "ABC Alpaca Buyers Clinic ( --The Building Blocks of the Alpaca
Industry.)" Fireweed Farms is currently located in the Blue Ridge Mountains
of North Carolina and will begin moving to Richmond, Virginia by the end of
Visit Fireweed Farms at www.fireweed-ranch.com
or our AlpacaNation