Authored by: John Malkus, Alpaca
de la Pacifica
on How to Setup an Alpaca Ranch: Starting from Scratch!
now an alpaca owner, and the next step is planning your farm
assuming that you don’t already have that 300-acre farm
that’s been in the family for generations.
You are basically going to start from scratch.
Tina and I first became interested in alpacas, we were living in
the city, and our growing herd of alpacas was being boarded at a
nearby farm. Having very little experience with the actual
operation of an alpaca farm, we knew our work was cut out for
Our first step was deciding on location. For us, that was the
easy part. Neither one of us wanted to leave Southern
California, so that helped us narrow down the search. We looked
at farms ranging from 2.5 acres to 20 acres. Some already had
fencing and cross fencing in place, and some had nothing more
than the main house with a mailbox. Some had barns already in
place, horse riding arenas, wash racks, tack rooms, pretty much
complete facilities. So now, we were faced with the question, do
we build it ourselves, or modify something pre-existing? We
opted to do it ourselves.
Considering we were going to be located in Southern California,
where the temperatures range from the mid-30's in the winter
months, to the very hot 100's in the summer, the layout and
overall design would be somewhat different than those further
east or north.
Our first step was the layout. The property we purchased was on
a five-acre tract. The existing home was located at one end of
the property, so that left us with pretty much an open door to
One of the things that was very important to us was to be able
to see the alpacas from the house. This was rather simple, since
the house was at one end, and almost every window faced the
The acreage was flat - no trees, no pasture, no fencing, just
five flat acres of dirt. We spent the first weeks writing down
different layouts, hoping to find that perfect design. What we
ended up with, after 50 sheets of paper, were 11 separate
pastures, with four shade shelters. This layout came mostly
because of the size herd we had already built.
spent making plans on paper resulted in a versatile, functional
system providing a variety of options for pasture rotation and
for separating males and females, expectant moms and new crias,
that can grow as the herd grows.
We knew early on
that our herd would grow, crias would be born, weanling females
would become maidens, and the boys would begin their transition
to studhood. So at some point in time, we knew we would need to
separate the males and females. We also knew that when the moms
had their crias, it was important for us to have them close to
the house, where we could monitor their progress for several
days, before placing them back in the general population. There
were also concerns about separating alpacas due to perhaps diet,
or maybe a behavior thing, or even a medical need. And finally,
we needed to plan on a stud pasture.
Now we had to come up with a plan that would allow moving the
herd from one pasture to another, as easily as possible. Early
in our research, we had visited a ranch that had a
well-thought-out plan for doing just that. They had set up the
pastures with a main run at the top end of each pasture. It was
10' wide, and ran the entire length of the property. Each
pasture had a gate that led into that pasture from the main
aisle. With that in mind, we found that if we kept all of our
gates the exact same size as the aisle was in width, and paid
particular attention to placement, we could design the system to
work like a set of locks. We could move an entire group from…let's
say pasture one, and allowing the group to run into the aisle.
As they passed through the aisle, we now had the choice of
either opening any one of the gates to a particular pasture, or
running them all the way down to the last pasture. This system
also works very well as a catch pen if you keep a gate at either
We love this system for several other reasons. One in particular
is when we have the need to separate an alpaca from the group
for the vet, or toenail trimming, we can herd the group into the
aisle, and then herd everyone not needed back into the pasture.
This style has proven that one person can move as many alpacas
as needed, single-handedly.
Do Fence Me In
Fencing is very controversial. We chose the 2" x 4"
no-climb fencing. We used 4' height in all the pastures except
for the males, where we chose 5'. All have a top rail, and all
are supported by chain link poles. We've seen the lodge pole
style, and it looks great, but for durability and maintenance,
we decided on galvanized poles instead. The gates are made of
the same materials. By purchasing in bulk, our cost was cut down
are several other options for fencing. We decided on the
no-climb type because we did not want the crias to figure out
how to escape into another pasture during the night, as might
happen with horse fencing. The no-climb also allowed an
unobstructed view from the highway (good marketing!).
Left: Wide aisles connecting the pastures make it easy
to move alpacas from one area to another.
Gates are the same width as the aisles, allowing the
aisles to function as catch pens.
Using the gates, one person can move large groups of
In order for us to determine how large each pasture needed to
be, there were several things that needed to be considered.
Since we were going to irrigate the pastures, we had to figure
out the water pressure and how many sprinkler heads would be
needed, and how far they would throw the water. Once this was
calculated, we ended up with four pastures at 250' x 60', and
two at 15,000 square feet. The two larger pastures were placed
at the end of the aisle.
We placed gates at the top and bottom of each of these pastures,
thinking that we would need access from either end. We also
placed gates between each pasture, so we would not have to walk
up to the aisle every time we wanted to get from one pasture to
another. The one thing that was told to me early on, were GATES,
GATES, and MORE GATES! You can never have enough gates.
Two things determined the size of our gates. One was the width
of the aisle, so when you opened one gate, it actually closed
off the rest of the aisle. The second concern was for equipment.
We had to figure how wide our tractor was, how sharply it
turned, so it could be moved in and out of the pastures.
Three more pastures were designed opposite the aisle. One is
used as a quarantine lot, the second is our breeding area, and
the third, which is closest to the house, is our "cria
watch" pasture. This is where the new moms are placed for
the first three to four days with their crias. We took extra
measures in this layout, making sure that the visiting alpacas
did not have nose to nose contact with the existing herd. We did
this by placing a small pasture between the two. Again, mostly
the distance the sprinkler head would throw determined the
Our male pasture is at the complete opposite side of the ranch.
We used the 5' no-climb fencing here, along with top rail, since
we knew that boys would be boys, and might want to jump up on
the fence from time to time. The male lot has a very limited
view of any other pasture for obvious reasons.
then went back to the scratch pad, to look at shelter locations.
This was a bit more difficult than we had thought.
First we had to decide which direction the worst winds
would come from. In
our case, it was the Santa Ana winds that blow across from the
high dessert. This
only happens in the fall, but needed to be taken into
then looked at the direction the sun traveled.
Since our property faced the south, the sun wasn’t a
big problem, as it would cross the pastures leaving the shelters
in complete shade.
shelters were designed with several things in mind. We
made three of them 24’ x 36’, with gable-type roofing. We also wanted the shelters to somewhat match the décor of
the main house, so they were built just like a house, only
without the walls. We
built 12’ high ceilings to allow good air flow, and placed a
composition shake roof to assist in reflecting the summer sun.
The sides of the shelters we enclosed up only half way,
this way we felt that the alpacas could see out easily while in
the shelters. The
rear of the shelters were left open with more no-climb fencing,
to accommodate the road that was in the future plans.
We had planned on using the rear access road to deliver
hay to each of the shelters.
This also enabled us to have easy access for cleaning out
Pictured Above: High, open shelters complement the
style of the main house, and provide adequate shelter in the
mild Southern California climate.
Gates inside and outside the shelter provided a variety
of options to keep animals together or apart.
each shelter, there was a dividing wall.
This was designed so we could have two pastures feed
directly into one shelter.
A gate was placed in the center, for the times when a
larger group might need the entire shelter.
At the front of the shelter, more gates were placed,
which in turn made them catch pens.
also placed auto-water systems in each side of these shelters.
We opted for a partial concrete floor, which measured
12’ x 24’. The
thought here was to allow the alpacas to be able to get up off
the ground during the rainy season.
The rest of the shelter floor area was filled with
decomposed granite. Inside
the side walls, we placed hay feeders.
These were built at 24” high, and 18” deep. We then added plastic rain gutter for the pellets, minerals,
sweet mix, etc. These
gutters work great because they do not allow alpacas to gorge on
the pellets, which we all know can cause choking.
They really need to turn their heads sideways to get to
the pellets, and need to work just a little to get a mouth full.
next step was the planting of trees.
Figuring that the alpacas would not always want to stay
in the shelters during the heat of the day, and to add a little
color to the pastures, we planted a dozen fruitless mulberry
trees, and another half dozen fruitless plum trees.
Besides the beautiful color these trees produce with
their leaves, the alpacas love to eat the leaves as they drop.
Green, Green Grass of Home
the actual layout for the pastures was complete, and the
shelters were complete, we then started thinking of ground
cover. Again, this
is a very controversial subject, so one needs to keep in mind
his or her geographic area, and what might work for us, may not
work well in your specific region.
decided on the “World Feeder” a Hybrid Bermuda grass.
In order to plant the World Feeder, we needed topsoil
first. We contacted
a local company, who brought us organic topsoil.
This was turned into the ground.
Our next step was the irrigation.
Plumbing was placed in the ground, along with electrical
conduit, which would supply electricity for the lights in each
shelter. We also
placed electrical outlets in the shelters.
When the topsoil was in the ground, we then ordered the
World Feeder. This
came in the form of plugs, and needed to be placed in the ground
with minimal cover.
feeders were also built, and placed at different locations
throughout each pasture. We
have found that the alpacas really do enjoy the midnight buffet
under the stars in Southern California.
About the Author:
Malkus and his wife Tina own Alpaca de la Pacifica in Somis,
15-plus years in the integrated circuit and semiconductor
industry, enough was enough.
For the past 7 years, both have now turned their full
attention to the alpaca industry, and can be reached at (805)
553-0777 ranch; (805) 553-0780 evenings; or www.alpacadelapacifica.com.
Article Courtesy of Alpacas Magazine, Steve & Annie Segal
Winter 2000 Issue