Your open door to the colorful world of alpacas
What facilities do alpacas need?
Alpacas actually don't need a whole lot of shelter. In most cases a three sided shelter that can protect them from wind, sun, and wet will serve alpacas well. We have a full barn that we have on occasion closed everyone into. Our criteria is usually something like below 10 degrees, windy, and especially if we have any young alpacas without full fleeces. Even then we have to force them into the barn. They don't seem too happy about it, but we sure do sleep better. The other case that a closing barn might be nice is in very high predator areas. We know several breeders that have mountain lions in their areas and they close the alpacas in at night. We have quite a few coyotes around, but have never had any problems with them.
Alpacas don't challenge a fence very often. It's really quite easy to fence alpacas in. However, most people also need to fence predators out. Probably the biggest threat of predators for most people is neighborhood dogs and/or coyotes. We haven't had a lot of problems with either of these. We use 48" 2x4 no-climb horse fencing on T-posts with wood corner braces for any area we want to consider to be safe. Ultimately, we'd like to have that around the whole property. But for now we have it around the barn creating 4 secure areas for the alpacas at night or when we're not home. When we are home, we let them out in the pasture which has several spots that are just 3 horizontal wires. We've had 2 instances of break outs (one was a baby going under the wire, the other an adult). But they just went as far as the neighbors pasture. Usually, they prefer to stick with the herd.
There are other options to consider adding when fencing, again mostly to keep predators out. One would be adding hot wires. We know some breeders that put a wire at the nose height of a dog or coyote outside the fence. They swear by this method and it does seem to make sense. The dog would come up to the fence, sniff the wire, get zapped, and go on its merry way. People also often put a hot wire along the top of the fence to prevent any animals from climbing or jumping the fence. And another idea is to put barbed wire just under the ground along the bottom outside of the fence so that if anything tries to dig under, they'll hit the barbs and think again.
There are of course many other options for fencing. These are just a few things we've tried and found successful.
We feel it is very important for alpacas to have pasture in which to graze. The number of alpacas you can have on your land depends greatly on your land, how much water you have for it, etc. We have 10 acres and some irrigation water. We usually have about 30 alpacas here at any given time and the 10 acres are more than enough. I think we could fairly comfortably handle up to 50-60 alpacas on the land we have. However, we'd have to do more fencing and sheltering. I wouldn't call our land lush by any means, but it's also a bit better than dry land pasture - just to give you an idea.
Part of the reason we think grazing is important for alpacas is that it helps exersize their bottom front teeth. Our veterinarian feels that there's a good chance most of the overgrown teeth problems that some alpacas have is due to not doing enough grazing at a young age.
We currently use short horse feeders for feeding our alpacas. However, we've been considering changing this, and would definately try something else before adding any new feeders. We've seen several other designs and heard discussion of some designs on the alpaca email list that I think would work well. One such design is making a box about the size of a bale of hay, putting the hay down into the box and putting some plastic lattice over the top of the bale. The lattice has to sit fairly tightly against the hay so that the alpacas can reach through the holes with their lips and pull the hay out. This way they would be much less likely to have a lot of waste and get a lot of hay on each other.
There are endless possibilities for feeding. One that even works quite well is just to put it on the ground.
The only other recommendation I would make is that our vet has also suggested that it is fairly important for the alpacas to eat hay with their heads down. That is a more natural position for them and they are less likely to get dust, etc. (unless you're feeding in a very dusty area, which would be discouraged also).
Since alpacas are a part of the camelid family, they don't drink a lot of water. However, it's important to have plenty available for them. There are endless possibilities for waterers as well. I'll tell you what we've done.
Up until last year, we only used flat backed 5 gallon buckets for our alpacas. However, we were finding this to be a bit cumbersome, especially in the winter when we'd have to have a heater for each one. Therefore we decided to upgrade. We were going to get the large rubbermaid water troughs that are about 2 feet wide by 3 feet long and 3 feet deep. However, I had heard a horror story several years ago about a baby falling into one of these and drowning. Then we found one that was about half the depth of these big guys and thought that might be the trick. If a baby did fall in, at least it could still hold its head about the water. However, now I was concerned that they'd be too low to the ground making the chances for a baby to fall in even greater. So, my husband ingeniously suggested putting them up on cinder blocks. It works great! We now have plenty of water, plus the buckets are still small enough that our small 250 watt heaters that we used in the 5 gallon buckets will work.
Well, our most used tools are a wheel barrow, rake, hoe, and shovel. Those are the poop scooping tools. What we've found works best is a plastic leaf rake, a wide and deep plastic shovel, a regular old hoe and the wheel barrow. We go around and rake all the poop into little piles and then use the hoe to scoop it into the shovel which then goes into the wheel barrow. We then wheel it out to a big composting pile. We usually have 3-4 piles going at once. One is the current pile, and the other 3 are in various stages of composting. Usually by the time we start the 4th pile the 1st is ready to spread. We like to compost the poop a bit before spreading it just to make sure the parasites are at a minimum.
A very important tool that I'd recommend every alpaca owner have is a scale. It's very important to make sure that your alpacas are staying at a healthy weight and the best way to do that is with a scale. The other option is to get very good at body scoring. This is a method developed by LaRue Johnson of checking the alpaca in certain places on their body feeling for weight. It's described in many books, and is a good method. However, I never feel like I'm very good at it and I can never remember what that animal felt like last time (especially when we got over 10 animals). So we rely heavily on the scale. We were lucky enough to find a nice used scale which is a great way to go. Otherwise, email me for a good source for electronic scales.
Then, of course, you need halters and leads for all your alpacas. We like to use the completely adjustable halters that Bobra Goldsmith carries. See her web site at: http://www.rockymtllamas.com. We also like to attach a key chain to each halter with the name of the alpaca on it so we don't have to constantly readjust the halters. We get a whole rack that holds the tag and is very useful in the barn too. I saw it at Office Max the other day. It's called "Keytag Rack" and is made by Lucky Line Products, Inc. If you use these, just make sure to remove the small ring between the key ring and the tag and put the key ring directly onto the tag. If you don't, the ring will break and you may lose your tag.
Okay, okay, I hate to admit it, but we do have a small tractor. You really don't need one to have alpacas on 10 acres, but Tony loves it. It's a Case VAC model 13 which is an antique tractor and is apparently fairly rare. It's a pretty cute little tractor and I must admit it has gotten a fair amount of use. We have attempted to hay our back pasture the past couple years. His little tractor huffs and puffs, but gets the job done. We did get about 150 bales one year, but the rest of the time we just get a few bales. It's hard work. But Tony loves all his equipment, and hopefully we'll get our pasture shaped up enough that we'll get a little more production out of it. Of course Tony says we really need another, bigger tractor to help. It's currently a big topic of discussion - stay tuned to see what happens. He also uses the tractor for turning the composting poop piles, digging post holes for fences (an endless job), and various other little jobs around the ranch.