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Frequently Asked Questions

llama

What is the difference between alpacas and
llamas?

Llamas are much bigger than alpacas, and have “banana” shaped ears. They are primarily used as a pack animal. An alpaca is principally used for fleece production, they are not suitable physically or temperamentally for freight carriage. They have a much better fleece quality than llamas, with a lot less guard hair. In New Zealand, alpacas are in more demand than llamas due to their beautiful fleece – call us to find out how you can benefit by owning these beautiful animals! In the silhouette below, the llama is on the left, the alpaca on the right.

What do you do with an alpaca?

That depends on personal choice!

  • Alpacas are probably the optimum livestock investment in the world.
  • Even small herds can be financially viable, making them ideal for hobby farmers or those with limited land space.
  • Wethers make great pets for people who prefer the livestyle option and have no desire to commercially farm or breed their animals. They can be readily halter trained, and reward their owners with an annual fleece.
  • Alpacas produce a luxurious fibre which can be shorn on an annual basis, and sold as either raw fleece, or manufactured in yarn or fabric. Alpaca textiles are recognised by fashion houses world-wide.

Why is buying alpacas a good use of my money?

  • Alpacas are easy to farm and care for.
  •  Alpaca farming is a developing industry, the future is bright!

How many alpacas can be kept per acre?

Stocking rate is normally quoted as being similar to sheep (around 4-5 per acre) despite the size differential. Most owners are finding however, that alpacas eclectic diet and excellent food conversion means that stocking rates are 50% or more higher than for sheep (ie 6-9 per acre in New Zealand). Stocking rate can in any case be increased by good pasture management and fertilisation, and increased hay feeding of the alpacas. You can keep a pair of wethers on as little as half acre. We started our alpaca farm on just over 2 acres, which enabled us to keep around 12 alpacas. We chose to move to a bigger property, and continue to expand, but this is not everyone’s choice!

What do alpacas eat?

Alpacas are browsers who eat most varieties of plant life, including grass, foliage and palatable herbs. They have a split upper lip (like a rabbit) which enables them to cleverly nibble around long and sharp thorns. Their diet is similar to a goat, although they chew their cud like a cow, and their digestive system is somewhere between a horse and a cow. In addition to green plants and grass, they enjoy meadow and lucerne hay, and also concentrates in the form of alpaca nuts, now available commercially (but which should be limited to 1/2 a cup per day).  Do not feed alpacas any form of grain or grain based foods including multi nuts, horse nuts, pig nuts or bread – eating grain based foods can lead to ulcers and possible death. Because they have developed in harsh Andean conditions, they do  make excellent use of their feed, and can thrive on poorer pasture than most farm stock.

Do alpacas require special fencing?

No. Normal farm fencing, whether wire-and-batten or sheep mesh is fine. Deer fencing is often used, but is not necessary – alpacas can jump, but not that high! Studs (machos) sometimes need slightly higher fencing to deter them from attempting to get to the object of their desire, but nothing like the height of a deer fence! There is now camelid mesh fencing available – higher than standard fencing and lower than deer fencing, however most alpaca farms still use standard height sheep fencing. Most alpacas do not lean or push on fences as do other animals, nor do they tend to put their heads through fencing in search of greener grass! Electric fencing and barbed wire is not required, and not recommended because both can cause injury to your alpacas. In particular, electrified tape has caused a number of deaths in alpaca: they reach a long way under the tape with their long necks, then lift their head and turn: next thing the tape is wound right around their neck and they are repeatedly shocked until they die. This is an horrific death, and totally needless as most alpacas will not challenge the poorest of fences, although relying on poor quality fencing is not recommended, as there are some alpacas who haven’t read the rule book!

Are alpacas easy to care for?

Very! Compared to other stock species, alpacas are very low maintenance. Basic care includes annual shearing, toenail trimming 3-4 times annually, annual vaccination, worming, and bi-monthly drenching with vitamins A,D&E.. They should have a daily visual check, periodic body scoring and need supplementary hay feeding in winter. These are maintenance issues common to all farm stock. Also in common with other stock species, they are prone to Rye Grass Staggers (which is preventable), and Facial Eczema (the risk can be reduced).

  • They are do not suffer from bloat, footrot or flystrike.
  • TB testing is not compulsory in New Zealand.
  • They do not need tail docking or crutching.
  • They are not  large, strong, heavy, dangerous or difficult to herd and control.

How do you transport alpacas?

In a horse truck or float, or a covered trailer. Alpaca trailers have now been designed for alpacas, ideal but expensive. Open stock crates are unsuitable – alpacas do not tolerate cold winds or draughts well, and the wind effect created by a moving open trailer is freezing! Alpacas almost always “cush” (sit down) when in a moving vehicle, so they are very stable to tow. You can also transport alpacas in vans that have been adapted for that purpose. If using a horse float, it is important to cover the gap at the back above the closed ramp – as alpacas are small enough and agile enough to jump through this. You should also fill in the gap between the lowered ramp and the trailer floor as alpacas can put their foot through this with the potential to break a leg.

Are alpacas intelligent?

Yes. Alpacas learn very quickly, and have long memories. They  recognise other alpacas they have been close to, even if they have been separated for several years. They seldom forget something they have learnt, either! They are intensely curious animals, and take a lot of interest in the actions of other animals and people.

What sound does an alpaca make?

A gentle hum that can be used to express a variety of emotions, from curiosity to interest to anxiety. They have a piercing alarm whistle that is quite distinctive, but seldom heard.  The boys have their own unique ‘love song’ – an orgle – when they are wooing their girl. And the wee cria click their tongue when talking to their Mum – its very cute!  Generally alpacas are very quiet animals!

Are alpacas dangerous?

No. Alpacas are very gentle creatures. Their first form of defence is to spit. This is unpleasant, but hardly dangerous! They will kick, but with a soft foot pad, and lacking substantial muscular development, this also is more likely to be unpleasant rather than painful.

The only exception to this is an”over-humanised” alpaca that is unable to distinguish the normal boundaries that exist between species resulting in aggression by the alpaca. This is not a naturally occurring syndrome, but one which is created by inappropriate handling by owners.  Correct handling as a cria will prevent this.  It is impossible to cure.

How many alpacas do I need?

A minimum of two adults – although three is preferable. Alpacas are highly socialised and suffer mental and emotional – even physical – deprivation if kept in solitary confinement. The company of other animal species is not sufficient, they need other alpacas. A reputable and caring breeder should refuse to sell you less than two alpacas as a starting herd. Call us to find out some of the options for a starter herd.

What use is a wether?

Wethers make great pets! They can be taught to lead and there are even pet alpaca performance classes at some A&P shows. If you want to own alpacas, but have either time, space or budget restrictions, wethers are a low-cost option that lets you have all the pleasures of owning alpacas without the responsibilities of being a breeder. If you have only a small acreage, having two or three wethers means you don’t have to worry about running out of grazing or space, nor have the emotional anguish of having to sell animals you are fond of,  just because you have run out of space. If your interest is in fibre, rather than breeding, having a wether herd gives you an annual supply of fleece for your own use , plus the pleasure of owning these sweet and attractive animals.

When buying a starter flock for breeding, buying a wether for company for a breeding female keeps down the initial cost of starting up your new business. Even when you have an established herd, having a wether is still useful – he can be used as a Public Relations animal (intact males have their minds on other matters, and females can become stressed if taken away from familiar surroundings with a cria, or when heavily pregnant). If you need to separate one animal from the herd or to transport a female for breeding take your wether along also! Pop a wether in with young stock at weaning time – babies like the reassuring company of adults. Wethers can safely be kept in with your breeding females without any risk of an undesirable pregnancy. Whatever way you look, wethers are a good investment choice!

Wethers will provide you with a fleece every year, some of very high quality. If you are a hand-spinner, spinning alpaca fibre will give you a luxurious yarn, and it is no harder to spin than sheep’s wool. Light coloured alpaca can be readily dyed, or if you prefer natural colours, buy a coloured alpaca! If you are not interested in spinning your own, there are commercial spinners who can turn your fibre into yarn ready for you to knit or spin, or you can simply sell the unprocessed fleece. When you buy your alpaca from The Alpaca Place, we will make sure you are aware of your options.

Why should I buy alpacas?

There are alpacas to suit every dream – whether as gentle and attractive pets, or as fibre producers, or for hobby breeders who love having alpaca babies around, or for serious farmers and investors. If you have a lifestyle block or small farm, alpacas have to be the livestock of choice – they are easy to care for, have minimal health care, are easy on pasture and fencing, produce fleece annually, sale of surplus animals provides a lucrative return on investment, are gentle, physically unimposing, non-aggressive animals that are ideal for the novice animal handler, and they are viable to keep even on small acreage. When you purchase from The Alpaca Place, we will train you  how to handle these gentle animals in a manner that keeps them easy to catch and handle. Book your farm visit today to see for yourself how owning alpacas will improve your lifestyle choice!

What sort of land is best for an alpaca?

Alpacas can thrive on all types of land. They are very good converters of food to energy, and do not require lush pastures or fertile soils. They enjoy running on hills, but can be equally at home on flat pasture. Alpacas are being successfully farmed in New Zealand from the far North to Southland. Their versatility also see them flourishing internationally in lands as diverse as Australia, Japan, the UK, and USA and Europe

What is the negative side of owning alpacas?

The high cost of purchasing your initial breeding stock. However, once you have overcome this hurdle, it becomes much easier to obtain subsequent females, as you will breed some of your own, or be able, over time, to sell a few wethers which will give you a substantial part of a purchase price for another female.

Do alpacas have any other uses besides fibre?

In South America, alpacas are used for meat, as well as shorn for fibre. However, in the Western world, alpacas are not routinely slaughtered for human consumption. Alpacas have proven, that with appropriate care, they can continue to produce cria right up to their late teens, or early twenties, making breeding females far too valuable to eat. The high return available by breeding alpacas makes reproduction the major  use of alpacas at this time. For owners of small blocks of land who require some form of livestock to keep vegetation under control, the alpaca has no peer! They are gentle and easy to handle, their care is largely trouble-free, they are not hard on pasture, nor are they rough on fencing. The value of alpacas as pets should also not be under-rated. They can be readily tamed and trained to become personable pets that owners can be proud of, and are exotic enough to provide you with a pet that will be the envy of your friends and neighbours!

Are there any special terms for alpacas?

Males are termed machos, females are called hembra,  unweaned babies are known as cria and yearlings are known as tui.  A castrated, or gelded, male is a wether. In fact, only the terms “cria” and “wether” are in common usage in New Zealand, males are more often called studs, and hembras generally termed females. As tui is the name of a native bird in New Zealand this term is not used for yearling alpacas here.

How long do alpacas live for?

Alpacas can live well past 20 years of age, and will breed for most of those! Most females can produce 10 – 12 cria in a lifetime, repaying your investment over and over again.

At what age do alpacas start breeding?

It used to be common for females to be mated at just 12 months, although experience  has proved that 18 – 24 months is a better age when the females are more mature. Males generally do not start breeding until they are 2-3 years old.

How long are females pregnant for?

Around 11 ½ months, although it is not uncommon for birth to occur a few weeks early, or to be 4-6 weeks overdue!

How do you shear alpacas?

Alpacas are shorn  restrained in a prone position on the ground, or on a specially designed “shearing table”. Once one side has been shorn, they are rolled over and the other side is shorn. The same shearing equipment is used as for sheep, and they can be either blade (manually) shorn, or electric shears can be used.

Can you run alpacas with other animals?

Alpaca are gentle and non-aggressive. They are never a threat to other pastoral species. However, because of their relative lack of strength and defensive ability, care should be taken when stocking them in the same pasture as other animals. Sheep are fine, but cattle tend to be too big and boisterous, and even a quiet horse can deliver a powerful kick when startled. We have no personal experience with goats and deer, however feel that a good rule of thumb when considering cross grazing alpacas with other species, is to keep your alpacas in a separate paddock to the others.

Do alpacas have twins?

Twins are occasionally conceived, but only rarely survive.  A foetus usually develops in the larger of two uterine horns.  When twins are conceived the second foetus will usually develop in the smaller uterine horn, but in many cases there simply isn’t room for two developing foetuses, which will abort prematurely.

When do alpacas have their cria?

Normally late morning to mid afternoon, and most often on a warm, sunny day. However, on occasion, alpacas will be born on a cold or rainy day, or outside the mid-day time window, so always keep a close eye on your alpaca.  An alpaca who is still in labour late afternoon or evening is often in trouble – be prepared to call your vet!

How do you round alpacas up?

If you have properly handled alpacas you should be able to call them into a catch pen, or new field. Leading a well-trained animal on a halter is much easier than attempting to push or pull your alpaca around! However, sometimes you will need to herd alpacas, and this is best achieved by two or three people.  Simply walk behind the animals in the direction you wish them to move, preferably using a training wand or similar. A rope held between two people is very effective! Shepherd dogs cannot be used for herding  as alpacas do not respond to these as sheep and cattle do.  Training in how to herd your alpacas is part of the on-going support offered by The Alpaca Place to its customers.

Can you keep male and female alpacas together?

No. You can keep most males together, females together, wethers together or in company with females and most males. However, a pregnant female wants nothing to do with an entire male, who will pester them in the hopes they might be receptive.

Do you need to keep alpacas indoors in winter?

Not in New Zealand! If you live in area prone to snow, you may need to build a shelter shed, but be prepared to lock your alpacas in as they seldom seek this type of protection! An alpaca’s natural environment is very harsh, and they can cope with most cold and wet conditions. They are susceptible to cold winds, so windbreaks are essential. They suffer more from heat in summer than cold in winter, so shade from the sun is also essential.

How easy is it to find a Vet who is experienced in the care of alpacas?

Its becoming easier! Many vets have minimal experience with camelids, but more and more are taking an interest in camelids. However, finding a vet who is ready to admit their lack of experience and then do research, consult other veterinary professionals, and listen to you as the person with “hands on” experience, and you will probably receive very good care for your alpaca. By the very nature of the profession they have chosen, most vets are interested in animals and more than happy to increase their knowledge base. Beware the vet who will not listen to you, who assumes you know nothing because you are not qualified, or who tries to give the impression they are more experienced than they actually are – find another vet! If you can, talk to other alpaca owners in your area, and see if they will recommend a vet. It may be worth paying a little extra in travel costs to obtain the services of a competent and interested vet. New Zealand’s Massey University has increased the camelid training veterinary students receive, so finding vets experienced in alpaca care is becoming easier.

What are the Veterinary & Medical costs associated with alpacas?

Very low – most owners can learn to do basic medical care such as drenching, vaccinations and toenail trimming themselves – and this training is included in the support package offered by The Alpaca Place. Most cria are born without assistance on sunny days. Wethers must be castrated by a vet under either general or local anaesthetic. In fact, many veterinary costs are incurred voluntarily by the owner, if they do not want to undertake basic care themselves, or want a pregnancy confirmed by bloodtest or ultrascan. Alpacas are very healthy animals, and many problems can be averted by proper care – see our “Health and Welfare” pages.

Are alpacas prone to any diseases?

Facial eczema, rye grass staggers, phosphate and vitamin D deficiency, are conditions that alpacas have been identified as being susceptible to. These are conditions or syndromes that are common to all livestock species, and the risk can be reduced or controlled by proper management and care. See “Health and Welfare

How can I make money out of alpacas?

  • Selling their fleece (they are shorn annually)
  • Selling products made from alpaca fibre
  • Selling alpaca related products
  • Selling stock you have bred
  • Selling the stud services of your macho
  • Agisting animals for other owners
  • Composting alpaca dung and selling as fertiliser
  • Learning to shear, and selling your services as an alpaca shearer
  • Charging the public to visit your alpaca farm