How to Choose and Keep Llamas and Alpacas

Discussion Topic Created:
Sunday, April 26, 2015
The keeping of any animal no matter how large or small needs careful consideration and planning.
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This guide outlines the requirements and demands of llama and alpaca keeping and provides recommendations to aid the correct selection, husbandry and management.

Why llamas and alpacas?

Llamas and alpacas are kept for several reasons but were traditionally kept for their produce i.e. their wool or hair. Carting and packing or trekking are also other reasons to keep llamas and alpacas. Llamas are also kept as guard animals and can be very protective over other groups of animal e.g. sheep. Castrated males are often kept as 'pets' or companions.

Llamas and alpacas are social animals. If properly socialized they can make a very calm, gentle companion. They have a reputation for spitting, but this is more typical between llamas and usually not directed at people (unless poorly socialized). They also make a variety of sounds. Life span estimates range from 15-30 years.
Llamas and alpacas are either reared on a holding being home produced or bought in as young or adult stock. Many breeders are now located across the UK and you will find that you are situated within a reasonable distance of a breeder.
What are my basic requirements?

Available land as a guide is two head of llama or five head of alpaca per acre with bought in forage of hay. Small areas of pasture need rest and a rotation system should be adopted to maximise grass production and parasite control. Suitable housing for shelter and warmth is also necessary particularly on heavy land although camelids can be out wintered. As for housing, the amount and type of shelter is also dependent on the climate - in cold climates a barn or other windproof housing may be necessary, while in warmer climates a three sided shelter would likely do the trick.

Adequate knowledge is one of the most important requirements covering a range of subjects including a calendar of llama and alpaca husbandry, foot trimming, shearing and dagging to name but a few.

Other necessities are forms of restraint e.g. handling equipment and adequate fencing, hedges and electric fencing which must be sound together with the ability to repair and maintain them. Proper fencing is also necessary, to keep llamas in and (preferably) dogs out. The complexity of the fence depends on your situation; for
example the number of llamas and how important it is to keep them separate.

Llamas do need a companion - another llama of similar age is best.

A local shearing facility is also a must if you are not going to shear your animals yourself.
What breed should I choose?

Unlike other domestic farm animals the number of available breeds of alpacas and llamas is a fraction of their cattle and sheep counterparts. With alpacas the two main breeds freely available are Suri and Huacaya.

With regards to llamas the breed Ccara are favoured for work and Lanudas for fibre production.

Availability from local breeders must also be considered.

What about feeding and management?

Availability of roughage is crucial to ensure year round feed supplies. Home grown or bought in hay plus feeding systems such as big bale feeders and mechanised handling are advisable where large bales are used. Small bales of hay and straw, which is also used for bedding, are easier to handle and store for smaller holdings.

Camelids can be fed on pasture as long as it is free from poisonous plants (as for cattle, sheep). Hay and complete rations are also acceptable. The type of feed available and what should be fed will vary by area. Also, supplementation with vitamins and minerals will depend on the area, and is best discussed with a veterinarian or Countrywide Sales Specialist. Ample fresh water is absolutely essential at all times.

Ruminant concentrates are also recommended but only up to a protein level of 14%. Vitamin E and selenium supplements may also be required.

A feeding timetable also needs consideration.

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