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Care of Alpacas and Husbandry tasks

Husbandry

Cotswold Vale Apacas©2012

These adorable animals have adapted extremely well to life in Britain and are now found in many fields and farms throughout the UK.  Alpacas are hardy animals whose predecessors have spent thousands of years grazing on poor pastures in very harsh weather conditions.

 

To help our customers or anyone new to Alpacas we have tried to write some simple guidance notes.

This is for anyone wishing to build up a new enterprise or who are just plainly interested in these fascinating creatures, who once met become very addictive. 
CONTENT
·   Fencing and Farm Layout
·   Vaccinations, Vitamin Supplements and Worming
·   Mating
·   Birthing
·   Weaning
·   Ear Tag and Microchip Insertion
·   Halter Training
·   Shearing
·   Supplementary Feeding
·   Condition Scoring
·   Toenail Trimming and finaly - Castrations 

·   Fencing and Farm Layout - Starting at the beginning we are looking at Fencing and Farm Layout.  You could keep 5/6 alpacas on approx 1 acre, but its a good idea to have more land available so you can rotate your fields and rest them.   Alpacas do not challenge fences or try and escape. This means that fences do not have to be heavy and ultra strong (unlike large animals like Cows or Horses) but like any fencing for livestock it is a must to keep them in good condition. 

You can use standard sheep fencing, you can use the stock fencing with plain wire or wooden rail, post and rail fence using four rails or a combination of both. And the recommended height for alpaca fencing is 4 ft.

But you must always make sure the gates shut properly and there is no risk of them being left open, because although alpacas dont generally challenge fences, they are very curious creatures  - so an open gate is an open invitation to explore !!

 

As alpacas are very intelligent it is a good idea to give them a routine, they will adapt quickly to any movement regime. Developing a system for moving them around the farm is a good idea, this will produce minimal stress to both the alpaca and the owner.
 

Encouraging them to eat in or near their shelter/catch pen is a good idea, it becomes normal for them to come to the area and they will come on their own accord once they get used to the routine.


Alpacas are happy to be out in the field 24/7 and find it no problem wintering out in England and although field shelters are said not always essential, but from experience our girsl like their shelter and its a god place to have their hay and they can be very useful.  It can be a good area to pen the animals in to carry out day to day tasks like body scoring, toe clipping, injections etc.  They are also very useful if you have sick animals or cria born in severe weather conditions.  As Alpacas are herd animals it is a good idea if they need to be kept in a field shelter is ideal because they can get shelter but still see and hear the rest of the herd.
 
  • Vaccinations, Vitamin Supplements and Worming.  Alpacas require a vaccination and worming regime very similar to sheep. It will not always be nessecary to have a vet to carry out these task, once the new owner has received training in these tasks and they feel confident they can easily carry out these practices.  Full training for these practices will be included in the sale of any animals to for any new owner, who wish to take up this training.

Alpacas need a Clostridial vaccination and worming twice a year with a pour on wormer in the Spring and an oral or inject-able wormer in the Autumn.

 

ADE Vitamin injections are required over the winter months. These vitamin supplementations are important for proper growth in young stock and pregnant females. This is especially important for young stock who have very thick fleece around the face and the darker coloured cria, as there intact of sunlight is even more restricted due to their colour and thickness of fleece.


The reason they need ADE vitamins: Alpacas receive these vitamins via the sun and daylight.  In their native land of Peru, Bolivia and Chile alpacas are exposed to very high levels of sunlight and therefore are able to produce enough Vitamin D of their own. Here in the UK sunlight is limited during the winter so supplements are essential to support the growth of the cria and prevent rickets and also to ensure the unborn cria carry-on developing inside their mothers.
  • Mating.  Alpacas are induced ovulators, meaning that female alpacas do not have a breeding season and therefore can be bred at anytime of the year.  The breeding season in the UK generally runs from April through to October. This ensures that the cria are born during the spring and autumn months, having longer days, plenty of good grass and hopefully plenty of sunlight, because these are all the things required to help cria to grow in to lovely strong adults.
Male alpacas generally become sexually mature at two years and females can mature at 12 to 15 months old. 

If they are mature enough at 12mnths they can be mated, but its is important they are fully grown and at a good weight.

 

Females who have given birth can be mated again within two to three weeks of giving birth, but again it is important they are healthy and strong, and are not weak and underweight after giving birth.

 

Stud sires are very valuable and highly priced in the UK. When starting out many owners who have females will generally purchase stud services from larger Breeders who have produced quality males to breed from, rather than having the expense of purchasing a male of their own.

 

Sometimes owners may buy into a stud male, giving them a share of the animal, with the facility to use them on their herd and maybe some of their clients herds as well.  And maybe buying into one or  more stud males, this is less expensive than purchasing a stud male by themselves, this means the amount they would spend on a single male can be spread around giving the opportunity of buying into more than one stud and also giving them the opportunity to invest in a range of quality genes for their herd. But if a breeder does not have the use of their own stud male, stud services can be by either carried out where the stud male is kept, so the owner of the female would take the female to the male for mating or the stud male can travel to the female.

  •  Birthing. The gestation period for alpacas is eleven to eleven and a half months. Birthing *usually occurs between the hours of 7am to 2pm. This is due to their native land where if the cria is born too early in the day the temperature is very low and the cria will not dry off before it freezesLikewise if it were born too late in the afternoon the same would occur, as when the sun falls the temperature drops. The cria needs to be up, dry and feeding before nightfall(*But I would like to add - from our experience over the last three years birthing can occur out side this hours and in this case extra care and attention maybe required for both mother and cria. This maybe that the alpaca is adjusting to our climate here in the UK)
    Births are generally simple and straightforward with complications being very rare. The new cria needs a little intervention by the owner to disinfect the umbilical cord and maybe put a coat on if the weather is cold.
  • Weaning normally occurs at six months of age with some larger crias being taken away at five months.  This involves taking the cria from the mother and putting it with others of a similar age or early pregnant females and wethers in a paddock hopefully where the mother and cria cannot see each other.

At this point the mother has already begun weaning the cria herself. Weaning is carried out at this time due to the development of the foetus inside the mother.

For the first six months the foetus stays very small. The last 5 – 51/2 is when it grows to its birth weight.  So this is why it is important that at six months the cria is taken away (or sooner if the cria is big or the mother is loosing too much condition) this will allow the mother to stay in good condition and put her energy into the foetus instead of milk production.
  •  Ear Tag and Microchip Insertion. For identification all Alpacas need to be ear tagged and micro-chipped. To register new animals with the British Alpaca Society all stock registered should have ear tags inserted.  It is also a requirement that all UK registered alpacas have a microchip inserted also.  (These are tasks you can do yourself and do not necessarily a vets assistance.)
  • Halter Training alpacas is a good idea for many reasons. The main purpose of halter training is to allow for easy movement of your alpacas whether it is from a pen to the trailer or in the show ring.

The best time to halter is at weaning. It is a simple exercise that can take anywhere from several to six short lessons, it is always important that anything you do with alpaca is done in short periods, in order for them to find a acceptable experience and not something that stresses them out.

It is a great way to interact and get to know your alpacas and to give them chance to used to you.  Obviously an Alpaca that is used to being handled for short periods is a lot better animal to work with for all concerned and makes every day tasks you have to perform less stressful for all concerned.
  • Shearing In Peru alpacas are generally shorn every two years. But in the UK Huacaya Alpacas are shorn once a year, and Suri Alpaca’s are usually shorn every two years.. The time for shearing in the UK is between May and August.

Experienced shearers will come to the farm and may shear several owners alpacas over a day or two, being in one place benefits smaller breeders who only have a few animals to be done and saves the shear time not having to travel from farm to farm.

 

But owners can learn to shear themselves if they wish there are courses available.  Shearing is a also a very good time to carry out other husbandry practices such as injections and to assess the quality of the fleece coming off your alpacas. Shearing is carried out with the alpaca restrained on the ground and usually takes 6 to 10 minutes.

  •  Supplementary Feeding Alpacas are grazers and will spend 24/7 out in the field; they also require access to roughage all year round in the form of hay. It is advisable to give ad lib hay throughout the year. But this may not be necessary in late summer and autumn as the pasture tends to dry out a little providing the roughage alpacas need.
It is a good idea to feed Alpaca a supplement to provide them with vitamins and minerals they may lack from grazing in the UK.  It is even more important pregnant females receive all the required vitamins and minerals in their last trimester as well as lactating females.

Alfa can also be fed to help maintain their condition when grass is in short supply. You can also test soil and pasture to analysis the mineral content and then add to the soil any trace element or mineral that is lacking. You can also take blood in spring to determine correct blood chemistry.
  •  Condition Scoring

Alpacas are very good at hiding their body condition underneath all of their fibre. They can put on weight very quickly, but the down side to this trait is that they can lose weight even quicker when they are sick.

And they do not always show they are ill until it is too late, so it is very important to condition score all of your alpacas every week to fortnight and check to see if they are still in ideal condition. Some farms may take this further and use scales in addition to condition scoring.

Correct and consistent condition scoring will alert the owner when there is a problem before it gets too serious. It is also a great way of getting your alpacas used to you touching them,  making them quieter to handle.
  • Toenail Trimming Along with routine injections, worming and vitamin supplements, the final husbandry task that is needed is toenail trimming. Unlike sheep, alpaca toenail clipping takes a third of the time and is very easy and straightforward.

Clippers can be purchased from any agricultural supplier for under £10 and with a helper to hold the alpaca around the neck trimming is simple. Again toenail clipping and all other aspects of alpaca husbandry can and will be taught to a potential purchaser or interested person.

  •  Castration  For males which do not make the grade for a stud they should be castrated.  Castrations or wethering is a procedure that happens between 12 and 24 months of age and must be carried out by a veterinarian.

Again this is a simple and well-practiced procedure that is required to remove males from the industry that do not meet the stringent standards we set. Castration also helps males settle as they get older and two wethers are less likely to fight than two entire males.

IMPORTANT: If you do decide that Alpacas are for you, you go ahead and buy some, the first thing you must do is find a Vet who is happy to treat Alpacas and register with them.  There will nothing worst than having a sick animal and not being able to get someone to treat them. 

 

Please Note: All the above information has been put together as a guide, there are many ways and opinions of what and how to do things.  This is the information we have found most useful and is available as a guide only. 

 

If you are unsure always ask someone who has more knowledge than yourself.


 
And if in any doubt regarding the health of your Alpacas we would always say contact your Vet and a get professional opinion.  There are more vets in the UK gaining experience with Alpacas and you can find a list on the The BVCS website: - www.camelidvets.org 

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