If you are after an animal that has absolutely gorgeous fleece and is suitable for small farming or as a pet, an alpaca may just be the animal for you. They are becoming more popular and common in Australia and for good reason. Here’s what you need to know.
The alpaca is a member of the Camelid family and it is an animal that is primarily bred and kept for the soft, luxurious fibre that it produces but they are also excellent pets. The two main types of alpacas are the Huacaya and the Suri. The alpaca comes in a range of colours and shades including black, white, fawn, brown, grey and a combination of these. Alpacas have padded feet rather than hooves, making them much more environmentally friendly than other livestock as their feet do not damage the soil.
The alpaca is completely domesticated and, as such, it is calm, gentle and easy to manage. It is quite easy to train an alpaca to accept and walk on a halter. Like any other animal, it is best to start handling alpacas from a very young age. You should be careful when touching them around the head as they can be very sensitive to this. One well known trait of the alpaca is its ability to spit (the spit is semi digested grass or food). Spitting is a normal part of alpaca interaction and they usually won’t spit on humans unless they feel provoked in some way.
Alpacas have similar feed requirements to sheep so this means giving them access to grazing material such as grass, clover, and other pasture plants as well as feeding them on hay and grain supplements. It is also a good idea to supplement the diet with a mineral mix or lick to ensure that they are getting all the nutrients that they need. Of course, you should make sure that your alpaca has access to fresh, clean water at all times.
As alpacas are primarily kept for their fleece, it is a good idea to ensure that your alpacas are regularly shorn. The best time to do it is just before the summer months start. As well as shearing them, you should make sure that they are vaccinated and wormed regularly, just like you would any other animal. Alpacas have soft, padded feet like camels, rather than hooves. However, their toe nails do require trimming. Their tails are naturally short and their backside naturally clean, so they do not have the same risk of flystrike as sheep do.
You will need to give your alpaca shelter but often all that is required is a couple of well placed trees and shrubs. You can provide them with a pen or stall if you wish. Fencing requirements are the same as they are for sheep.
Bear in mind that as alpacas are herd animals, they may become distressed when alone. The alpaca industry recommends a minimum of two alpacas be kept as pets to ensure their wellbeing.
If you own a male alpaca, they will require castration at around 12 to 20 months of age. Otherwise it may become more aggressive and masculine at sexual maturity (around 24 months of age).