Alpacas are in fact members of a family of mammals called camelids. All camelids share a similar appearance characterized by an elongated face and a generally long-legged appearance.
New global members of camelids lack the distinctive humps that are often associated with camels- non-hump camelids consisting of llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, and alpacas. Guanacos and vicuñas are strictly wild species, while llamas and alpacas are strictly domesticated species.
How Long Does An Alpaca Live?
With good care and proper veterinary supervision, you can expect your alpaca to live in captivity for 15-20 years. If you decide to have an alpaca, it is a long commitment
Costs Of Owning An Alpaca
The quick response is almost as much as any other herd animal that can be classified as livestock. Their needs are not extraordinary, but an alpaca is far from a goldfish or domestic cat in terms of maintenance.
The alpaca itself can range from free (adoption) to $750,000 / £550,000 (although this extraordinary price was for a valuable flock parent at auction for commercial alpaca production).
If you want to buy an alpaca, they are generally between $1,000 (£736) and $15,000 (£11,000) for more attractive specimens, although as with any animal, the price will vary based on quality and the local market.
This depends on the size and specific needs of your enclosure. It is difficult to give an exact estimate, as your specific needs will vary. At a minimum, you will need to provide a portion of land (usually at least one acre for some alpacas) and the ability to enclose it.
Fortunately, alpacas are small when it comes to livestock, so a fence about 4 feet (1.2 meters) is enough to keep them locked up. Beyond that, costs are entirely up to you and your environment.
If your area has problems with predation (such as the Intermountain West in the United States or rural South Africa), you should consider more robust enclosures to keep predators at bay, especially at night.
Obviously the size, population density, and tenacity of such predators will determine the cost of a robust enclosure (it is much more difficult to keep an African lion at bay than, for example, an American coyote). Weather is another factor. If your area suffers from extreme temperatures, you will have to adjust accordingly.
Although it is more robust against cold than heat, you shouldn’t leave your pets in the howling wind unprotected, at least consider a 3-sided shelter for snowy days. If it’s very cold in your area (such as in the boreal forest areas of Canada), you may want to consider raising a barn to protect your alpacas from the worst of winter.
The reverse is true if you live in a warm area: shade, access to water, and a regular grooming schedule are essential to keeping your alpaca healthy in warm areas.
Alpacas do not have extraordinary dietary requirements. In fact, they generally eat less than other grazing farm animals, pound for pound. They mainly eat grass and hay, and with that, they generally only eat around a pound or two of hay or grass a day, depending on their body weight (the bigger ones eat more).
They will need mineral supplements and freshwater, like any other livestock animal. Basically, the costs come down to any hay and supplement costs in your area.
Alpacas are very resistant animals and do not need an excessive amount of veterinary supervision. Outside of the specific concerns of individual animals (injuries, strange behaviors, etc.), they will only need their scheduled vaccinations and yearly visit. Unless dramatic events occur, annual costs should not exceed hundreds of dollars/pounds.
Is An Alpaca The Right Pet For You?
You should be frank about how much space you can save for your alpaca. There are no firm figures on exactly how much space you need per alpaca, just keep in mind that they will need space to run and graze to be healthy.
Consider the dimensions of the animal (approximately 3 feet / 80-100 centimeters at shoulder height, and a weight that ranges from 100 to 180 pounds (45 kg to 81 kg) depending on the gender and specific animal when spacing a plot for them.
Remember that you will also need at least two (although 3 is recommended in case one dies prematurely) for your mental well-being, although more is better. They are natural herd animals and thrive in groups.
Beyond your alpacas, you should consider the environment in which they will be housed. Extreme climates and predator density will need to be considered when designing and building your enclosures and homes.
Even if you know for sure that your area has little or no predators, it’s a pretty safe assumption that wherever you are, there are also stray dogs to consider.
In a battle between an alpaca and a particular stray dog, the alpaca will lose each time. If you intend to mix your alpacas with other livestock species, you should be careful to know the temperaments of the other animal.
Alpacas are generally live animals and are allowed to live and can be easily mixed with most other animals, although some alpaca owners swear that you should not mix donkeys and alpacas, or that donkeys should be relegated to a perimeter pasture physically separated from the alpacas.
They claim that donkeys can be aggressive and dominant or even harm alpacas. The jury is out of this claim, as many alpaca owners have also reported that they have no problem keeping donkeys and alpacas in the same space.
If you must already have donkeys, the best course of action is to monitor a limited presentation and watch for any signs of aggression between members of the two species.
How To Bond With Your Alpaca?
Remember, there is no substitute for the time you spend with your pet Alpaca. Obviously, the younger you have acquired your alpaca, the easier it will be to bond with it. There are simple ways to ensure that your alpacas come to recognize you as a friend.
Like most cattle, the alpaca’s wild ancestors are animals of prey, so their approach and body language must be considered when approaching. As long as you’re not walking aggressively, or being spastic around your alpaca, it should be fairly easy to tackle.
To close the deal, approach your alpaca with food in hand. After this, spend time with your alpaca, let him get familiar with your aroma and your voice. In time, he will come to see you as a friend, and you should have no problem in approaching or handling your alpaca.
Can You Take Your Alpaca Indoors?
This may seem like a silly question: Alpacas are cattle, they can’t get in! However, a cursory glance through the Internet will shed a treasure trove of photos and videos of alpacas inside people’s homes.
Clearly, this is not a long-term solution for your alpaca pet. All we can do is advise people on how to do this in the most responsible way. Their alpacas are cattle, yes they may be fuzzier and friendlier than a cow, but they still need certain considerations.
If you feel like having them inside your home for a short period of time as a gag under your direct supervision, then by all means continue. Just make sure you understand that there is the possibility of property damage and injury to the alpaca itself.
Make sure there is no one or nothing that can suddenly scare your alpaca when it is in confined spaces (running kids, territorial dogs, loud action movies that sound in surround sound, a toaster oven ready to throw up toast, etc.) unless you want cattle to stampede through your homes.
Also be careful with your alpacas nosing about possible foods (fruits, snacks, houseplants, etc.) they will try to eat it, and there is a more than slight chance that they will become seriously ill from consuming something they should not have.
Some people like to leave their doors open on particularly pleasant days, and alpacas can get in on their own, so keep this in mind if you are against cattle trotting around your home. In addition to the tips above, it’s a pretty solid rule of thumb not to allow livestock into your home.
Bringing Your Pet Alpaca Home
As with any new pet, or really, any new person in your life, the first impression is vital.
If something must be drastically wrong, a new animal in a new environment is not the way you would like to discover it. If you do your due diligence in advance, your pet should have a painless and smooth transition to their new home.
Your alpacas require a habitat type very similar to that of any other domestic livestock species, but there are a few minor considerations to keep in mind that they are species-specific.
No two individual animals are the same, why should you expect two completely different species to be the same?
Enclosure Selection For Your Alpaca
Before you even consider buying an Alpaca, you need to make sure that the site you have in mind is appropriate for them.
Check with your local municipality first: many have very specific codes about what kind of animals you can have and how many of them. Once you have overcome any local legal hurdles, only then can you start planning the physical infrastructure of your alpaca paddock.
Fortunately, it is almost universally recognized that alpacas are much easier to the fence than most other domestic livestock.
They don’t like to test their physical limits, unlike cows and horses. They will scratch an itch with whatever they have on hand, so this would include fencing, making it a myth that they don’t test the fence at all.
So if you only intend to keep alpacas in your enclosure, your fencing needs are moderate at best. More on this later in the book. Much more important is the site you want to attach to keep your alpaca herd.
First things first, you’ll need to frankly assess what kind of weather you live in. Then compare it to the native range of alpaca, which is thoroughly detailed for you earlier in this book.
If you are lucky enough to live in an environment that perfectly matches the alpaca’s native home range, then your site selection criteria will be easier. The more you drift, the more adjustments you’ll have to make sure your alpaca herd is comfortable.
No matter where your enclosure is located, you should have two things to help your alpaca adapt to its surroundings as it pleases: shade and protection from the elements.
Shade can come in the form of trees, open barns, three-sided shelters, whatever. Protection from the elements should always involve a roof of some kind, that way it will protect the sensitive wool of your alpaca from precipitation.
Finally, be considerate of any other animals that may be in the area for your alpaca. Remember, alpacas cannot be kept as solitary animals, so if you are just starting to own alpacas be sure to buy at least a pair. While alpacas are friendly and get along well with other animals, they are not a substitute for the company of another alpaca.
How To Make A Comfortable Enclosure For Your Alpaca
Your alpaca’s enclosure is your home. The home should always be comfortable, either for you or for your alpaca. Alpacas are relatively hardy when it comes to the weather conditions they can handle, but this does not mean that you should not take some basic steps to improve their living conditions. True, they are native to the high Andes and therefore adapt to extreme cold.
It is also true that we as humans are native to the plains of East Africa and its extreme heatwaves. Just because our genetic heritage gives us certain leanings doesn’t mean we will necessarily feel comfortable in the worst-case scenarios. Also, our ancestors and the ancestors of their pet alpaca enjoyed an advantage that modern humans and alpacas no longer enjoy; complete and total reign around its environment.
Wherever we are now, we are trapped and we have to adjust our environment to our needs. You can bet that no vicuña stood out voluntarily in the midst of an exposed snowstorm, just like none of our ancestors took the full brunt of the sun without at least seeking shade first.
As humans now, we can go to our shelters and adjust the temperature to what we want, hopefully, our pet alpacas have the same consideration.
General Guidelines For Your Alpaca Enclosure
are not extremely difficult animals to maintain. Basic fences will do the job, and they won’t test the fence as much as a cow or horse. Believe it or not, the fence should be relatively sturdy to keep other animals out, rather than keeping your alpacas indoors.
The suggested minimum fence should be coyote proof, this means approximately 5 feet (1.5 meters) high of woven wire with 2-inch (5-cm) by 4-inch (10-cm) mesh for the outermost perimeter of your alpaca enclosure.
You can say to yourself, “Well, there are no coyotes where I live!” and you may very well be right. However, take a moment to ask if you have ever seen a stray dog where it lives.
Unless you are in Antarctica (which is especially hard on both you and your alpaca), the answer will be “Of course!” who has not seen a stray dog in their life?
Coyotes are pretty cunning (hence the famous cartoon), and if this guide to the American West keeps them out, it should work pretty well with most dogs, too. Your alpaca won’t be able to tell the difference between a predatory coyote and a medium-sized mischievous dog – the bites feel identical from their perspective!
If the place where you live has more serious predation problems, you will have to expand it accordingly. You may want to consider getting a guard dog, or a guarded flame to keep your herd protected while you are away.
However, be sure to pair your guard animal of choice from an early age with your alpaca herd. What makes them intimidating to potential predators could also make them dangerous to their alpaca herd if they are not properly socialized.
There are also special fences designed to keep predators away, although this is more expensive than the normal fence meant to keep livestock indoors.
You may also consider passing an electrically charged (low voltage) wire through your fence; a zap should scare off most predators.
By far the most cost-effective way to reduce predation problems is to keep your alpaca herd indoors at night, more on that below.
Before I forget, the general rule of thumb is 1 acre (.4 hectares) for 5 alpacas at most to keep them happy.
Where Should Your Alpaca Sleep?
If the place you live has no predation problems (and you feel comfortable, the stray dog problem in your area is well managed), and the weather is favorable (at least during the night hours of that night), you can let them graze overnight.
This is not highly recommended, as you never know when a careless person can leave a pet mastiff in your area (this is especially true in rural areas), but overall, there is no harm in leaving them outside from time to time.
Your outdoor enclosure will need some sort of tilt to a minimum to keep your alpacas comfortable. Make sure there is enough covered space to provide this minimum level of shelter to each and every one of your alpacas even if this means building additional supports for the sheds.
If a thunderstorm strikes, it is important that your alpaca be kept as dry as possible. Even high wind levels could be bad for your pet’s alpacas, as the wind can carry dust and stones that can disturb your alpaca; a minimum level of shelter will go a long way in ensuring the comfort of your alpaca.
Your alpacas are very light. In fact, it is quite difficult to distinguish a sleepy alpaca from a relaxing alpaca from a sleeping alpaca; they always seem to keep their eyes half-open, and even when they are completely closed, they wake up so easily that it is difficult to tell if you caught them sleeping This is because alpacas are practically defenseless animals of prey: they get upset very easily.
Try to ensure that as many unnecessary stimulants are removed from your alpaca’s vicinity (wind chimes, etc.) and that pesky animals are treated accordingly. A barn is necessary for your alpaca, no matter where you live.
Barns protect against predation, rain, snow, high and low temperatures. Remember, just like people, your alpaca will not be in perfect health 100% of the time, so a comfortable and private place will help your alpaca not get too stressed and recover faster. Adjust your barn accordingly to your environment.
If your area suffers from excessive heat at night (such as Florida) consider air conditioning, ventilation is extremely important to your alpaca as they can overheat (have you seen their fleece?).
Make sure it is made of solid materials and can withstand storms and persistent attempts by predators. Some alpaca owners have gone so far as to install motion-sensitive lights outside their barns, this will scare off the predator and make him feel exposed. I can strongly suggest this technique, as it will ultimately be less stressful for your alpacas than hearing a certain death pounding on the walls and doors of your barn.
Heating And Lighting
Alpacas are cold-weather animals, so heating needs are minimal. Make sure your alpaca has access to some sort of shelter to at least escape the wind.
If you expect your alpaca to still be cold, you can put a blanket on it to keep it warm. You can also improvise a jacket for your alpaca, make sure it’s Polartec on the inside and Waterproof Cordura on the outside. Make sure you have several on hand in this case as alpacas are still animals and will soil their jacket from time to time.
Access to a barn is the best, of course. This is especially true for expecting alpacas or babies, who are much more vulnerable to extreme weather conditions than their adult counterparts.
Make sure you have adequate bedding (common bedding options for livestock, such as straw and so on, is perfectly reasonable), and if you’re particularly concerned about cold extremes, perhaps a heat lamp.
Heat is the real enemy of your alpaca. The high Andes do not get too hot, they rarely exceed 64 Fahrenheit (18 C); This is not the same case anywhere else. Also, alpacas are generally found at a relatively high altitude, making heat removal even easier, almost certainly wherever you live is closer to sea level than the typical alpaca range.
The best thing to do during particularly hot seasons (spring or summer, depending on where you are) is to cut your alpaca fleeces. This eliminates most of your heat retention ability and will do a lot to relieve your alpaca’s heat stress.
You can also hose your alpaca down, especially after your alpaca has been shorn (unless you don’t want to harvest fleece for whatever reason as the water will spoil it). With the neck, legs, and belly down, in particular, they seem to enjoy it during the hot months.
Always make sure your alpacas also have access to shade, whether that means access to a shed or barn.
Fans are also a great, relatively low-cost option to strategically add to the cabinet. If your place is particularly hot and humid, an air-conditioned barn may not be unreasonable. This is an expensive option, but if this is the only way to keep alpacas comfortably in their climate, it is a must.
Therefore, some accessories you should have on hand to properly lift your alpaca will include the following (the list is not exhaustive and some options are optional, but it is a good place to start):
- Antifungal dip for said halter
- Nasal protector for the halter
- Lead rope
- ID collar
- Utility feeder
- Hook-over trough (useful for multiple alpacas)
- Salt block holder
- Mesh hay bag
- Automatic waterer
- Water safe bucket
- Brush to clean the bucket
- Bucket holder
- Submersible or floating tank deicer, if necessary
- Collapsible water bucket (especially handy if you need extra water due to it being an excessively hot day)
- Camelid scale (very useful for your veterinarian)
- Large poop scooper (remember, they pick a spot and use it as their latrine, that pile has to move eventually)
- Rake (for the bedding)
- Tree wrap (they like to gnaw on bark, they will eventually kill your tree or trees this way)
- Fly mask
- Travel trailer
- Livestock friendly shampoo
- Equine wound spray
- Triple antibiotic ointment
- Blood stop powder
- Veterinarian wrap
- Disinfection mat (especially useful should you be visiting other farms or ranches regularly, you would not want to trackback any nasty critters to your herd)
- Ear mite lotion
- Terramycin ophthalmic ointment
- Livestock appropriate dewormer
- Good shearers
- Alpaca insulated coat (they make them, but improvising is also fun)
- Coat extender
Now, nice as it is, don’t try to pack your alpaca. Llamas can handle retention packs because they are bigger and stronger and, frankly, they have a better body plan for packing than alpacas. Alpacas have never been bred as pack animals, and you won’t be the first to do so successfully. Do not even think about it!