Utopian Alpacas

Ownership & Care

Husbandry & Care

Alpacas are lovable and endearing animals that are a pleasure to be around and to work with. Their docile nature and natural curiosity makes for easy handling and yet they are hardy and adapt well to our climate.

They are equally at home in a small paddock or as part of a larger herd in a field. They will happily graze with other livestock although they might not compete at the feed troughs. They are instinctively herd orientated preferring to rest, graze and move together. Individual animals cannot be kept on their own.

Stocking rates of 5-6 an acre are comfortable on average pasture, with examples of 10 to the acre being achievable with proper rotation management. They will grow to about 1 metre at the shoulder and weigh 60-80 kg when mature.

They communicate amongst by body posture, tail and ear positions and a variety of soft humming noises. They warn each other if they feel crowded and spit at each other if necessary. They are rarely aggressive to humans and spit only when mishandled. The absence of horns and hooves makes them safe to be around young children.

There is no special requirement for fencing as they do not challenge it and are reluctant jumpers. For perimeter fencing standard medium stock fencing and top plain wire to a height of four feet is adequate to contain them. Barbed wire should not be used and electric lines have limited effect because of the overall fibre coverage. Alpacas cope well with foxes seeing them off with a combination of screeching and advancing as a herd. Consideration will need to be given to creating catch pen areas, and if breeding, to a separate weaning paddock, as well as one for entire males. Access to some form of stabling or stall is also essential should an animal become sick or injured.

Wintering out is quite normal with free access to simple three sided field shelters to protect them from the extremes of weather and to provide dry areas for winter feed. Alpacas are ruminants who are exceptionally efficient converters of fodder, grazing happily on pasture grass , preferring the shorter moist grasses, with hay and small amounts of low protein supplement recommended in winter and during lactation and the final stages of pregnancy and for young stock. Hay consumption is around one small bale per head per month and should be available all year. (1.8%of body weight DM per day). Mineral supplementation will depend on naturally available concentrations within the grass and hay feed. Alpacas are browsers as well as grazers and will enjoy stripping young trees if allowed. The common toxic plants such as Ragwort, Laurel, Laburnum and Yew should be avoided within grazing areas. Access to clean drinking water is essential at all times at around a couple of litres per head per day. They will dehydrate rather than take sour water. With their soft padded feet they do little if any damage to wet pasture ground during grazing.

Alpacas have the habit of defecating at a small number of fixed dung piles and avoid grazing around these sites, making the spread of parasite infestation low and cleaning of pastures much easier. The firm and dry pellet makes an excellent fertiliser.

We recommend a worming and vaccination routine on a six monthly basis with the trimming of toenails as and when needed, this generally amounts to 2 or 3 times a year. Teeth trimming is only necessary on an annual basis and is usually done when the Alpaca is restrained for the annual fleece shearing. Alpacas do not suffer from foot rot nor do they require dipping, dagging, crutching or tail docking as they are free of fibre under the tail. With attentive husbandry, fly strike is rare. They are remarkably disease resistant helping to keep vet bills low.

The female Alpaca can be ready for mating at around 14 to 18 months of age or when she has reached about 65% of her final body weight. She is an induced ovulator and can be bred all year round. Ovulation occurs up to 26 hours after mating and she will be covered by the same male on a repeat basis until she refuses him. Pregnancy confirmation is usually made by ultrasound testing. The gestation period is typically 11 1/2 months and will produce one baby or ‘cria’, with twins being rare, recently estimated at around one in every 2000 births. Remating usually occurs 14 days post partum and with a productive life expectancy of 15 years, she spends most of this time pregnant. Since the foetus remains small for much of the pregnancy this is not an excessive burden on the animal. Alpacas are devoted mothers and the cria will suckle until weaning at six months of age. Males will be mature from about 2 1/2 years of age. We run a strict assessment of young males as regards their suitability for breeding, with the majority being castrated. A sensible management plan will ensure spring or early summer birthings with shearing programmes from late spring through to mid summer.

Cost of Ownership

Alpacas are expensive to purchase but economic to ‘run’. Breeding females cost in the range of £3000 – £10,000 dependent on age and absolute quality. This price includes a confirmed pregnancy, veterinary health certificate and delivery. Geldings will cost in the range of £300 – £750. The exact number of animals and the mix of male to female will depend entirely on your aims and requirements.

The costs associated with each animal are typically:

  • Winter hay at £2.50 a bale. One bale per head per month.
  • Supplementary feeds. Typical ration is 250-500gms per day. Current cost of a 25kg bag is £8.50.
  • Veterinary provision and prophylactic treatment twice yearly, £25.00
  • Shearing, feet and teeth trimming £12.00
  • Some provision must be charged for grass care and maintenance.
  • Re-mating of females from £350 to £950 per service including all keep and veterinary provision.
  • Mortality and theft Insurance is recommended for the breeding females at 3.5% of value.

The commercial gains result from the sale of the annual fibre crop plus income from the sale of male and female progeny. For those wishing only to keep geldings as field pets the fibre income should offset the running costs. For those looking at a return on the investment in breeding stock whilst herd numbers are increasing, the sale of animals can produce good returns.

Alpaca Future

Alpaca numbers in the UK are currently small at around twenty thousand. There is no doubt that Alpaca farming will remain a breeding based industry for many years to come while animal numbers increase, bringing profit to careful breeders. Fibre sales will make a contribution to the profit as fibre volumes rise with the £/kg return to the growers, reflecting the added value attributed to the raw fibre by commercial processing into finished goods by the UK fibre co-op.

We would emphasise the following in support of the future:

  • The Alpaca and its fibre crop is not a new product. It has been the mainstay of the South American economy for many years, is recognised internationally and is traded successfully on the world markets. Commercial trade in both fibre, yarns, cloth and finished goods is well established.
  • The product is not food. There are no DEFRA movement restrictions, passports or other licenses required.
  • Australia and North America have had breeding based Alpaca industries running for over ten years. Quality animal prices have held or risen and their breed societies have an enviable reputation.
  • The slow breeding rate ensures a controlled population growth that will not depreciate existing stock values overnight.
  • The future imports of stock are strictly controlled by DEFRA and entry on to the British Alpaca Society and British Llama and Alpaca Association pedigree registries is conditional on passing tight physical and phenotype examinations. These are designed to protect the integrity of the registries as far as is possible by preventing alpacas with congenital defects from weakening the alpaca breed. We welcome the availability of new genetics to offer improvement in fibre quality and quantity and have ourselves invested heavily in this manner.
  • Life expectancy is 20 years, throughout most of which offspring and commercial quality fibre is produced.
  • Professional bodies – the Breed Societies and the Fibre Co-operative – are committed to the investment needed to create the best possible conditions for the well being of the alpaca in the UK and commercial returns for the growers of UK fleeces.