Alpacas are herd animals and can be farmed under the same conditions as other livestock. Some form of shelter against extremes of heat, cold and rain is required, either in the form of trees or man-made shelters.
Alpacas will bond with other animals and can be run with other livestock such as sheep and goats. However, there is a risk of alpacas being kicked by larger animals and so caution should be taken with cattle and horses. If running alpacas with other livestock, particularly ruminants, they may pick up the internal parasites spread by those animals, and so will need to follow the same drenching regime as those livestock.
Alpacas bond well with sheep and goats and can be used as guards against predation of lambs or kids by foxes, to which they will naturally show aggressive behaviour. Alpacas are not, however, able to protect other livestock from attack by dogs, whether domestic or wild.
Alpacas can be moved around easily without the aid of a dog or other herding assistance and can also be loaded for transport without difficulty.
Alpacas are principally grazers, eating a variety of plants including native grasses, but do best on good quality pasture. Alpacas also benefit from having access to plant material with long fibres, such as hay, and there are commercial alpaca mixes available as a way to supplement vitamins and minerals.
As with most livestock, growing suitable pasture is a key part of alpaca production. Land suitable for growing good quality pasture with reliable rainfall or water supply is essential and as alpacas are susceptible to the same poisonous plants as other livestock, care must be taken to monitor weeds and other unwanted plants. The stocking rate for alpacas is equivalent to sheep and can be measured using the standard unit of Dry Sheep Equivalent per hectare (DSE). A dry 70kg alpaca has a DSE rating of 1.4.
Feeding can affect fibre quality and reproductive performance and alpacas can eat excessive to their needs, so herds may need to be managed for over-feeding. Excessively rich pasture may lead to coarsening of the fibre (known as "micron blowout") and obesity. Underfeeding due to high stocking rates, or very poor quality pasture, may cause weight loss and deterioration in fleece quality. If farming alpacas for fleece, it is also best to avoid pastures with seeds that contaminate the fleece such as Bathurst, noogora and horehound burrs.
Alpacas need ready access to good quality, fresh drinking water requiring between 2-10 litres per animal per day, depending on temperature, feed conditions and physiological status (lactating females require a much greater volume per day).
Breeds and breeding
Alpacas live for 15-20 years, with an adult weight of about 70kg. The more common breed of alpaca is the Huacaya which accounts for around 90% of the registered herd in Australia. The huacaya has a soft crimped style of fleece, not unlike that of a merino sheep, which grows perpendicular to the skin, giving the animal a well-rounded appearance. Ideally, fleece coverage is even and extends down the legs showing a uniform crimp along the length of the staple.
The less common type is the Suri, representing around 10% of the Australian (and world) herd. The suri has a fleece which grows in long locks hanging straight down from the animal’s backline. The fleece has high lustre and its feel is more silky than that of the huacaya.