Alpacas are grazing livestock and are well adjusted to a diet low in protein but high in fibre. They prefer a variety of coarse grasses to clover in a pasture situation and do very well on fresh stubble left from cereal crops after harvest on broad acre farming country. Good quality Oaten hay is recommended if supplementary feeding is required, however some breeders prefer Lucerne hay or a mixture for the increased protein.
Steve driving his tractor is unloading a truck load of Oaten Hay for supplementary feeding. Bales of Oaten Hay are kept dry in a hay shed and distributed to various paddocks as required.
Very lush, green paddocks sometimes provide alpaca breeders with a false sense of security regarding the quality of feed. In most cases a paddock of green feed should be supplemented with hay to provide the roughage and balanced diet required for breeding female alpacas to maintain healthy condition. In some areas of mineral depleted soil the use of mineral supplement blocks has been found to be useful. Soil and plant tissue testing can be carried out to evaluate quality of feed. Mineral blocks may be used to supplement mineral deficiencies until soil balance can be achieved through application of appropriate products over time. Engaging the services of an agronomist for professional advice can be a useful investment to ensure your feed management practices are appropriate for your local environment. Stocking rates for alpacas are very similar to sheep and maybe calculated using the same as the Dry Sheep Equivalent (DSE) for your local area. Your local agricultural department should be able to determine the DSE for your property.
Alpacas are ruminants and can therefore effectively convert food from dried out pasture into energy. They have a compartmentalised stomach but with only three compartments rather than the four of advanced ruminants. The rumen is before the true stomach and contains bacteria that produce enzymes to ferment eaten food and make it useable. Different bacteria are required to break down different types of feed and therefore any sudden change in diet can affect the rumen and hence the alpacas health while the rumen adjusts to the change..
Alpacas are susceptible to staggers from perennial ryegrass toxicity, annual ryegrass toxicity and Phalaris toxicity in some circumstances when seasonal conditions can cause fungal toxins. However at most times of year Phalaris and Ryegrasses are very good feed. Staggers is easily identified with the alpaca developing tremors and looking uncoordinated when walking, sometimes stumbling. If staggers is suspected it can often be confirmed by pushing an alpaca, making it take a few quick steps to see if clinical signs are present. Consultation of a Veterinarian and treatment is recommended if signs of staggers are present. We have successfully treated staggers by firstly excluding stock from affected paddocks and then treatment with daily injections of vitamin B1 until observable signs are no longer present.
Access to quality water for drinking is essential. Alpacas require up to five litres a day which is considerably less than some other livestock such as cattle. Alpacas will commonly stand or sit in water troughs or dams to cool themselves in extreme heat conditions.
Physical, hands on assessment of an alpacas condition provides a very good guide to the nutritional level and general health of alpacas. Visual observation should not be relied upon as the fleece hides the alpacas true condition. Body Condition Scoring (BCS) is achieved by placing your fingers each side if the spine on an alpacas back and feeling for muscle and fat coverage. The spine should be able to be felt easily with slightly convex body shape each side. A severely convex shape would indicate an underweight condition while a bulging, convex shape would indicate an overweight condition.