Alpaca and Llama are both camelid species. They are herd animals and therefore should not be kept on their own. Alpaca were first kept as fleece (fibre) producing animals and llama kept as pack animals although they are often kept as comapnion animals to horses, sheep, goats, chickens and ducks.
living 15-30 years on average, llama are the larger of the two species, with alpaca weighing between 50-75kg and llama between 120-160kg, their respective cria (offspring) weighing between 6-10kg and 10-15kg at birth. There are two main breeds of alpaca; Suris and Huacayas (pronounced wa-ky-ya). The Huacaya alpaca wool fibre is more suited to manufacturing whereas Suri alpaca (which have an appearance similar to Wensleydale sheep) have wool fibre which is more silk-like. With llama there are two main breeds Ccara (which are preferred as a working breed) and Lanudas (preferred for fibre production).
The Digestive System
In the absence of upper incisors, camelids use lower incisors, their hard dental pad (roof of the mouth) and lips to select food. Camelids have a three compartment forestomach. Although llama and alpaca are foregut fermenters and practice regurgitation and remastication, they are not ‘true ruminants’ and are instead referred to as ‘pseudoruminants’ as the anatomy of the digestive tract differs. Rumination occurs for approximately 8-9 hours a day, increasing or decreasing depending on fibre intake. Long-stemmed fibre (more than 2 inches in length) is essential for normal functioning of the forestomach as it ensures sufficient saliva production, rumination and motility. The remainder of the digestive tract is similar to that of ruminants.
Llama and alpaca require a high fibre diet; most energy (calorie) needs are met through forage alone, however whether vitamin, mineral and protein requirements are being met depends on the quality and type of forage available. When pasture forms the majority of the diet, it is unlikely that deficiencies of most vitamins and minerals will occur. Supplementation of concentrate feeds is mainly sought when feeding those with energy requirements above maintenance, usually those used for breeding, showing or wool production. Alpaca and llama can easily put on weight, so care must be taken when using a supplementary feed.
Feeding Guidelines for Llama and Alpaca Mix:
Alpaca: 150-300g per day
Llama: 250-500g per day (a maximum of 1kg per day)
Introduce new feeds gradually over 10-14 days and continually monitor body condition
If dealing with animals in poor condition or those with high energy requirements consider adding fibre sources such as alfalfa and/or unmolassed sugar beet
When feeding any supplementary feed it is recommended to divide this over at least two feeds during the day
Providing free choice salt is generally recommended particularly when no concentrates are being fed. Loose granular salt is preferable
Fresh water should be available at all times
Depending on grazing quality, hay can be fed all year round (it is advisable not to use haynets). It is worth being aware that very poor or very lush grazing may not provide sufficient fibre for the llama/alpaca’s digestive system.
How Much is Enough Fibre?
As a rough guide, more than 50% of recumbent alpacas/llamas should be chewing their cud
Regularly body condition score – adequate fibre in the diet is needed to help maintain condition
Monitor consistency of droppings
The stocking ratio is 4-5 per acre for alpaca or 3-4 per acre for llama (this may need to be reduced over the winter months when grass quality and quantity is low). Llama and alpaca have padded feet with just two toes and are therefore not very destructive on pasture. Rotating pasture is important as they have a tendency to re-graze an area repeatedly. Providing shelter from the cold and heat is essential. Common ornamental plants such as rhododendrons, purple foxgloves and some ornamental grasses can be toxic to alpaca and llama.
Llama and alpaca are induced ovulators, meaning that they can breed all year round. On average the gestation period is 11-11 ½ months and the majority of foetal growth occurs in the last trimester; during this period and lactation the energy requirements of the female will increase.
Quality of the fibre is mainly determined by genetics but nutrition may play a role. It is thought that while providing a diet which supplies maintenance requirements of protein will meet the needs of low fibre production, it is likely to be inadequate to generate higher fibre yields. In sheep the rate of wool production and wool quality can be influenced by nutrition – the rate of growth and diameter of wool fibres is increased with a balanced, higher volume of feed. Although there is little research to suggest providing excess protein is beneficial, the quality of the protein is thought to be of particular importance. For fibre production the essential amino acids methionine and cysteine are important, as are the minerals calcium and zinc (zinc deficiency can cause brittle wool fibres in sheep). Therefore, look for a feed that has quality protein sources when feeding animals kept for fibre.