Alpacas are quasi-ruminants with three stomachs. They chew just enough to mix their feed with saliva to form a bolus to be swallowed. While resting, the alpaca will bring up the cud (bolus) and chew it, and then it is swallowed again. It takes about a third of daylight hours for an alpaca to pick enough food.
Making any dietary changes should be done slowly, with changes of feed introduced gradually, as the micro fauna and flora are sensitive to change.
The critical nitrogen balance in alpacas is very efficient, as they recycle urea through saliva, and return it to the C1 and C2 parts of the stomach. Urea is utilized by the stomach micro-organisms for the synthesis of protein.
As a rule of thumb, the greener the pasture, the greater it is in protein - unless it is artificial fertilizer-driven nitrogen flushes.Alpacas have a range of nutritional requirements based on who they are – weanling, pregnant or male. Requirements change when the dam gets to the latter stages of pregnancy, and also in the first weeks of lactation. At that time a crude protein intake of 12% - 15% is required. This requires the best paddocks, and/or supplementation.
Protein requirements are in direct relationship to the need for energy. Energy is sourced from carbohydrates (including sugars), starches, hemi cellulose, and cellulose, through volatile fatty acids from carbohydrate and protein fermentation.
Alpacas have a lower energy requirement than other ruminants due to the extra length of time food stays in their gut (48 – 54 hours vs. cow at 24 hrs).
They have a more efficient digestive system and are able to extract more energy from the fiber part of their diet. Most ruminants get energy from cell contents, and generally not from cell walls (hemi cellulose, cellulose and lignin). However alpacas can get some energy from hemi cellulose and cellulose and hence are more efficient digesters of all food.
The alpaca's energy requirement depends on environmental conditions (cold or heat stress requires more energy), activity levels, and animal insulation (hide thickness, length of coat, coat condition -- wet, dry, muddy etc).