Monday, July 30, 2012

Alpaca Barns, Pens & Pastures

"Plan for Success" has been a principle guiding many people to happy and prosperous lives.  That time-tested adage has great application for setting up or expanding an alpaca ranching facility.
When looking into designing or expanding an alpaca ranch, consider site location, general layout, barns, interior features, pens / runs, pastures and quarantine facilities.

Site Location
Farms and acreages all have characteristics that are unique to that property.  Many sites can work well for raising alpacas, but some are either currently not developable or have serious limitations for future expansion possibilities.

Consider the following in selection a site for the barn, pens and pastures:
  1. Does zoning allow for raising livestock - especially alpacas?
  2. Are neighbors going to be affected?
  3. Is there adequate access to an all-weather road system?
  4. Can you secure the property?
  5. Is the land well-drained, yet level enough to work without incurring significant expenses?
  6. Can utilities be made available to the site?
  7. Can you develop an adequate driveway access on the property?
  8. Is the site protected from harsh winds and weather?
  9. Is there air flow during the warm months?
  10. Are their environmental regulations you need to address for this site?
General Layout
The barn is the hub and central feature in the design process.  It should be located near utilities, have an all weather driveway with access to a road system, and be somewhat in the middle zone of the developable land on the property.  The barn should be situated to allow pen and pasture layout on three sides.

Design the general layout - barns, pens and pastures - to maximize future expansion possibilities.  Starting out, you can build pens and pastures off of just one side of the barn.  Later on, you can expand your operation, and place pens and pastures off the second and third sides of the barn, if you desire. 

The Barn is the focus of the Pasture
Our barn is our office - and where we spend most of our time during the day.  Don't fight it.  Make it useful from the beginning.  It servers may purposes - weather protection, equipment storage, shearing facilities, storing feed, having babies and handling alpacas out of the weather.  A well-designed barn will give the alpaca rancher the option of handling alpacas inside to administer shots, trim toes, feed, breed, train and conduct vet visits.

Features of the barn structures that should be considered:
  1. Large, open, attached shed roof overhangs.
  2. Put the stairs on the south side to melt the snow off in the winter.
  3. Well-ventilated barn interior - lots of windows and doors.
  4. Insulated roof.
  5. Water service near the barn.  If you put it in the barn, they will never come out!
  6. Electricity to the barn.
  7. Single entry "man" doors.
  8. Put in dutch doors - or doors that can open on the top or bottom. This keeps alpacas in if the top is open, the bad weather out if the bottom is open.
  9. Think of your resale value.  The chances of you selling your farm to another alpaca breeder is slim.  Make it appealing to horse, cow, sheep and other livestock owners alike.
Barn Interior Features
 The floor plan for our barn is very simple:  Open.  We have lightweight panels that we can maneuver to create pens, feed storage, weaning areas.  It is important to have the capability to hold alpacas in separate groups inside the barn.  Hay storage is also a consideration.  Because we buy 48 tons of hay each year, we do not put ours in our barn.  However, barn storage is much more appealing that dealing with tarps every few days. 

Equipment storage is also necessary.  This can mean your tractor, fans and other supplies. We picked up some old cabinets from a second hand re-supply store and store cria supplies, dewormer, blankets, towels and other items in the cabinets.

Ideally, you have a completely enclosed room that is insulated and can be heated in cold climates or air conditioned in extremely hot climates.  We use our garage at this time, which gives us easy access to the alpacas right out of our door.

Barn floor materials in the alpaca pen can be lime screenings, rock chips or rubber horse stall matting.  If considering a cement floor, think about your climate.  If you are in a cold area, the urine will freeze to the floor and create a skating rink for all of you unless you chip the ice off every day.

Outside Pens for Confining Alpacas
Alpacas like to be outside.  The barn shed roof or overhang is a very popular hangout for alpacas, especially if their feed and water are available in that zone.  It is helpful to have the ability to occasionally confine the alpacas outside the barn.  Other times, it is helpful to be able to confined alpacas to a larger pen extending from the overhang, but holding them out of the pasture.  Examples of this include confining alpacas for winter, vet visits, pasture cleaning, renovation, quarantining new animals, etc.  These outside pens should have sturdy posts and panels, large access gates for alpacas and equipment.  It is also a good area to install heated, automatic watereres. 

Alpaca Pastures
Pastures for alpacas can be of many different sizes, shapes and grass species.  Fencing around the pastures should limit the alpacas to that pasture and exclude all other alpacas and predators from that pen.  Flexibility is very important in managing pastures.  A series of gates that provide options for direction alpacas from pens to various pastures is ideal  Gates should be wide enough to allow equipment for mowing, manure management and maintenance.  Ideally, you can drive your truck and trailer back to them as well.

We have our barn set up in the middle of our pastures.  Inside the barn, a different door leads to a different pasture, creating a wagon wheel style set-up.  That way, one person can push a group of alpacas from one area to another with ease. 

Quarantine Facilities
All alpaca ranchers should develop a plan for quarantine facilities within their layout.  To manage various disease risks, a properly designed quarantine facility is becoming increasingly important.  An isolated barn and pen set-up that is away from the main alpaca operating g facilities can be used to hold alpacas that are coming to the ranch for breeding, purchase, shearing or any other reason. 

Setting up an alpaca farm can be fun but challenging.  Planning for success can provide you with flexible alternative when that time comes you decide to take your alpaca ranch to the next level. 

Have questions about your area?  Contact us.