Monday, March 4, 2013

The Basics of Alpaca Feeding

The Basics of Alpaca Feeding

The basic elements of every alpaca's diet are pasture, hay, concentrates, minerals and water.  The following is some essential information on these nutrients.

Pasture

Alpacas not only graze but also browse.  That means they’ll rid your pastures of certain amounts of brush and unwanted plants, such as blackberry and wild rose, while nourishing themselves.  Alpacas browse, but not as efficiently as llamas do, and they prefer (by far) nice soft grass.  You can probably get by with existing pastures when adding a few alpacas to your hobby farm menagerie, but if your plans exceed a few head, discuss pasture renovations with your county extension agent.  The agent can help you with grass and legume mixes that thrive in your locale and how to overseed them into existing pasture.  If you need to start over from scratch, the agent will help you with that option as well.  Pastures seeded specifically for alpacas are usually mixes of several grasses and possibly a legume or two.  Orchard grass, timothy, fescue, white clover and alfalfa are typical ingredients.  Keep in mind that some types of pasture forage must be reseeded at intervals while others just grow and grow.

Hay

High-fiber alpaca diets based on high-quality pasture and hay are best.  The best dry forage is long fiber grass hay.  Feeding to much high-protein hay such as alfalfa, clover, lespedeza and other legumes can create the same problems as high-protein concentrates do.  Because hay is so important, I discuss the necessary nutrient values in a different section.

When feeding hay, keep in mind that alpacas are selective eaters.  They nibble choice bits of hay and dump less savory morsels on the floor or ground, where they’ll eventually be trampled. To save yourself money and aggravation, feed hay from waste-resistant feeders, using any discarded hay for bedding (or feed it to less picky species such as cattle and horses).  Allow enough hay racks and feeder space for every alpaca in the group, even the shy ones, to comfortably eat together.

Keep feeders clean.  Most alpacas will not (and for health reasons they shouldn’t) eat or drink from fouled hayracks, feeders, and water sources.  This is especially important if messier species, such as equines or cattle, share your alpacas’ living space. 

Concentrates - Pellets

Concentrates such as grains and commercial feeds based on grains ferment more rapidly than forage does, so they produce excess acid that can kill microbes and eventually the animal they serve.  Therefore, it’s important to feed concentrates only when individuals truly need it.  Nutritionists say that late-gestation females usually require grain at a rate of 1% of their total body weight, and lactating females and growing youngsters at 2% of total body weight.

Your best bets if you feed concentrates are clean, mold fee commercial mixes (major companies such as Mazuri, Agway, Blue Seal Feeds, Buckeye Feds, and Dynamite make them) or a grain mixture formulated specifically for your animal’s needs.  Be sure to store it where your llamas or alpacas can’t break in and eat their fill, and where birds, cats, mice and other wildlife won’t contaminate it with their droppings.




Minerals

Always provide a high-quality, loose mineral mix formulated for your type of alpacas and their location.  Place it where other species sharing their living space won’t poop in it.  Don’t use mixes formulated for other species because they often contain copper in quantities that could be toxic to your alpacas.  (The exception might be no-copper sheep minerals but lama-specific products should be your first choice.  We often use Stillwater Minerals as a great source of minerals.  However, our local ranch supply has recently begun to carry alpaca and llama salt, which saves on cost and shipping.  If your alpacas cohabitate with another species, it’s important that you place the other species’ minerals where your alpacas cannot reach them (i.e., alpacas should not lick horse salt blocks).

Cool, Clean Water

The cheapest, most essential nutrient of all is water.  The average alpaca downs 5-8% of its body weight in water every day, and it requires 10-18% of its body weight in hot weather or when lactating.  Alpacas can’t thrive without 24/7 access, all year round, to clean, good tasting water.  They need it to maintain their digestive health; some males and gelding develop urinary calculi unless they drink enough of it; and lactating females require water to make milk.

Don’t skimp.  Keep tanks and bucks filled and clean. Consider installing automatic watering fixtures, but if you use them, clean and check them on a daily basis to make certain your alpacas have drinking water on demand.