Whether you are an experienced alpaca farmer or you are looking at welcoming a pet alpaca to your family, the key to feeding your alpaca well is fairly simple – essentially an alpaca’s diet should include mostly grazing, with additional forage where needed and a small amount of concentrated feeds or minerals. And of course, easy access to clean, fresh drinking water. The basic rule of thumb is that although they have a similar digestive system to sheep (Ruminants) they are often classed as ‘pseudo-ruminants’, and so they actually need a diet akin to that of the horse (Hindgut Fermenters). This means their diet should be predominately forage based, with the use of concentrates kept to a minimum. The alpaca is also particularly susceptible to choke so it’s important to always keep this in mind when it comes to your feeding regime and the feeds you choose.
Alpacas are grazing animals by nature and this should make up the majority, if not almost entirely, their daily intake of food. Unlike some other livestock, they do not eat docks, nettles or thistles so these need to be controlled. The British Alpaca Society recommends a stocking rate of 5-6 animals per acre, assuming your pasture provides adequate grazing.
Aim to provide around 1.5% of the animal’s body weight daily in hay or fresh pasture. This 1.5% value is based on the Dry Matter intake, the weight of any feed source after all water has been removed. As a guide, the moisture content for the most common forms of forage is as follows:
- Grass – Circa 80%
- Haylage – Circa 60%
- Hay – Circa 18%
Hay or haylage
This is essential during the winter months or where there is not enough access to pasture. When working out how much hay or haylage is required when there is little to no grazing, take the amount of forage being provided and take away the percentages above. For example, 1.22kg of hay minus 18% = 1kg of dry matter.
Basing the average adult liveweight at 70kg, with a 1.5% intake, this equates to 1.28kg of hay, or 2.63kg of haylage per day. The fibre intake is the vital part of their forage diet, so it is important to ensure enough forage is provided to ensure a healthy digestive system.