Jane Vaughan BVSc PhD MACVSc (Ruminant Nutrition)
1. How much to feed?
Alpacas will eat approximately 1.5 % of their body weight as dry matter to maintain body weight (i.e. not growing, pregnant or lactating). Feed up to maintenance requirements with roughage (pasture, hay, silage).
E.g. 70 kg alpaca:
70 kg x 1.5 % of body weight = 1.05 kg as dry matter (DM) ie all water removed from feed
1.1 kg DM x 100/20 = 5.3 kg lush pasture/day (grass with 20 % DM content)
1.1 kg DM x 100/90 = 1.2 kg pasture hay/day (hay with 90 % DM content)
Growing alpacas and late-pregnant and lactating females will eat up to 2.5 % of their body weight as dry matter. Feed up to maintenance requirements with roughage (pasture, hay, silage). Then supplement with energy/protein as required (good quality pasture hay/lucerne hay/oats/lupins).
2. Body condition score to monitor if feeding too much or too little
Palpate musculature over the backbone at the level of the last ribs.
Ref: Alpaca Note 4: Body Condition Score of Alpacas. Prepared by AAA Inc. Education and Training Sub-committee.
Aim for body condition scores somewhere between BCS 2.5 and BCS 3
If alpacas are too fat, feed less. If alpacas are too thin (eg during growth, pregnancy or lactation), feed more. If some alpacas in the same paddock are too fat and some are too thin, then divide the group and feed accordingly.
3. Pasture and water will supply most nutrients
Alpacas require four main ingredients in their diets: water, energy, protein and fibre. Pasture will supply most energy, protein and fibre needs. It will also satisfy most vitamin and mineral requirements. Ensure access to fresh clean water at all times.
4. Feed long-stemmed roughage
Alpacas need long-stemmed roughage (pasture, hay, silage greater than 4 cm in length) to keep their fore-stomachs functioning normally. A diet based on very short (or non-existent under drought conditions) pasture, chaff and grain/pellets is not adequate to keep the stomach healthy. Ensure ad lib long-stemmed pasture/hay at all times.
Many of the water-soluble vitamins (vitamins B, C) are provided by the microbes that live in the fore-stomachs, so alpacas do not require supplementation if they are healthy.
Of the fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A and E are available from green grass (even from green weeds that come up after brief summer rain) so only need supplementation if pasture is completely dry for more than 8-10 weeks.
Vitamin D supplementation is required in alpacas. Inject all alpacas less than 2 years of age, and all females due to give birth in winter/early spring (to fortify colostrum) with 2000 iu vitamin D/kg body weight under the skin or into the muscle. Read the label on the bottle to determine vitamin D concentration to determine what volume to administer.
E.g. A 20 kg cria needs 40,000 iu vitamin D. If there is 75,000 iu per mL vitamin D in your selected source of vitamin D, then the cria would need approximately 0.5 mL of solution injected.
Are minerals deficient in your area in sheep and cattle? Ask your local Department of Agriculture, local veterinarian and neighbouring farmers for information. If in doubt, you should sample soils, pasture and/or alpacas to determine if mineral levels are adequate, before supplementation. Acid, water-logged soils (annual rainfall > 500 mm) contribute to selenium deficiency.
7. Feeding supplements
Beware of feeding unnecessary supplements that may be costly, labour intensive to feed out and/or toxic to your animals. Do not feed out supplements designed for use in horses and pigs as they have different digestive systems and different mineral requirements.
8. Access for all
Animals should have access to long-stemmed fibre at all times (eg in drought conditions, consider placing a large round bale of pasture/oaten hay in the paddock). If supplementary feeding of concentrates (eg grain, pellets) is required, make sure all animals can access the feed at the same time. You can feed out directly onto the ground, but you may reduce wastage by feeding in long troughs (eg guttering, old conveyor belting laid out on ground, shade cloth attached to fence).
Introduce new feeds over a period of 10-14 days to allow adaptation to the new feed. Once adapted to the new feed, feeding twice as much, every second day will save you time and money, but more importantly will allow shy-feeders access to supplements. The dominant animals will fill up quickly (you have seen how they stake out the feed and spit at any animal trying to get near) and move away when full, allowing the shy feeders to eat the supplements later in the day/overnight.
9. Feed wastage
If supplements remain at the next feed out, or hay is being wasted, you are feeding too much (do their body condition scores reflect this?) Ensure that growing, pregnant and lactating animals are fed appropriately with good quality feed and feed the left-over portions to non-pregnant/non-lactating females, wethers etc.
10. Keep it simple
Complicated recipes containing scoops of this and cupsful of that do not alter cria sex or kill worms, but may waste your time, energy and money. Feed alpacas up to maintenance requirements (go back to Point 1!) with pasture/hay/silage. Supplements for growth, pregnancy and lactation may be met by providing energy with cereal grains (eg oats) and protein with lucerne hay and lupins.